You want a second opinion from Dr. Theo Mellion?
Well, how about a nice chenin blanc from France's Loire valley with dinner? That is, unless you're craving a pinot noir from Burgundy.
Mellion, a Wichita spinal surgeon, pursues a second career as a commercial importer of wine from France. He is majority owner of Roche-Mere Wine Selections.
Mellion has been visiting France for more than 30 years, nurturing what he calls an unquenchable thirst for the country's wines, food and culture. He first became involved in importing wine as an investor in another company that encountered problems after 9/11. "I always wanted to start up another one," he said. "In 2008, I did."
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Roche-Mere, which means mother rock or bedrock in French, focuses on wines from small, family-owned wineries in France, most ranging in size from 10 to 50 acres.
“Many of them are organic and or biodynamic growers," Mellion said. "We have a personal relationship with all of the growers we work with.”
The company imports wines from about 30 producers, offering about 80 different wines, including all the major varieties such as Champagne, Bordeaux and Beaujolais. The wine is stored in New Jersey before being shipped around the nation.
Mellion is an East Coast native who trained at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and Baylor College of Medicine. He practiced in Baltimore and southern Illinois before moving to Wichita in 2012. He performs surgery at the Abay Neuroscience Center and Kansas Spine and Specialty Hospital. The flexible nature of his practice allows him to pursue both passions – medicine and wine – with equal energy. That, and his willingness to get up at 5 a.m. to read emails from France.
Mellion's devotion to France extends to keeping an apartment there where he and his wife, Kelli, can stay while visiting. His first business partner in Roche-Mere was an American-born wine maker then living in France who still serves as an ambassador of the company through his wine bar and cheese shop on Long Island, Mellion said. In January, Michael Murray joined as a minority partner and director of sales and marketing. Murray had worked for LDF Sales & Distributing in Kansas as well as Philadelphia-based Vine Street Imports.
“He has been in the business and sold wines to distributors all over the country," Mellion said. "We both go to France and meet with growers and select wines we want to import. He's doing more of the traveling domestically and I'm doing more of the compliance and regulatory work, but it's a team effort.”
The pair hunt for wines that may not have been offered to American audiences and for producers that have long connections to the soil they grow on – seventh and eighth generation winemakers. Grower Champagne – that is, sparkling wine bottled by the same people who grow the grapes – is a current emphasis.
Although an unabashed Francophile, Mellion said the company "is not restricted to France and in time will probably bring in some other European wines."
Roche-Mere doesn't sell directly to consumers. Its wines are available locally at Chester's Chophouse, the Wine Dive, Jacob Liquor Exchange and other restaurants and retailers. Some of the varieties and producers include sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc from Domaine Jean-Christophe Mandard, grower champagne from Gimonnet Gonet, chardonnay and pinot noir from Domaine Justin Girardin, beaujolais from Domaine Gaget, and the Grand Cru Saint Emilion from Chateau d'Arcole.
Mellion said importing wine is a passion but a money-making proposition, too.
“Oh yeah, this is a real business. We're bringing in 40-foot containers full of French wine every few months – 1,300 cases of French wine every few months.”
His two careers "are completely different but both provide gratification."