One of the World’s Best Winemaking Regions Is One of the Oldest


One of the World's Best Winemaking Regions Is One of the Oldest

December 28, 2018

No landscape in the world expresses the idea of mind over matter more powerfully and poignantly than northern Portugal’s Douro River Valley. Over the course of centuries, human grit, gumption and genius have completely transformed the valley’s almost-vertical hills of gnarled schist into terraced vineyards. Humans have massaged the hills’ coarse granite and slate soils into yielding the wines used to make the region’s signature product, Port. Port is the most storied of fortified wines, which differ from standard wines because a grape spirit, or brandy, is added during the production process. Adding the spirit during, and not after, fermentation kills off the active yeast cells and leaves the wine with high levels of residual sugar, making it sweet and strong in alcohol—Port’s special character.

In 2001, UNESCO recognized the uniqueness of these landscapes when it classified the Alto (upper) Douro Valley as a World Heritage site. UNESCO specified that the upper valley constitutes “an outstanding example of a traditional European wine-producing region” that’s been growing grapes for over 2,000 years. The group also noted, “The components of the Alto Douro landscape are representative of the full range of activities associated with winemaking—terraces, quintas [wine-producing farm complexes], villages, chapels and roads.” More simply said, the visual harmony of this countryside quietly exalts with its aura of peaceable permanence. Staring out over such well-groomed and -tended vineyards is profoundly soothing, too. Subliminally, they convey a gentle definition of eternity based on a profound respect for nature transmitted from one generation to the next. There have been vineyards here since almost the founding of the Roman Empire.

This bucolic backdrop makes for an unlikely setting for a revolution, but during the last 30 years a wave of change has jolted the valley’s conservative and genteel traditions of Port production. The bold band of winemakers who launched the charge still leads it. They came together in 2003 and christened themselves “the Douro Boys.” Their shared goal was to put the unfortified wines of the Douro on an equal footing with Port. The wines had the pedigree to achieve a level of recognition appropriate to their inherent quality. And they have. Today the region is rebooted; the Douro’s unfortified wines are on par with the best vintages of Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Piedmont and other storied Old World wine lands.


Consider that wines from one or more of the Douro’s quintas have made it onto Wine Spectator’s “Top 100 Wines of the Year” list every year for over a decade. This feat casts them as rivals of the Pauillacs, Gevrey-Chambertins, Châteauneuf-du-Papes and Barolos. The highest Douro Valley unfortified wine score to date? Wine Spectator rated a 2011 vintage Quinta do Vale Meão 97/100. From the magazine’s tasting notes: “A lush, seductive red, filled to the brim with an array of dark fruit and kirsch flavors, accented by plenty of cream and spice notes. Silky tannins and molten chocolate hints add richness. The long finish echoes with mineral and white pepper. Best from 2015 through 2022.”

During the recent week I spent among the Douro Boys—men, really—as a fledgling but eager student of Douro Valley wines, I’ve never met a more passionate, worldly-but-earthy and intelligently innovative group of winemakers. Each one taught me something different about the essential character of Douro wines. All of them exemplified the same consistent elegance, charm and graciousness as the superb quaffs I sampled.

The “Boys” are a convivial group of cousins, brothers and friends, and did not jump into winemaking on a whim. Between them, they represent five of the most respected wine estates in the Douro—Quinta do Vallado (Francisco Ferreira and João Alvares Ribeiro), Niepoort (Dirk Niepoort), Quinta do Crasto (Miguel and Tomás Roquette), Quinta Vale Dona Maria (Cristiano van Zeller) and Quinta do Vale Meão (Francisco Olazabal). Although descended from some of the most famous Port-making families in the region, none of these men find their ardor for making unfortified wine incongruous with their families’ history. “Innovation is actually very much a part of our heritage,” observed the amiable Cristiano van Zeller when I visited him at Quinta Vale Dona Maria, where he makes wine from 50-year-old vines on property that has been in his wife’s family for 150 years. The Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker said of the Quinta do Vale D. Maria 2009, “It will be a contender for wine of the vintage” and rated it 96 points.

“From generation to generation, we have been documenting every single square foot of this valley, because even if they are just a few feet apart, different parcels of land can produce wholly different wines,” van Zeller said. “This is why we have to mix and match different barrels from different plots to get the right balance in a wine.”

“Everything changed in 1986 when Portugal joined the European Union,” explained Carlos Raposo, the brilliant young cellar master who oversees production as part of his collaboration with winemaker Dirk Niepoort at the latter’s Quinta de Napoles vineyards. The EU abolished the monopoly that funneled Ports produced in the Douro region to the big Port houses that blended, matured and marketed them from their cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia across the river from Porto. “Wine producers were finally able to bypass the houses founded by the English and Dutch Port merchants and were free to sell independently,” Raposo said.

To appreciate the magnitude of this change, it helps to know a little bit about the history of winemaking in the valley of the Douro River, which originates at Picos de Urbión in Spain and then flows 557 miles west across northern Portugal before reaching the Atlantic Ocean at Porto. Archaeological evidence indicates wine has been made in the upper valley since the Bronze Age some 3,000 years ago, but the region’s vineyards really thrived when Portugal became part of the wine-loving Roman Empire in the 3rd century B.C. What sealed the fate of the Douro as a producer of fortified wine for centuries was a series of treaties signed between England and Portugal that gave Portugal privileged access to the lucrative British market.

The 1703 Methuen Treaty put Portugal on a preferential basis in supplying Britain through lower tariffs on wines from Portugal than those from other countries. After a quality scandal in the region in the early 1700s caused Port sales to plummet, the Marquis de Pombal, a Portuguese nobleman, founded the now legendary Douro Wine Company to regulate the Port trade. The company, for the first time, officially delineated those regions of the valley that had the legal right to call their fortified wine “Port.” (The Douro is one of the three oldest established wine appellations in the world.) The thriving commerce between England and Portugal led to the establishment of a community of English and other European wine brokers in Porto, and the founding of the great Port houses, which enjoyed a monopoly some winemakers describe as quasi-feudal with the quinta producers until 1986.

“In 1987, when Dirk told his father that he wanted to buy the 70-acre Quinta de Napoles and begin producing wine, the older gentleman first thought his son had taken leave of his senses, but eventually he came around,” explained Raposo. “After several years of hard work, Dirk’s Redoma wines showed everyone the incredible potential of the Douro to produce unfortified white wine, which surprised everyone, because almost none had been made here in the past—the Douro was considered red-wine territory par excellence. Niepoort whites are made with local varietals like rabigato, codega do larinho and viosinho. These grapes come from very old vineyards planted in mica schist soils at high altitudes, which yield delicate mineral-rich wines of great complexity.”

It isn’t just the grapes and terroir, the French idea of a very specific geographical place. “We still work according to traditional methods, including crushing the grapes by foot in large, open, waist-high stone tanks called lagares,” said Raposo, who worked at wineries around the world before joining the Niepoort winery. “The reason we work this way is the foot never crushes the grape pips [seeds], releasing bitter oils the way that mechanical presses do, and the granite used to make the lagares gives the wine more character, too.”

On a chilly autumn afternoon, a fire crackled in the fireplace of the elegant dining room at Quinta do Vale Meão. August oil paintings on the walls and silver-framed family portraits on the sideboards brought generations of family to the table even though today’s owner, Francisco Olazabal, entertained a single guest—me—for lunch. The meal began with a soothing country soup made from potatoes, stock and turnip greens.


A main course of braised partridge hunted by the host in the surrounding hills followed. The succulent bird was served with a Quinta do Vale Meão 2013, an elegant red wine made from touriga nacional, touriga franca, tinta barroca and tinta roriz grapes grown on the estate. “This wine shows off the best elements of New and Old World style. You’ll find it’s full- bodied and fresh without any cloying jaminess,” said Olazabal, and he was right.

For the Douro, Olazabal’s estate is relatively recent. The 650- acre quinta was founded in 1877 by Antónia Adelaide Ferreira, his great-great grandmother. “She was from the Ferreira Port family, and her plan was to create a model vineyard. Almost all of the grapes grown here were sold to Ferreira to make Port until 1998, when my father resigned as director of Ferreira to dedicate himself to producing great still [unfortified] wines on the estate,” Olazabal said. “My great-great grandmother was sort of a visionary,” he added, explaining that the quinta lies on a geological fault with two distinctly different soil types: schist in front of the house and granite out back. “She knew this, and by buying this land she gave us great tools, because different grapes prefer different soils,” he said.

“We’re quite different from other Douro producers, because our vineyards are young and vinified according to individual parcels and then blended,” Olazabal told me while we visited his recently renovated aging cellars, where the air smelled deliciously of dried red fruit, especially cherries. “The real genius of the new Douro wines is that they can present such a strong sense of terroir but also be discreetly modern.”

While Olazabal maintains individual parcels of varietals, the other Douro estates still use the traditional local “field blend” system of grape growing. In this, different varieties are planted in a single parcel and picked at the same time. “These parcels are so precious that we have catalogued every single vine in case we need to replant. There are some dozen different grape varieties in those parcels, and together they make magic,” Miguel Roquette told me as we stared out over the vineyards that produce the grapes from which his family’s most highly lauded wine, the Quinta do Crasto Vinha Maria Teresa, is made. (Wine Spectator awarded the 2005 and 2011 vintages 96/100 and the 2007 vintage 95/100, while Robert Parker rated the 2001 as 95/100, the 2003 as 96/100 and the 2005 as 94/100.) Until I actually tasted the 2005 vintage in a Porto restaurant a few days later, the most interesting thing about my visit to Roquette’s estate was botanical.

“Come, Alexander. It’s important that you see this. This will tell you more about what makes the Douro the Douro than anything else,” Roquette said. I followed him into the dark on a cool, autumn night with a fine sliver of a new moon in the star-studded sky above. Using his cellphone, he lit the way through the gardens outside of the family house on the farm. “Here we are,” he said, shining the light on an amazingly long, thick and gnarled slate gray root exposed in the side of a snaggly cliff. “The vine that sent down that root is at least a hundred feet above us on the hillside. Do you feel the power in this root, the obstinacy of nature? This is the Douro, a harsh place where the vines struggle but end up producing some of the world’s best grapes, from which we’re now making some of the world’s best wines,” said Roquette, sounding as awed as if he were seeing the root for the first time.

This is why you might honestly say that the Douro is living up to its name, since “douro” means “golden” in Portuguese, and this wine region, at once venerable and brilliantly avant- garde, is clearly just on the cusp of a new golden age.

How to Vacation in Sonoma’s Wine Country​


How to Vacation in Sonoma’s Wine Country

December 19, 2018

Locals often say, “Sonoma is for wine, and Napa is for auto parts.” (Of course, people in Napa have been known to respond, “Sonoma? I think I’ve heard of it.”) Good-natured rivalry aside, there’s no question that Sonoma is less famous than Napa. But it’s also a premier wine region that draws people back again and again. And though there are plenty of well-known wineries in the county, it’s easy to get off the beaten path to discover California’s original winemaking culture with family-run wineries, sprawling estates and hidden gems. 

In fact, Medlock and Ames put as much thought into the food they produce as the wine. A flight may include fresh vegetables from their garden, some local cheese, or salami produced by a neighbor. The wines tend to be fruit forward, with a sauvignon blanc you will never forget. They also make a rose that pairs with just about everything they serve. 

In Sonoma, a winery is typically much more than a place where they produce wines. At Medlock Ames, this is especially true. The young winery has only produced six vintages, but their wines convey a mature sophistication. And they grow a lot more than grapes on the 335-acre plot at Bell Mountain. They also grow produce and herbs, using principles of organic farming that brought owners Ames Morrison and Christoper Medlock James together at Tulane University.


Along with the wine, they offer a selection of organic produce for sale in the tasting room, but that’s not the only thing that will surprise you here: There’s also a secret bar. The Alexander Bar is hidden away, in speakeasy form, behind a tasting room wall. It opens in the evening, when they serve handcrafted cocktails, also using their fresh-grown ingredients, as well as artisan spirits and local brews. It’s just one more unexpected treat at Medlock Ames in the Alexander Valley. 

There is no prettier winery in the spring and early months of summer than Matanzas Creek, located in Sonoma’s Bennett Valley. Grapes are, of course, the primary crop at the vineyard. But the lavender fields have their own fan club. The lavender gardens come to peak bloom in late June, which handily coincides with the annual Lavender Festival. Soon after the lavender harvest it’s time to start picking grapes and making wine. The lavender is used in the kitchen as well as in a line of spa products available at the winery as well as a couple of local spas. Bennet Valley received an American Viticultural Area designation in 2003. Sonoma, Bennett and Taylor mountains grab the fog and cool air, courtesy of the Pacific Ocean. This cooling effect, known as the Petaluma Wind Gap, produces a microclimate similar to the Russian River Valley’s. It allows for a long growing season as grapes ripen a little at a time. Matanzas Creek wines are both interesting and well made, capitalizing on the superior fruit the vineyards offer. 

It’s hard not to be immediately taken by the beauty of the Michel-Schlumberger estate, even before you discover what makes this winery unique. The vineyards stretch across 100 acres on the foothills of Dry Creek Valley and, as you walk through the vast land, you’ll find breathtaking views from every angle. Beyond the 20 blocks of grape vines lie an olive orchard and vegetable gardens, alive and vibrant with butterflies, bird and bees, chickens, sheep and goats.

The fauna at Michel-Schlumberger serves a purpose: The bees naturally pollinate the landscape; the chickens eradicate outbreaks of pests; the goats clear the scrub on the hillside; and the sheep mow the grass. Jim Morris, Vice President of Sales & Marketing, sums it up: “Our world is all about building a healthy ecosystem.”

And that’s exactly what the Michel Schlumberger estate is: a self-sustained, eco-friendly environment that runs with little electricity, gasoline or excess water. They have earned some impressive awards in sustainability, but let’s not forget that it’s all about making wine — excellent award-winning wine. 

The acclaimed movie director’s estate is certainly no secret. But it’s an experience in its own right and worth the visit. Over the past 25 years, Coppola has reclaimed all of the original Inglenook vineyards. And in a nod to the estate’s storied history, it was renamed Inglenook in 2011, but still very much carries the Coppola brand name.

When you enter the big gates of the winery, you aren’t quite sure if you’re going into a movie set or an Italian castle. Unlike most wineries, this one is built with the entire family in mind, a place where you can spend the day with excitement for kids of all ages to enjoy. 

Outside of the winery is a swimming pool, café and changing “cabines,” which include pool passes and towels. There are also four full-size bocce ball courts and special events and concerts throughout the spring and summer. Rustic Restaurant, inside of the winery, serves “Francis’ Favorites,” such as Marrakesh Lamb and Braciole with Rigatoni in Meat Ragu. Indeed, the Coppola estate is a destination in its own right.

Midway between Sonoma and Santa Rosa is Kenwood, home to wineries such as Landmark and Saint Francis. Though St. Francis offers some nice food-and-wine pairings, there are other food options. The Restaurant at the Kenwood Inn and Spa is a beautiful spot for Mediterranean cuisine.

Open to the public for lunch and dinner, the large fireplace is usually going during the area’s short winter. The rest of the time, the dining room is open to the picturesque courtyard. At the other end of the spectrum is Cafe Citti. There is nothing elegant about it: Order at the counter and then take a seat inside or outside among what is bound to be mostly locals. But don’t confuse basic with lessthan-wonderful. The rotisserie chicken is great, as are any of the pastas. The white clam sauce is a staple, made with shelled clams sautéed with white wine and olive oil. The Casear salad is excellent, as long as you’re a fan of garlic.


Sonoma Square is a sleepy little spot, just like the town itself. With a variety of restaurants and shops, it’s easy to spend time just cruising, tasting and exploring. Those wanting to fend for themselves in the kitchen should make a stop at The Sonoma Market, which specializes in higher-end products at reasonable prices. The selection of produce, meats and specialty items is excellent.

Vella Cheese Company has been a Sonoma mainstay since 1931. Made exclusively with milk from happy, livin’- large cows at nearby Merten’s Dairy, Vella cheeses have garnered a heap of awards over the years. Tucked just off the square on Second Street, the shop offers cheese samplings. Still owned and operated by the hands-on Vella family, the cheese company is most famous for its Dry Jack. Created accidentally during World War I when Italy stopped most of its exports to feed its soldiers, Dry Jack became a domestic option to Parmesan cheese. And during World War II, the cheese’s reputation got another boost in both popularity and national pride. These days the cheese isn’t used as a Parmesan substitute but as a cheese worthy of its own place at the table — or in the omelet, atop the pasta, or with some crackers. Vella Cheese Company is also the only commercial cheese outfit in the U.S. to make Toma, a soft, slightly ripened artisanal cheese that originated in Piedmont. Italian Table Cheese, Asiago and a whole fleet of full-moisture Monterey Jacks round out the company’s selections.

LaSalette Restaurant specializes in the fairly obscure cuisine of Portugal. Named for the chef-owner’s mother in honor of her heritage, the restaurant has garnered a reputation for excellent seafood. Portuguese food draws from the culinary histories of its former colonies throughout the world, including Asia, Africa, India and the New World. The result is a truly unique dining experience, especially in Sonoma surrounded by a plethora of French and Italian-influenced California cuisine. They do a lot of cooking in the wood-fired oven, and serve several Portuguese national dishes, such as the feijoada completa with smoky sausage and caldo verde, literally translated as green soup. 

People argue about Cafe La Haye — nobody can agree on a favorite dish. Some stick to the risotto of the day, period. For others, it’s all about the seafood special. Even the roasted chicken with caramelized chicken jus has a fan club. And that’s before anyone even mentions dessert, which ought to include butterscotch pudding. Foodies agree that Cafe La Haye is a special place. Owner Saul Gropman is usually the one to greet guests as they come through the door, and he knows how to welcome people in and make sure they’re well tended.

Girl + the fig brings vineyard-style eating to downtown Sonoma. Originally opened on the Glen Ellen estate, restaurateur Sondra Bernstein moved girl + the fig to the square when the Sonoma Hotel evacuated its spot. (She now has The Fig Cafe at Glen Ellen). Girl + the fig is a magical little spot, with a welcoming patio and warm service. Time slows down in deference to what is often referred to as a French country menu, though Bernstein insists it’s actually a Sonoma menu with a French passion. Sonoma’s farms supply most of the ingredients the restaurant uses, and the food is topnotch. But what has always distinguished the eatery is the hospitality. The staff, from hostess to bartender to server, literally welcomes each guest. Of course Sonoma wines are highlighted, and imbibing is encouraged through extensive by-the-glass options as well as a selection of wine flights. During the spring and summer months, wait for a table on the patio. It’s worth it.

How the Tequila Landscape is Getting More Sophisticated


How the Tequila Landscape is Getting More Sophisticated

December 14, 2018

It’s not you imagination: Tequila has been expanding its claim on the shelves of your liquor store. The familiar troika of Jose Cuervo, Sauza and Patrón has spawned a lot of progeny—albeit well-bred—of late. “You don’t have to drink it in a shot,” says Chantal Martineau, author of the 2015 book that follows tequila’s ascension in America from “frat-house firewater” to a connoisseur’s sipping spirit, How the Gringos Stole Tequila. “In the last decade there’s been a shift toward drinking better tequila.”

This latest boost in popularity is tequila’s— the spirit must be produced in certain parts of central Mexico to bear that name—third life in this country. Its first was during Prohibition, when the spirit slipped over the border undercover. Most of this tequila was wretched; it was during this period that the custom of tasting salt and lime before downing a shot started. The salt and lime stunned taste buds and made the tequila taste less horrible. Once Prohibition ended and tequila had to compete against other spirits, it mostly faded away until the 1970s. That decade, its second life, marketers went crazy promoting frozen margaritas and the cocktail Tequila Sunrise on billboards and in magazine ads. It was sugar, rather than lime and salt, that masked the bad taste of this tequila.

While there’s still plenty of the frat-party kind, the growth you’re seeing is of tequilas with a sophisticated character
and look. These are sold in elegant bottles and priced like a single-malt scotch. Business icons and celebrities—John Paul DeJoria, George Clooney, Justin Timberlake, P. Diddy and Ken Austin (see “Aiming for the Sky,” page 38)—produce and import their own labels. Tequila has come of age, in every aspect of its production, from the agave used to the way it’s aged.

Early imported tequila was what’s called mixto—a hybrid liquor that could be made from as little as 51 percent blue agave. The rest of the alcohol could be distilled from any other source. Most often this other source was sugar cane, making mixto essentially a tequila-rum combo.


Tequila made from 100 percent blue agave allows the subtle, vegetal agave flavor through. Mexicans have long known of the superiority of pure agave tequila. A very few Americans did, too. In the early 1950s, crooner Bing Crosby discovered Herradura all-agave tequila while on a trip to Mexico. With his bandleader, Crosby decided to import it, becoming one of the first celebrity tequila mavens, even if on a small scale. For three decades, Herradura was the only 100 percent agave tequila available in the United States.

All-agave tequila went mainstream in 1989, when a pair
of entrepreneurs backed by a hair care products fortune launched Patrón Tequila. The bright, supple 100 percent blue agave tequila from Jalisco was sold in a hand-blown, hand- numbered bottle, and priced at an unheard-of $50. Drinkers were surprised at the price tag until they tasted the tequila. Patrón showed tequila could be every bit as luxurious as other high-end spirits. Soon after, other well-crafted, all-agave tequilas showed up at the party.

Among these: Chinaco, which was first distilled in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas in the 1960s but not imported into the United States until the 1990s. Quality had always been part of the plan of Guillermo Gonzalez, the lawyer who planted agave on his family’s farm and started this brand, which is an all-agave tequila.

Following changes in company ownership, Guillermo’s son, Germán, launched his own brand in 2007, with the goal of taking tequila up yet another notch. The younger Gonzalez believed there was a market for even finer tequila than existed, and he created Tears of Llorona (a name borrowed from Mexican lore), a limited-release, aged tequila. It sells for upwards of $200 a bottle. One critic referred to it as the “Pappy Van Winkle of tequila.” “One of the things that I love about Tears of Llorona is that it has so many layers of flavor, and it’s so delicate,” Germán Gonzalez says. “It has a lot of wood but it doesn’t lose the sense of agave.”

While cognac and whiskey are familiar with the inside of a barrel, it’s a new experience for tequila. Whether from pure agave or a blend, tequila was traditionally bottled fresh off the still, resulting in a clear product called “blanco.”

Some producers claim to have dabbled with barrels in the 19th century (Cuervo among them), but it wasn’t until the past couple of decades that aged tequilas became widely available, when producers began buying used bourbon barrels. They’d fill these with tequila and the spirit oxidized and developed some oaky flavor through steeping. This aged tequila found
an eager market in the United States, where drinkers have traditionally preferred brown spirits. Herradura and others started selling tequila that was “rested” (reposado), along
with variants aged in wood for at least a year (añejo) and a minimum of three years (extra añejo). It’s a good time for those who enjoy sipping tequilas, or for those interested in trying it. Like scotch and bourbon, fine tequila can be nursed neat, or with a single ice cube.

Sippers should beware, however: Age doesn’t always equal quality. It’s not uncommon to taste a remarkable, balanced scotch that’s been aged 20 years or longer. The cool, damp climate of Scotland conspires with oak to make art out of these simple elements. But in the heat of Mexico, longer aging can quickly over-oak the agave spirit, which tends to be more subtle and fragile than distillate from barley or corn. Some early expressions of aged tequila were unbalanced—all oak and no agave.

“Aging is craft—and when you’re talking about cognac, aging is an art,” says Martineau. “It’s all about the barrel, and that’s not easy to do when you’re in
 a place as hot as Mexico.” But the tequila industry has evolved, she adds. “Some
of the distillers are getting far more experienced with aging.”

Still, Martineau warns
aspiring tequila aficionados
not to overlook the best of the unaged tequilas, which offer subtle tastes of the soil where the agave was grown, the Mexican climate and even the history behind it. “I’m a blanco girl,” Martineau admits. “It’s such a delicate spirit, and I do believe that tequila can communicate a sense of terroir. Why would you want to cover that up with barrels from America that have had bourbon in them?”

“My mantra for Avión is that I want to
be the most inefficient tequila company in the world,” says Ken Austin, founder and chairman of Avión Tequila (and an Inspirato Member). “Inefficiency wins in premium products.”

So it’s a somewhat counterintuitive approach. But quality comes slowly,
and Austin’s way works. Avión, which launched in 2010, has attracted widespread notice among sophisticated tequila drinkers, and has made solid
gains closing the gap on the number one premium tequila, Patrón. This is thanks in part to Austin’s clever marketing,
but, more importantly, Austin avoided shortcuts. He makes tequila his way. “This was more about passion,” Austin says. “There are no celebrities, no fancy bottles. To me it was really about doing it right.”

In his early career Austin was an executive with both Gallo and Seagram— two major players in the wine and spirits world. “I’ve been a tequila guy for more than 25 years,” says Austin, who recently turned 50. Branching out, he went on to co- found Marquis Jet, in which card-holding members purchased blocks of time on a fleet of private jets. Along the way—and with prodding from Warren Buffett, who owned the fleet and later bought the company—Austin decided to follow his dream: launching his own tequila. He traveled to Mexico in 2007 to visit small distilleries. He searched for a partner—or what he calls “a kitchen where they’d let me come in and cook with them rather than cook for me.”


In the town of Jesús María, 7,000 feet above sea level and about two hours from Guadalajara, he hit pay dirt: a family owned distillery that invited him in to work alongside them in concocting a refined tequila. “I didn’t want something off the shelf,” Austin says.

Austin and his distilling partners experimented with agave from various fields, and refined the fermentation
and distilling process (Austin says he uses roughly 30 percent more agave than usual to add depth of flavor). He developed a proprietary slow-filtering method to soften some of the distillate’s sharp edges. The quality comes through in his unaged white tequila, as well as in his aged products, which spend more time mellowing in barrels than Mexican law requires. “Avión was made to be a sipping tequila,” Austin says.

The brand’s name is a nod to his aviation startup, and he got an early boost when Avión found its way into a plot line of the HBO series Entourage. (A friend of Austin’s is the series creator.) Still, that brought complications. He had to correct a mis- impression among many—“People at first thought it was a made-for-TV tequila, and it couldn’t be very good,” he says—and then hustle to meet demand when they discovered it was real.

Since Austin dove into the tequila market, the premium sector has gotten far more crowded—P. Diddy, George Clooney and Justin Timberlake have all jumped into the tequila pool. But Austin says he welcomes the company. “It’s bringing more attention to tequila,” he says, which will encourage more people to sip their way toward the upper shelves.

Above all, Avión remains a labor of love. Austin still spends about a week out of every six in Mexico, overseeing the production process. “I taste every batch,” he says. “This is my baby.”

These Cooking Schools Focus on Fresh and Simple Cuisine


These Cooking Schools Focus on Fresh and Simple Cuisine

November 15, 2018

Mid-July, and the theme at the Healdsburg SHED in the heart of California’s wine country is pie, pickles and preserves. Inside the award-winning building—equal parts restaurant, café, fermentation bar, shop and community gathering space (a.k.a. the Grange)—is a weathered, 12-foot-long wooden table on which lies a mélange of rolling pins, pastry flour and pie plates. These are for sale, along with Mason jars and instructional books, baskets of seasonal fruit and gourmet sugars. The selection is carefully curated to inspire, and inspire it does. Patrons browse the goods and inquire within, delighted to learn that in addition to purchasing the wares, there are a range of classes available where they can learn to use them.

“Most of our students are interested in the whole picture of agriculture rather than just eating or following a recipe,” says Grange manager Stephanie Callimanis. “We teach food crafting—everything from how to understand how your food was grown and who grew it, to how to prepare it, and then how to bring that knowledge home with you.”

Cooking classes at SHED generally correspond with the ever-
rotating monthly theme—you could sign up for a class on beekeeping
or fermentation. It’s a curriculum that heralds a new direction for cooking schools, and today more than ever, schools such as SHED open their doors to all those who love food, aiming to deliver an inclusive, casual immersion. We found schools staffed by animated chefs eager to share their culture’s tastiest samplings and that welcome students of varying ability, focusing on imparting knowledge in a relaxed, supportive environment. Which is why learning to preserve California-grown fruit or to coax eggs and flour into authentic Italian pasta while on vacation sounds so appealing. These schools are fun: learn to braise your own lamb shanks, boil your own bagels and toss your own green salad in vinaigrette made from scratch. Visit the local market with your instructor (who speaks the local language and knows the purveyors) and learn to identify the best eggplant or prime cut of meat. Then lose yourself in the school’s kitchen as you gain skills that will last long after your vacation.


Fonte de Medicim at Osteria di Passignano in Tuscany

Matia Barciulli wants to simplify your cooking and inspire your spirit. Executive chef at Osteria di Passignano on the Antinori estate, a Tuscan destination that features a restaurant, wine cellar, cooking school, and wine shop, Barciulli coordinates all of the property’s cooking classes and teaches the majority of them. His philosophy is alluring: “You eat 21 meals in a week. Eighteen of them must be to survive—fruits and vegetables and all that good stuff. The other three must feed your soul. All of them must be delicious.”

To that end, the classes at Fonte de Medici introduce you to traditional Tuscan cuisinef: homemade pasta, sauces, chocolate and more. The courses showcase the simplicity of Tuscan cooking—“with two eggs and a bunch of flour, you can feed 10 people,” Barciulli says. While making pasta or gnocchi from scratch might be intimidating, anyone can do it.

“My job,” he says, “is to give the guests the freedom to move easily in the kitchen when they are home by themselves. I am here to make people happy, and through the creation of these dishes, through making their own pasta, I succeed.”

Barciulli insists that using select, choice ingredients is key to crafting nourishing meals. “We Tuscans are simple,” he says. “We use beautiful ingredients. They are fresh and natural, and we don’t overwork them.” Simple does not mean boring. Here you’ll learn how to incorporate chocolate into a range of dishes—both sweet and savory—and how to cook meat in a way that renders it tender and juicy. And you will do it all on the stainless steel countertops of Osteria di Passignano’s kitchen classroom in a rustic stone cottage.

Following class, tour the ancient cellars beneath the Abbey of Passignano and then dine on the fruits of your labor—with wine pairings, of course.

SHED in Healdsburg, California

A white apron, chef’s hat cooking school this is not. SHED, one of Sonoma County’s hottest destinations is not, in fact, even a school. Nor is it entirely a restaurant, a retailer or a farm. Rather it is a unifying space where you can taste fresh and seasonal food prepared from the surrounding farm’s bounty at the café, find a package of seeds and gardening gear in the shop and then take a class.

“Ours is a multifaceted experience with food and farming, the big picture of what the region offers,” SHED manager Stephanie Callimanis says. Founded in 2013 by Cindy Daniel and Doug Lipton, SHED aims for the agrarian mindset lauded by Wendell Berry, which is “rooted in good cooking, good farming and good eating.”

Classes at SHED address a wide range of topics from biodynamic viniculture to preserving seasonal bounty and more. With a grain mill on-site, SHED offers whole-grain baking classes and soba-making classes using buckwheat. Fermentation classes give you insight into the processes taking place downstairs at SHED’s fermentation bar, which has beer and wine on tap along with kefir, kombucha and mead. Local and visiting chefs, such as cookbook author and executive chef Tom McNaughton of San Francisco’s Flour + Water, teach classes on their specialties. As enticing as the actual class content is SHED’s ambience. The 10,000-square-foot space, a modern steel-and-glass building with roll-up garage doors and an open floor plan, won the 2014 James Beard Best Restaurant Design Award. Callimanis says classes at SHED are casual and comfortable, and appeal to diverse skill sets.

River Cottage Cookery School in Devon, England

It’s easy to get distracted during a course at the River Cottage Cookery School. With 100 acres of organic farmland outside its windows and the ocean just beyond,
you could get lost in the idyllic nature of it all. Fortunately what goes on in River Cottage’s classroom is just as intriguing as the scenery outside it.

“Everything is hands-on here,” says head chef Gelf Alderson as he ticks through the course offerings: “Catch and Cook” (fish), “Nose to Tail” (butchering and preparing all cuts of meat), “Build and Bake” (clay ovens and bread). There are many more; you could opt to learn cheese making or how to forage for mushrooms or take a class focusing on vegetarian cooking. Almost every ingredient here comes from River Cottage’s own farm. Ingredients that can’t be sourced on-site are from nearby farms, a delightful change from what most students are accustomed to at home, says Alderson. “Most of us are very used to our food arriving washed and wrapped in plastic looking perfect,” he says. “We want to take a step back in time to where you know the farmer who grew your vegetables or raised your animal.”


Most popular is a one-day class that covers a little bit of everything. The day starts with tea or coffee and treats from the kitchen before diving into bread making, preparing dough you’ll return to throughout the day—to knead, shape and bake. Next is the pudding course, followed by a session on meat that goes well beyond the ordinary. “We use ingredients that people don’t usually use, like the liver and kidney, also known as offal,” Alderson says. “We change the way people see those sort of cuts.” Next you’ll learn to cook fish and also make quick and tasty vegetarian snacks. “A simple carrot or cauliflower can be turned into something amazing,” Alderson says. For the grand finale, you’ll pull it together and add some final touches. And then you’ll eat it

Le Foodist in Paris, France

Located in the heart of Paris’s Latin Quarter, minutes from the two open-air markets (Place Monge and Maubert Mutualité), Le Foodist is the dream of Frenchman Fred Pouillot. (Pouillot’s first career was as a chemical engineer.) Founded three years ago, Le Foodist offers multiple hands-on classes in a week, some with visits to the markets mentioned above. In addition, the school is a short Metro ride from the famous grocery store La Grande Épicerie and also from St. Germain’s covered market. (Depending on your class, you may end up at either location on a field trip.) Classes are intimate—11 students max—and foster the love of food that is so integral to French culture.

While all are welcome, you’ll feel most at ease here if you already know your way around a kitchen. “The vast majority of our students make food a central part of their travels and are quite well educated,” Pouillot says. “It’s very exciting because they are passionate about food and quick learners.”

Using raw, fresh ingredients, you’ll prepare classic French recipes that Pouillot has modernized or adapted to a class setting—Carpaccio of scallops and root vegetables with a curry vinaigrette, coq au vin in the Parisian style, potato mash in the style of Joel Robuchon, salmon tartare with a yuzu-based vinaigrette served on a turnip poached in a soy syrup or Mediterranean lamb stew with glazed vegetables. You’ll also learn the arts of plating and pairing wines with food before class ends with eating the meal you’ve helped prepare. “I love it when people have what I call an ‘a-ha’ moment—when they understand why things are done a certain way, or how to simplify their life in the kitchen by adapting a technique,” says Pouillot. “Students leave Le Foodist having experienced a true French meal.”

Enjoy the Best of Mexican Art, Architecture and Food in San Miguel


Enjoy the Best of Mexican Art, Architecture and Food in San Miguel

November 15, 2018

The first time Alma Luz Villanueva wandered into Mama Mia’s in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico a decade ago, “I felt instantly that I had journeyed home,” she says. A central fountain was filled with flowers. Birds fluttered from branch to branch in the old growth trees inside the restaurant. (Sometimes a bird swooped down for a tidbit of food.) During the day, the restaurant’s top floor, which looks out on the city’s innumerable, crenelated church spires rising over low-slung houses with famously colorful doors, was open to the sky. At night, if it was clear and warm, the canopy stayed open so you could look up at the stars.

Today, Mama Mia’s is very much the same and Villanueva eats breakfast there most Saturday mornings. For 10 years, the same waiter, Jorge, has allowed her to skip the buffet line. As soon as he sees Villanueva, he makes up a “Big Plate” for her: scrambled eggs in green chili sauce with onions, peppers, cactus, a pot of spicy beans, a pot of rice with onions and peppers and freshly made corn tortillas hot from the griddle. And Villanueva never misses the cinnamon coffee. Served in a clay cup, it’s “my absolute favorite,” she says. “Everyone I bring to Mama’s has at least four cups of it.”

Villanueva eats at Mama’s every Saturday because she loves it so much, not because it’s one of the only restaurants in town. Yes, 10 years ago, Mama’s might have been one of a few options, but that has changed.

Nearly 500 years old, San Miguel was named the world’s best city to live in by Condé Nast Traveler in 2013. Long treasured
for its eclectic population of artists and writers as well as its colonial architecture—its historic center is a World Heritage Site—the city is now the burgeoning hub of a different art form: food. Although it’s one of the latest hot spots on the international food scene, long-time residents know the city has always been a place where dining out with strangers often feels like dining in with family, and where there’s always been good, simple food. That hasn’t changed.

San Miguel-Featured-1

What is changing is the arrival of celebrity chefs, who long- time restaurant owners and the area’s farmers, many of whom have grown organic produce for decades, are welcoming with open arms. This summer, all of these groups came together at the city’s historic Instituto Allende for the first San Miguel de Allende Food Festival. The idea was to showcase the city’s new culinary culture, whether it was high-end cuisine or street food. Producers from around Mexico were invited to exhibit and cook. Cocineras traditionales from Oaxaca and Puebla came as did guest chefs from around the world: Carlo Mirarchi (Roberta’s/ Blanca, NYC), Ted Torrado (Drake Hotel, Toronto) and Lily Jones (Lily Vanilli Bakery, London), among others. It was like the famous writers who come to give presentations at the city’s annual (February) San Miguel Writers’ Conference & Literary Festival, but with food. Instead of books, it was ingredients such as edible flowers, insects, pork belly, chocolate and octopus. There were mezcals from Oaxaca, cheese from Puebla and wines from Valle de Guadalupe, Baja’s wine country.

There were also chef ’s table lunches and dinners, and, on
the final day, a brunch. Each of these meals, in keeping with the town’s low-key, intimate vibe, was limited to 20 people. Also keeping with the town’s personality was diversity: next door to a five-course meal, which included champagne and wine pairings by top regional chefs Juan Emilio Villaseñor, Armando Prats and Enrique Farjeat, was a laid-back Argentinian barbeque
by Monterrey chef Dante Ferrero. The city’s charm, like its cobblestoned, sun-dappled central plaza, el Jardin Principal, is the same as it ever was. Now there are just more ways to taste it.

In the last two years, the dining has become “as diverse as the population,” says Patricia Wynne, owner of Abrazos, which sells all manner of kitchen and cooking goods. At Casa de Cocinas, bite into chef Michael Coon’s Okonomiyaki pancake—cabbage and shallots topped with crispy pork belly, bonito flakes, Japanese mayo, bull dog sauce and toasted nori—and tell us you don’t feel transported to Japan.

Recently, Italian-born, French-trained Matteo Salas opened Áperi here. It’s not unusual for residents of Mexico City to make the nearly 200-mile trip for a meal at this warm, woody spot, especially if they can reserve the chef ’s table in the kitchen. Latin for “open,” Áperi’s seven-course tasting menu (four courses at lunch) constantly changes but always uses the region’s freshest ingredients. It is “really important to make simple food with a great taste and flavors,” Salas says. Fresh ingredients are one
of the many reasons chefs are drawn to San Miguel. “We can
get crayfish, pigeons, goats, suckling pig, beef and any kind of vegetable,” he says.

It was 2008 when American chef Donnie Masterson, formerly of Bice in Beverly Hills, The Hay Adams in Washington D.C. and Manhattan’s Tavern on the Green, opened The Restaurant. (He had moved to San Miguel several years earlier for the lifestyle.) There guests dine on what Masterson calls “global comfort food”—shaved Brussels sprouts and kale salad; duck confit tacos—served in an 18th-century flagstone courtyard.

Wynne, who moved here 15 years ago from north Berkeley, says The Restaurant “exceeds anything you will find in Berkeley or Mexico City for a fraction of the cost.” (Masterson also chairs San Miguel’s largest annual culinary event, Sabores San Miguel, another summertime festival.) His newest venture, Tacolicious, opens in November.

Ten kilometers outside of the city at B’ui, restaurateur Daniel Estebaranz, one of the founders of the San Miguel de Allende Food Festival, tapped Mexico City superstar Marko Cruz to be executive chef. In the Otomi Equestrian Center, B’ui is ranch-to- table: think whole artichokes in creamy goat’s milk mozzarella and roasted chicken.


Don’t expect to have to make reservations months in advance for any of these though. The only place you’ll likely have to
wait is at Andy’s Taco Truck. (But it’s worth it. Wynne says Andy’s serves the world’s best al pastor tacos.) Another one of the busiest places is the city’s Saturday morning market. In el Jardin Principal, purveyors sell produce alongside traditionally prepared foods. Nicholas Gilman, the author of Good Food in Mexico City: A Guide to Food Stalls, Fondas and Fine Dining and a writer for the New York Times says he recommends the market for those looking for authentic Mexican food. Don’t be surprised to find yourself picnicking next to local families and some of the 10,000 strong expat community. San Miguel now has celebrity chefs and “Top Chef ” might have filmed three episodes here in January, but there’s still no pretension.

This being Mexico, tequila rules. Müi Bar inside the boutique Hotel Matilda is one of the few places in town offering Casa Dragones, a small-batch, limited-edition tequila created by Mexico’s only female master tequilera, Bertha Nieves. If you’re not into tequila, Müi’s mixologist Alberto Morales Perez Riesler’s cocktail menu is as creative as the dining menu at the hotel’s Moxi Restaurant. In 2012, Enrique Olvera of Mexico City’s Pujol, which is currently ranked as the 16th best restaurant in the world on San Pellegrino’s annual World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, took over the menus at both Moxi and Müi. Olvera had no problem finding local purveyors that met his exacting standards for organic herbs, vegetables and fresh goat cheese. With as many locally sourced ingredients as possible, Olvera creates traditional Mexican dishes, but uses the latest techniques and cosmopolitan concepts. The end result is a changing menu with a Mexican soul and an international palate.

Susan York, a San Miguel food blogger, also recommends La Azotea for drinks. The sleek rooftop bar off the Jardín doesn’t just have phenomenal people watching—the fashionable Mexico City set, sporting Mexican designers like Alejandra Quesada and MíTu Calzado—but also extraordinary views of the pink, spired Parroquia church. Come here at sunset, order a jicama taco “they’re a truly authentic experience,” York says—and watch the sun set over the Guanajuato Mountains.

“I saw [Chicago] evolve into a major food powerhouse,” says York, who lived in that Midwest city for 25 years. “San Miguel is fast becoming a new culinary center in Mexico and it is so exciting to watch.”

Sustainably Harvested Seafood is Changing Vancouver’s Food Scene


Sustainably Harvested Seafood is Changing Vancouver's Food Scene

November 14, 2018

Veteran Fisherman Peter Muursepp has just docked at Fisherman’s Wharf in Vancouver with a haul of albacore tuna. The Pacific Ocean shimmers in the bright morning sunlight; just across False Creek, less than a mile away, rise the skyscrapers of the city. Ned Bell, executive chef at the Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver, bolts out of his shiny white Prius and trots over to Muursepp’s fishing boat, takes one look at his catch and says, “Peter, your tuna is going to be served at YEW (the Four Seasons’ flagship restaurant) tonight.”

This intimate connection between fishermen and chefs is a key part of Vancouver’s burgeoning sustainable seafood movement. Fishermen do their best to catch responsibly, and chefs work directly with them to put fresh, local and remarkably flavorful seafood on their diners’ plates.

“The lucky thing for us as chefs in Vancouver is that we have Fisherman’s Wharf right here,” Bell says. “The boats go out and come back with their catch, and they bring it right to our restaurant kitchens; it’s on the plate that night.”

Muursepp, with twinkling eyes and an unkempt white beard, looks like a fisherman from a bygone era. He says his goal is to leave the fishery intact for generations to come. “I don’t want to leave too big a mess behind—I want it to last,” he says, noting that oceans have been overfished for decades and some stocks are nearing collapse. He’s gratified to be working with Bell, who has become a leader of Vancouver’s sustainable seafood movement.

The goal, Bell says, is “wild, well-managed fisheries and responsible aquaculture.” Canada’s movement toward sustainable seafood began in Vancouver in the early 2000s when marine advocates and chefs sought solutions to overfishing worldwide. In 2005, the Vancouver Aquarium partnered with local chefs to launch the Ocean Wise conservation program (, modeled on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, a guide to sustainable fish consumption.

“Vancouver was the natural birthplace for the sustainable seafood movement,” says Teddie Geach, seafood specialist for Ocean Wise. Most Vancouverites are environmentally conscious, she says, and “the ocean is right there on our doorstep. Sustainability is just good business strategy for a lot of these chefs.” Of Ocean Wise’s 650 partners, which range from restaurants to fish sellers, universities and private clubs, 168 are in Vancouver, she says, more than three times as many as Toronto, second on the list.


Chef Rob Gentile, the executive chef of the Buca restaurants that set the culinary standard in Toronto, credits Vancouver with leading the way toward a more sustainable seafood ethic in Canada. “Vancouver has always been a leader in educating the public,” he says. “Between the incredible work of (chef) Robert Clark and now Ned Bell they have really got the attention of many important people that can truly make a difference in what is brought to our tables.”

Though Bell is now the face of the movement, he says
no one has done more to promote sustainable seafood in Canada than Clark, the “godfather” of the effort. “It’s on his shoulders that I stand.”

When Ocean Wise launched a decade ago, sustainable seafood wasn’t “fashionable,” says Clark, co-owner of The Fish Counter and founding chef/partner of Ocean Wise. 
In 2013, Clark, the former executive chef at the highly lauded C restaurant (which closed after he left) opened The Fish Counter with former Ocean Wise manager Mike McDermid.

In a recent Vancouver Sun profile, Clark is credited with “making Vancouver the strongest sustainable seafood city in Canada, setting examples for other cities.” Clark consulted with the Vancouver Aquarium since before Ocean Wise launched, McDermid says, as he slices fresh salmon on a wooden cutting board at The Fish Counter. “Rob and I worked to build awareness about sustainable seafood. We started with a few local restaurants and now have a national network.”

The Fish Counter is a neighborhood place where
you can get a plate of sizzling fish and chips (try the lingcod) or buy raw halibut to cook at home. Feisty and cantankerous, Clark came to Vancouver from Quebec in 1993. Despite Vancouver’s close proximity to the ocean, “the fish was crap here in 1993—the best fish used to be exported,” he says. He discovered that the salmon served in restaurants was mainly farmed Atlantic, and not the wild species for which British Columbia is famous. In
the past decade there’s been a sea change in Canada, with Vancouver leading the way, as more diners have come to appreciate local fish in season. Palates have become more sophisticated, Clark says; patrons at fine restaurants as well as shoppers buying fish to cook at home have developed a taste for high-quality seafood.

Consumers want to know more about where their food is coming from, Geach says, “how it’s being harvested and how it’s being caught or farmed. Chefs are in a unique position to tell that story.” Frank Pabst, executive chef at the city’s Blue Water Cafe, presents an “Unsung Heroes” menu every February featuring unusual or underutilized species, like sea cucumber or jellyfish or sturgeon liver.

Because chefs have become so influential, says Ocean Wise’s Geach, they’re able “to challenge our palate and introduce us to new and different things that we wouldn’t necessarily try at home. These are things I definitely would not cook at home, but when I go out to a restaurant I know that the chef is going to make something amazing out of it. So I step outside of my comfort zone and try something new and discover something delicious.”

Even sushi chefs at major hotels are getting into the game. A native of Japan, Taka Omi worked for several years in Toronto before moving to Vancouver’s Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel. He was drawn by the wide variety of local fish in the coastal city. “So many choices we have,” the sushi chef says, citing albacore tuna, sablefish, scallops and prawns. “I think we have more variety than anybody else.”

At the Fairmont Pacific Rim’s RawBar, Omi has long had an interest in preserving fish stocks. In 2014, RawBar went from simply featuring responsibly harvested fish to serving only Ocean Wise- approved seafood. It became Vancouver’s first sushi restaurant to do so. The Pacific Rim’s executive chef Nathan Brown fully supports Omi’s vision. “If a supplier says, ‘Sorry, it’s not Ocean Wise,’ then I reply, ‘Sorry, then we won’t be buying it.’ It’s as simple as that.”

After working as a chef in Toronto and Calgary, The Four Seasons’ Bell moved to Vancouver with his young family in 2010 and “started to hyper-focus” on sustainable seafood. “I thought that if I am going to do a seafood restaurant, it’s going to be 100 percent sustainable. It’s really the only seafood we should be consuming,” he says. Boyish and exuberant, Bell, 42, is so passionate about consuming seafood responsibly that he founded the advocacy group Chefs for Oceans ( and rode his bicycle 5,400 miles across Canada, hosting 24 events along the way, to raise awareness about the issue.

“We are very fortunate to be able to eat the last wild protein on the planet,” Bell says. “When is the last time you had wild chicken, wild beef or wild pig? You don’t, you eat farmed animals. We have this wild resource still available to us, although 90 percent of the large ocean predators are overfished, and humans are foolish enough to take until there is no more. But we still have the opportunity to affect change. I recognized that six years ago and wanted to do something about it.”

At The Fish Counter, Clark and McDermid practice “transparency and traceability,” Clark says. “Our concerns are sustainability, quality and taste. Traceability develops pride in producers and delivers quality to consumers. ‘This fish is going to be sold as my fish.’”

“Everyone down the chain of custody has a vested interest in maintaining quality. This brings customers closer to the source of their seafood.” And when that happens, fantastic flavor follows, Clark says. “All I’ve been doing is sourcing the best fish I could and telling people where I got it from.” His approach is simple: “Get good food, and do as little as possible with it. All I have to do is buy great fish.”

Fresh fish in season is typically the tastiest fish one
can get, Clark notes. Because Vancouver’s citizens are environmentally aware, the sustainable seafood movement is now so important that chefs have to pay attention, 
he says. “Chefs who don’t think it’s relevant soon leave. 
In some cities it would have been impossible to start a sustainable seafood movement, but here people were open to the idea and concerned about the fisheries.”

Sushi chef Omi says unagi, the popular freshwater eel from Japan, came off the RawBar’s menu because it’s severely threatened. But Omi found a workaround: he lightly smokes sustainable sablefish and prepares it like unagi. Customers enjoy it because the fish is delectable, Omi says, and most of them want to do the right thing. “Ninety-nine percent of customers are happier (with a sustainable menu). So we (chefs and restaurant patrons) can control it. That’s the most important thing,” he
says. “We cannot close our eyes. We have to educate the customer. Our hand has so much responsibility for the future of the fish and ocean.”

The Pacific Rim’s pièce de résistance is the Ocean Wise Roll, the RawBar’s presentation of 15 types of sustainable seafood, says executive chef Brown. “Anything that’s in the sushi window that evening gets put into that roll, even Dungeness crab, then you have a piece of salmon, a piece of steelhead,” and other fresh local specialties.

The Fairmont has supported executive chef Brown to the point where he can serve bycatch, the unintended fish caught when pursuing other species. In Canada’s Pacific waters, fishermen can’t legally throw fish back into the ocean so Brown has found ways to use bycatch. “It’s a shame if it were to go into the garbage because nobody’s buying it,” Brown says. “My fish supplier, Steve (Johansen) from Organic Ocean, he’s constantly calling me, telling me what he’s caught. It allows us more creativity, to (serve) what the ocean is providing for us.”

One example of bycatch is a British Columbia rockfish, Brown says. “It’s a little bit meatier. We pan roast it at really high heat then baste it with a lot of butter. It’s a very rustic presentation, with crushed potatoes and ratatouille. It tastes great and it’s just very country style, like black cod.”


Beyond using bycatch, Brown says, he’s committed to serving as much of the whole fish as possible. “Everybody wants that perfect fillet, but what do you do with the ends of the fish? We do a bouillabaisse soup, turn them into fish and chips, make fish fingers for kids, handmade so you know you’re controlling the ingredients.”

Bell, too, believes his commitment to sustainable fisheries does not require any compromise on quality. In YEW’s gently lit, wood-paneled dining room, Bell and his crew prepare
a medley of fish: the Tackle Box with raw albacore tuna (which reproduce faster than other tuna and thus are more sustainable), spot prawns, oysters and steamed Dungeness crab. Entrees include salmon, sablefish and Arctic char, all plump and moist, bursting with flavor and lightly cooked to perfection. The menu, depending on the season, might also include any of the five types of salmon that live off Canada’s west coast.

The Fairmont’s Brown is from the tiny town of Lucan (pop. 1,200) in the province of Ontario and grew up with a close connection to the land. He traded vegetables his family cultivated for neighbors’ berries. When he went fishing he got to know other fishermen and learned early that fresh, local food is best. “Bringing that approach to hotels isn’t always the easiest,” he says, but the Fairmont has backed him all the way.

Bell, executive chef at the Four Seasons, had a rural background too. Growing up in the rustic Okanagan Valley, about 200 miles east of Vancouver, he developed a taste for homegrown food. “The Okanagan is basically orchards and vineyards and farms,” he says. Then he moved to Victoria on Vancouver Island, where he’d go fishing with his dad, and later lived in Vancouver. “So being a coastal boy I just always connected to the ocean and the mountains.”

The morning I meet Bell at Vancouver’s Fisherman’s Wharf, he takes a deep breath of the briny air and says: “We are blessed to live on the coast, to live on the ocean. We are really blessed to have relationships with these fishermen and serve their catch the same day, dock to dish.”

At the wharf, Bell meets with a longtime partner, fisherman Shaun Strobel. “I’m a little short of pinks (a type of salmon). Can I throw in some sockeye?” asks Strobel. Bell answers, “You can throw in whatever you like.” After years of working with Strobel, he knows that whatever the fisherman caught will be flavorful and responsibly harvested. And that night when Bell and his crew work their magic on his catch, YEW’s patrons will come away delighted.

After working in Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe, Frank Pabst became the top chef at Blue Water Cafe in 2003 (where he created the Unsung Heroes event). Fish are served only when abundant, he says. “As chefs we want to have species around for generations to come.” By paying a premium for sustainable fish, he says, restaurants have helped steer demand toward species that are plentiful or less threatened.

“It started 15 years ago with chefs who wanted to do the right thing with the Chilean sea bass,” Pabst says. “Many years ago there wasn’t so much information so as chefs we wouldn’t be able to know what was sustainably harvested and what was harvested nearly to extinction.” But when Chilean sea bass became nearly extinct, Pabst says, that sounded the alarm for chefs, many of whom felt they had to get involved in preserving wild fisheries.

The sea bass crisis led Pabst to become a founding member of Ocean Wise and commit to serving sustainable fish at
Blue Water Cafe. Though this might surprise some diners, sometimes the most sustainable—and succulent—options are responsibly farmed fish and shellfish, Pabst says. The sturgeon and caviar served at the Blue Water Cafe (as at YEW) come from a British Columbia fish farm that eschews antibiotics. And the flavor is so spectacular that, if blindfolded, most patrons would probably be unable to say which is wild and which is farmed.

The Blue Water Cafe dining room is elegant without being formal. A tasting menu there last fall began with the halibut tataki, a sashimi-style starter. A crisp and crunchy Dungeness crab salad with mango, jicama and pumpkin seeds followed. The entrée was miso-glazed sable, paired with a chardonnay, followed by pumpernickel-crusted sturgeon, served with a Russian River pinot noir.

Pabst likens the nascent sustainable seafood movement to the trend toward organics. “Once the public starts demanding sustainable seafood, fishermen can charge a premium. So now the fishermen, at least in Canada, are very eager and keen to make sure their stuff is sustainably caught. That’s why it’s getting easier for us (chefs) too.”
Fairmont sushi chef Omi agrees. His brother is a fisherman in Japan, and they speak frequently about how to enjoy the ocean’s bounty without exploiting it. Omi’s brother says that
if suppliers order threatened fish, the fishermen have to catch those species, so it’s up to chefs to educate customers so they can make sustainable choices.

Clark is proud of how far sustainable seafood has come during the past decade. “It’s encouraging,” he says, not just because The Fish Counter can sell responsibly harvested fish at a neighborhood outlet, but “because Ned (Bell) can do this at the Four Seasons” whose patrons expect nothing but the best.

Bite Into Rome with One of Italian Food’s Leading Experts


Bite Into the Best Food in Rome with an Italian Food Expert

October 17, 2018

How did a nice girl from suburban New Jersey grow up to become one of the world’s leading experts on Italian food and cooking? “My mother shopped at seasonal farm stalls and is an amazing cook, and my Sicilian-American father has always been in the restaurant business,” says Katie Parla, 36, whose beautifully photographed Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes From an Ancient City, was published by Clarkson Potter. It’s a cookbook, a gastronomic tour of Rome, which Parla has called home for 13 years, and a favorite of chef Mario Batali, who wrote the introduction.

“As a kid I was spoiled at the table. Mom, whose family is from the Italian region of Basilicata, made great pasta sauces, but I was a New Jersey kid who loved spending time at her dad’s restaurant, because it meant all the Shirley Temples, chicken fingers and curly fries with extra cheese sauce I wanted,” explains Parla with a laugh.

Parla’s conversion to serious gastronomy began in 1996 when she visited Rome, her first trip abroad, as a 16-year-old high school student studying Latin. “I knew from the first day I arrived that Rome was where I belonged,” she says. She returned to New Jersey and, concurrent with her high school classes, began taking Italian language lessons at the local community college and art history classes at Rutgers, a short train ride from her home. She continued to pursue art history, with a focus on Roman antiquity, at Yale. “I spent my college summers in Rome on research grants, and the food was a total revelation to me. I identify as an Italian-American, but the food I’d grown up eating had nothing to do with the Roman kitchen, so I found it both fascinating and delicious,” says Parla.


In 2003, Parla moved to Rome full time and began teaching history at a local boarding school. In 2004, she founded a company specializing in small-group private tours of Rome with gastronomic and cultural themes. The same year, she began writing and editing guidebooks to the city for the Rough Guides, Time Out, Dorling Kindersley, National Geographic, Fodor’s and other publishers. She became a certified Italian sommelier in 2006 after completing the sommelier training course run by FISAR, the Italian Federation of Restaurant and Hotel Professionals, and in 2008 she completed her M.A. in Italian Gastronomic Culture and founded her website,, where she’s “the best friend you wish you had—the one who grew up in New Jersey so she’s fun and easy to talk to, but she’s lived in Rome for 13 years and knows all the best places to go for food, and more importantly, cocktails.”

“One of the questions I’m asked most often is what is the best food market in Rome,” she says. “I send people to the Trionfale market (Via Andrea Doria 41, Monday-Saturday) in the Prati neighborhood near the Vatican, because it has over 200 stalls and offers such a spectacular array of seasonal produce.

Many of the vendors are farmers, and you find foods here like nettles and wild greens that you don’t see at other markets. The fish mongers are outstanding, too, since what they sell is locally landed.” Instinctively generous, Parla shares an assortment of her other favorite Roman addresses on the following pages.

For all the Roman Pasta Classics: Flavio al Velavevodetto

Flavio al Velavevodetto may have only opened in 2009, but its atmosphere and décor give it the feel of a long-established institution. The historic feel is only amplified by its location—it’s built into an archaeological site. I visit Flavio’s cavernous dining rooms for all the classic pastas: carbonara, gricia and amatriciana, each studded with bits of cured pork jowl and liberally dusted with Pecorino Romano cheese.”

For a timeout from pasta: Mesob

“Whenever I need a break from pasta and offal, I hop on my bike and pedal to the Via Prenestina in eastern Rome where a converted garage is home to the Ethiopian restaurant Mesob. Owner Kuki Tadese serves family recipes—richly spiced stews and simmered vegetables—on sheets of sourdough flatbread at wicker tables in the traditionally decorated dining room.”

Best Roman Style Quick Bite: Mordi e Vai

“At the edge of the Testaccio Market, Sergio Esposito and his wife Mara serve family recipes like simmered beef and stewed tripe on locally baked bread. Although the concept of serving portable versions of Roman classics might not seem innovative, it is a total novelty for Rome and Mordi e Vai perfectly balances the local need for authentic flavors with the demand for a quick, affordable dining option.”

Best Gelato: Al Settimo Gelo

“There are more than 2,500 gelato shops in Rome but singling out the best is easy. Only a handful use all-natural ingredients and Al Settimo Gelo is among this small but important crew. The pistachio, hazelnut, chocolate, almond and zabaione flavors are extraordinarily rich and creamy on their own, but benefit from pairing. Thankfully, each small cup or cone comes with at least two flavors.”


Discover Roman Jewish Cooking: Nonna Betta

“Amidst the Jewish quarter’s many mediocre dining options, Nonna Betta dutifully reproduces the delicious dishes that owner Umberto Pavoncello grew up eating just a few buildings away. Nonna Betta serves all the local Jewish classics—fried artichokes, marinated zucchini, anchovy and endive casserole and ricotta cake—and is the only place in central Rome where these traditional items are executed with care.”

Best Sunday Lunch: Tavernaccia da Bruno

“You’ll be hard pressed to find a place with nicer staff or more comforting food than this family-
run trattoria in Trastevere. Founded in 1968, Tavernaccia da Bruno serves a mix of soulful Roman classics and slow-roasted meats. On Sundays, they also serve fabulously rich, béchamel- laced lasagna baked in a wood-burning oven.”

Best Roman Breakfast: Roscioli Caffe

“Romans aren’t known for their breakfast culture—a cheap espresso/pastry combo is the standard—but when the historic Roscioli baking family opened this café-pastry shop in central Rome they changed the game by offering coffee made from custom-roasted beans and carefully crafted, butter-based sweets, both a rarity in the Italian capital. I visit daily for a caffè doppio (double espresso) and maritozzo con panna (a sweet bun filled with whipped cream).”

Best lunch near the Vatican: Pizzarium

“Just a few blocks from the Vatican Museum’s entrance, pizzaiolo Gabriele Bonci transforms pizza by the slice, Rome’s ubiquitous fast food, into a gourmet experience. His dough develops exceptional flavors and aromas through slow, cold fermentation and is topped with seasonal produce from biodynamic farms and cheeses and cured meats culled from Italy’s top artisans. I never miss a slice of the surprisingly light potato and mozzarella pizza.”

Where to eat off-ally Roman: Cesare al Casaletto

This neighborhood trattoria, which is known for its delicious fried starters and traditional pastas, is my top spot for offal in Rome, and of course Rome is one of the most offal-loving cities in the world. The rigatoni co’ la pajata (pasta with suckling calf intestines), fegatelli di maiale (grilled pig’s liver) and trippa alla romana (tripe stewed with tomatoes, pecorino and mint) are refined in spite of their humble ingredients, and if you’re not up for an organ recital, the braised oxtail is superb, too.”

Best new style Roman cooking: Mazzo

“Francesca Barreca and Marco Baccanelli opened their 10-seat neo-trattoria in Rome’s eastern periphery in 2013. The couple got their start hosting pop-ups and doing performance cooking, but they have settled into restaurant life, teasing Roman flavors into new forms like simmered lamb and pecorino croquettes, or oxtail terrine.”

Sonoma Winemaker Explains Difficulties Facing Family Wineries


Sonoma Winemaker Explains Difficulties Facing Family Wineries

October 16, 2018

“Go get ’em, Bruno!” winemaker Bruce Cohn calls to his old black lab as the dog chases a rubber bung (a stopper for a wine barrel) across the olive tree-shaded courtyard at the B.R. Cohn winery in Glen Ellen. “He’s 14 and he thinks he’s 3!” Cohn exclaims. “He drank red wine all his life, that’s why.” Bruno barks excitedly when he hears the word “wine” as Cohn notes that the dog has his own wine, called Bruno’s Blend.

These are good days for Cohn, 69, a Chicago native who has had two successful careers, the first as the manager of the rock band The Doobie Brothers and later Night Ranger, the second as a winery owner in Sonoma County. Cohn’s family relocated to San Francisco when he was 10 and a year later moved an hour north to rural Forestville where his father, who had been in the shoe business in Chicago, started a goat dairy. The family lived in an old farm- house, and Bruce had to get up at 4:30 every morning to milk the goats—he also picked grapes on a neighbor’s vineyard.

But he never imagined that one day he’d be a winemaker. It happened almost by accident. He’d become the manager of The Doobie Brothers in 1970 when he was just 22. “We had 38 guys on the road, two planes and four semis, it was a lot of responsibility for somebody that young.” The Doobie Brothers “were pretty crazy, wild guys at that time. Now they’re just crazy,” he says with a laugh, “boring and crazy.”

Cohn also worked as the sound mixer at the Doobies’ shows. After four years of incessant touring he decided to buy some land in the Valley of the Moon, a crescent of paradise in eastern Sonoma County. The idea was to have a place to decompress. “I was on the road with the band about 250 days a year,” he says, “and I just wanted a place where I could raise my kids like I was raised.”


“I call this the center of the earth,” Cohn says. “This is like Tuscany. I tell people, don’t go to Italy, just come to B.R. Cohn. We have better wines; we have great olive oils.” That sounds boastful, but Cohn seems like a down-to-earth guy who can’t quite believe his luck and is grateful for how well his life turned out. When he acquired the property, some of the land was planted with grapes that were sold to Sebastiani, a nearby family winery. The patriarch, August Sebastiani, sagely told Cohn he wouldn’t make much money on the grapes, but that he’d do well with the land. “When I got my first check for the grapes,” Cohn says, “I understood what he meant.”

In the early 1970s, Cohn read thick books about viticulture on flights with the Doobies. Not long afterward, he was introduced to Charlie Wagner of Caymus Vineyards, and asked the veteran winemaker to mentor him, but Wagner was taken aback by Cohn’s appearance. “I sure didn’t look like a farmer,” Cohn says. “I had an afro up to here, leather pants, high-heeled boots.” Cohn soon won him over, and Wagner, who died in 2002, tutored Cohn for four years. “In 1978, I’d brought him three tons of pinot and three tons of cab grapes,” Cohn says. “I drove a ’48 Dodge over the mountain” to Caymus in Rutherford, in the heart of Napa’s wine country. “I burned the brakes up going down the Oakville Grade.”

Six months later Wagner called Cohn and said: “Get over here, you gotta try this wine.” So Cohn drove back over the Mayacamas Mountains, and Wagner poured him some pinot. “I didn’t know anything about red wine. I was drinking tequila and Dos Equis with the band,” Cohn says.

“So, I tried the pinot and said, ‘oh that’s good.’ He said ‘yeah, it’s pretty good. Now try this cab of yours.’ He poured me a glass of the cab. I said, ‘Oh, that’s real good.’ He said, ‘No, that’s not real good. That’s the best cab I’ve ever had from Sonoma County.’” Wagner advised Cohn to have Sebastiani make the wine under Cohn’s Olive Hill name, “but August laughed and said, ‘Bruce, I don’t even have a tank small enough to put your grapes in.’” So Cohn had other local wineries do it and started winning gold medals.

In 1982 The Doobie Brothers broke up; the next year Cohn began managing the band Night Ranger. In 1984, he decided to launch his own winery and named it B.R. Cohn. “It was my second chance with enough money to do it,” he says. “But it takes a lot more money than I thought.”

His first year, Cohn made 900 cases of cabernet and 2,000 cases of chardonnay. “The chard you could take the paint off your car with, literally. I couldn’t sell it,” he says. “And the cab got a 94 rating from Wine Spectator. Nobody in Sonoma had gotten a rating that high for cab.” Cohn says he’s fortunate to have purchased land in an area that’s perfect for cabernet, not the just warm days and cool nights but where frost is rare. He has hired talented wine- makers but says, “The vineyards make the wine. If you don’t have great grapes, you’re not going to have a great wine.”

Dan Weiner, a booking agent for the Doobies, Foreigner and other bands, has known Cohn since 1972 and says, “He has laser vision. He looks out at the horizon and sees a future that no one else can even imagine. He bought a farm, but in his eyes he could see the grapes, the vines; he was seeing it all. That’s just the way he is.”

Cohn inspires intense loyalty in people with whom he works. “I love the man. I’d take a bullet for him,” says Tom Montgomery, B.R. Cohn’s chief winemaker from 2003 until last year. “He does practice what he preaches. He believes in rock ’n’ roll music, truth, justice and the American way. I don’t know of any- body who better describes the lifestyle I’d call the good life.”

In 1990, Cohn decided to use the olives that were dropping off his eight acres of 140-year-old French Picholine trees. “The kids were staining the carpet with black olives in the house over there,” he says pointing to what is now the tasting room. “It was pick up the olives or buy new carpet. So I picked up the olives and shipped them to Modesto to the only guy making extra-virgin olive oil in California.”

He didn’t have enough olives on his property to distribute nationally so he began buying from throughout California to make a blend of oil, vinegar and spices for dipping. He launched an olive oil festival in his grove that initially attracted about 10 producers but soon grew so large that it’s now held in downtown Sonoma. The 15th annual Sonoma Valley Olive Festival was held last January.


Cohn’s success is “no freaking accident,” says Herbie Herbert, who managed Steve Miller and Journey in the 1970s and ’80s. “It’s a marriage of determination, talent, organizational skills and management skills. There are a lot of people who may not realize it, but Bruce Cohn is the most important person they’ve ever met in their life. The guy is a seriously gifted entrepreneur.” Starting in the 1970s when Cohn was still in his 20s, he wanted to share his good fortune. He held a golf tournament to benefit the United Way and had members of The Doobie Brothers sing Christmas carols for gravely ill kids at Stanford Children’s Hospital.

In 1987, Doobies drummer Keith Knudsen wanted to help Vietnam veterans so Cohn suggested he try to reunite the band, which had split up five years before. Cohn says the Doobies felt their time had passed, but they agreed to do one show at the Hollywood Bowl. “It sold out in two hours,” Cohn says. “So they said maybe we should do one for Stanford Children’s Hospital. So I booked Shoreline (in nearby Mountain View, California), and it sold out, 19,000 seats.” They ended up doing 10 shows, all benefits, raising millions of dollars. The band played on, going back into the studio to record and continuing to tour; they now play about 85 shows a year.

Cohn next wanted to do something closer to home. He rented the field at Sonoma High School and held a benefit with Graham Nash and Little Feat. But there was “no ambiance,” so Cohn built an amphitheater on a gently sloping hill at his winery and got permits for 3,000 people to come onto his land one weekend a year. The B.R. Cohn Charity Sonoma Music Festival has attracted such legends as Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Chicago and Gregg Allman, and naturally The Doobie Brothers. Last year Ringo Starr performed. “We had a Beatle in Sonoma!” Cohn says.

In 2015, the Sonoma Music Festival moved to downtown Sonoma. Toby Keith will play at this year’s festival, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Over the years, the festival has raised almost $7 million for veterans, food banks and other worthy causes. Today, though the winery still bears his name, Cohn no longer owns it. He sold 70 acres of vine- yards and the rights to his name last year to Vintage Wine Estates, but he retained 21 acres and still lives in a home on the property. “I grew the winery from 500 cases a year to almost 85,000. That took a lot of money that I didn’t have so you take on a lot of debt,” he says. “Pretty soon you got a great lifestyle, but you’re working for the bank. There isn’t that much profit in wine.”

Costs were “going through the roof,” he says. “Dollar-wise, it was just too much pressure. I was like the hamster on the wheel and never knew from one year to the next if I was going to be able to make it. Family wineries are selling out. Corporations are coming in and buying market share. It makes it hard on the little family guys; we couldn’t compete.” So now Cohn is a consultant paid by Vintage. “I am the spokesman, the figurehead. I’m on the payroll, but I have almost no responsibilities,” he says, surveying the land he owned for 41 years. “It’s kind of wonderful,” he says with a laugh, “kind of great.”

Bordeaux’s $93M Wine Center Takes Global Approach to Education


Bordeaux's $93M Wine Center Takes Global Approach to Education

October 16, 2018

When the dramatic $93 million multimedia Cité du Vin (City of Wine) opened on the banks of the Garonne River in Bordeaux this June, it signaled an epic shift in the way the world’s most famous wine-making city thinks about wine. For centuries, the feeling of Bordeaux’s wine culture has been that connoisseurship is the prize of hard-earned and exigently disciplined study; it was a privilege neither accessible nor comprehensible to all comers. La Cité du Vin takes a dramatically friendlier and more inclusive approach to both consuming and understanding wine. It is designed to be as rewarding for the novice as it is for the expert.

It also provides previously flummoxed travelers and wine pilgrims with a glamorous 21st-century focal point for their interest in wine. Though Bordeaux has always had a variety of fine wine bars and other places in which to buy or sample wine, and a small wine museum—the charmingly musty Musée du Vin et du Négoce—visitors to the city never had an oenological epicenter to visit. Until now.

Designed by architects Anouk Legendre and Nicolas Des- mazières, founders of the Paris-based architectural firm XTU, the Cité du Vin is a horn-shaped, 180-foot-tall, 10-story metal- and-glass structure perched on the banks of the Garonne just north (and pretty much out of sight) of Bordeaux’s exquisite 18th-century heart. Marvel at its exterior and then head inside, where 19 permanent spaces, many of them interactive, cover various wine themes. The center has three tasting laboratories that include specially designed multisensory experiences for a total immersion in wine; a viewing platform; a boat dock from which to embark on visits to the wine chateaux up and down river; a temporary exhibition center; a wine bar and snack bar with an outdoor patio; a wine cellar with more than 800 different wines, including 200 from France, and a panoramic restaurant on the seventh floor that offers a superb variety of wines by-the-glass.

Photo Source

“La Cité du Vin is transformational for Bordeaux,” says Sylvie Cazes, president of the Foundation for Wine Culture and Civilizations, which operates La Cité du Vin, and the doyenne of one of the most famous wine-making families in the region. Her company, the Domaine Jean-Michel Cazes, owns a variety of the most prestigious vineyards in the Bordelais, including Chateau Lynch-Bages and Chateau Les Ormes de Pez, along with Le Chapon Fin, one of the city’s oldest and most distinguished restaurants.

The project originated in 2008 under the auspices of Bordeaux’s then mayor, Alain Juppé [France’s former prime minister]. “He recognized that wine tourism was vitally important for Bordeaux, both for economic reasons and also as an affirmation of the city’s viniferous identity,” explains Cazes. In 2009, a feasibility study group was created and the results were presented to the Bordeaux Interprofessional Wine Council and other partners in the project, including the Aquitaine region of which Bordeaux is the historic capital.

“The guiding idea for the project was the decision that the content of the cultural center would be international, or treat the wines of the world and not just the Bordelais or other regions of France, and this was overwhelmingly approved by all of the partners in the project,” Cazes says. “The point of La Cité is to present the complexity of wine in an appealingly simple way.”

What she found more delicate to expound upon during a recent pre-opening chat was the extent to which this decision was strikingly radical; Bordeaux is a city fiercely wedded to tradition. Or it had previously. One well-known local wine- maker observes, “There was a fair amount of pretty strident back-and-forth with regard to what the aims of the Cité du Vin should be, with some of the old guard insisting that it should be a showcase for Bordeaux wines, and this makes
the final decision on the pedagogy of La Cité that much more surprising and innovative.”

The center also amplifies the new urban boldness of Bordeaux, which was an aristocratic sleeping beauty of a city before Alain Juppé launched a wholesale renovation of the town. Under Juppé, Bordeaux got a new tramway system with discreetly chic forest-green carriages, carefully cleaned thousands of its darkened facades and also re-landscaped its river embankment. Formerly the riverbanks through the city were an ancient venue of commerce or, more recently, a busy roadway. Today they are a stylish promenade of gardens and bike paths and walkways. Then, too, Cité du Vin will accelerate a shift in the city’s center of gravity—from its traditional core around the Palais de la Bourse and the Opera northward to Bassins à Flot, a rapidly developing new neighborhood in a former docklands district.

Where the Cité du Vin succeeds immediately is that a visit to the permanent exhibit will be just as interesting for you as for your 12-year-old. This is because the lighting and graphics of the displays are sophisticated and modern, but warm and approachable. Similarly, the themed content is presented in a layered, didactic way that achieves just the right pitch of seriousness without ever becoming academic or too complex.

The exhibit includes a section devoted to drinking responsibly. “The place that wine occupies in different cultures varies a lot, so of course we address the possible dangers of alcohol and drinking responsibly,” Cazes says. This message is communicated with great Gallic subtlety at the module “The Chair of Despair,” a reference to the most common result of overdrinking, the hangover. The stop includes an actual Chair of Despair, where you sit alone and listen as artists and poets who drank too much tell their woeful tales of the damage it did them. It is certainly thought provoking.

London-based Casson Mann, which specializes in the design of museum interiors and exhibition spaces, conceived the displays and content of the center in collaboration with the Cité du Vin’s staff. Visitors are taken through time and space with a state-of-the-art, hand-held, infrared audio guide that detects their location and automatically launches the appropriate content as they explore the civilizations of wine.

The first stop of any visit, “World Tour of Vineyards,” includes a short film shot from a helicopter by the same production team on five continents. The only continent where wine is not produced is Antarctica. Shown on three huge screens, it conveys the universality of wine and also highlights the dramatically different geographical and climactic regions where it’s produced. (Annually, La Cité showcases three temporary exhibitions and a different wine region. “The first guest of honor is Georgia, which has been making wine since 7 B.C.,” Cazes explains.)


Next up, “The Terroir Table” introduces the concept of winemaking’s geographical specificity. Where grapes are grown affects the flavors of the wine made from them. French winemakers cherish terroir, and it is also the natural structure upon which the classification of French vineyards is officially based. To wit, a great winemaker will have an encyclopedic knowledge of the differing personalities of the grapes produced by every square foot of his or her vineyards, and this knowledge underpins the blending that creates a truly magnificent wine. Terroir explains why French wines are marketed and sold according to the geographical regions from which they originate and are named for the farms where they were produced instead of by grape variety (cépage). New World wines made in North and South America, Australia, New Zealand and Africa are often described by cépage.

“Our approach at La Cité du Vin is reportorial,” Cazes explains. “So there are no judgments offered in terms of different wine-production methods. It is our intention that the Cité become a place where people make connections and that it should be a place of learning, sharing and having a good time,” she says.

Answering a question about how La Cité du Vin addresses the qualitative differences between the world’s wine-producing regions, she continues, “I think that it’s in every winemaker’s best interests to sell to the most educated consumer possible.”

The “Terroir” segment is ultimately one of the most important. It’s comprised of video interviews with winemakers from 10 renowned wine regions, including Spain’s Rioja and Australia’s Barossa Valley, who explain how the geographical and climactic conditions in their particular area impact vines. This may sound dry but their passionate knowledge makes it extremely interesting.

Subsequent modules cover grape varieties, the wine trade, wine in history, wine in art and wine in love, or as part of the art of seduction. The most interactive exhibit is “The Five Senses Buffet.” Here, everyone becomes an expert-in-training on the “nose,” or scent, of wine. A series of glass bell jars contain different products wine experts commonly use to describe the perfume of a wine, including flowers, strawberries and wood shavings. Squeeze the rubber bulb attached to the display and you get a bracing burst of the scent of the product displayed.

At the end of the average two- hour-long visit to La Cité du Vin’s permanent exhibition, odds are you’ll be ready for a nice glass of wine. The Belvedere, on the eighth floor and the entrance to which is included in the ticket price, offers a selection of quaffs by the glass. For a more formal and meditative viniferous experience, book a table at Restaurant le 7, which has an expectedly excellent wine list. For a final surprise, stop by the wine shop. Run by Régis Deltil, a famous wine merchant from nearby Pessac, three-quarters of the wines on sale here come from countries other than France.