Sam Pillsbury Turns on New Zealand Wine -- Sort of

Page 2 of 2

He churned through them. Each wine generated a dish. This is what I love the most, someone genuinely creative who just loves food and wine, and excited about possibilities. I make the wine to go with food, so this was music.

Enter The Dark Cloud: the Woman from the Beverage Department.

She was unmoved as Chef described the Winemaker Dinner he had already created in his mind. There was a bleak pause, then she turned balefully to me: "We expect to get the wines donated for our winemaker dinners here," she announced.

I learned long ago there are two kinds of people in the world. One kind is passionate about what they do, is devoted to excellence; the other is about power, prestige and position. Politics. Here was one of the latter.

"Sorry," I said. "But we don't do that."

Nix the Winemaker Dinner. No excited Chef. No great meal. No happy imbibers. A bit of territory secured and safe until the next misfit comes along. Position is everything after all.

This is a kind of disease, although thankfully it's gradually killing off the hosts. But it does persist. My Arizona wine colleagues and I do big events all the time. We can spend all weekend pouring wine for free, paid staff and winemaker on hand, donating $800 worth of wine. Most people are great, but there are always a few who get angry because we don't fill their glass to the top. Or heaven forbid, have something sweet. Or they toss it down like a cheap tequila. Wince! But there are plenty of excited enthusiasts. That's what makes it really great. Watching their faces light up makes my day.

And then there's the PR. We look at the publicity and there are glowing write-ups of the chefs, great pictures and no mention of the collection of AZ Wineries who turned up. Quite commonly, tons of pictures and reviews of the food, not one of the wine. Great for the chefs, and no hard feelings there. There's passion, skill and commitment there. But do they plant their own gardens 10 years earlier, then prepare the food and age it for 1 to 4 years before serving?

There are some restaurants who, when asked why they don't have local wines, reply that they are too expensive. Do they source their produce from the local supermarket? No. Some will from the local produce delivery company that brings in generic veges, many from out of state. The good places pay more to get fresh organic produce from a local grower like Maya, McClendon, Carl Seacat or Duncan Farms.

We all know you can get great wines cheap if you know what you're doing. And good thing too. I drink 'em. And what's more, the local wine had better be as good, or better than any alternative. But then at least have SOME!!

Then there's the French/Italian restaurant conundrum. "But', they say, 'It's a French restaurant. We serve French food. Our customers want French wine!'

Not true. They don't acquire and make the food in France. It's a French restaurant that serves French-style food grown and prepared in Arizona. So we make French-style wine made with French clone grapes and made in Arizona with this AZ grown fruit. Same thing, right? You just have to explain it.

Then, we get asked every day to donate multiple cases of wine to charities we've never heard from. Can't blame them, but it does reveal an attitude...and here's what's behind all these examples:

For years wine came from SOMEWHERE ELSE. You picked up the phone and it all arrived in a big truck. Massive production wineries and multi-million dollar distributors joined in and the wine flowed like wine. A lot of it wasn't remarkable, and who knew who made it or where it came from. That's why it was free. But who was wine.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Sam Pillsbury