By Renee Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
Some of the world’s most expensive wines can be found at a place in Wyoming that might not be everyone’s first guess – or second or third, for that matter.
We’re talking about a $22,999 bottle of wine, a 2013 vintage Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée Conti from Burgundy France.
The wine is one of 500 or so listed on the wine menu for The Prime Rib Restaurant in Gillette, Wyoming.
Owner Ken Barkey told Cowboy State Daily the restaurant’s price for the 2013 Romanée-Conti – his menu features several vintages – is actually inexpensive for that particular bottle.
“It’s pretty rare, and it’s just hard to get,” he said.
In fact, a Google search shows a 1945 bottle of that wine selling for $5.58 million to an Asian collector in 2018.
Consistency Is King
While a nearly $23,000 bottle of wine is a curiosity and conversation-starter, it’s not a fluke or publicity stunt. The Prime Rib has long been known for its extensive wine menu.
Consistency is the key to scoring a bottle of wine like that, Barkey said.
In a 40-year career, he’s only managed to acquire about six bottles of that particular wine because of its limited quantity.
“If you’re ordering it and you order it every year, you know, you have good chances of getting it,” he said. “But when you want to cherry pick years and things like that, you know, they’ll stop (offering it).”
Barkey has so far sold two of the most expensive Romanée-Conti bottles so far.
He keeps that particular wine in a different location than the restaurant to guard against accidental breakage. But customers do not have to order it in advance. It’s easy enough to get right away, Barkey said, if someone would happen to order it.
Supply And Demand Explains the Price
What makes that particular wine so expensive is simple economics.
“Romanée-Conti is just, you know, it’s a very small vineyard,” Barkey said. “I don’t know how many acres it is. It might only be like a couple of acres, maybe 4 acres at the most. So, it’s not a lot of wine, and everybody wants it. Asian markets want it, China markets want it. So, demand drives the price up.”
Barkey thinks Jackson restaurants probably also have the wine, but likely list it for much more than he does in Gillette.
Other wines on The Prime Rib’s menu are more like what an average customer would expect. It’s easy to buy a bottle of quality wine for as little as $18 dollars. There also are mid-priced wines that range in the hundreds, on up to the bottles that go for thousands.
The menu also is quite extensive with French, Italian, Californian, Australian and many other wines represented, in all sorts of price ranges by bottle or glass.
Barkey has tried all of the wines on the drink menu, save one – the Romanée-Conti.
The Hard Question
Aside from offering some of the world’s priciest wines in the Cowboy State, what Barkey and his son Sam are especially proud of is the incredible diversity of wines on the menu.
“At one time we had 800 different selections,” Ken Barkey told Cowboy State Daily.
Now that Sam is managing the wines, that’s been pared down to a more manageable 500 greatest hits.
People are always asking the Barkeys what kind of wine they should get with their meals.
“That’s really hard to say if you don’t know what they already like,” Ken Barkey said.
So, he asks them what kind of wine they already like. Nine times out of 10, it’s something already on the restaurant’s menu. He tells them they should probably just get that.
“Sometimes people order an expensive bottle of wine and they don’t like it,” he said. “You shouldn’t go to a restaurant, you know, and spend $40, $50 on a bottle of wine you don’t really enjoy. I recommend for most people to get what they know they like.”
Collecting Wine Began Before The Restaurant
Ken Barkey started trying out wines when he was young with a college buddy. That developed into a hobby of collecting wines.
By the time he had the chance to buy out the previous owner of The Prime Rib, he was already working on a pretty nice, diverse collection of his own wines.
“Wine is great with dinner,” he said. “We don’t like, you know, just one wine. We like a lot of different wines. My wife and I got married in Italy, and we like Italian wines.
“But there’s something good about all of them. Australia does a great job. Spain does an amazing job. And we love the domestic wines. They are fantastic. There’s just so many great countries and great wines out there, you could never try them all.”
Each country also seems to have its own style with wine.
“French wines, you know they’re different from California wines,” he said. “There’s nothing better or worse about them. I mean, they’re just different.”
Even with some Americans buying French wineries and vice versa, the two countries still seem to just have very different styles, Barkey said.
Prime Rib Not The Only Thing For Dinner
Food at The Prime Rib, meanwhile, has a much wider range of diversity than is typical of most steakhouses.
“We’re a whole foods place,” Ken Barkey said. “We’re not a processed food place. We have two microwaves in the kitchen, but they’re not really used; just for certain things.”
Everything is made from scratch, he added, whether it’s the adult mac and cheese that was created after watching a southern-style cooking contest, or from a customer, such as Millie Marquiss’ shrimp, or from neighbors like raspberries in Russian cream from Susan and Steve Shultz.
These are items that have been on the menu for decades, and the customers are people Sam Markey knew, who have watched him grow from the child who peeled shrimp in the kitchen, the teenager who washed dishes, to the young man who is now a manager at the restaurant.
Creating New Recipes
Other recipes came about as a result of the catering business the restaurant runs, where a client wants something original and it turned out to be a hit.
Experiments will sometimes come out of the kitchen and go to established customers to try, or they’ll be put on the menu to see if they catch on.
Regardless of what the dish is, though, what Ken and Sam Barkey both stress is consistency.
“We might have 120 steaks going out at night,” Ken Barkey said. “(Our chef) is very good at that. I mean, he almost never has a steak come back.”
That’s down to having longtime employees, Ken Barkey said.
“Sam, when he first came to work as a manager, you know, what I modeled to him was just take care of the staff,” he said. “Our job is to make their job easier. The staff does the work. If we do that, then they can serve their customers without, you know, any problems. We’re really, really focused on staff.”