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Natural wine has come a long way in New York City since the days when we started this company 15 years ago.  When Jenny and François first toured around the city with a suitcase full of wine talking about indigenous yeasts most sommeliers looked at them like they were insane. These days every distributor sales rep is sure to point out when a wine is made using indigenous yeasts. Natural wines are now present on the wine lists of a huge majority of fine dining  and casual restaurants across the city.

But today we wanted to pay a bit of respect to the pioneers that really push the envelope and work only with natural wines. The list is small, but growing, in fact 4 of the establishments on this list didn’t exist a few months ago and two of them just opened in the last month!

Click through the list to explore these places that represent not only the cutting edge in wine programs, but are also considered to serve some of the most cutting edge food in the city.

Note- For a better viewing experience, you may want to try a large screen map here.

 

Fermented Grapes: A Prospect Heights Wine Haven

On April 1, 2015, in Blog, by Lauren Kennedy
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In the fall of 2004 long-time couple Debbie Summer and Jan McGill opened Fermented Grapes, a neighborhood wine shop where they would sell wines which were true to their grape variety and terroir – wines with character. Brooklyn residents for over 25 years, Debbie & Jan say Prospect Heights was a neighborhood that initially brought doubtful laughs. Taking the “if we build it, they will come” approach, they are now running a fantastic little shop supported by neighborhood regulars and wine enthusiasts alike.

“10 years before opening the store, we had dinner together at a restaurant. It was the first time we ordered a bottle of wine with dinner where we noticed that the food made the wine taste better and the wine made the food taste better.” says Jan. It was the beginning of a journey that led them to vineyard visits, wine classes, an importing gig, and countless tastings before finally opening their own shop.

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They were pleasantly surprised at the friendliness of the neighborhood residents as well as the level of willingness to try new things. “That’s why natural wines do so well here – people are open to learning something different.” says Debbie.

The store has a tight-knit staff who taste and buy as a team, with Debbie and Matt making the final decisions. This really carries over into the level of customer service since their staff is knowledgable and passionate about each product. Matt says “I believe the homey feeling we’ve cultivated has helped to take the intimidation factor out of wine. For so many people, buying a bottle of wine is a process that comes riddled with fears: the fear of the “up-sell,” the fear that the staff will be snooty or judgmental, and worst of all, the fear of feeling stupid.”

With backgrounds in computer programming and TV/Film operations for MTV and ABC, Debbie and Jan love the challenges and newness of each day in the wine industry. “You’re never finished, able to sit down and say there’s nothing more to know,” says Debbie. For Matt, he loves how the conversation about wine can turn into the story of the artist. “When we know the story behind a bottle of wine it can dramatically enhance our experience of it. For example, Olivier Cousin battling the Appellation system in court is almost a genius act of theater! When we drink those wines, we think about the significance of the conditions in which it was produced.”

Over the years they’ve watched the world of people who are knowledgable about wine become much more diverse. The guts of a great wine shop is not only about interesting wines and winemakers, but people like the Fermented Grapes family who are dedicated to learning and relaying that information to thirsty customers.

While they like many different regions, at home, Jan’s favorite is always Burgundy and Debbie tends to favor wines from the Loire.” Matt has a special fondness for Domaine Binner. “I still have some bottles stashed away of the 2008 cuvee Beatrice Pinot Noir. Really superb stuff!” He also mentions the quality and value from Domaine des Sablonnettes. Normally avoiding multiple wines from an individual producer, the store carries three Sablonnettes labels. “They’re subtle and humble, not screaming to be noticed. But there they are, waiting to be enjoyed.”

Fermented Grapes hosts free tastings every Wednesday and Saturday evening. Stop by anytime and expect a gracious welcome, inspiring wine conversation and a diverse selection of real wine.

http://www.fermentedgrapes.net

 

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Little Places, Big Dreams: LIC Market

On December 15, 2014, in Blog, by Lauren Kennedy
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Photo Credit: Chuck Baker

We fell in love with this little restaurant in Long Island City and thought you might too. Owner/chef Alex Schindler and his wife Lisa DiClerico opened the neighborhood restaurant LIC Market in 2010, focusing on fresh ingredients and natural wine. Born and raised in Queens, Alex worked in many restaurants, and was an Executive Chef for 10 years in places like Giorgione, 508 and Hotel Giraffe where he learned many styles of cooking before opening the doors of LIC Market.

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Photo Credit: Chuck Baker

Alex says he fell in love with natural wine 8 years ago when friends in the food and wine world introduced him to the concept. “Natural wine seems like the logical choice to accompany the food we’re cooking – it fits the same philosophy” says Alex. “Conventional wines can many times get in the way of food while natural wines are lively and fresh and work really well with food.” He also likes the conversation it brings to the dining experience and getting people to talk about the food and wine is exactly the experience he imagined. In the very beginning customers were only asking what was new and exciting on the food menu, and now they ask the same about the wine list, which has doubled in size since those first days. Alex says, “[People] know they won’t see the same wine here they see everywhere else.” Lisa adds: “this is one of our goals for both the food and wine – that they will always be outstanding and offer a variety of interesting and out-of-the-ordinary choices. This is what sets our restaurant apart.”

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Photo Credit: Chuck Baker

As far as food, they buy locally whenever possible, but also incorporate specialty products from all over the world to add some creativity. They focus on ingredients that can be cooked simply and stand on their own and believe the seasonal local food movement is not just a passing trend. People are much more aware of where their food is coming from and really appreciate this information as part of their dining experience.

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Photo Credit: Chuck Baker

Lisa has worked in the neighborhood since 2000 and really fell in love with the community which is full of artists, artisans and manufacturers. She found a genuine sincerity to the area which was gritty and industrial but for the right reasons – because it was being used for creative purposes. As they watched businesses move into the neighborhood they saw an opportunity to open a place where they would actually like to spend time. The response has been incredible. Lisa uses skills from her main profession, where she conserves and restores fine art objects and furniture at Lisa DiClerico studio (Lisadiclerico.com), her LIC based business to keep the space cozy and fresh. She designs and changes the restaurant interior personally, sometimes spicing up the walls with local art. This past Spring they added 18 extra seats to an outside space to maximize the restaurant but still maintain the intimate ambiance.

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Photo Credit: Chuck Baker

What’s your favorite part of the business? I asked Alex as we sat amongst happy locals on their lunch breaks. “I get to work with people from all over the world and get to know other people’s cultures and backgrounds. I have an opportunity to work with amazing ingredients and wines from all over the world and be creative with them every day.”

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Photo Credit: Chuck Baker


Check them out:  www.licmarket.com 
 

IMG_0024We are continuing our series to take a look at one of our favorite winemakers, Emmanuel Lassaigne. Manu is a rare breed: someone who works very instinctively and puts all his powers of creativity into action, seemingly without fear of failure or concern for what the market wants. He makes the Champagnes he wants to make, and he takes huge risks in doing so; risks that others would never even consider taking. He does all this almost entirely by himself, working alone in the vines and in his cellar throughout the year. We find the results to be truly stunning: incredibly focused and alive wines of terroir that are crystal clear renderings of the best Champagne has to offer. We’ll continue with this series throughout the fall season.

 

You can read reason #1 Manu is our Hero here.

You can read reason #2 Manu is our Hero here.

Emmanuel disgorges every single bottle of his wine by hand, himself. This is unheard of in Champagne. Emmanuel doesn’t like to top off bottles. Normally Champagne is frozen at the neck for disgorgement, and then when the cap is removed, the frozen dead yeast expels itself. This involves a loss of some wine, which must then be topped up from other bottles. Emmanuel has figured out a technique, which when done correctly, leaves a perfectly clear Champagne with virtually no loss of wine. As he explains in this video we shot of him last year, one must raise the bottle at a certain tempo while popping the cap off. If you do it too slow, you’ll have an empty bottle, and if you do it too fast, you’ll have a cloudy bottle as much of the sediment falls to the bottom:

 

 

IMG_0024We are continuing our series to take a look at one of our favorite winemakers, Emmanuel Lassaigne. Manu is a rare breed: someone who works very instinctively and puts all his powers of creativity into action, seemingly without fear of failure or concern for what the market wants. He makes the Champagnes he wants to make, and he takes huge risks in doing so; risks that others would never even consider taking. He does all this almost entirely by himself, working alone in the vines and in his cellar throughout the year. We find the results to be truly stunning: incredibly focused and alive wines of terroir that are crystal clear renderings of the best Champagne has to offer. We’ll continue with this series throughout the fall season.

 

You can read reason #1 Manu is our hero here.

Reason #2:

Emmanuel ripped up all his Pinot Noir vines. He previously made two cuvées, les Papilles Insolites, a 100% Pinot Noir champagne, and his rosé, which was light and just barely graced with a hint of red fruit from the 10% Pinot Noir in the blend. People (including us!) loved this wine as a light rosé Champagne with racing acidity. He sold both these Champagnes with ease every time they were released, and had totally viable markets for them. But Emmanuel thinks the best expression of his soil is through the Chardonnay grape, so he completely ripped out all the Pinot Noir vines and has since replaced them with Chardonnay. Emmanuel will not see the results of his labors for a minimum of another 10 years, and really it will be much longer than that; 3-5 years for the new Chardonnay vines to grow into anything that will produce grapes suitable for making wine, and then 3-5 more years for that first wine to ferment then age in the bottle. In fact it will be even longer than that before we really get to taste the results of this new vineyard, as Manu almost always combines at least 2 vintages to make one cuvée.

Manu makes radical choices, as we see time and time again, without regard for quick profit or the taste of the market. He makes the choices he wants to make, and what his instincts tell him are the right choices, for his soil, and the right long term choice for the winery.

 

Back to the Heart of It: Montebruno Wine Co.

On October 21, 2014, in Blog, by Lauren Kennedy
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There are moments of working in the NYC wine industry when we can feel disconnected from the wine we are working with. There is something about rolling a wine bag into the subway and down the crowded streets of the city that feels (and is) so very far away from where it began. This is why it’s so important and refreshing to spend time on the vineyard – to feel the soil, breathe the clean air, get your hands (and feet) dirty and re-connect with the earth. This is, after all, where all the important things begin.

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Jesse practicing “pigeage” against a perfect backdrop

I had the pleasure of spending a few days with Joe Pedicini and his team outside of Hillsboro, Oregon in the Willamette Valley and experiencing the magic of harvest. Long hard work days are followed by long nights of talking and laughing over homemade food and wine and the reward is spending a lot of time with talented, amazing people and the ability to actually taste what they’ve created.

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Getting my hands dirty!

The weekend started on an uncharacteristically warm and sunny October weekend at Ruby Vineyard where Joe has been making his wine for 2 years now. Steve and Flora are a husband and wife team who own the house and vineyard where neighbors pop by for a coffee or to put in a few hours of work and even just to say hi to the crew and pet Stanley, the vineyard dog. Two interns and a handful of other harvest helpers make the winery buzz with excitement and a family vibe where it doesn’t feel quite like “work.” The backdrop is sprinkled with green hills and mountains with Mt. Hood standing proudly in the distance, wearing a pink hat at sunset and everyone stops to stare.

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Sunset over Mt. Hood

We processed 20 tons of fruit while I was there and 2014 was a perfect growing season. The fruit tumbled onto the sorting table in near perfection, only a few leaves here and there to pick out, all of us snacking on bunches throughout the day. I decided to pick Joe’s brain about the other vintages and vineyards he works with.

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Joe Pedicini and 2014 Old Vine Wädenswil Pinot Noir

The 2011 Crawford Beck just arrived in NY at the beginning of October. 2011 was a cool, rainy year – harvest was a nearly a month later than in 2014. Every vintner has a different way of deciding when to pick; Joe uses both testing and taste – and in 2011 when the brix were measuring but the flavors were not developed enough for his palate he waited a bit longer. A small and perfect window for picking finally arrived and though it was a bit hectic, the fruit came in beautifully and worth the wait. Crawford Beck vineyard is owned by David and Jeanne Beck and according to Joe is meticulously farmed. Always using at least 50% whole cluster fermentation, he likes what the stems bring to the wine, herbaceous aromatics, and silky tannins when the wine is aged and ready. The cool year brings great acidity and balance, and in the end a wine that is more delicate and floral than in warmer years.

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The most interesting thing about the Crawford Beck Vineyard is the two soil compositions living right next to each other. The Dijon 115 clone is grown on a slope where the top slope is volcanic soil and the bottom is marine sediment. Though the fruit is grown just steps from one another they make completely different wines – terroir!  Joe has always vinified the two wines separately and later blended them to make the Crawford Beck Pinot Noir we know and love in NY.  But recently, he started making two separate wines to showcase how these soils produce very different wines from the same vintage. In the future he will make three wines from Crawford Beck, with grapes grown in the different soils alone, and one as a blend. We can’t wait to taste them!

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Joe started working with a couple of new vineyards in 2012 – Kathken vineyards and Momtazi, a biodynamic vineyard. Kathken Vineyard, from which the 2012 Pinot Noir also just arrived in NY, is a high elevation vineyard with Jory and Nokia soils.  In 2012 the conditions were perfect — almost too hot in some areas but with the high elevation at Kathken, a cooler AVA from the nearby Pacific influence, the ungrafted old clones of Wädenswil and Pommard fared perfectly.

While Joe has a method for his winemaking it’s refreshing to see that he’s not afraid of the unknown – throughout the weekend he pulled some fruit aside for various experiments just for the sake of trying new things and learning by doing each year. While processing some perfect Gewürztraminer fruit we decided to hand squeeze a bunch into steel pots to skin ferment and later bury underground for a few months.

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2014 Gewürztraminer

So what about the wine? It starts in the vineyard but it ends in the glass! The wines of Montebruno are reflective of the precise work that begins in the vineyard. In the glass they are expressive, thirst-quenching, and full of life. Wine that is delicate yet complex and interesting. Pinot Noir that embodies the terroir from which it came yet somehow echoes the style of Burgundy.

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Team Harvest

 

 

IMG_0018In honor of La Fete du Champagne, we’re kicking off a new series to take a look at one of our favorite winemakers, Emmanuel Lassaigne. Manu is a rare breed: someone who works very instinctively and puts all his powers of creativity into action, seemingly without fear of failure or concern for what the market wants. He makes the Champagnes he wants to make, and he takes huge risks in doing so; risks that others would never even consider taking. He does all this almost entirely by himself, working alone in the vines and in his cellar throughout the year.  We find the results to be truly stunning: incredibly focused and alive wines of terroir that are crystal clear renderings of the best Champagne has to offer. We’ll continue with this series throughout the fall season.

Reason #1:

From the beginning of his winemaking carrier, Manu has been willing to take big risks based on his own instincts and make decisions in isolation from the opinions of others. Before Emmanuel took over the winery from his father Jacques in 1999, he worked in the industrial packing industry with zero experience making wine.  He studied the vines and winemaking for a few years, by himself, and decided he was ready to make his first vintage in 2002. He then promptly cancelled all orders with their existing client list. He knew he was going to completely change the way the wine was made, and he didn’t want to be beholden to any customers who preferred the old way. He chose to start completely from scratch.  He built an entirely new list of clients, starting with the then small but slowly expanding Paris natural wine scene.

He began by converting to organic viticulture, putting a lot of time and effort into the land and the vines. At the time in France for certain, but especially in Champagne,  this was considered complete madness. Grapes from Montgueux, the area in Champagne where his vineyard is situated, were and still are almost all sold to larger houses at very lucrative prices.  Manu’s neighbors thought he was a total lunatic at first, although they now respect what he has done. Manu did this because he had a vision to create wines of terroir; to showcase the unique different parcels of the vineyard. He didn’t make these choices because he had spent time with other natural winemakers like Marcel Lapierre, and he had never heard of Anselme Selosse. He just thought it made sense, so he walked away from guaranteed income and clients to start everything anew and make wines the way he thought they should be made.

 

 

Winelovers Unite: Take Back the Terroir

On September 16, 2014, in Blog, by Lauren Kennedy
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Photo by Jim Budd

Dear Winelovers,

Come protest Global Warming with the Jenny & François team!  We are passionate about this subject for many reasons, but as people of the wine industry who work closely with winemakers around the world, we have to acknowledge the effect of global warming on grape growing. On Sunday September 21st, we will join the People’s Climate March at 11 AM on 77th St. and Central Park West to march as a group of wine lovers who want to take back the terroir and bring awareness to this growing problem. Check out the website here:  http://peoplesclimate.org/

Research shows that if climate change patterns progress as expected with higher temperature and droughts, grape-growing regions will shrink by nearly 80 percent by the year 2100. We don’t want to be in the raisin business! Please come by for an hour or two and walk with us – we’ll be the ones holding the banner that says “Winelovers Unite: Take Back the Terroir!”

We’d love to see a giant group of wine drinkers, industry or not, walking with us on Sunday the 21st to continue the battle against global warming. Please send us an e-mail at lauren@jennyandfrancois.com if you can make it so we know how many to expect. We look forward to marching with you!

 

In Vino Veritas,

The J&F Team

 

 

Jean Luc le Du has been a fixture in the New York City wine scene for almost two decades now. He helmed the list a sommelier at restaurant Daniel in the mid 1990’s and also designed many of the lists at Daniel Boulud’s renowned restaurants, including Café Boulud. He opened le Du’s wines in 2005 and put together a slick, huge, and very successful wine store that is one of the city’s best. Needless to say, Jean Luc has tasted and bought an incredible amount of the world’s most storied wines.

However, we wanted to sit down and talk to him about another one of his passions- natural wine. Nestled amongst the Grand Cru Burgundies at le Du’s, you’ll find treasures from the world’s top natural winemakers as well- Olivier Cousin, Frank Cornelissen, and Grange Tiphaine just to name a few. Check out the video to learn what Jean Luc likes about natural wines:

 

 

Austrian Natural Wines!

On April 24, 2014, in Blog, by Nick Gorevic
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rüttelnThese days, with scores of new natural wine importers scouring Europe for the latest and greatest finds, it’s not every day we run across an example of stunning, zero sulfur, natural wines we’ve never heard of before. But that’s exactly what happened to us last Fall when we all first tasted the wines of Franz Strohmeier.

Franz has been making wine in Styria since 2003,  works with indigenous local grapes we never heard of (blauer wildbacher anyone?), experiments in his vines to get as close to nature as possible, and makes a host of wines with zero addition of sulfur. Needless to say, on paper we were very eager to try these wines, and then when we tasted them in our office, our entire team practically broke down in tears at how good these wines were.

We are beyond excited to share the first five wines we brought in with the New York City market. The sparkling wines wow with freshness and drinkability. In fact with just one day on the street with these wines, I’ve never heard so many wine buyers say they forgot to spit before. The TLZ zero sulfur wines are full of finesse and vitality, and the subtle amount of skin contact used in these wines drives us wild with visions of fine dining pairings that would knock our socks off.

Head on over to the new Franz Strohmeier page of our site for more details!

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