Harley Carbery – Victoria boy atop Vegas’ Wine Scene

I was down in Sin City a few weeks back, hanging out while my fellow was at his annual hoteliers conference. I popped in to see an old school chum, a Victoria boy and sommelier whose passion and career path has taken him to great vinous heights in Vegas.

I first met Harley Carbery, oh, 20-some years ago?  Grade 2 classroom, blonde teacher whose name is far gone from memory, Margaret Jenkins Elementary School in Victoria. I don’t remember much from those single digit years – I think I’ve blocked most of it out – but I never forgot Harley. His family owned the local Dairy Queen, and every year when school was getting out for the summer it was Dilly Bars for all!

Obviously the F&B industry was in his genes.  It turns out it wasn’t milkshakes coursing through his veins however, it was wine. After high school, Harley completed the Hotel & Restaurant Management Diploma at Camosun College, putting his training into practice at Fairmont properties coast to coast over the next 7 years. Managing The Wildflower and Wine Room Restaurants at the Chateau Whistler sparked a love affair with wine, and he completed the Sommelier Diploma through the International Sommelier Guild. Since then, Harley has also become a certified Sommelier with The Court of Master Sommeliers as well as a certified Spanish Wine Educator. Pretty impressive resume – even more so when you consider this hardworking man is still early into his 30’s.

Like many British Columbians, Harley escaped down to the heat of Vegas for regular holidays. After visiting a friend working in the restaurant industry there, Harley decided to apply for a job and warm his BC bones for a while. From the snow-topped mountains of Whistler to the deserts of Vegas, he quickly found work as Food & Beverage Manager with the (now closed) Ritz-Carlton at Lake Las Vegas.  In April 2008 he landed in the epicenter of the Strip, as Assistant GM and Sommelier at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon at the MGM Grand. Just over a year later, he was promoted to the top echelon of the wine world, and named Director of Wine for Joël Robuchon and L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon at MGM Grand. In this position, newly created, just for him, Harley oversees and develops the wine programs for two of Vegas’ top restaurants: Joël Robuchon, the only Vegas restaurant awarded three Michelin Stars; and sister restaurant L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, a slightly more casual space that famed celebrity Chef Robuchon prides as his ‘workshop’. Harley’s job includes sourcing and purchasing, pricing, inventory control, training, service and sales. And tasting, tasting, tasting.  When I visited, he received a trolleys worth of vintage Krug ($200/bottle, give or take a few bucks). All in a day’s work at one of the best restaurants in a town of bests.

We all know everything is bigger in Vegas. Wine is no exception. In fact, Vegas has more Sommeliers and Master Sommeliers per capita than any other city on earth.

At The MGM Grand alone there are 14 sommeliers dedicated to quality wine service. Over 6,000 wines are available on property, the hotel’s inventory totals approximately 51,000 bottles, and 23,000 of those are stored in the on-property warehouse. That’s big.

But Harley also recognizes that big isn’t always better – especially when it comes to the price tag. One of the first things he did in his new role of Wine Director was add 100 wines under $100 to his lists (Joël Robuchon’s wine list is around 1900 products, and L’Atelier’s is one third of that). The change has been very well received, even in a place where there will be 2 or 3 bottles a night selling for well over $1000. “The economy didn’t affect us here as much as most – our regular clientele return for the high quality of food and drink and the exceptional service, and they recognize the value in it. However, if people know they can purchase fantastic wine at a relatively reasonable price, they’ll return even more often.” Granted, a lot of the clientele aren’t watching their pennies. The 16-course degustation menu at Joël Robuchon is $385 per person, and the average price of a bottle of wine sold is close to the same price. The list is predominantly French, with great depth in classified-growth Bordeaux, including 14 vintages of Château Cheval-Blanc. Craving the ’47?  Hopefully lady luck has your back at blackjack, because it will set you back $24,000.  A sweet tooth?  How about Yquem? 1937 is a cool $20,970.  Just a sampling of the gems in the cellar. After all, Harley and his team were awarded the highly coveted Grand Award from Wine Spectator last year. So why even bother with his 100 under $100?  The chance of exciting and introducing a new audience to products and regions otherwise out of reach – that’s a winning gamble.

When I ask Harley about the perception of BC and Canadian wine down south, I was surprised to hear that it’s seen as an up and coming, exciting region – and one where great value can be found. In fact, during Harley’s exhaustive Court of Master Sommelier’s exam the week prior there was not one, but four BC-centric written questions! His restaurant lists are dotted with some finds from his homeland – Inniskillin, Osoyoos Larose and Mission Hill to name a few.

In his privileged position at the top of the pack in Vegas, he doesn’t have to look too far for tasting opportunities.  Reps line up to talk to him, and he has the opportunity to travel and taste wherever he’d like to.  But this humble wine geek (and newly Vegas home owner) is very content to be exactly where he is – surrounded by a team of perfectionists… and vintage Krug.

Written By:

Treve Ring is a wine writer, editor, judge, consultant and certified sommelier, and has been with EAT Magazine for over a decade.\r\n\r\nIn addition to her work with EAT, she is a Wine Critic and National Judge for ...

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