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Tell Me More

As much as drinking wine, I enjoy talking with wine people.  Fortunately, I get to do that quite often, sometimes several times per week, by phone, at restaurants in New York, at wineries in Greece or Paso Robles or Mendoza.  Somewhere in the middle of the discussion of grape-growing and winemaking techniques, a topic will often pop up like those red plastic “it’s done” temperature gauges on industrial-strength Thanksgiving turkeys.  That’s different, I think, that’s interesting.  “Tell me more, tell me more!”

Zelma Long at Bar Boulud in NYC:  Surprisingly, I had never before met the worldwide winemaker (California, South Africa, Germany) and consultant, so I very much looked forward to sitting down with her.  Her take on consulting – which is quite different than those of Michel Rolland or Paul Hobbs – especially fascinated me: “I’m not a winemaker for other people.  I take a broad strategic view.  I visit the winery a couple of times a year to observe and give feedback.  I look for red flags,” which may be something in the vineyard, winery or even a financial plan.  Zelma, tell me more…

On the phone with Scott and Rachel Stinson in Charlottesville, VA:  D.C.-based architect Scott Stinson and daughter Rachel did all the right things when they started Stinson Vineyards in Virginia’s viticultural hotbed, and they are now making lovely, high-end wines.  But I’ve always been interested in innovative merging of different business or product lines, such as, years ago, coffee houses with book stores.  So when Scott said, “Farm-to-table is very much in vogue here, so we started a farm store at our tasting room with organic eggs, grass-fed beef and chickens, organic vegetables,” I said – “Interesting!”  Tell me more…

Yiannis Paraskevopoulos at Molyvos in NYC:  While sipping his Gaia Thalassitis from Santorini with a course of herb-stuffed red mullet, Paraskevopoulos says, “My colleagues don’t like to hear me say this, but while our wineries on Santorini are state-of-the-art, we need to do better work in our vineyards.”  That being said, the gregarious winemaker notes that he will be making some of his wines in his state-of-the-art winery this year using… amphorae?  What?  Reverse to the future? Tell me more…

Christian Scrinzi at The Fountain in Philadelphia:  When Banfi bought Bolla in 2009, they looked to Scrinzi to restore what had once been America’s favorite brand of Italian wines.  Over a glass of 2009 Valpolicella Ripasso, Schrinzi had a particular interesting thought on the process of pumping up a wine’s strength by adding previously fermented dried grapes skins: “Ripasso is very popular now,” he said, “but it happened because our grapes were once ‘poor,’ lighter in alcohol than the French reds.  When areas have a disadvantage, they make it into advantage.  Look at Sauternes and Champagne.”  The former region had this annoying fungus creeping through its vineyards, and the latter couldn’t get its grapes ripe.  Let’s think some more about that…

John Conover at Landmarc in NYC:  Conover is general manager of Plumpjack, which is perhaps America’s most-integrated hospitality group.  Let’s see, Conover reviews, there are the restaurants, the resorts and spas, the wine shops, two wineries – Plumpjack and Cade – with Odette set to open soon where Steltzner once was located in Stag’s Leap.  And, having stayed at one of the resorts, eaten at their restaurants and enjoyed many bottles of CADE and Plumpjack wines, they do it all well.  But tell me John, which hat are you wearing today – the chef’s toque, the hotelier’s homburg, the winemaker’s beret or all three?  Tell me more…

Nicole Burke at Fair Hill Inn in rural Maryland:  Burke is a well-known sommelier who is now regional manager for Boisset’s imported wines. But, as we’re waiting for the first course to be served with the Bene di Batasiolo Gavi di Gavi we are sipping, Burke is frankly a tad nervous.  You see, she is used to having tasted the menu first, then pairing the wines.  But chef owners Phil Pyle and Brian Shaw are also wine geeks.  “They said, sent them the wines, they would match the foods.”  And here comes the first course, asparagus salad with tarragon vinaigrette and crispy basturma and beet- pickled quail egg.  So does it make a difference which is decided first, the wine or the food?  Pour me more, feed me more….

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