“The way I see it,” says Melba Wilson, “Soul food is the foundation of American comfort food.”
She’d know. For Melba, a Harlem native, or as she likes to say “I am Harlem born, bred, and buttered,” owns one of most influential soul food restaurants in New York City’s most exciting dining neighborhood, aptly named Melba’s.
Like many children, she grew up watching her mother and grandomother cook and learned to love food, and soul food, in the process. But, Melba actually went into marketing and sales after school, anything from cosmetics to limo driving, finally entering the restaurant business on a lark when the great Sylvia Woods, Harlem’s Queen of Soul Food and owner of the world famous Sylvia’s, called and asked Melba to spearhead the 25th anniversary of the restaurant.
Melba did such a good job that Sylvia offered her a postion at the restaurant, starting her love affair with the hospitality business and eventually leading to her opening her own place.
Opened in 2005, Melba’s was an almost overnight success, with a family style menu that as Melba likes to say, “blends my Carolina heritage (her family is from South Carolina), with a dash of extra spice, a little urban edge, a taste of the melting pot, and a few ‘dee-lish’ twists.” It’s also been covered regularly in foodie magazines, and Melba even “Beat Bobby Flay” with her fried chicken recipe, now renamed Throwdown Chicken in honor of that accomplishment.
It seemed like the perfect plan: Help out Barossa Valley grape growers unable to sell their fruit in a changing market by making wine from their grapes, sell it off in bulk to those who need wine to sell and go play golf for the rest of the year.
Well, something like that, anyways…
A champion of the little guy, Peter Lehmann, a fifth generation Barossa native who grew
up surrounded by vineyards, was originally a winemaker and buyer for a large British-owned Barossa Valley wine company. In 1979 when told by his superiors not to buy fruit he had contracted for, Peter, knowing it was the only source of income for his suppliers, decided to buy and process the fruit himself under the name of Masterson Barossa Vineyards (aptly named after Sky Masterson, the gambler in Guys and Dolls) – and he did it at his employers winery and with their blessing!
However, when the winery sold the following year, the new owners halted the arrangement, forcing Peter to go out on his own. The result, Peter Lehmann Wines, enabled him to keep his relationships with growers in good standing and also showcase the increasing depth of the region’s growing capabilities, a move and philosophy that eventually earned Peter the title “Baron of the Barossa.”
Thirty-five years later, Peter Lehmann wines, founded in the late 1970s as an act of compassion by its namesake with a group of like-minded wine industry veterans, produces some of the best wines in Australia.
The winery is now owned by the Casella Family Brands of [yellowtail] fame with a winemaking team helmed by Chief Winemaker Ian Hongell, another Barossa native who made his first wine at age 7 in a plastic bucket. Peter Lehmann Wines are now sold worldwide, and count upwards of 30 wines in the portfolio ranging from entry level easy drinkers to top-tier tiny production wines that are continuously heralded as benchmarks of the region’s output.
She’s called “The First Lady of Tequila” and is the first female “Maestra Tequila” certified by the Academia Mexicana de Catadores de Tequila. And she makes a pretty amazing
tequila called Casa Dragones.
After years building the Cuervo brand globally, Bertha Gonzáles Nieves stepped out in 2009 to create her own style of tequila to rave reviews. Casa Dragones is an ultra premium, 100% Blue Agave, hand -crafted sipping tequila that’s smooth, soft and warm with no bite – the way a good tequila should taste. From the sea blue blue packaging and perfume bottle design to the platinum-hued liquid inside, everything about Casa Dragones speaks luxury. This is a sipping spirit to lift the spirits and savor slowly.
So what is Casa Dragones Tequila? Well, it’s a game changer – and part of a growing category of bottlings that are taking the art of crafting tequila, long thought of as a delicious and complex but somewhat pedestrian spirit, to new levels of refinement and elegance through the use of different techniques in distillation, aging and blending. With Casa Dragones, think Cognac with Tequila flavor, but without the burn, or in this case, the color.
Second, unlike the traditional styles of Tequila – Blanco (or Silver), Reposado, and Anejo – Casa Dragones makes what’s called a Joven Tequila, a blended tequila that is primarily Silver, but with other, more aged lots – in this case a bit of 5 year-old Extra Anejo (the recently added fourth main category) blended-in to add complexity and smoothness. In the case of the Casa Dragones Joven, the color is removed from the Extra Anejo portion to keep the final spirit clear.
With the proliferation of Tequila labels on the market these days, many of which are billed as traditional and with a classic Tequila style. Casa Dragones stands out for being exactly not that. It is not a rough, hot, meaty spirit that feels like it was made in a hand-made still in the barn behind the hacienda, but a soft, smooth, elegant spirit with a lightness and level of refinement that liken it more to the sipping equivalent of drinking silk than wool.
Casa Dragones Co-Founder Bertha Gonzáles Nieves joins us on The Connected Table LIVE! this Wednesday May 4, 2016 for a chat about Casa Dragones, and her views on Tequila and the state of the Tequila industry. Listen in at 2:25pm
There’s probably nobody in the world today with a better handle on the pulse of the whisky industry than Dave Pickerell.
A veteran of the industry, Dave has spent a career moving the craft of making whisky forward through his knowledge and expertise in distilling. First at Makers Mark, where as Master Distiller for 14 years, he was in charge of making sure that the legacy of the Samuels family’s 19 barrel-at-a-time distillation recipe was kept true, and then as head of Oak View Consulting, the company he founded upon his departure from Makers Mark to help bring his distilling expertise to the budding craft spirits industry.
Some of his projects, like Vermont’s Whistle Pig and Hillrock Estate in New York State’s Hudson Valley, are game changers. Others, like Old Smoky Moonshine in Gatlinburg Tennessee, which he also helped start, are more mainstream. However, all are close to his heart, as they’ve, with his input, helped revive an industry that had been lost after the temperance movement essentially shut down regional spirits production just under 100 years ago.
One of this favorite projects may be the re-birth of the Distillery at Mount Vernon, President George Washington’s Virginia homestead. Our first President made whisky on the property during his lifetime there, but the distillery was shut down and dismantled after his death. When the Trust decided to re-create it, they tapped Dave, a West Point grad by the way, to help research and build it again.
At any given time, Dave has about 20 projects in the works worldwide, some he helps start and then moves on from, others, like Whistle Pig and Hillrock, he continuously works with, creating new product lines while acting as Master Distiller. Regardless of his role in any given product he oversees, Dave’s input and knowledge in the whisky business is unmatched.
We welcome Dave to The Connected Table LIVE! On Wednesday April 27 to chat whisky, Whistle Pig, and his incredible achievements at Hillrock Estate, America’s first whisky made from all estate-grown grain.
A lot of people yearn to get into the wine business, where aside from the pretty hard work (winemaking is not romantic, only drinking wine is), a life of good food, good wine, travel, and mostly beautiful surroundings carry the day, pretty much every day. It’s rare, however, to find someone who leaves it. Carta Coffee MerchantsFounderScott Burr is one of those people.
A longtime member of the wine industry, Scott grew up in a agriculturally focused family that had grown grapes and farmed its Northern California land for generations. Always interested in wine and winemaking, Scott eventually got a degree in enology from Fresno State before embarking on a 20+ year career as a consultant in the California wine industry, mostly in Sonoma
Yet, for Scott, something was missing and he yearned for a place he could plant his feet on the ground and get back to what really interested him: farming. It was on trips to Hawaii that he had started to gain interest in coffee, in particular, the coffee grown in Kona, and he eventually bought an abandoned coffee farm. Working with the region’s top consultant, third generation grower and coffee guru George Yasuda, Scott started planting new coffee plants, and Nolyssa Coffee Farm was born.
Carta Coffee Merchants, Scott’s new brand, is a small-production coffee grower/roaster where everything is done the old fashioned way, from hand-tending of the orchards to how the beans are processed and finished. Maybe not the easiest way to do it, but it makes for very good coffee, and along the way Scott has realized his dream to get back to the land in a way that stimulates not just his mind and bloodstream, but also his sense of well-being.
So, what makes Kona coffee one of the world’s most sought after cups? Or, more importantly, what makes someone give up a career in the wine industry to start a coffee farm in Kona on the Island of Hawaii? We visited with Scott at Alyssa Farms on April 20th for a firsthand look and taste. Here's the permanent link to our show. Or, cut and paste this link: http://www.iheart.com/show/209-The-Connected-Table-Live/?episode_id=27500317
South Africa has a winemaking industry that dates back to the 1600s, and the Malan family, whose Simonsig Wine Estate in that country’s renowned Stellenbosch region in the Cape Winelands is one of the most recognized names in the world of wine, helped create it.
Grape growers in South Africa since Jacques Malan first planted vines in 1688. The Malan family has been involved in the wine industry on many levels in the ensuing years, and Simonsig, which takes its name from the region’s Simonsig Mountain range, in whose foothills descendent Frans Malan planted a vineyard in De Hoop in the 1950s, has made a name for not only itself, but for the entire country by consistently making exemplary wines from South Africa’s star grape varietals, Chenin Blanc and Pinotage.
While Chenin Blanc, one of the world’s great white varietals, is grown most notably in the Loire valley in France, it seems to have found a second home in Stellenbosch, where wineries have been bringing out beautifully crafted versions for many years. Simonsig’s Chenin Blanc is one of the benchmarks. They also make a barrel fermented Chenin, a rarity for that varietal, but a stunner of a wine that breaks the stereotype that Chenin can’t stand up to extended time in oak.
Another varietal, and one that helped put South Africa on the map, is Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut, it is a grape unique to South Africa, and was “invented” there in the 1920s and then forgotten for many years until it was rediscovered and propagated on a commercial level. Loved by some, dismissed by others, Pinotage makes an interesting wine, medium to full bodied, with interesting notes of spice, earthiness, and smoke. Yet, it’s the polarizing character of acetone or paint, which tends to
drive the discussion on it, though to be honest, a well made Pinotage such as the consistently award-winning ones made by Simonsig are beautiful wines and can not only stand the test of competition, but can age and stand the test of time, as well.
Simonsig makes many other wines, as well. Chardonnay, Riesling, Shiraz, and the Bordeaux varietals all grow well in South Africa’s Cape where no vineyards are very far from the moderating influence of the Oceans that surround it. There are also a handful of world class sparking wines made – another Simonsig innovation, as they were the first winery to make what is called Kaapse Vonkel (Cape Sparkle)
wines back in the 1970s.
For all the wonderful wines being made in South Africa, There still seems to be a bit of a disconnect with the American consumer, maybe due to the location (it’s a 20 hour flight at least). Yet the wines are world class, and only getting better. Simonsig, with its long history in the region and wonderful wines, continues to lead the way.
We welcome Johan Malan to The Connected Table LIVE! on Wednesday April 13th to speak about his family’s winemaking legacy and get his take on the wines being made there that are making South Africa one of the most exciting places in the wine world these days.
Think about this fact: every minute, 18 bottles of Sandeman wine are sold. That’s just under 26,000 bottles per day, or somewhere north of 9 million bottles per year.
One of the truly iconic names in the world of wine, the Sandeman family started trading
in Port and Sherry in 1790 and is considered one of the first global wine brands, with exports to 75 countries. Sandeman was one of the first to put its name on its barrels and advertise its wines as coming from the House of Sandeman. It was also one of the first companies, in any industry, to trademark its name, in 1877, making Sandeman the brand, one of the oldest actual brands in the world.
Along the way, Sandeman has created a legacy of ideas on branding and marketing that have cemented its reputation as a leader in an industry that has seen the star of fortified wines tested at times due to globalization of the winemaking world and also the changing palate of the consuming public.
Also a producer of Sherry, Brandy, and Madeira, Sandeman is something of a fortified wine specialist, and while Sandeman does make Vintage Port when vintages are declared (their latest offering is the stunning 2011), its strength lies in the more approachable (and affordable) styles such as Tawnies, Rubies, and aged blends such as its iconic 10 and 20 year old ports.
These days Sandeman is part of the Sogrape Vinhos company, Portugal’s leading family-owned wine company, and 7th Generation family member George Sandeman serves as its Director of Public Relations and family Ambassador.
George Joins us on The Connected Table LIVE! on Wednesday April 13 to discuss his family’s remarkable legacy in the wine industry, and his vision for the future of fortified wines.
One of the most delightful drives from Paris is north to the Champagne region. It’s worth spending a few days meandering from town to town, especially starting with the bubbling centers of Reims and Epernay and then villages in between to visit both chateaux and petits maisons to taste and discover.
One of the most spectacular visits is to Maison Belle Epoque, the historic ‘home” for the Perrier-Jouët family (est 1811) filled with Art Nouveau architectural accents and art treasures. What makes a visit even more special is uncorking a bottle of Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque, one of Champagne’s most venerable brands.
We speak with Perrier Jouët‘s Chef de Cave and Cellarmaster Hervé Deschamps about the brand’s history and styles, the renovation of Maison Belle Epoque and Perrier-Jouët’s significant commitment to the arts on The Connected Table LIVE! November 18, 2pm EST on W4CY and podcast to iHeart.com and the iHeart App.
Born in the Champagne region and schooled in Dijon, Hervé has worked Perrier-Jouët since 1983 and has been Cellarmaster since 1993. He is only the 7th person to hold that title in the 200+ year history of the house. In fact, for the first time the doors of Maison Belle Epoque are not “open” to all guests through a virtual tour of its historic cellars.
To work with these iconic wines one must keep a sense of preserving the legacy while working to improve the brand at the same time, a delicate balance of philosophy and wine making that does not come easily. In fact it was 12 years before Hervé was able to put his own stamp on one of the wines he made, his first blend coming in 1995 with that vintage’s release of Belle Epoque, a distinctive champagne so well known for the Art Nouveau style Flower Bottle.
Tequila was always my “nasty spirit” in college. There was something about drinking tequila than made me want to dance barefoot for hours, preferably on a beach. I stopped drinking it for a long period of time until my former agency started working with Frida Kahlo Tequila, and I was properly educated on true tequila and its breadth of styles. Sipping an añejo or a reposado with a sliver of fresh lime was all I needed to enjoy tequila as a responsible adult. No tutti frutti drinks for me. My tequila style went from naughty to neat.
Tequila is a $2 billion industry, and the U.S. gulps up 80% of global exports. Much of the tequila consumed is “mixto,” a cruder hybrid of the true spirit. But appreciation and sales of real tequila, made from 100 percent pure blue Weber agave is growing muy rapido.
Chantal Martineau, author of “How the Gringos Stole Tequila” (Chicago Review Press) joins us August 26, 2pm EST, on The Connected Table LIVE! to discuss the story of tequila, how it’s made and monitored by Mexico’s Consejo Regulador Tequila, and how it’s been exploited by global marketers. She’ll explain the differences in tequila and its lustier sister, mezcal. Through her descriptive detail Chantal practically takes us in her backpack to meet producers, jimadores and the colorful characters behind this spirit so sacred to both the almighty dollar of big booze brand marketers and the agave activists who fiercely protect its heritage.
Hers was a five year immersion into the world of tequila. Reading Chantal’s book makes me want to book a flight to Jalisco to see the dusty blue agave plants under a piercingly bright blue Mexican sky and soak it all in down to the last chilled shot with fresh lime. Melanie Young
Chantal Martineau has written articles about food, drinks, and travel for numerous publications, including Allure, the Atlantic, Decanter, Edible, Islands, Maxim, Redbook, Saveur, Time Out, Village Voice, the Washington Post, Wine Enthusiast, and Women’s Health. She grew up in Montreal and currently lives in New York City. Connect: www.chantalmartineau.comTwitter@chantytown Facebook:HowtheGringosStoleTequila
Summer is the perfect time for exploring the lighter side of wines, but often people think that this means wines that are less expressive and flavorful. Pinot Grigio gets that bad wrap probably more than any other varietal offering.
Enter Giovanni Bonmartini Fini, proprietor of Italy’s Barone Fini wines, a producer premium Pinot Grigio from Trentino/Alto Adige in Italy’s north, where arguably the best wines from this varietal are made.
“When I took over the company in 1997 after my uncle passed away, Pinot Grigio as a category had become dominated by cheap agro-industrial mass-produced wine that didn’t require, or warrant, much respect.” says Giovanni. “Our family, along with a few other like-minded producers, had seen this trend and set out to re-build the perception of what Pinot Grigio could be, and prove the potential of Italy’s most important white grape to make one of the world’s best, most versatile, and food friendly white wines.”
Cultivating vineyards has been a family business since 1497 when the two noble Venetian families of Bonmartini and Fini united in marriage and began producing wines in northeastern Italy. Today, the Bonmartini family, direct descendants of the Barone Finis, continue to manage this venerable property producing 150,000 cases per yer. In the U.S. Barone Fini wines are marketed by Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits, a company committed to working with family owned wineries around the world. Follow Barone Fini wines on Facebook .
When Francisco “Don Pancho” Fernandez, master blender for Havana Club for 35 years, decided to leave Cuba after the sale of the brand to an international spirits conglomerate, it was to Panama that he went. Already having a long history of travel to that country, and having worked in Panama to make his “Cuban style” rum for many years previously, this was a natural choice for Don Pancho. However, it was not with the idea that he would continue to make rum or launch his own brand.
That came later, after he met and became friends with one of Panama’s most distinguished spirits authorities, Carlos Esquivel, a Panamanian who had deep ties to the local spirits industry. Together, they created one of Panama’s, and the rum industry’s, most important resources: Proveedora Internacional de LIcores, S.A. (PILSA) Rums (www.pilsarums.com) a custom distiller whose efforts are behind some of the most important names in the category.
Now, 20 years after arriving in Panama, Don Pancho and Carlos are releasing his first eponymous effort, Don Pancho Originales rums (www.origenesdonpancho.com), some of which are bottled from reserves dating to when Don Pancho first started making and blending rums in Panama while still living in Cuba.
We met Don Pancho and Carlos Esquivel at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans July 15-19 and tasted both the 8 year ($40/bottle SRP) and the 18 year ($90/bottle SRP). And we learned what makes Cuban rum truly “Cuban”
He’s been called “the godfather of Nuevo Latino cooking” by media and food industry cognoscenti. His dishes pack a “pow” in flavor, texture and color.
I first became familiar with Chef Douglas Rodriguez’s muy sabroso culinary style when he was still in his tender twenties cooking “upscale Cuban” food at his restaurant YUCA (an acronym for “Young Cuban Americans”) in Miami. The James Beard Foundation Awards took notice early on and nominated him twice for Rising Star Chef of the Year; he won the award in 1996.
Doug exploded into the competitive New York City restaurant scene with Patria, where he honed his Nuevo Latino style. The New York Times awarded Patria three stars, and other restaurant developers came calling on Doug.
More restaurants followed: Chicama, a Peruvian restaurant and Pipa, Spanish tapas, both in NYC’s Union Square neighborhood; and Alma de Cuba in Philadelphia with restaurateur Stephen Starr. Today, Doug continues to run Alma de Cuba.
The son of Cuban immigrants, Doug was raised in Miami and starting cooking in his early teens, landing his first job at age 14 as a summer apprentice at the Four Ambassadors Hotel in Miami. Now, with his restaurants, a successful catering company and four books, DRod (as he refers to himself) is still at the top of his game.
We’re excited about his culinary trips to Cuba. With U.S.-Cuban relations opening back up and the tourism industry in Cuba looking at a renaissance, you may want to book a trip with DRod soon!