Sommelier, connoisseur, wine merchant: Philippe Simon is the voice of authority, a very French accented voice, when it comes to wine in Lafayette. Simon’s story is a classic tale of an emigré with a dream of coming to America and making a life for himself and his family. Working in two restaurants while living in France, Simon learned what he asserts is the key to pleasurably drinking wine: matching it with food. “My first advice I give to a customer, who says, ‘I want a red wine, a merlot.’ I say, ‘Yes, but what type of food do you want to eat?’ To bring back to my knowledge of what I did in France, you have to think food first, wine after.
Why would a successful restaurateur leave one of the most famous wine regions in the world to start all over in America? As he grew up and traveled, the idea of America stayed with him. “It was always a dream for me. Anybody can come to this country and make a lot of money.” And so in 1997, Simon, decided to move to Florida to open a restaurant in the states. Simon explored California, without success, before landing in Scott. He credits the friendliness and good will of Lafayette’s residents in extending a hand to a foreigner. “When you come to Louisiana, if you get some help, if you meet the right people, who give you the right direction, it’s going to be good. You meet people, you meet people, you meet people, they are willing to help you, you know. That was a dream come true.”
Wine was his calling card, and Simon was shortly introduced to some of the town’s wine lovers. Simon says he needed to own his own business, and began making plans to open a wine shop. Philippe’s Wine Cellar opened December 1, 1999. A fixture in the store from the start was Simon’s wife, Sylvie. He guided customers; she ran the cash register — the typical arrangement in a French family business. Wine drinkers who knew Simon’s talents pairing food and drink from his nights working as a sommelier found their way to the store. For those who have traveled and tasted wines where they are grown, buying boutique wine in Lafayette was not easy. What set Philippe’s Wine Cellar apart was his deep knowledge of terroir, the French term for the connection between the earth, the food and the wine of a region.
Lafayette has been good to Simon. He moved his store from the Oil Center to Ambassador Caffery Parkway in 2006, tripling the size of his wine shop and doubling the business. Sebastien, the Simons’ oldest son, also works with the couple.
Simon really enjoys the one-on-one relationship with his customers. He is able to focus on individualizing their wine selection, paying close attention to the purpose of the purchase, be it laying away cases for the future or planning tonight’s dinner party. Visiting the shop is also great fun. Mornings, Simon tastes wine several days a week. Around noon, Simon is cooking for his staff on a small Coleman stove in the back of the store. Lucky customers sometimes arrive just as the steak au poive is coming out of the skillet, and get a little lunchtime lagniappe with their purchase. Friday afternoons are turning into a happening at the shop. There is a well attended free weekly wine tasting, which Simon uses as an opportunity to educate his clients’ palates. Novices chat with aficionados as they compare a winery’s flight, side by side. Simon is constantly teaching how to bring a wine to its top, by serving it at the best temperature, in the best glass, with the best food, and — most important — in the best ambience.
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