It kills Andrew Stover when a restaurant touting locally raised duck recommends it with red Burgundy from thousands of miles away. The affable wine director of Washington, D.C.’s contemporary Asian-Fusion eatery OYA, sushi lounge SEI and the recently opened turn-of-the-century style Champagne bar, SAX, has a mission: to introduce American wine lovers to regional wines that show sense of place. With Vino50, the wine portfolio he manages and promotes, Stover aims to discover, distribute and promote wines from all over the United States—not just from the usual suspects, California, Washington and Oregon. Guests at the restaurants where Stover works the floor can sip a sparkler from Michigan, Syrah from Idaho and a locally produced Virginia Bordeaux blend, discovering unexpected bottles that are apt to become new favorites, ultimately supporting local sips.
Kelly Magyarics: What was your inspiration for becoming a proponent of regional U.S. wines?
Andrew Stover: My fascination stems from traveling to places that have wineries: Michigan, Arizona, Pennsylvania and, of course, Virginia and Maryland. When I started a few years ago as a wine consultant and sommelier for OYA, one look at their wine list told me it wasn’t up to par with the concept of the restaurant. I thought it would be cool to offer wines from all over the U.S., especially since the restaurant is in our nation’s capital. As my findings and interest grew—along with the regional wine frenzy—I started offering more and more regional wines to push the envelope.
KM: Why the disconnect between eating local and drinking local? Why haven’t more restaurants embraced it the way they have in the kitchen?
AS: Wine serves different purposes in different places. Restaurants that tend to have adventurous customers are more willing to experiment with unfamiliar offerings; more exclusive and aloof restaurants often have biased customers, which leads to biased wine buyers. And let’s face it: wine buyers don’t often go out and taste. Contrast that with the practice of a kitchen using ingredients from small farms: The chef always goes out to them, not the other way around. We wine buyers need to go out to find some of these smaller wines. Some people also unfairly believe that one local wine isn’t good because of others they’ve tried in the past. Other sommeliers talk a good game, but may only have one or two local wines by the glass or bottle as a novelty. But take a wine like Boxwood’s Topiary from Virginia—there is room on a Virginia restaurant’s wine list for both a Napa Valley Cabernet and a Bordeaux-style local wine.
KM: Name a few regional wines you have come across that have really surprised you.
AS: I am constantly blown away by Texas’ Duchman Family Winery. Tedeschi Vineyards’ Maui Blanc and Hula O’Maui sparkling pineapple wine from Hawaii are fun and surprising to those who first taste them.
KM: Name some underrated or up-and-coming wine regions in the country.
AS: Wineries in Long Island like Wölffer Estate and Pindar Vineyards are making great wines. Michigan wines are underrated and often unknown, but the Leelanau Peninsula area surrounded by Lake Michigan produces stellar Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir—it could be the next Willamette Valley. Arizona’s Sonoita region near Tucson makes great Sangiovese and Rhône varietals. Idaho’s high-elevation desert has a climate similar to that of Eastern Washington and has serious potential.
KM: What are the most popular wines in the portfolio?
AS: The Riesling, Syrah and Malbec from Idaho’s Sawtooth Winery are popular, along with Michigan’s Sex Brut Rosé.
KM: How do you present these wines to your customers?
AS: All wines have descriptions, and I put production levels on the list to alleviate sticker shock. If diners know a winery only makes 200 cases, they may be more understanding of a higher price point. OYA attracts a large amount of international customers, including Europeans who don’t want to drink European wine, yet they are tired of drinking Gallo or Mondavi, which may be all the only American wines available in their market. This list serves that need.
KM: What’s next for you?
AS: We started Vino 50 in June of 2009, and I’d like to continue to expand the concept of off-the-beaten-path offerings. If these wines can do well at OYA, they also can in other venues. I’m toying around right now with a winery to distribute a sparkling wine for D.C. in the style of a Moscato, called The District.