Reaping the Reward

What a year it has been so far! And now we are smack in the middle of festival season: Pinch me, I must be dreaming in the land of dreamy scenes.

As good as it has been (Thank you, Saints. Thank you, Mitch. Thank you, Rex, etc.), plenty has been going on in parallel to all the Big Things that should not go unnoticed.

And because my beat is the liquid refreshment scene, we will focus our happy spotlight on a few of those developments.

One of the feel-good stories of our community is the ongoing development of the Pontchartrain Vineyards project. John Seago and his wife, Susan, have dedicated their lives to growing fine wine grapes within the metro area. To be sure, growing such an agricultural product in a city atmosphere is not unheard of. Château Haut-Brion, a great Bordeaux wine, is surrounded by the city of Bordeaux.

By way of clarification, I am not comparing Pontchartrain Vineyards with a first-growth wine from the Left Bank of Bordeaux. This whole giddy year has not affected my senses to that extent.

Yet what the folks at Pontchartrain Vineyards have done is create and craft good wines about which you need not be ashamed, assuming you take pride in the products that come from our area. If not, disregard that last statement.

Wines are made by people who control matters in the winery and work with nature in the vineyards –– tricky stuff because neither task happens well without management and a couple of decent breaks along the way. It is particularly noteworthy that Pontchartrain Vineyards is doing the task in an area that is particularly unsuited for making fine wines, and they are doing it in a place in which winemaking has always been a home-brew sort of exercise.

As the owner of a talking dog once noted, it’s not what the dog has to say but the very fact that he can do the activity at all that is noteworthy.

OK, back on topic. Pontchartrain Vineyards has been awarded a silver medal for its 2004 Rouge Militaire Cynthiana/Norton release and a gold medal for the 2005 Le Grand Louis Syrah from the 2010 Florida State Fair International Wine Competition.

Way to go, gang!

For those of you who are not familiar with the Norton grape, it is one of the earliest grapes associated with the American wine industry, going back to before revolutionary times. It’s a hardy variety that does well in locations where more traditional grapevines would not yield good results, such as the East Coast, the Midwest and the Gulf South.

A close cousin to the Norton grape is the Cynthiana, which is now believed to be genetically identical to the Norton but which exhibits different ripening characteristics and different flavors and bouquets when made into wine.

The earning of the two high medals by Pontchartrain Vineyards indicates a maturing of that facility and may be a happy harbinger of many more good things to come. If you have not enjoyed a Pontchartrain Vineyard wine, this may be a good moment to try the current offerings from that winery.

I might add that an excellent time and place to dive into a tasting experience with the wines is during the many performances of Jazz ’N the Vines, a concert series staged in the spring and fall where you head to the vineyards, sit on your blanket, nibble from your picnic basket, enjoy some fine music and check out the wines.

The next performance will be on Saturday, April 17, featuring Charmaine Neville and her band, and it’s sure to be a treat. Tickets are $10 per person (that’s not a typo on the ridiculously low price of admission).  Full information, including directions on how to get there and what to bring, is at

More kudos also should be sent to a new venture in our town, one which makes a lot of sense, both from a practical viewpoint and the fact that it is here.

Antonio LaMartina, a New Orleans native, was at the beach a few years ago with his family. It was a good day all around. He was sipping on one of those fruit juice bags-with-a-straw that are popular with the kids’ set when his mind and his eyes wandered to the horizon and a key question came up: Why are portable, single-serving adult beverages limited to cans of beer?

Antonio contacted a few friends and proposed an idea: Let’s create cocktails in individual servings that are easy to chill and come complete with straw bags. Portable cocktails are so New Orleans.

Mar-Go-Ritas were born. Simply set the quick-chill bag into the freezer for a few hours, and then untwist the screw cap from the 375-milliliter eco-friendly bag, insert the included straw, and enjoy a cool refreshing adult drink made with all-natural ingredients. The blue agave tequila in the mix is actually fermented wine of the blue agave, not distilled tequila. This gives the product a lower alcohol level, about 24 percent, rather than the usual 40 percent.

Other products coming into the line are Pino-Go-Lada and Daq-Go-Ri. Looks to me like the gang sits around at night enjoying their product while conceiving new names for future products. I wish I could get in on those naming meetings.

But here’s the really good news. These guys and the Mar-Go-Rita were just awarded top prize in the Coulter Challenge, a prestigious competition for startup companies. The local lads are on their way to San Francisco where Jim Coulter, a big-time venture capitalist, will put them in the middle of networking opportunities and potential investor relationships.

The whole deal unfolded as part of New Orleans Entrepreneurial Week, sponsored by our very own Idea Village. Already the Cordina Mar-Go-Rita is available in 13 states, and now they have this amazing development that should rocket them into significant sales situations.

As we all know, New Orleans is a special place –– sometimes good-special and sometimes not-so-good. Yet this town’s creativity and energy are driving a great rebuilding effort. Why not build a few local industries along the way?

Congratulations to Pontchartrain Vineyards and Cordina Mar-Go-Rita for taking what we do best and doing it here, in the process bringing national attention to our little burg.

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