Keeping It Merry and Local

We talked about holiday gift-giving in last week’s column, and that seemed to go over pretty well. On my scale, “pretty well” means I received no death threats, my house wasn’t egged, and my car wasn’t keyed. I have a very low scale for what I consider complete acceptance.

Anyway, given the fact that you are going to spend a few coins at this time of year anyway because of strong social beliefs, religious fervor and/or peer pressure (all of which are perfectly acceptable), may I suggest that you spend your lucre on products that will do some good at the local level?

When we describe ourselves as an island off the coast of America or the northernmost Caribbean nation, it is not an idle boast. We are. You will have to travel far to find anything like our culture and lifestyle –– if you can find it at all.

While we are busying ourselves with living the dream, we do have a few holes that need filing, not including some very large ones on some very busy streets.

The main hole to which I am referring is that for a culture that travels on its appreciation of spirits or wines, we don’t seem to make many. Truth be told, we really are not a very good place to make wine or spirits. When someone refers to visiting Wine Country, you already know they are not talking about Lakeview. And premium bourbon is not made on the street of the same name, which actually was named for a royal family, not a beverage. In all fairness to the street, maybe now it should be called Big Ass Beer Road, but that is not a battle I will be taking up with the mayor or the City Council.

Still, back on topic, there are some wines and spirits whose creators live here –– or their hearts are here –– and for that reason, they bring to the party a sense of home, with great stories about their origins.

Rideau Wines, located in Santa Ynez Valley in California’s Santa Barbara wine-producing area, is a project of love for Iris Rideau, a New Orleanian who made her fame and fortune in Los Angeles; tried to retire; realized she had a lot more gas in the tank; and in 1997, started the winery.

Iris loves New Orleans, and a step into her tasting room feels like going into a shop on Royal Street. The labels carry strong Creole and New Orleans influences. Those friendly labels are affixed to bottles of Rhône grape wines, chosen because Iris thought they go best with the Creole cuisine of her youth.

Iris and her goddaughter, Caren, are doing stellar work. Her whites and her reds are bold but with a gentle touch of elegance and style. Such names as Siempre and Lagniappe sit alongside fleurs-de-lis-patterned wine labels, and even the Caren’s Cuvee label has a seductive piece of art with the pastel-painting feel of those hanging on the fence at Jackson Square.

After you try a few of the wines, write to Iris or Caren to tell them how much you enjoyed their efforts. They love to hear from folks back home.

Closer to home are John and Susan Seago, across the Lake in Bush, with the Pontchartrain Vineyards project. These two have tirelessly invested money and sweat into an effort to bring a real winery and grape-growing experience to South Louisiana. Such dedication is not often seen in the wine industry, even in Wine Country.

This is not a good place to grow classic wine-making grapes. Our soils and our climate present a whole host of challenges, but the Seagos are doing all they can to make something good happen. They have embraced a white grape varietal, the Blanc du Bois, developed in Florida (wineries in that state face the same issues we do in growing fine wine grapes). There is success on this front.  The Seagos also bring in juice from various other places to make some of their wines, and they too, like Iris Rideau, are focusing on Rhône -style blends.

Viognier and syrah are two of their better wines. All the wines have strong local reminders, with names such as Rouge Militaire; Criolla Rosso; Le Grand Louis; and, on a simpler note, Dah Red. They do a port-style wine with one of the best wine names in the world, Port of New Orleans.

Here again, local connections are strong, and there is always the desire to carry the New Orleans brand to folks who are nowhere near here. Those of us who are here should support that endeavor by purchasing their wares.

Next up are a few folks who are actually residents of our city but whose love of wines means they have to establish operations in other wine-producing states.

James Moises, by day, and some nights, is an emergency room doctor at Ochsner and an assistant clinical professor in medicine and neuroscience at LSU Health Sciences Center. He has a passion for pinot noir. The expression “better keep your day job” does not fit here. Moises wines are very good.

The wines come from the Yamhill-Carlton and Eola Hills American Viticulture Areas, or AVAs, in Oregon. James sources his grapes from Wahle Vineyards sites. Mark Wahle understands James very well as the two met during their medical residencies at LSU.

Several of James’ wines carry the label designation Vieux Carré, and just about all of the Moises wine production is sold only in New Orleans. Pretty cool.

Dr. Nicolas Bazan is a good friend of James and also has been badly bitten by the wine bug, an interesting creature that won’t let go.

Bazan is director of the LSU Neuroscience Center for Excellence and has been published worldwide for his outstanding research work in ophthalmology. Unbelievably rich pinot noirs are an absolute infatuation, and he too sources grapes and makes his wines at the Wahle Vineyards in Oregon. And here again, he is devoted to the New Orleans market to share the beautiful results of his devotion and passion.

Let’s also give a shout-out to Ron and Bonnie Christner. He is an associate professor of finance at Loyola University; she is a local real estate appraiser.

Their vineyard, Bennett Valley Road, is located in Sonoma County. Merlot is their grape of choice, with a smattering of cabernet sauvignon. Their wine, CSquared Merlot (get it? two Christners are evidently better than one) recently won a Gold Medal at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair, the most important wine competition in that part of the world.
    
Then there’s the amazing case of the Old New Orleans Rum Co. Local artist James Michalopoulos had the idea back in the ‘90s to create a spirit using some of the area’s agricultural products.

Sugar cane is an abundant crop, so why not rum? Why not, indeed. Practically fully inventing and building its own pot and column-still operation, Old New Orleans Rum is producing a truly premium rum product on Frenchmen Street.

My view is that prior to Katrina the rums were not all that great. Now they have really hit a stride and are doing world-class work. I love the rums, and doing a distillery tour is absolutely a must-do experience for any spirits- lover. Hard to fathom that in those New Orleans-rustic surroundings they are turning out such luscious rum.

So those are some local people doing excellent work in wines and spirits. I’m certain there are others, but space and time prohibit listing more at this point. However, if you have any suggestions about locals who deserve recognition in these columns, I’m open to your thoughts.

Anyway, the point is: You are going to buy adult beverages anyway. Why not stay local?

Rideau Wines
•    Bien Nacido Chardonnay
•    Siempre Sauvignon Blanc
•    Estate Viognier
•    Riesling
•    Estate Grenache
•    Estate Syrah
•    Lagniappe Red
•    Siempre Caren’s Cuvee
•    Mourvedre
•    Petit Syrah
•    Tempranillo
•    Iris Chateau Duplantier

Moises Wines
•    Pinot Gris (new release)
•    Yamhill Carlton Holmes Hill Vieux Carré Pinot Noir

Nicolas Bazan Wines
•    Una Vida Wahle Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
•    Mis Nietos Wahle Vineyards-Holmes Hill Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
•    Haydee Wahle Vineyards Yamhill-Carlton District Pinot Noir

CSquared
•    Bennett Valley Road Vineyard Sonoma County Merlot

Old New Orleans Rum
•    Crystal
•    Amber
•    Cajun Spice
•    10 Year Anniversary
 

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