A French Finish by Robert Ross Now On Kindle





A French Finish Cover._AA160_


Robert Ross, my dad, published this book in 1978.  It earned the highly prized Edgar award from the Mystery Writers of America for an author’s first novel.

It is now available on Kindle.

In A French Finish, a retired Harvard art historian, Professor Emeritus Lewis Tewkesbury, with time on his hands, agrees to a crazy caper dreamt up by one of his former students, Nick Otter.  Their audacious scheme: Create a perfect replica of King Louis XVI’s writing desk from the 18th century, build a bullet-proof back story concerning its ‘discovery’, and sell the forgery at auction to an unsuspecting buyer for millions. With a plot possessing more twists and turns than a woodworker’s drill bit, “A French Finish” combines insights into the arts of forgery along with ample dollops of art history, colorful characters, humor and high-jinks.


Before turning to writing novels, Robert Ross was a creative director at the Leo Burnett advertising agency. When he retired to Montserrat in the West Indies, he became fascinated with Leonardo da Vinci and learned everything he could about this brilliant inventor and artist and his era.

The Medici Guns

On the island, he met Martin Woodhouse, creator of The Avengers television series, and they teamed up as co-authors to pen three adventure novels: The Medici Guns, The Medici Emerald and The Medici Hawks.

The Medici Emerald

Each historical novel is set in Renaissance Italy with Leonardo Da Vinci cast as a kind of James Bond, utilizing one or more of his actual devices, from cannons and flying machines to submarines and other innovations, to solve a host of swashbuckling challenges and romantic escapades. His last novel, ”A French Finish,” won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for the best first mystery by a new writer in 1978.

The Medici Hawks

Enjoy all four!


Posted in A French Finish, Martin Woodhouse, Mystery series, Robert Ross, The Medici Emerald, The Medici Guns, The Medici Hawks | Leave a comment

NYC Retail [Re-]Openings Under The Microscope

Manhattan Merchants Re-Imagine Brick & Mortar Stores

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At Manhattan’s Park Avenue Liquor Shop, moving to a new, much larger space permitted a much expanded selection of fine wines and spirits.

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Whiskey from six continents fill the floor-to-ceiling shelves at Park Avenue Liquor Shop’s new location at Madison and 39th Street.










For any wine and spirits merchant or restaurateur, be she or he new to the business or a multi-decade, multi-generational veteran, to contemplate a re-do of an existing space, a move to a brand new address, or to venture a store the first time is a very big deal. Hundreds of details must be attended to and checked off, from dealing with real estate agents, landlords, architects and contractors to selecting lighting and shelving to investing in the latest integrated sales and inventory control software, the list appears endless, and that is all before placing the first orders with distributors!

Here are six vignettes (pun intended) about five enterprising Manhattan wine and spirits merchants and one restaurant wine director, each of whom has taken the plunge and opened (or re-opened) a new store in one of the most competitive markets in the country, where rents per square foot are sky high and space is always at a premium.

Violetta Wines – A Little Niche on Madison Avenue                                                                                                            

Gift givers and recipients know nice things come in small packages, and Violetta Wines at 161 Madison Avenue certainly delivers, given a mere 1,000 square feet of selling space and another 700 square feet of storage in back. Hailing originally from London, owner Markus Ljunghammer, who had several years of upscale wine-selling experience in his hometown, knew location would be critical to his store’s ultimate success in Manhattan. Ljunghammer says, “The demographic of this mid-town location on Madison is changing rapidly, with many new website and online commerce companies and upscale residents moving in, so it was an attractive neighborhood.”

And the store’s name, how did that come about? “Easy, think of top luxury brands such as Prada, or Bottega Veneta, or a top restaurant like Esca, the name Violetta Wines captures some of that same Italian cachet,” replies Ljunghammer with a knowing, if mildly ironic wink. With just one medium-sized window to display the store’s offerings, he makes frequent changes, with rosé wines featured around the time of the store’s opening on Valentine’s Day this past February. Currently, Violetta’s window presents a colorful mix of artisan, local whiskies from New York State distillers and hard-to-find wines from France, Chile, Argentina and Italy.

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At Violetta Wines on lower Madison Avenue in Manhattan, wines and spirits are displayed in handsome wooden racks that make it easy for customers to see a carefully selected variety of hard-to-find brands as well as popular best-sellers.

Assisted by Chris Ferrante, Ljunghammer makes the best of the store’s diminutive size, noting delivering excellent customer service is almost inescapable within its tiny footprint, which in turn, has built repeat business in a very short time. And since Markus puts a premium in searching out scarce bottlings that he says customers don’t often find in other shops in the neighborhood, he adds that he has quickly built a growing following.

Even so, if a customer asks for a popular name brand, either he will grab it from the shelves, the stockroom or, alternatively, special order it no questions asked. Making the most of his less-is-more store ethic, Ljunghammer sums up, “Given the size of the store, it allows us much more personalized attention.”



Grape Collective – An Upper West Side Vinous Story Teller

A born storyteller, Chris Barnes caught the wine bug and transformed his avocation into the Grape Collective, an imaginative mix of bricks-and-mortar retailing combined with an ambitious online media presence whose content is free to anyone interested in the stories behind the wines he features in the store. This 21st century vision of seamlessly integrating traditional retail with a non-traditional, multi-faceted online presence should come as no surprise given Barnes’s background in publishing. Previous to opening the store, Barnes was publisher of the New York Observer and before that as a successful media entrepreneur both on the East and West coasts.

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Chris Barnes is the founder of the Grape Collective, a new multi-channel wine destination on Broadway and online, where stories about wine matter more than scores, according the former publisher-turned-wine journalist/wine merchant.

Located at 102nd and Broadway, the physical store is only the tip of an ambitious iceberg of wine-related content at a grapecollective.com. There, where all content is free, and in the free magazine he publishes, Barnes has assembled a talented team of wine writers who not only write stories about most of the wines he carries, but some also serve as his sales staff. The core of the Grape Collective’s content consists of revealing video interviews Barnes often conducts himself with winemakers around the world including Jorge Muga of Spain, somms such as Adam Binder of the Catbird Seat in Nashville, or smaller importers like Kermit Lynch. As Barnes puts it, his vinous venture is all about ‘points of view, not points.” He is all about access, refusing the route of establishing a pay wall that other wine publications have as their business model as well as those sites created by famous wine critics.

When hiring staff for his store’s opening, he advertised on Craig’s List, but not for those with retail experience as one might assume. No, Barnes was looking for wine writers. There are no shelf talkers in his store, rather in several tables displaying wine the customer will see an iPad set up at eye level; with a few clicks a customer may see and hear a video about the wines, winemakers and domains and estates in front of them for sale. Like other cutting-edge merchants from Net-A-Porter to Warby Parker, the Grape Collective has set its sights on transforming the retail experience, either in its store, via its blogging and social media, and through its growing online presence. Expressing the essential message of his approach, Barnes says, “We want to avoid a fixation on a few adjectives and a reliance on scores, we’re trying to tell great stories about wine.”

Park Avenue Liquor Shop – 80 Years Young


Mike Goldstein, left, and son Eric, right, and Jonathan, in the background, at the old Park Avenue Liquor Shop before the move in February 2015.

Founded in 1934 by Herman Goldstein, Park Avenue Liquor Shop’s move two blocks south on Madison Avenue to the corner of 39th Street clearly sets this merchant up for the next 80 years. With its lease coming up for renewal in 2016, Mike Goldstein, son of the founder and president, and his two sons, co-owners Jonathan and Eric, had difficult decision to make – re-up, pay more rent to the building’s new owners at 292 Madison or consider a move. After considering the downsides of staying the admittedly cramped location and having to pay a much higher rent, the family elected to make a move.

Eric Goldstein recalls the real estate agent listened carefully to the family’s criteria, which included securing a long lease, finding a great mid-town Manhattan location and reaching a relatively affordable rent even though they wanted a much larger retail selling space. It took time to find the right spot, as their then-current location at 292 Madison was beloved by their customers and only steps away from the iconic Grand Central Station. But much to their surprise, a former restaurant on a corner location not more than two blocks south, at 242 Madison, became available and they closed on a deal, still leaving enough time to carefully plan the move.

While their former location boasted 2,200 square feet of selling space—with product reaching literally to the ceiling— and under 5,000 square feet of storage in the basement, the new store almost doubles the ground floor selling space, notes Goldstein. With large windows that afford great daytime light and high 20-foot ceilings, loyal customers don’t have to walk far to marvel at the new location’s spaciousness and an even greater selection of fine wines and spirits than before. Summing up the reaction from their clients, Eric said the family is extremely pleased with the praise they have received since opening on Valentine’s Day 2015.

And with the new address, the basement space grew as well, affording Eric, Jonathan and Mike the chance to build up valuable reserves of hard-to-find rarities that their customers have come to expect, from rare single malt Scotch to artisanal Bourbons, to older vintages of Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne, not for a moment forgetting less costly, faster moving wines and spirits. Last but not least as part of the move, Park Avenue launched a completely re-designed website that makes shopping as easy as a few clicks away from its expanded inventory.

Back Label Wine Merchants – From Brooklyn to Chelsea

Patrick Watson, founder and owner of Back Label Wine Merchants, earned his stripes as a talented sommelier at restaurants including Lupa and Blue Hill in New York, One Market in San Francisco, and he brings that experience to Back Label Wine Merchants. But also has a successful background as a Brooklyn wine and spirits retailer, where he founded with his wife, Michelle, Smith & Vine in 2004 at 268 Smith Street. And located at 215 Smith Street, he and his wife next opened Stinky Cheese in 2006, which features not only cheese, but also sandwiches, teas and beer from the borough to brews from near and far.

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Curated is not a cliche at Patrick Watson’s Back Label Wine Merchants located in Chelsea on the west side of Manhattan. Watson, a former sommelier, brings a food-and-wine oriented sensibility to every bottle on offer.

In late 2014, eager to enter Manhattan, and with Smith & Vine running smoothly by Michelle, Patrick saw an opportunity in Chelsea, and opened Back Label Wine Merchants at 111 West 20th in May 2014. While curated is an over-used term these days, much like the wine lists he used to create, Watson carefully selects a wide range of wines and spirits for the 4,000 square foot store.

He says: “Food is the prism through which I select wines based on my sommelier background. We don’t need eight Sancerre labels, but we taste 80 to choose just one.” The store also boasts an additional 1,000 square feet in the back of the store, where a series of frequent free- and private-paid classes are hosted, all promoted by signage and flyers in the store, via social media and on its dedicated website. Watson also brings in star wine directors and somms to lead classes, including Michael Madrigale, Lisa Granik, and Noah Sugarman, among others.

Assisted by Allison Klug, Manager and Spirits Director, the store also features a huge collection of Bourbons, Rye, Straight whiskies, Scotch, Irish and Canadian brands. And in an echo of Watson’s Brooklyn experience, located right next door, is Stinky Cheese Chelsea, with a collection of cheeses, teas, beers and made-to-order sandwiches. In this way, he can cross sell the products of one store to the other; for example some wines come with a promotion of 10% off a cheese purchase next door on the same day. This is curating taken to the next level, Chelsea style.

Le District’s Challenge to Eataly

Here is a New York City retail-cum-real estate riddle to puzzle over: Will Le District’s 30,000 square feet of French gastronomic and vinous delights do for Lower Manhattan what the 50,000 square-foot success of Eataly at Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street did for the Madison Square Park neighborhood?

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Le Bar at Le District is packed every night inside Lower Manhattan’s Brookfield Place, with rotating selection of more than 20 wines by the glass on offer.

If Ryan Mills-Knapp Le District’s Beverage Manager and owner Peter Poulakakos, CEO of HPH restaurant group, have anything to say, it would be: Mais oui, pas de problème! HPH founder Harry Poulakakos, Peter’s father, opened Harry’s Bar, a legendary Wall Street watering hole that is packed every night after the market’s close; today the group has 25 locations, many in Lower Manhattan, including Le District.


Opening night at Brookfield Place’s Le District in May 2015  was festive with a French flair;  jugglers and plenty of tasty hor d’oeuvres and French wines delighted guests.

Nestled in the newly opened $300-million Mall at Brookfield Place in Lower Manhattan—located a short walk from the towering World Trade Center—Le District features 20 mini-departments of fish, meat, fresh-baked breads, cheese, a chic café with pastries, waffles and a full-service Creperie and an ‘after-hours’ chocolate mousse bar, along with de rigueur imported French boxed-chocolates, fancy fruit tarts, multiple salads-to-go, crusty baguette ham-and-cheese sandwiches, seasonal soups and basketfuls of other culinary delights a la française, including Le Candy Bar, an emporium of delicious Gallic sweets. In addition, Le District boasts an espresso bar, a wine bar called Le Comptoir (The Counter), a cocktail lounge called Le Bar, and two French upscale eateries: Beaubourg, a classic bistro offering French classics from steak-frites to tender fish quenelles and L’Appart, an intimate, 28-seat restaurant whose Chef Jordi Vallès, an El Bulli veteran from Spain, also doubles as Culinary Director of the entire operation.


Inside Le District, its Beaubourg brasserie offers French classics from steak-frites to onion soup to chocolate mousse. The wine list features wines from every principal region across France.

Says Mills-Knapp: “What excites me about taking on this challenge at Le District is that French wine is such an inherent part of French culture and cuisine. From a casual glass to fancy bottles, our guests are able to explore multiple wine-and-food experiences in the range of all our venues.” If you total up all the wines-by-the-glass selections at the different spots within Le District, Mills-Knapp says there are between 50-55 different wines on offer, including 25-30 in Le Comptoir alone, plus another 15-25 additional pours between Le Bar and Beaubourg. (This number does not include each restaurant’s wine list.)

When Mills-Knapp thinks about juggling all these liquid skus, he says: “Managing inventory is exceptionally important here. Our POS system integrates purchasing, inventory and sales in real time; I can place orders through our custom software. It’s a powerful tool when it comes to cost management and it’s easily the most important part of my job.” While open only a month at press time, with the crowds pouring in from early breakfast until midnight, Mills-Knapp forecasts between $5-to-$10 million in beverage sales in 2015, with the lion’s share coming from wine.

A Maine native, Mills-Knapp first worked at Plaza Wine Merchants in Jackson Hole, Wyoming—with plenty of downhill ski time on the slopes—before heading back east to New York, where he started at the bottom as a waiter at Aureole. He soon graduated to being a sommelier at restaurants including Beacon, Spice Market, Tribeca Grill, Corton and Colicchio & Sons. During these posts, he honed his craft and became a Certified Sommelier; he credits Daniel Johnnes and David Gordon as mentors. A college major in American diplomatic history, Mills-Knapp likens the role of a sommelier to the tasks of a State Department Foreign Service officer: A sommelier has to take an instant read of his or her customer or table, put the guest or party at ease, and keep a low, but vigilant profile in terms of service.

Currently at Le Bar, the three best-selling wines by the glass are: 2009 Château Teyssier, St. Emilion, courtesy of HP Selections, a Manhattan-based wine importer/distributor owned by Peter Poulakakos, at $15; a 2013 Sancerre at $14, from rotating group of producers; and a 2014 Château Roquefort rosé, from VOS Selections, at $14. At Beaubourg, the sweet spot in terms sales velocity are wines priced between $50-to-$80 a bottle. And thanks to his experience at other top restaurants, Mills-Knapp says it was not too difficult to snag some vintage gems for Le District’s reserve list, where such wines are poured after a successful IPO or for the nearby Conde Nast marketing team, who take the short walk from their perch at the World Financial Center over to Le District for a sales meeting.

Looking forward to the May/June opening of L’Appart, Mills-Knapp is already planning curated, multi-course Champagne tasting match-ups with Chef Vallès. And since he has become friends with top wine makers from around world, Mills-Knapp is also looking forward to hosting many one-off wine-maker dinners in the same space, where guests can really relax and savor some real rarities in an intimate setting.

As to whether Le District will ever rival Eataly in terms of metrics such as foot traffic, sales per-square-foot, or total beverage sales is a topic that Mills-Knapp does not unduly concern himself; much as a dedicated diplomat on a demanding mission, he is focused on delivering great service, offering tremendous wine, spirits and beer selections and pure French, how shall we say, joie de vivre!

On The Trail of Bacchus –                                                                                                   Wine Disciples Forges An Novel Restaurant/Store Paradigm in Chelsea

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Michael Coll is the founder of Wine Disciples, a wine bar/wine shop located in Chelsea in New York City.

If there is one thing Michael Coll heard over and again in his 25 years as a sommelier and restaurant wine buyer, it was a customer asking him: “Where can I buy this wine?” Unable to proffer directions to a local merchant after stints in Los Angeles, San Francisco and, most recently, at Estiatorio Milos in Manhattan, this Scot from Edinburgh can now finally “close the circle” as Coll eloquently describes his ambitious new retail/restaurant venture in Chelsea called Wine Disciples, which opened in late June 2015.

There is an ‘s’ in the venture’s name for a reason. It represents Coll’s double-doored answer to that ever-asked inquiry noted above: one door opens to an Italian-inflected restaurant, with its dedicated entrance; and right next store, another door swings open to a full-fledged wine store. Located at 129 West 29th, Coll literally bifurcated a vast, empty ground floor space into his architectural/commercial riposte to all those vinous questers in Manhattan and beyond.

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On West 29th Street in Manhattan, Wine Disciples features both a wine bar/restaurant through one door, where Italian plates and dishes are served with a dedicated wine list assembled by owner Michael Coll, a former sommelier who hails from Scotland.

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Separated by a thick wall, and right next door, is Wine Disciple’s Wine Shop. Owner Michael Coll is careful to make sure the his wine bar does not offer any wines from the shop; the Wine Shop is still in the process of rounding out selections from France, Greece, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Wine Disciples Enoteca wine bar and restaurant is modern space that boasts a 25-foot high ceiling, 30-some tables, a long, custom-designed pewter bar and, at the back, a private dining room, with a pair of luminous skylights, that can comfortably seat 40 guests. On a recent night, Coll was readying this gustatory annex to welcome a Google-hosted party. Helmed by Chef Brian Leth, his menu offers a rich array of Italian small plates of cheese, artisanal salamis, cured meats and prosciutto, classic antipasti, griglia (grilled fowl, meats, seafood), fresh oysters, and pastas, according to the seasons.

With a thick wall separating it from the restaurant, Coll’s Wine Disciples Wine Shop is likewise a cavernous, yet warm space that will soon offer wines from six continents. For the moment, Coll opened with a rich selection of hard-to-find Napa and Sonoma gems; an array Italian producers from the boot-heel to the Alps; a strong selection of French bottlings from Irouléguy in the Pyrenees to small producers in Chablis and Champagne in the north; and lastly, a carefully curated complement of classic Rieslings and Grüners from Germany and Austria, respectively. Coll is vigilant about differentiating offerings on the Enoteca’s wine list from those wines at the store; but he can readily propose a similar wine from either to his dedicated ‘disciples.’

Whether walk-in customers to the shop, diners at the restaurant, or serving customers online, Coll says, “My hope is that guests will visit us on both sides of the wall, and virtually, to discover new wines and pairings.”

The author wishes to thank Beverage Media to publish this article, which appears in the September 2015 issue of the magazine.


Posted in Bourbon, Food, France, French wine, Grape Collective, Italian food, Italian wine, Le District, Manhattan Wine Stores, Park Avenue Liquor Shop, Spain, Spanish wine, Uncategorized, Wine, Wine Disciples Wine Bar | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Immigrant Retailers Add Spice on Main Street


Immigrant Retailers Add Spice on Main Street


Jose Antonio “Nick” Barrios, owner of three Vintage Wine and Liquor stores in Miami, Florida.

An American Tradition Lives On with

Mom-and-Pop Merchants from Six Continents

From colonial times to the present, America has welcomed immigrants. The words inscribed on the plaque at the foot of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor proclaim—“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free….”—and are enshrined in our nation’s conscience and consciousness.

American history is rich in connections between immigrants and alcohol. Our earliest colonies brewed beer, imported Madeira and rum, and distilled spirits from corn, rye, and molasses. Thomas Jefferson tried time and again to grow grapevines shipped over from France and Italy at his beloved Monticello. Three-thousand miles west, Spanish colonists in what is present-day California had better luck during the 16th and 17th centuries, building a chain of religious missions, after which the Mission grape is named and is still cultivated to this day.

All by way of saying, America’s beverage alcohol business could not have evolved as it has without wave after wave of entrepreneurial immigrants entering the wine, spirits and beer businesses. Before and after Prohibition, ambitious, risk-taking first-, second- and third-generation immigrants were present at all three tiers of the beverage alcohol industry, but have proven especially successful at the retail level in recent decades.

Leading from Main Street

With roots as varied as Africa, Australia, the Caribbean, China, Eastern Europe, India, Latin America, the Middle East, Russia, Southeast Asia, South Korea, and not to forget Western Europe, these merchants add spice to the diverse cities and towns they serve.

A recent front-page Wall Street Journal story reported on a study crediting immigrants with all the growth in so-called Main Street businesses from 2000 to 2013, including 31 of the 50 largest metro areas. The author of the report, David Kallick, specifically praised the role these immigrant-owned businesses have played in “neighborhood revitalization.” No dry economic verbiage needed: mom-and-pop wine and liquor store owners are playing an ever-growing role in generating jobs, growth and opportunity in the neighborhoods they live in and serve.

Published on January 13, 2015, this report from the Wall Street Journal underlines the outsized contribution to U.S. economy and employment achieved by immigrant entrepreneurs on Main Street.
Almost half (43%) of recently opened beer, wine and liquor stores in the U.S. were owned by immigrant retailers, according the data noted on the right-hand column.

Consider them a quiet but potent force. According to one senior multi-state wine and spirits wholesaler, in markets like metropolitan New York, New Jersey, Florida and California, first- or second-generation immigrant mom-and-pop retailers and restaurateurs can account for as much as 20% to 30% or even more of a distributor’s entire statewide business.


Lucas Huang, owner of Derby Liquors, Brooklyn, NY.

In the tri-state area alone—New York,New Jersey and Connecticut—the Asian-America Retailers Alliance (AARA) represents more than 2,000 members who own wine and liquor stores, convenience stores, and gas stations, says AARA Coordinator Samir Patel, who immigrated from India. Patel says that the group’s annual trade show—September 10, 2015 in Edison, New Jersey—attracts scores of wine, spirits and beer suppliers, importers and distributors seeking to grow their trade with these AARA entrepreneurs.

Singular Challenges

America’s immigrant retailers readily acknowledge they face steep challenges of language, culture, product knowledge and the complex thicket of regulatory details specific to selling wine and spirits. But the single biggest hurdle? “Trying to put the deal together financially was the hardest part,” says Vipul Patel, an AARA member (no relation to Samir Patel, but also from India) and owner of The Wine Rack in the affluent suburb of Basking Ridge,NJ, since 2013. (Patel bought the store from an owner who was retiring.)

Coming from a convenience store background in which stocking inventory was not so expensive an outlay, Patel soon discovered selling fine wine and spirits is an extremely capital-intensive exercise. Another ongoing challenge, says Patel, is the constant need to acquire more product knowledge. “I am still learning; with wine and liquor you have to learn a lot,” notes Patel, who is very proud of the fact that now customers ask him for recommendations, and he is able to describe products in terms that inspire confidence and repeat business.

Location, Location…

In Miami, for second-generation business owner Jose Antonio “Nick” Barrios, whose father (also Jose Antonio) emigrated from Cuba, humility is the key watchword. “My father, who started with almost nothing from Cuba, originally owned a small supermarket from 1971,” he says. “And he taught me everything.”

Owner now of three busy Vintage Liquor & Wine Bar locations, Barrios recalls one critical secret his father shared early on: “Remember all the pricing in your head. And to do what you promise to do.” This discipline, first honed as a young employee in his father’s supermarket, proved crucial in capitalizing on the ins-and-outs of volume discounts and other pricing essentials when dealing with distributors.

Each Vintage caters to a different clientele. The Pinecrest location welcomes to a diverse base of upscale customers who are quite wine-knowledgeable, notes Barrios. That store is Vintage’s largest, featuring a walk-in fine wine cellar with 1,500 selections. Their Midtown Miami location is situated in a growing neighborhood with many young professionals moving in. And Brickell, also growing fast, has a significant Latin American population (including owners of many second homes). One common denominator tying all three locations: an extensive selection of single malt Scotch and Bourbon.

Brooklyn Family Affair

Lucas Huang is a young Chinese-American wine and spirits retailer who also started at a family grocery, where he learned the basics of service and buying. When he and his mother, Lily, elected to switch careers and buy Derby Liquors, a small wine and liquor store at 2123 Nostrand Avenue in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, location was a key—Huang lives just five minutes from the store. More than half of Derby’s customer base is African-American; the balance consisting largely of Jamaican and Haitian patrons.

Huang adds that he has worked hard to remember how each wine tastes, as more and more customers are asking about the store’s growing selection of varietal types he is stocking. He also happily takes on brands his customers request. Of late, Hennessy Cognac, Brugal Rum from the Dominican Republic and Moscato wines are the top three sellers at his store, which is staffed by his brother Ken, his mother and himself.

From Copiers to Corkscrews


Edmund Braithwaite, owner of Nostrand Wine & Liquors in Brooklyn, New York.

Nine miles west, but a world away from Derby Liquors, Edmund Braithwaite, a Guyanese-American retailer, owns and operates Nostrand Wine & Liquors, acquired in 2002 from a retiring merchant, situated between the Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Not far from the famous Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the neighborhood has changed dramatically since Braithwaite first opened. A former senior regional executive for Staples, Braithwaite “downsized” his management skills from typical 40,000-square-foot store to a more manageable (at first), 1,000 square feet at his first location.

Curiously enough, Braithwaite first heard about the liquor store from one of his top Staples customers. As he was ready to take on a more entrepreneurial challenge, he studied the demographics carefully before he acquired the small store. “I used my years of supplier- and customer-service experience from Staples,” Braithwaite says, adding, “When I first opened, my customers were 98% African-American, Haitian and Guyanese. But 13 years later almost 40% of my business is Caucasian; it’s mind-boggling.”

He is planning his third move into a building he bought earlier this year only one door down from his current location. “When I first opened,” Braithwaite recalls, “I sold 70% spirits and 30% wine, now it has totally reversed, and it is a reflection of the changing neighborhood.” He adds, “Today, I carry vintage Port, a huge selection of artisanal bourbons and an ever-growing selection of Old and New World wines.”

Sky’s the Limit At Miami’s El Cielo Restaurant

El Cielo

El Cielo restaurant in Miami attracts a diverse, upscale crowd from all across Latin America, in addition to local residents.

Andrea Herrera is General Manager of El Cielo, a Colombian-owned restaurant opened in Miami’s chic Brickell neighborhood earlier this year by famed Colombian chef Juan Manuel Barrientos. With a strong lunch, after-work and dinner business driven by clientele of Caribbean and Latin American descent, beverage service has been a key driver in the location’s success, reports Herrera. “Overlooking Miami Bay, we have a beautiful location and we are very near the top financial and cultural institutions in downtown Miami; business has been huge since we opened,” says the Colombia native and 17-year resident of Miami.

Key for repeat business here is how the innovative tasting menus and small plates dovetail with the spirits and wine service. Popular pours include Pisco Sours, Coconut Rum Daiquiris mixed with Macorix, the trendy rum from the Dominican Republic, and fine wines from $70 to $3,000 a bottle.

As our American ethnic quilt becomes more varied, these enterprising immigrant retailers and restaurateurs, and their increasingly diverse customer bases, are certain to become more important customers to both distributors and suppliers in the beverage alcohol business, not to mention our economy.

The author wishes to thank Beverage Media for permission to publish this article, which appeared in the September 2015 issue of the publication.

Posted in Bartenders, Beverage Media, Brooklyn, Brooklyn NY, Miami, Mom-and-Pop Retailers, New York, Spain, Wine, Wine Business | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lafayette’s Hermione: A TransAtlantic Story – SEA HISTORY Magazine

In 1779, frigate Hermione (air-mee-OHN) was the sleek French warship that carried General Lafayette to America in 1780, a voyage that directly culminated in the American-French victory at Yorktown in 1781. The current Hermione is an authentically built replica, launched last year and in May 2015 sailed to the United States, arriving in Yorktown on June 5, 2015.  Her subsequent cruise up the Eastern seaboard, visiting ports that played a key roles in the War for Independence, celebrate and reaffirm the long friendship between France and the United States.

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Lafayette with James Armistead, a slave whose owner permitted him to serve the “Hero of Two Worlds” during the American Revolution.

In addition to her goodwill message, Hermione’s voyage will pay tribute to the inspiring courage and moral example of a man known as the “Hero of Two Worlds”, Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roche-Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, whose arrival on the U.S. East Coast bolstered American morale and augmented forces at a critical time in the American Revolution. In addition to the history the visiting ship will revive, this ambitious project, more than 20 years in the making, exemplifies the Lafayette family motto, “Cur Non“, or “Why Not”.

Hermione Prow No. 1_07272015

The Hermione under sail during sea trials in the Bay of Biscay, off the west coast of France in 2014.

Here below is the unlikely story about how the Hermione—both the original tall ship, and its 21st century version—reached our shores, the first time in 1780, the second, two-hundred-and-thirty-five years later.


Even before Spain’s Armada was blown off course in 1588 on its quest to topple Queen Elizabeth’s kingdom, Shakespeare’s “royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle” was known across Europe for its fierce nautical traditions. Over the next three centuries, England’s proud Royal Navy was inextricably linked to establishing a globe-encircling colonial empire. Except perhaps for the Dutch mercantile nation, with its own vast commercial empire lashed together thanks to a vast flotilla of warships and merchant vessels in the mid-1600’s, no other nation-state reached sustained nautical superiority over the British during Europe’s golden age of sail in the 17th and 18th centuries.

In the case of France, it certainly was not for want of trying. From Bourbon monarchs during the ancien régime to Napoleon until Trafalgar, France sought to match its continental dominance with one on the seas through a well-financed mercantile and military program of shipbuilding. From the French realm’s Mediterranean littoral to the Bay of Biscay and north along the Atlantic coast to the Channel, her kings underwrote the construction of ports and forts in a bid for oceanic hegemony.

Therein lies the origins of the French frigate Hermione, constructed in about five months in 1779-1780 in a purpose-built new town, Rochefort, established a century before during the reign of Louis XIV. It was French minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert, under the direction of his master the Sun King, who chose a suitable bend in the wide Charente River, 12 miles upstream from the Atlantic, to create an instant city whose sole role was to build France’s navy. There, in its protected spot where the English would never dare to attack, Colbert spent millions to create a state-of-the-art port, arsenal and shipbuilding center in less than a decade’s time.

Rochefort Corderie_07272015

This 18th century view of the Corderie Royale shows the royal rope making building on the right, then the single-longest structure in Europe, more than 3 football fields in length.

Rochefort’s centerpiece was the then-longest building known in Europe, the Corderie Royale. At almost 1,300 feet long, this magnificent structure was devoted exclusively to manufacturing rope. If France’s ships of the line and frigates required millions of feet of stout oak and other woods from her royal forests and pine masts from the Baltic, they also needed miles and miles of cords and rope of varying sizes and weights to manage a vessel’s numerous sails. Much as Norfolk and Groton are strategic naval/military ports to this day, from its inception in the 1680s until the early 19th century, Rochefort was France’s leading shipbuilding center. In constructing scores of wooden battleships and frigates, Rochefort became the country’s most potent symbol of France’s determined, seven-seas strategy to defeat its most imposing rival, Great Britain.

Having ceded a vast part of its North American territories and much of present-day India to Great Britain in the treaty ending the Seven Years’ War between 1756 and 1763 (a worldwide conflict, in fact, and known as the French and Indian War in American history), France was itching for revenge. As the fight for independence intensified in Britain’s North American colonies, France upped the ante and officially signed a treaty in 1778 recognizing our independence. With that, the 13 colonies became a new battleground between Britain and France.


Inspired by our quest for independence and looking for personal vengeance—Lafayette’s father was killed in the Seven Years’ War by the British—the 19-year-old French teenager first voyaged to America in early 1777. There, Lafayette soon met Washington and joined his senior officer staff as one the General’s aides de camp. But the ‘insurgents’, as American patriots were called at Versailles, were in dire need of French men and material in order to turn a largely defensive strategy of avoiding a direct battle with British troops into an aggressive thrust to defeat the invading Redcoats once and for all.


Comte de Vergennes, French Foreign Minister for Louis XVI, was instrumental in committing French naval and land forces in America’s fight for independence.

In this effort, Lafayette proved to be one of the key personalities. Along with Ben Franklin, Lafayette helped persuade King Louis XVI and the Comte de Vergennes, his foreign minister, to send French soldiers and arms as well as engage France’s formidable navy to defeat King George III’s British forces in a desired joint land-sea campaign.

In 1778, Lafayette returned to Versailles to cajole and charm Vergennes, Queen Marie Antoinette and the King to back the Americans against the British. To fully appreciate France’s underlying motive in spending millions to support the American cause, it should be recalled this theater of war was only one among several, and not necessarily the most important, as France battled to overtake Great Britain for worldwide dominance. From India to the Caribbean to present-day Canada and, directly south, from Georgia north to Maine, this was war on a global scale involving two bitter imperial rivals; it was, to lift a term from the 19th century, realpolitik writ large, involving men, arms and sea power as never before.

In late 1779, on receiving approval from Louis XVI and Vergennes pledging both French Army and Navy support, Lafayette traveled to Rochefort, where a frigate was being built to take him back to Boston. This was the original Hermione, and it was this frigate that carried Lafayette with news, at the time, top secret, that France was increasing its support in a very substantial fashion by sending a full expeditionary force to America.

In late March, 1780, Lafayette boarded the Hermione and sailed for Boston, arriving on April 27. With the involvement of French troops under Comte de Rochambeau and a timely and successful blockade of the Chesapeake Bay against a British Royal Navy fleet under Rear Admiral Thomas Graves, on the HMS Bedford, by the French West Indies fleet under the command of Comte de Grasse, who directed from his flagship, Ville de Paris, in late September 1781, everything fell into place for American and French forces on land and sea to undertake a pivotal siege of British forces under General Cornwallis at Yorktown.

Surrender At Yorktown_07272015

In 1836, Auguste Couder (1790-1873) created this painting entitled Bataille de Yorktown (“Siege of Yorktown”) which began on September 28, 1781. The painting is currently on display at the Palace of Versailles, in France. Lafayette can be seen to the right and just behind General Washington. Rochambeau, commander of the French Army, is on Washington’s left, pointing toward the battle at Yorktown. British General Cornwallis surrendered to allied French and American forces on October 19, 1781.

Blocked on from seaward and surrounded on land, British forces surrendered to the Americans and French on October 19, 1781. Acknowledged by historians as the tipping point in our campaign for freedom, Yorktown culminated in 1783 in the Treaty of Versailles, in which the British recognized our independence. At long last, then, the United States of America won its liberty, and by 1789, General Washington was elected our first President.

Hermione Hull Under Construction Image #1_02242015

“The idea was always to celebrate [the Hermione’s] role in the War of Independence. This project was conceived of partly as a historical venture, but partly to help generate employ- ment and tourism to Rochefort.”—Miles Young, President, Friends of Hermione-Lafayette in America. And it succeeded—more than four million people came to Rochefort see the ship being built and outfitted with sails and rigging. Thousands more came to see her off when the ship departed in April for her voyage to America.


Fast-forward in time to almost twenty years ago, a small group of French men and women dreamed up the idea reconstructing an authentic replica of General Lafayette’s 18th-century ship in Rochefort. In July 1997, the Hermione-La Fayette Association was formed. For this non-profit group, it meant not only rebuilding the Hermione, but also reconstituting important elements of France’s maritime and artisanal heritage in the process.

Achieving this grand ambition began rebuilding the Port of Rochefort, which had been heavily bombed in WWII and whose historic 17th century buildings, including the Corderie Royale, and 17th century-era port were severely damaged. Once the Mayor of Rochefort and the newly formed Association Hermione-Lafayette announced the goal, not only did French citizens come to enthusiastically support Rochefort’s revival, rebuild the Corderie Royale into a national museum, and reconstruct the Hermione, the regional government of Poitou-Charentes, in western France, also stepped in with additional financial aid in the intervening years, under the leadership of Ségolène Royal, then-President of Poitou-Charentes and currently France’s Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy. Today, the majestic Hermione, is the largest and most authentically built Tall Ship in the last 150 years. And the efforts paid off. To date, more than four million visitors and tourists have visited Rochefort to see the Hermione; their donations, via ticket sales, have financed more than half of the 25 million Euro costs of reconstructing the Hermione.

Plans for the replica ship were based on those of a contemporary sister ship that had been seized in 1783 by the Royal Navy and well documented by the British Admiralty. Like most replica vessels sailing today, concessions were made in the design to accommodate modern safety and sanita- tion requirements, and there is an engine room with an engine (two, actually) and a generator. Nevertheless, from the visitor’s standpoint, Hermione looks much like the original did and will be operated the same way as when sails were a ship’s only form of propulsion. The construction of the ship also served to revive the maritime skills and culture of the Age of Sail and, because all the work was done in the public eye, share that rediscovered heritage with the millions of visitors who came to see and learn.

The keel, frames, and planking are all oak, shaped and built by the carpenters from Asselin Inc., a French company that specializes in the restoration of historic monuments. Hermione’s nineteen sails are linen (flax) with hempen boltropes and built by sailmakers Anne Renault, Alexan- dre Genoud, and Jean-Pierre Burgaud; they are machine stitched and hand finished, much like the current suit of sails made for USS Constitution and many other replica and historic sailing ships. Her standing rigging is hemp; running rigging is manila. A trio of blacksmiths hand forged the ship’s iron fittings, numbering in the thousands of pieces. The ship’s anchors and cannons were custom made at two French foundries.

Now that the ship is built and the first part of her mission has been completed, an equally vital mission is finally underway— the Hermione is en route to the United States. The joint mission of the Association Hermione-La Fayette and its US counter- part, Friends of Hermione-Lafayette in America, Inc., is to revive this part of our shared history and remind citizens of both countries of the important ties between them and the spirit of friendship and lib- erty that sustains this relationship. Lafay- ette’s story is an important part of this legacy as well, both his role in the American Revolution and his spirited motto, “Why not?”—that, “given determination, any- thing is achievable.”


Hermione proudly sails in New York Harbor on July 4, 2015 with the Statue of Liberty in the background. Photo courtesy of PBS Newshour

Hermione Voyage 2015 is part of an expansive outreach program featuring pier- side activities and traveling exhibits that will follow Hermione from port to port, as the ship makes her way up the Eastern Seaboard. There will also be companion Hermione-themed exhibits at the New-York Historical Society, the National Museum of the US Navy in Washington, and the Athenaeum in Boston. In June, Philadelphia chef Walter Staib will host a meal at City Tavern, the oldest tavern in America, where he seeks to recreate the meal that the Continental Congress feasted on with Washington and Lafayette onboard the Hermione in May of 1781. Finally, a full- featured website will expand the project’s reach to millions of people and will include an interactive, educational game, “Tides of Revolution: The Hermione Game,” to perpetuate the legacy of Lafayette’s voyage long after the ship leaves America and sails home to Rochefort, where she will continue her educational mission for future generations. For more information about Hermione’s upcoming voyage and her US itinerary, visit www.hermione2015.com.

For more information about Hermione’s 2015 voyage and its U.S. itinerary, please visit: www.hermione2015.com

David Lincoln Ross wishes to thank the Editors of Sea History Magazine to reproduce this article from its Summer 2015 issue.

For information, see: http://seahistory.org/assets/SH151-Hermione-and-map-ad1.pdf

Posted in American Revolution, France, French History, George Washinton, Hermione, Hermione Frigate, King Louis XIV, L'Hermione, L'Hermione fregate, Lafayette, Louis XVI, Uncategorized, Versailles, Washington, Washington and Lafayette | Tagged | Leave a comment

Rhône Revival


Chapoutier is one of the most respected producers, north to south in France’s Rhone Valley. Its wines from the Hermitage appellation, pictured above, are made exclusively from the Syrah grape. Photo: Courtesy of Chapoutier

Rhône Revival


Garrigue, an intensely aromatic bush, is said to infuse the vines and grapes in the Rhône Valley with an extra dollop of spiciness.

Not often does wind get credit for winemaking, but in France’s Rhône Valley, the Mistral deserves some respect, in so much as it is contributing to a new Rhone Revival. Sending cool air down the Rhône River as many as 100 days in the year, the benificent breeze chills hot summer days, mitigating intense heat in the vineyards. It also scrubs vineyards of diseases from humidity, rain and fog. Purists also boast that the wind works like a virtual conveyor belt, infusing the region’s leading red grapes—Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre—with spicy dollops of the aromatic shrubbery garrigue.

While the wind certainly plays a role, Rhône reds (nearly 80% of the region’s wine) draw on much more en route to their ultimate fruity, spicy style—diverse grapes (ten red and nine white are permitted); challenging stony soils; the art of blending. What matters most, of course, is that factors both stylistic and economic have converged to boost Rhône wines tangibly ahead of the rest of France in the current American wine arena. Rhône wine exports to the U.S. doubled in the last decade, hitting 1.2 million 9L cases in 2014, according to French Customs data. In 2014, Rhône red, white and rosé sales gained 6% in the U.S., reports Nielsen.

Jean-Luc COLOMBO, vigneron à Cornas. Ardèche. 25 Août 2009.

Jean-Luc Colombo is a highly respected winemaker based in Cornas in the Northern Rhône, but markets a full line of wines from both Southern and Northern appellations. Photo: Jean-Luc Colombo

Jean-Luc Colombo, a Rhône winemaker from Cornas whose esteemed wines come from Northern and Southern appellations, says, “Americans know far more about the Syrah grape than 20- or 30-years ago.” Colombo, whose wines are imported by Palm Bay International, Port Washington, New York, adds, “American Rhône Rangers in California such as Randall Graham, critic Robert M. Parker, Jr., and French chefs including Eric Ripert, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Daniel Boulud have all really raised our region’s profile vis à vis Bordeaux and Burgundy.”

Perhaps most importantly, the buzz about the Rhône is spread across both on- and off-premise, and North and South. Michael Madrigale, Wine Director at Boulud Sud in New York City, says, “When I became sommelier ten years ago, customers knew about Southern Rhône, and especially Châteauneuf-du-Pape. While these wines are popular, everyone is interested in Côte-Rôtie and all Northern Rhône wines now.”

Alan Sack, Wine Consultant at Warehouse Wines in New York City, notes: “There is more willingness and interest among customers to explore Rhône wines. In our store, you can find a Côte-Rôtie for $20.”

Church & State Rest

Under the direction of Joy Cushing, Wine Buyer and Sommelier, Church & State, Los Angeles, Rhône Valley wines are now the third best-selling region on her wine list.

At Church & State, a French restaurant in Los Angeles, Joy Cushing, Wine Buyer and Sommelier who recently joined after 15 years at Disney as a senior buyer and educator, says: “Rhône has vaulted into the third most-requested wine. From Syrah wines in the North to Grenache blends in the South, they’re perfect wines for Pinot and Cab lovers. I give them a taste of a Côtes-du-Rhône, they love it and become instant converts.” She adds, “We sell Côtes-du-Rhône by the glass for $12, and Jean-Luc Colombo’s Cornas for $95, and both sell well.”

Success has also spread across sub-regions and price points. “When you look at 2014 trends in French wines, it’s the $15-$20 (+8.5% growth by volume) and Core Luxury $20+ (+15.1% by volume) categories driving growth, according to Nielsen,” explains Bill Terlato, President of Terlato Wines International, importer of Chapoutier wines from the Rhône. “Nielsen also reports that Core Luxury Rhône growth of +30% is outpacing the overall French category, in the 52 weeks ending 12/06/14. When it comes to Rhône wines, it’s quality, not quantity, that is resonating more and more with consumers today.”

Peter Deutsch, President of Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits, importer of Vidal-Fleury wines, points out that one of the Rhône’s strengths is offering well-made options at a variety of price points, not unlike cars and other products. What Deutsch finds most surprising is the sudden rise of rosés from the Rhône over the last few years. In 2014, Deutsch cited Nielsen data that reports fully a third (36%) of all Rhône wines sold were rosés. It’s a phenomenon he attributes to the growing popularity of rosés in general, including those from Rhône’s neighbor—Provence.

Summing up the prevailing optimism for these versatile wines, Martin Sinkoff, VP and Director of Marketing at Frederick Wildman and Sons, Ltd., importer of the Paul Jaboulet Aîné and the popular Jaboulet Parallèle 45 line, says, “We are bullish on the Rhône as a category. The wines fit the market, offering lots of variety, lots of flavor, rich textures and great value. White wines and rosé wines will continue to grow, though red wines will continue to drive the category.”

P45 750

France’s Côtes du-Rhône region is situated at the 45th parallel, hence the name of Jaboulet Aîné brand, a popular entry-level wine with red, white and rose wine lovers.

With or without a boost from the Mistral, Rhône wines appear poised to achieve still greater heights for America’s merchants and restaurateurs.

Lionel de Ravel, U.S. Director, Gabriel Meffre, a wine producer based in Gigondas and marketed by Vision Wine & Spirits, emphasizes that the region’s momentum seems to have been picking up: “In just the last three years, American consumers have truly discovered the fantastic value Rhône wines offer.”

Perhaps some credit is due to the region’s generic ad campaign—“Côtes-du-Rhône: Always Right.”—which started back in 2009 and emphasizes the wine’s more versatile, accessible and contemporary identity, relative to other French wines. Eschewing traditional vineyard and grape visuals, the ads tapped common contexts and images that portrayed the flagship red’s ability to swing from casual to formal settings—e.g., jeans to tuxedo, pizza to haute cuisine.

Story-telling helps, too. Mel Dick, Senior Vice President and President of the Wine Division, Southern Wine & Spirits of America, which distributes several top Rhône producers, says: “People love to learn the stories associated with wines like Châteauneuf-du-Pape; it’s the Pope’s wine. So when retailers and restaurateurs share these stories, customers recall these wines.”

Here are some tips to keep your Rhône crush going as strong as the Mistral wind:


North to south, Rhône Valley wines are increasly sought after in the U.S.

Geography Lesson. United by the river Rhône, the Rhône Valley overall must be viewed as two very distinct parts. In the rugged, mountainous Northern Rhône, Syrah is the only red planted; in the southern part, red blends rule (comprised typically of mostly Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan).

Rhône wines are versatile. The Rhône’s grape-variety tool kit and propensity for blending help maintain a family resemblance across appellations that encourages experimentation. If a customer likes Côtes-du-Rhône, suggest similarly styled and priced wines from Ventoux. For those who enjoy Gigondas, Vacqueyras is likely to be a favorite as well. And for customers tiring of overripe Syrahs, a peppery Northern Rhône might be just the ticket.

Southern Rhône wines are blended. Not entirely by coincidence, the Rhône revival echoes several major trends in wine today. Red blends, for example, are red-hot in the U.S. market; Rhône blends are as old as the vine-covered hills. Grenache/Garnacha has been pegged as a candidate for the next big grape; the Rhône is loaded with Grenache. And as rosé and organic wines continue to gain attention, the Rhône is well-positioned.


It was the Roman, Pliny the Elder who wrote, ““The Muscat grape has been grown for a long time in Beaumes and its wine is remarkable.”

Remember the sweet side. Some 2,000 years ago, Roman Pliny the Elder wrote in his Natural History: “The Muscat grape has been grown for a long time in Beaumes and its wine is remarkable.” For sweet wine lovers, do not forget the Vins Doux Naturels of Muscat de Beaumes-de-Vénise (sweet, vivid and appley); and dark, rich Rasteau, based on
Grenache Noir.

The author would like to thank Beverage Media for permission to reprint this article.


Posted in Ampelography, France, French wine, Gabriel Meffre, Grenache, Mourvedre, Rhone Valley, Rhone Wine, Syrah, Wine | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Je Suis John Locke

Je Suis Charlie

A Letter concerning Toleration: John Locke

In an eerily timely message, John Locke, the noted 17th century English philosopher, opened his now famous essay, “A Letter Concerning Toleration,” with the following:


Published in 1689, John Locke’s Letter of Toleration is a poignant, timeless reminder to assume understanding in the face of others’ faith, religion and beliefs.

“Since you are pleased to inquire what are my thoughts about the mutual toleration of Christians in their different professions of religion, I must needs answer you freely that I esteem that toleration to be the chief characteristic mark of the true Church. For whatsoever some people boast of the antiquity of places and names, or of the pomp of their outward worship; others, of the reformation of their discipline; all, of the orthodoxy of their faith — for everyone is orthodox to himself — these things, and all others of this nature, are much rather marks of men striving for power and empire over one another than of the Church of Christ. Let anyone have never so true a claim to all these things, yet if he be destitute of charity, meekness, and good-will in general towards all mankind, even to those that are not Christians, he is certainly yet short of being a true Christian himself.”

In the above quotation, were you to substitute Islam–Judaism, Buddhism or any other religion or belief–for the word “Christian”, and likewise insert faith in place of “Church”, Locke’s message remains as timely and important today as when he wrote this classic essay in the late 17th century.

Posted in Books, France, French History, John Locke, Philosophy, Religious Toleration | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bubbling To The Top – Champagne’s Revival



Champagne sells up 40% or more of total annual U.S. volume during the all-important holiday season.

Today, Champagne is bubbling to the top. If further proof were needed that Champagne has regained some swagger since the “Great Recession” lows of 2009, consider pancakes and pumpkins. In a seasonal, if counterintuitive match-up, Denny’s now offers pumpkin-flavored pancakes, eggs, sausage and a bottle of 2004 Dom Pérignon at $300 for two in its new Manhattan financial district location. (Skip the bubbly and Denny’s Grand Slam breakfast goes for $18!)

Sure it’s a gimmick. But given massive opening day coverage in New York newspapers, Denny’s high-low marriage of pancakes, pumpkins and Dom Pérignon generated reams of invaluable publicity, as well as traffic, for the establishment’s cocktail bar.

Dom Dennys

Counter-intuitive, in more ways than one! But it works for Denny’s in New York’s Financial district in an offer that pairs pancakes and the French monk’s bubbly.

On a more populist note, in towns large and small, merchants and restaurateurs have seen a welcome revival of consumer interest in the enduring celebratory and gustatory pleasures of perhaps the most famous of all wines: Champagne.

While noting the importance of the fourth quarter to all sparkling wine brands—when as much as a third or more of total annual sales of such bubblies are transacted—Aygline Pechdo, Brand Director, Champagnes at Pernod Ricard USA, identifies another important factor that is driving sales of Champagne on a firmer year-round basis. “Both Perrier-Jouët and Mumm are currently benefitting from the ongoing consumer trend toward premiumization,” says Pechdo, “meaning that consumers are willing to spend more on products that they know are of higher quality.”


CHAMPAGNE Sales 2008-2013 Source-Champagne Bureau_09122014

This chart tracks exports of Champagne to the USA from 2008 to 2013, with volume up approximately two million bottles from a low in 2009. Credit: Champagne Bureau

Sales trends confirm Champagne’s premium-oriented rally in 2014. The Nielsen Company reports that French Champagne is in better shape over the last 52 weeks when compared to the prior 52 weeks, which experienced year-on-year declines in both dollars (-1.1%) and cases (-6.4%). The latest 52 weeks shows growth in dollars (+1.7%) and a slight decline in cases (-0.8%).

CHAMPAGNE Sales 2008-2013 Source-Champagne Bureau_09122014
This chart tracks exports of Champagne to the USA from 2008 to 2013, with volume up approximately two million bottles from a low in 2009.

That slight decline in volume is attributable, retailers and Champagne importers say, to the rising popularity of less costly sparklers, especially Italian Prosecco. In contrast to an average of $35-$45 a bottle price tag for a classic brut, non-vintage Champagne, these sparkling wines retail for as little as a quarter or a third the price. No doubt nudged by the recession, many consumers traded down. But with improving economic conditions today, Champagne sales are far more robust than five years ago.

As the premiumization takes hold in the Champagne segment, the “dollar” portion of the Nielsen insight takes on added importance in terms of profitability. Today, as never before, brands big and small are introducing a bevy of new luxury and prestige cuvées, spanning extra-dry and vintage-dated reserve bottlings to single-vineyard rosé and zero dosage offerings. Even if bottle volume dips a bit in 2014 for Champagne, both the dollar ring and profit per bottle appear to be headed up for retailers and restaurateurs this year and on into 2015.



At Spec’s, the largest group of stores in Texas, selection is key for selling Champagne, according to Hermen Key, Spec’s Managing Director

Hermen Key, Managing Director of Spec’s, a group of more than 100 stores across Texas, says, depending on the store location, a customer will find 30 to 50 Champagnes. Why the big selection? “People want to try something different, just like beer drinkers interested in craft beers,” Key explains, adding, “Champagne lovers have gravitated to small producer and rosé Champagnes.”



Educating customers about the versatility of Champagne and its year-round appeal is important at Applejack’s, near Denver, according to Jim Shpall, owner. Photo Credit: Matt Nager Photography.

To boost customer awareness of Champagne’s versatility beyond anniversaries, birthdays, promotions and the holidays, Jim Shpall, President, Applejack’s in Wheatridge, CO, says, “We try to educate our customers that Champagne is great for any occasion, for a dinner at home or enjoyed as an aperitif. We regularly feature one or more Champagne brands in newspaper ads and in our regular email blasts throughout the year.”

Staff training is likewise an important element in selling Champagne beyond the fourth quarter. Tim Wilson, Corporate Beverage Director, Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, with 22 fine dining locations in the U.S., says, when it comes to Champagne, “Obviously, many of our guests are looking for a Champagne, but you have to have a strong in-house training program.” It pays off in sales of Champagnes Wilson describes as “mid-majors,” like Henriot Brut and Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé; each goes for $24/flute.


To lure and reward consumers, packaging creativity is reaching new heights. From Veuve Clicquot’s bright orange iterations—an origami-like fold-out ice bucket container or a “mail box’”containing a bottle—to Philip Starck’s simple, hand-lettered label for Roederer Champagne’s Brut Nature 2006 or Nicolas Feuillatte’s colorful canisters, packaging helps elevate a Champagne brand’s image with its affluent consumer base.


Innovative packaging is critical to enhance a luxury Champagne’s image with consumers, as this rustic, but clever wood case for Ruinart illustrates, one of many the art-oriented label promotes globally.

Collaborating with internationally acclaimed art talent is a central plank in Champagne Ruinart’s global and U.S. marketing strategy. Nicolas Ricroque, Ruinart’s Brand Director at Moët Hennessy USA, says that this holiday season, Ruinart partnered with Scottish visual artist Georgia Russell to create a bottle sculpture that perfectly embodies Ruinart’s Blanc de Blancs Champagne.

Champagne Collet’s 2006 Collection Privée, strictly from Grand and Premier Cru vineyards, also saw partial (34%) oak aging. And to draw more attention this holiday season, it comes in an Art Deco gift box that converts to a cooler.

Pol Box

An elegant box from Pol Roger is all a customer needs for a perfect gift.

But packaging need not be deluxe. Classic boxed brut, non-vintage entries represent a definite plus for retailers and their clients, especially during the holidays, notes Eric Goldstein, Vice President, Marketing at New York’s Park Avenue Liquors. He explains, “To give a recognized Champagne brand its own box… it makes both the purchaser/gift-giver as well as the recipient more comfortable.” He wishes more suppliers would go the box route.

With the U.S. economy inching ahead more confidently, merchants, sommeliers and restaurateurs have more reasons than ever to promote Champagne on a round basis.

Armed with greater selection, innovative packaging and a greater willingness of consumers to trade up to luxury-priced cuvées, there are sound reasons to celebrate year-with Champagne throughout the year.


Signs of Champagne’s resurgence are out there, in distinct areas.

The Economy


Champagne sales track the ups and downs of the Dow, observes Martin Sinkoff, Vice President, Director of Marketing, Frederick Wildman and Sons, importer of Pol Roger Champagne.

Martin Sinkoff, Vice President, Director of Marketing, Frederick Wildman and Sons, Ltd., importer of Pol Roger Champagne, sums up the upbeat outlook .

“Champagne is very healthy right now as the economy in the U.S. rebounds,” he says. But Sinkoff adds a pointed caveat, “We’ll have to see how the recent stock market ups and downs affect the market. Champagne sales follow the Dow!”

Ritz-y Room Service Reels In Increased Sales

Ryan Stetins, General Manager and Wine Director at Ritz-Carlton’s Parallel 37 in San Francisco, stocks 80 different Champagnes year-round. He adds: “Champagne is very popular in our room service. Now any Champagne we have on Parallel 37’s wine list is available to our hotel guests ordering room service.” Stetins happily reports that this ultra simple shift has dramatically increased the property’s total Champagne sales, especially two grower Champagnes Stetins features: Pehu-Simonet NV Brut at $95 a bottle and Jean Vesselle NV Rosé at $105.

Pink Power

Sam Heitner, director of the Champagne Bureau, a Washington, D.C.-based trade office representing Champagne interests in the U.S., reports that from about 5% of total U.S. Champagne sales in 2008, rosé sales have reached almost one out of every six bottles of Champagne sold or poured—a record 15% share.


Sales of pink Champagne have tripled in the U.S. in just the last five years.

The U.S. is now France’s number-one export market for rosé Champagne in the world. Spec’s in Texas, Applejack’s near Denver and Park Avenue Liquors in New York all relay that their rosé Champagne sales have tripled or more in the past few years.

Looking beyond the wine’s colorful appeal, Ryan Stetins of the Ritz-Carlton has another theory. “The rise of rosé is related to the wine’s higher dosage, which translates into a fuller body and a sweeter palate.”

Could rosé’s popularity cast its halo toward demi-sec Champagnes in the future? Stranger things have happened.

Editor’s Note: The author wishes to thank Beverage Media for permission to post this article, which appears in the December 2014 edition.


Posted in Champagne, Culinary History, Dennys, Fast Food, France, French History, French wine, The Biz of Fizz | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lafayette – Hero of Two Worlds










                              With the Arc de Triomphe in the background, a French honor 

                              guard on horseback leads a Bastille Day parade down the

                              Champs Elysées boulevard in Paris.


Interview with Diane Windham Shaw,

Curator and Director of Special Collections,

Skillman Library, Lafayette College

Lafayette – Hero of Two Worlds. If anyone knows why the Marquis earned this moniker, it is Diane Shaw. Ever since July 14, 1790, on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille prison in Paris, France and the French celebrate this momentous event. It’s a day of parades of all kinds – the one down the Champs Elysées boulevard in Paris is especially memorable – but also a time for its citizens, and all peoples, to contemplate the concepts of liberté, fraternité et égalité.

Skillman Library

While amateur historians, francophiles and American Revolutionary history buffs know of Lafayette’s critical role in America’s fight for independence, fewer still know that Lafayette played a central role in not one, but two more French revolutions!

Lafayette was not only a central figure in the ‘first’ French uprising that began on July 14, 1789, but also another in 1830. In this second French revolution, and Lafayette’s       third revolution, the “hero of Two Worlds” battled mightily for a constitutional monarchy; in the process, he abandoned his lifelong friendship the then-reigning monarch, Charles X, the youngest brother of Louis XVI, who had assumed the throne in 1825, on the death of Louis XVIII the year before. (Born in the same year, 1757, Lafayette and the Comte d’Artois, as Charles X was known before his short reign, were playmates at Versailles.)

Storming the Bastille

By 1830, the conservative, reactionary Charles had lost the support of the French National Assembly.



Known as the “July Revolution,” Lafayette was a key figure in a quick, relatively bloodless movement to dethrone Charles X. The upshot? The French nation – with Lafayette front and center in this high-stakes political drama – asked Louis Philippe — known before this as Duc d’Orleans, who was a cousin of the royal Bourbon family, and a leader of the moderate Orleanist party — to be France’s first constitutional monarch in a new government patterned after the British monarchy, that is with a strong, independent, and popularly elected national assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of the press, among other republican principles.

Given his lifelong commitment to bringing about constitutional government, Lafayette, “Hero of Two Worlds,” can be said to have been crucially involved in “Three Revolutions.”


Few scholars know more about Lafayette’s entire career and steadfast commitment to liberty, democracy and anti-slavery than Diane Shaw, Curator and Director of Special Collections at Skillman Library at Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania. At Lafayette College, a Strategic Partner of Friends of Hermione-Lafayette in America and named after our Hero of Two Worlds, Diane Shaw began building on the College’s remarkable collection of Lafayette documents and other historic objects on her arrival more than three decades ago.

The Friends of Hermione-Lafayette recently asked Ms. Shaw to talk about the Lafayette Collection at the Skillman Library, an edited version of her replies is posted today in honor of Bastille Day and Lafayette.

Question: How did Lafayette College come to be called in honor of the Marquis and how did it amass such an amazing trove of Lafayette letters and other treasures?

Diane Shaw: Lafayette College has the honor of being the only American College to be named for Lafayette and it has everything to do with the timing. Like the rest of America in the fall of 1824, the citizens of the small, but thriving town of Easton, Pennsylvania were abuzz with the news of Lafayette’s arrival in America. Some 200 of these citizens went to Philadelphia in September to greet “The Nation’s Guest.” That December, several of the town leaders met to plan for the establishment of a college and the choice of name was a given. It would be named Lafayette “in memory and out of respect for the signal services rendered … in the great cause of freedom.”

The Lafayette Collections at the College, which include manuscripts, rare books, objects, prints, paintings, and sculpture, have been building since 1926, when our New York Alumni Chapter bought the first group of materials. Additional materials were acquired through the efforts of the American Friends of Lafayette, which was established on our campus in 1932. Other materials have been added by gift and purchase and the College is still actively collecting.

Q: You came as a Librarian to Lafayette College almost 30 years ago, how has your estimation of Lafayette evolved over this period as you have come to know so much about his life?

DS: My first real education on Lafayette was the result of our involvement as a major lender to the marvelous exhibition, “Lafayette, Hero of Two Worlds,” organized by the Queen’s Museum in New York in honor of the Bicentennial of the French Revolution in 1989. A gift from an alumnus enabled us to give the collection full archival processing in 1989-90, which added to our knowledge about the man and our holdings. But it was not until 2000, when I began to work on an exhibit for the College on Lafayette’s role in the anti-slavery movement, that I really began to understand what a significant role he had played in this and other human rights movements and how his views, which were formed at a very early age, remained consistent throughout his life.

Q. Would you care to describe highlights of the mutual esteem, respect and friendship between Lafayette and Washington?


DS: When he arrived in Philadelphia in July of 1777, Lafayette was introduced to George Washington and the two quickly became close. It was a father-son relationship. Lafayette had lost his father in battle at age two and Washington had no children of his own. Lafayette brought out a warm and affectionate side of the ordinarily taciturn Washington. Lafayette simply adored Washington, naming his only son George Washington Lafayette. This great friendship, which lasted until Washington’s death in 1799, is documented in the College’s Skillman Library by 149 original letters written by Lafayette to Washington—an absolute treasure trove of material—eight and ten page letters mostly from the period of the American Revolution and including the 1790 letter that transmitted the Key to the Bastille to Washington.

Q: Would you please give us an insight into Lafayette’s Anti-Slavery sentiments and actions through his entire life?

Lafayette testimonial_med

DS: The first inkling of Lafayette’s interest in the welfare of slaves can be found in Lafayette College’s collection in a 1783 letter Lafayette wrote to Washington, requesting Washington’s partnership in purchasing a plantation where they could try an experiment in the gradual emancipation of slaves. Lafayette’s request includes this remarkable closing sentence: “If it be a wild scheme, I had rather be mad that way than to be thought wise on the other tact.” When Washington was unwilling to join him, Lafayette bought a plantation in Cayenne (present day French Guiana) to try the experiment on his own. Thus Lafayette’s role in the anti-slavery movement played out on three continents. In addition to South America, he lobbied for the rights of slaves and free blacks in the colonies in the National Assembly in France, and in America he joined anti-slavery societies and used the Farewell Tour of 1824-25 to express his support for American blacks.

Q. Lafayette was a lifelong advocate for human and civil rights, would you comment on this aspect of his philosophy and actions in this regard?

DS: In the years just preceding the French Revolution, Lafayette worked hard for the restoration of civil rights to French Protestants and he was largely responsible for their gains of limited rights in the late 1780s, including the legitimacy of Protestant marriages and births, legal rights of burial, and the right to own property and worship privately. Lafayette also lent his support to French Jews during this period as well, supporting their rights for citizenship with voting privileges. Later in life he added his support to the movement to abolish the death penalty. And although he did not work directly for the rights of women, one historian has even called him a proto-feminist, for the serious interest he took in the ideas of a number of women writers and reformers of his day.

Q. Likewise, Lafayette was also a supporter for Native Americans, with whom he came in contact a number of key moments in his travels in America, both during and after the Revolution.


DS: Lafayette’s interest in the American Indian dated back to the American Revolution, when he was instrumental in establishing an alliance with the Six Nations in 1778 and was given the honorary name Kayewla by the Iroquois. During his American visit of 1784, he helped negotiate a peace with the Six Nations over access to the lands of western New York and he arranged to take a young Onondaga boy back with him to France to receive a European education. Native Americans were eager to greet Lafayette during the Farewell Tour of 1824-25, and Lafayette made a point to meet with them, even leaving a ball in Illinois to spend time with the daughter of a chief he had known during the Revolution. In Alabama in 1825, Lafayette’s entourage entered the state on Creek lands, and the Creek Indians pulled Lafayette’s carriage by hand up the riverbank, where two delegations—one white and one Indian—were waiting to welcome him to the state. The tension over who had official hosting rights was diffused by Lafayette, who went first with the Creeks to watch a ball game they had planned in his honor.

Q: One exceptional strength in your Library’s collection is Lafayette’s Farewell Tour, would you please sketch some highlights from that time during 1824-1825 during which time he visited all 24 states in our young nation?


DS: Lafayette’s Farewell Tour was an event unlike any other in American history. From the moment he landed in August 1824, amid a welcoming flotilla at Castle Garden in the New York harbor, until his departure in September 1825 with a barrel of American soil to be used to cover his grave, Lafayette was embraced by the young republic as a venerated symbol of the American Revolution. Everywhere he went during the 14-month tour he was hailed as a hero and regaled with parades, ceremonies, balls, and dinners in his honor.

Thousands of Americans turned out to see him in every city. They followed his travels in their newspapers and after he left, they gave his name to a host of towns, counties, boulevards, and parks. Another legacy of the tour was the explosion of creative and decorative works—paintings, sculpture, engravings, souvenir ceramics and glassware, commemorative ribbons and medals, books, orations, poems, and pageants. The Lafayette Library has a wonderful collection of these souvenirs, including two of my favorites—a deck of cards with Lafayette as the Ace of Spades and a clothes brush with the bristles dyed to spell “Lafayette, 1825.”

Q: Tell us briefly about some ‘contemporary’ treasures in your collection related to Lafayette, the Hermes scarf, the vase and perhaps one other item?

Lafayette Scarf

DS: One of the exciting ways we celebrated the 250th anniversary of Lafayette’s birth in 2007 was to work with Hermès on a commemorative scarf. The Lafayette College limited edition of the scarf, which was offered for sale by the Friends of Skillman Library, sold out almost immediately. Another contemporary piece from the 2007 anniversary that Skillman Library acquired was a spectacular French ceramic piece made by the Longwy firm. This large, ball-shaped vase, designed by Jean Luc Curabet , features Lafayette on one side and a Native American on the other. We are always interested in acquiring Lafayette-related items, old or new. Documenting the many ways that Lafayette is portrayed is part of our mission. Lately, we’ve beefed up our collection of children’s books related to Lafayette and our newest purchase, which hasn’t even arrived yet, is a Lafayette baby shoe from the Farewell Tour. There is never a dull moment ………



Diane Shaw is the Director of Special Collections and College Archivist at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. She has overseen the activities of the Special Collections since 1985 and the College Archives since 1987.

She holds a Master of Librarianship degree, as well as her B.A. from Emory University, where she also spent the first part of her career as an archivist. Before coming to Lafayette Shaw spent a year at Lehigh University.

2011_05_05 Lafayette Statue Blur for View Book

As curator of the Lafayette College’s extensive collections on the Marquis de Lafayette, she was asked to collaborate with Mount Vernon on an exhibition commemorating the friendship between Lafayette and George Washington. The exhibition, with many items drawn from Lafayette College’s collection, was on view at Mount Vernon, Lafayette College, and the New-York Historical Society between 2006 and 2008. Shaw authored the lead essay on this filial friendship in the published catalog, A Son and His Adoptive Father: The Marquis de Lafayette and George Washington (Mount Vernon, 2006).

In 2001, she mounted an exhibition, entitled “Lafayette and Slavery” at Lafayette College’s Skillman Library. She has written about Lafayette, slavery, and human rights for the Philadelphia Enquirer and the Lafayette Alumni Magazine. In 2009, she made presentations on Lafayette and his anti-slavery activities at Boston’s Lafayette Day commemoration and at Trenton’s celebration of its 225th anniversary as the Nation’s capital. In 2013, she served as editor for a collection of essays published by the American Friends of Lafayette, which included her essay “‘I have been so long the friend of emancipation’: Lafayette as Abolitionist.”

In 2012, she was named a Chevalier in the Ordre des arts et des lettres by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication for her work with the Lafayette collections.


American Revolution history buffs, admirers of Washington, Jefferson and Lafayette, nautical enthusiasts and followers interested in L’Hermione’s 2015 voyage from Rochefort, France to the Eastern seaboard are invited to follow this blog for all the latest news and plans in 2014 and 2015.


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Posted in American Revolution, Bastille Day, France, French History, Hermione, Hermione Frigate, L'Hermione, L'Hermione fregate, Lafayette, Lafayette College | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Countrified Cocktailian – fish & game’s Kat Dunn


                           HUDSON, NEW YORK’s SAVORY REVIVAL


There is a countrified cocktailian at fish & game. Look beyond the menus displayed on Warren Street restaurants in the exciting food-and-drink hub of Hudson, New York, located 115 miles north of Manhattan, and you will find chefs, somms and bartenders who left their New York City careers happily behind.

What’s driving this unusual exodus from city to country? Hudson Valley-based journalist Anne Marie Gardner, who was quoted in a recent New York Times feature on Hudson’s remarkable boomlet, noted that the city’s revival is a prime example of “ ‘rurbanism’, where urban expats bring their cultural touchstones and appetites with them when they move to a place like Hudson.”

Another key ingredient: The ‘rurban’ trends that have fired up Hudson’s still expanding restaurant and bar scene have likewise inspired a large migration of former city dwellers to purchase and revive old dairy farms and stock pasture and pen with cows, goats and sheep to produce cheese of all kinds; or others who cultivate new market gardens, which yield a year-round cycle of seasonal veggies (all organic, naturally); and still others who have built homesteads where they raise all kinds of pigs, sheep, cattle and poultry, free-range style, and where heritage breeds truly rule the roost and barns; you know, the kinds of sustainably raised pork, lamb, beef and fowl that you would never see at your local Safeway or Kroger.


Emblematic of this urban-to-rural re-invention phenomenon are ex-Gothamites in Hudson such as former Manhattan-based Fatty Crab chef Zakary Pelaccio and his wife Jori, who along with partner, Patrick Milling Smith,launched the acclaimed fish & game restaurant last year. Or Jeffrey Gimmel, formerly chef at Michael’s – another culinary landmark in Manhattan – and his wife, Nina Bachinsky-Gimmel, herself a former pastry chef at Union Square Café, who opened Swoon Kitchenbar in 2004. Or top toque John McCarthy who runs Crimson Sparrow, well, he once worked for Wylie Dufresne’s famous WD-50 on the Lower East Side. They have all decamped from New York and moved with wives, children, sous-chefs, and mixologists to Hudson and nearby hamlets in upstate New York’s Columbia County.

Jori Jayne Edme, left, and Zakary Pelaccio, right, co-founders of fish & game, alone with Patrick Milling Smith,  in Hudson, New York.

Celebrating a year since opening fish & game, Pelaccio says: “I was ready for a change from New York City. I have always wanted to live in the country, and Hudson and its surroundings are just rural enough.” Pelaccio has been praised by no less a food authority than Ruth Reichl. The former editor of the now-defunct Gourmet, Reichl
compares Zakary to Alice Waters for his resolute sourcing of all things local. Yet he departs somewhat from this ethic when it comes to fish & game’s wine list. While the wines are definitely global, Pelaccio revels in featuring obscure grape varieties from off-the-beaten path appellations. (When is the last time you have poured a Poulsard red from Arbois, France or a Sagrantino from Umbria in Italy?) But it is these vinous discoveries that please Zakary as well as tempt and delight his adventurous clientele.

Kat Dunn, who bartended for almost two decades at a number of Manhattan watering holes before joining Jori and Zakary at fish & game, says that since taking over the bar, “We’ve moved from more city-style drinks to more seasonal and local offerings.”

Kat Dunn is the chief bartender/cocktailian at fish & game in Hudson, New York.

Perched on the inside edge of Dunn’s bar, there is an array of small brown bottles that are lined up like a company of tin soldiers; each contains a concentrated potion Dunn has distilled or concocted from local botanicals. Essences that Dunn employs range from anise and borage to smoked agave and local honey, one or more of which she might carefully stir into her one of her original, “forage-based” drink recipes or any classic cocktail her customers might request.

During this past winter, Dunn’s signature house cocktail ‘Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire’, a smoky mescal-based creation, was the bestseller and remains so, she adds. (See recipe below for fish & game’s signature cocktail, ‘Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire.’) But Dunn also served up ‘The Tainted Lady’, a blood orange-infused Tequila drink, with charred Meyer lemon juice, Yellow Chartreuse, honey syrup, graced with a pink peppercorn-and-salt rim on the glass or her ‘Fall From Grace,’ a eye-opening, palate-stimulating blend of Zubrowka Bison Grass vodka, ginger syrup, a home-made ginger liqueur made from a Cognac base, local, fresh apple cider, and a shot of India Pale Ale from a nearby micro-brewery.

From Whale Oil to Extra Virgin Olive Oil

It has been these dedicated agro-artisans who furnish a breadth and quality of ingredients appreciated and supported by Hudson chefs. Diners are beating a path to these Hudson addresses too, some of whom think nothing of taking the 2-hour train from New York City just to sample Hudson’s locavore delights; well fed, they catch a late train home to the big city. And to top it off, there’s a barrel-full of new distilleries, wineries and microbreweries that have sprouted up all along the Hudson River Valley all the way north to Albany. Not surprisingly, these spirits, beers and wine too have pride of place on Hudson’s back bars and wine and beer lists.

Taken together, these former city-dwelling chefs, countrified cocktailians and 21st century organic farmers and ranchers have transformed this former whaling port on the Hudson River into a thriving culinary and drinks destination. Facing the majestic Catskill Mountains to the west, the city first came to national prominence in the 1830’s and ‘40s. In that era, globe-encircling clipper ships sailed up the river and off-loaded

The Clipper Ship Flying Cloud Published by Currier and Ives, 1852

tons of whale oil and luxury goods in Hudson, all of which was bound west on the newly opened Erie Canal. It was these rich deliveries that spurred the city’s original boom as wealthy ship captains and merchants erected block after block of elegant Federal and Victorian townhouses and mansions, massive brick warehouses, local bakeries and bustling iron foundries.

Today, dozens of Hudson’s 19th century-era structures have been restored and artfully re-purposed into antique shops, bookstores and gourmet food boutiques, the latter stocked with expensive extra-virgin, cold-pressed olive oils from Tunisia to Sicily. Like so many other buildings there, Pelaccio’s fish & game restaurant, an old blacksmith’s shop, was completely gutted and totally rebuilt; it’s located around the corner from Warren Street, the town’s central artery. So grab a ticket and train up (or drive) to Hudson and see what its version of ‘rurbanism’ is all about; and don’t forget to ask Kat for her signature drink!


Dunn's Where There's Smoke Cocktail

Recipe: Courtesy Kat Dunn, fish & game; serves one.

1.75 oz. VIDA MESCAL



0.5 oz. SMOKED AGAVE SYRUP (smoked in a pan inside a lidded grill)

2 dashes Scrappy’s bitters

Combine all with ice, shake, and double strain. Serve up in a coupe with a dusting of sumac powder and grated dried Persian lime.


 Editor’s Note: A version of this article has appeared in the May 2014 issue of The SOMM JOURNAL, whose editors the author wishes to thank for their permission.

The author also wishes to acknowledge his debt to Chronogram magazine’s food and drink editor and photographer Peter Barrett for his help in the preparation of this story; please see: http://www.acookblog.com to view more of Peter Barrett’s work.






Posted in Beer, Clipper Ships, Cocktails, Culinary History, Food, Hudson, Hudson River Valley, New York, Spirits | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

POP STAR: Belinda Chang, Moet’s New Champagne “Charlie”

POP STAR: Belinda Chang, Moët’s New Champagne “Charlie.”

Long a talented interloper in the male-dominated drinks, restaurant and hospitality fields, Chang is crashing through yet another glass ceiling in her meteoric, honor-laden career.

Beginning as an apprentice chef at Houston’s Café Annie to serving as wine director for Charlie Trotter in Chicago then overseeing operations at Danny Meyer’s Michelin-starred The Modern in New York to being appointed global beverage consultant for the Starwood luxury hotel group, Chang, a James Beard-award honoree for outstanding wine service in 2011, is now joining the storied ranks of marketers of liquid effervescence.

Champagne_Charlie_Once known collectively as ‘Champagne Charlies’, like her predecessors’ bubbly celebrations and flashy public-relations events (from popping corks at the Oscars to pouring jeroboams into pyramids of 1,000 coupe-shaped glasses for the Guinness record books), Belinda is determined, as she puts it passionately and in a more serious fashion, “to inflame and infect” MH USA’s distributor partners as well as their on- and off-premise customers about “all things Champagne.”

Champagne Charlie / Music

A born educator, Chang relishes her new role to introduce and, where needed, re-acquaint the trade about the unique story of Champagne, its sub-regions and premier and grand cru appellations, its viticultural and winemaking traditions, and, of course, inform one and all about MH USA’s Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Krug, Dom Pérignon and Ruinart brands, from the non-vintage through vintage-dated bottlings to all the rosé and demi-sec releases all the way up to MH USA’s unrivalled collection of prestige cuvées.

“The Biz of Fizz”

From the time Champagne was first commercialized and exported from the mid-18th century on, men – mostly men it must be admitted – went on the road to introduce, educate and sell this bubbly, bibulous nectar not just across France, but the world over.  In Widow Clicquot’s day, it was Louis Bohne, an enterprising salesman, who in the early 19th century ventured all the way to St. Petersburg in Czarist Russia to sell boatloads of Clicquot’s renowned Yellow Label to the Romanov court.  In the new world, it was Edmond Ruinart, scion of Champagne’s oldest house, who departed for America in 1831 on a tri-mast sailing ship full of immigrants; cases of his precious Champagne, which served as ballast, were destined to fill coupes and flutes in dancehalls across the new nation.  As Chang puts it: “What’s better than the story of Widow Clicquot, or the two monks, Dom Ruinart and Dom Pérignon, or talking about the unique qualities of Krug!”

A Tower of Bubbly: Every year Brown Palace Hotel, Denver, pictured below, partners with Moët & Chandon, to build this awesome pyramid of Champagne.

completed-pyramidChang – who has already hit a dozen markets in her new educational role extolling Champagne –is forging her own take on these romantic, hard-working characters who became known as Champagne Charlies.  It is worth recalling, in fact, they became such a fixture in 19th century society, a Victorian-era English song-and-dance man named George Leybourne composed the following hit song, entitled “Champagne Charlie”, in 1862, which featured the following verse, followed by a most evocative (and true!) chorus:

“Some boffins like their Burgundy, Hock, Claret or Moselle,

But only Moët Vintage satisfies my palate well” 

“Champagne Charlie is my name, Champagne Charlie is my name.

There is nothing like that fizz, fizz, fizz

Yes, it really is the biz, biz, biz!” 

After almost two decades of work in the hospitality world, Belinda relishes the challenges and potential of her new trade responsibilities: “I never imagined not being at a restaurant, it is a great dance being at the table with a customer, but being an educator has always appealed to me as well as the chance to reach, via my association with MH USA’s great Champagnes, a much larger audience.”  Her ambition: “We want to be the global leader in Champagne education, and that includes the United States.”

ChampagneCharlie2Given Chang’s record of accomplishments, it would be a mistake to discount her ability to once and for all transform, and elevate, the perhaps outdated image of a Champagne Charlie, now and long into the future.


Editor’s Note: The author would like to thank The Tasting Panel Magazine for permission to adapt this article, whose original version appears in the February 2014 issue.

Posted in Belinda Chang, Champagne, Champagne Charlie, Culinary History, Food, France, French History, French wine, Moet & Chandon, The Biz of Fizz, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment