Dan Dunn is taking an extensive road trip across America to research his forthcoming book, American Wino: A Story of Reds, Whites and One Writer’s Blues on the Winey Road to Redemption (Dey Street Books/HarperCollins). This is the 10th in a series of weekly dispatches chronicling his journey.
Day 75: Faubourg Wines (New Orleans)
You don’t have to study the drinking habits of the American public for a living to know that millions of people flock to Bourbon Street annually for the sole purpose of getting blotto on jet-fueled cocktails. The Big Easy is a famously sot-friendly city, particularly during the annual excess-fest that is Mardi Gras.
But truth be told, there’s so much more to the drinking culture of New Orleans than lunkheaded frat boys pounding 32-ounce Hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s. On the whole, it’s one of the more sophisticated and urbane places to consume alcohol in America.
There are no wineries or vineyards located within New Orleans, but wine has become a booming business here. Over the past decade, the number of wine shops in the city has nearly doubled—many operated by folks with extensive knowledge of fortified grape juice and located in sections of town not traditionally frequented by oenophiles.
Take Catherine Markel, for instance. Her “friendly and fearless” wine shop opened for business on Claude Street in Marigny— a stark old neighborhood in the Bywater just below the French Quarter that until recently wasn’t all that friendly a place to visit.
It’s Friday afternoon when I stop by, and the small but well-stocked shop is doing brisk business. Faubourg (an ancient French term that loosely translates to “suburb”) specializes in small producers and reasonably priced wines. It’s a favorite local hangout, but Markel says she’s developed quite the following from all over the city.
“There’s a growing number of New Orleanians who are very passionate about wine,” Markel says. “And I think the reason the shop has been successful is that people appreciate the fact that we tend to eschew the big names and focus instead on the little guys who are making fantastic wines.”
Markel’s right; the shelves at Faubourg Wines are filled with an impressive array of cult favorites, both New and Old World alike. One thing you won’t find there, however, is a single bottle of wine produced in Louisiana with locally grown grapes.
Markel shrugs and smiles sheepishly when asked about the home state being shut out. “I don’t know. I guess Louisiana wines aren’t quite there yet.”
We’ll see about that.
Day 76: Pontchartrain Vineyards (Bush, LA)
At 24 miles long, the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway is the longest bridge over water in the world. I drive it plus another 30 miles outside of New Orleans to get to Pontchartrain Vineyards, which has been producing wine in southeast Louisiana since 1993 with grapes grown on site and sourced from vineyards along the west coast.
It’s a gorgeous property. At the end of a windy road lined with Southern live oaks, I arrive at a cozy French provincial-style tasting room. It’s Saturday, noonish, and while the weather isn’t particularly pleasant, the place is jamming. I mean, like, Napa Valley tasting room crowded, mostly with young people looking to have some fun and learn about wine. But this ain’t Stag’s Leap, y’all. It’s Bush, Louisiana. And oh, how it warms my heart to know that such a place exists.
I sample all of the wines made with estate-grown grapes at Pontchartrain Vineyards and find at least two that Catherine Markel ought to seriously consider carrying at Faubourg. The 2012 Zydeco Rosato is crisp and pleasantly tart, made with estate-grown Blanc du Bois and Norton and a scooch of Syrah from California. It’s a really nice summer sipper. And the 2011 Le Trolley Reserve is as fine an expression of the Blanc Du Bois grape as I’ve come across on my months-long journey (and believe me, I’ve come across plenty in the South). Blanc Du Bois—a hybrid developed in Florida—yields fruity wines, to be sure, but the Le Trolley has ample acidity in there as well. It’s a nice wine. One that would pair nicely with the savory dishes of South Louisiana—oysters and freshly caught fish prepared with rich but not overly spiced sauces.
Look, Louisiana wines can’t really compete with the stuff being made in more grape-friendly climes. Not yet anyway. Perhaps they never will. The Bayou is an extremely difficult place to cultivate any grape varietal. Pontchartrain Vineyards has been at it for two decades, but most of the producers in Louisiana are still relatively new and figuring things out. But the beauty is, they’re doing it. They’re there.
Next week... We’re getting very near the end... Texas, New Mexico and a little Arizona, too.
For more on Dan’s journey, follow him on Twitter @TheImbiber