Friday, December 3, 2010
Ginger Henderson says her success with sparkling cherry wine at Chicago’s award-winning French-American restaurant North Pond shows that fruit wine has a place on a fine dining wine list. Here she discusses the purpose and impact boutique fruit wine can have on a wine list.
By Todd Spencer
Ginger, first tell us a little about the last two restaurants you’ve managed: North Pond in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood and Fenouil in downtown Portland, Oregon.
At North Pond, Chef Bruce Sherman holds true to the “Arts and Crafts” ideal in the culinary philosophy. He utilizes exceptional ingredients from the local market at the height of its season in his fine French-American cuisine. Whenever possible he supports small local farmers and treats their products with respect. The path from earth to plate remains clear.
At Fenouil, Chef Jake Martin creates Contemporary Pacific Northwest cuisine. It’s ingredient-driven, and his dishes change with the seasons, which is a technique he calls a “living menu.” Jake supports small local farmers and treats their produce and products with a sense of simplicity in every dish.
What do boutique fruit wines, hard ciders, fruit liquors & spirits, honey wines, rhubarb wines, etc., add to a wine list, cocktail list or menu?
Many of these products support local farms and wineries, which reflects the philosophy of a lot of restaurants right now.
North Pond included a sparkling cherry from Chateau Chantal winery in Michigan. What kind of reaction did sparkling cherry get from the restaurant staff and patrons when you first introduced it?
The guests at North Pond are pretty adventurous and like to support local products. The staff knows this, so Chateau Chantal’s sparkling cherry wine got a good response from them as well. The older clientele liked the sparkling cherry because they have a sweeter palate and prefer items with a lower alcohol percentage. We definitely sold a handful of the product because people just love bubbles and there is a great sense of romance attached to it — especially in a pink/red hue! We also liked giving it out complimentary for special occasions after dinner or for VIP guests who may not have ordered dessert. Or as a paring to dessert.
How did the sparkling cherry make its way onto the wine list at North Pond?
Our wine list featured many small craft producers, and I had a hostess whose family was related somehow to the people at Chateau Chantal.
Did you order directly from Chateau Chantal or through a Chicago distributor?
We ordered directly from the winery. Even though they’re in Michigan, they had a license to ship directly to restaurants in Illinois.
Would you say that for restaurants emphasizing farm-to-table, adding regional fruit wines resonates nicely with this identity? Reinforcing the agrarian, rural traditions behind the menu?
Yes, it just made sense that this would be a part of our wine list at North Pond.
What kind of reaction did a cherry wine garner from patrons checking out the wine list?
People were always curious about it and asked questions.
What do you think about adding, say, a pumpkin wine, apple wine or hard cider for the fall; a cherry wine or honey wine for Valentine’s Day; a raspberry wine for summer, etc.
I believe that non-grape wine varieties have a better chance of success on a wine list/cocktail list/dessert pairings if it is done seasonally. The guests are smarter than ever when it comes to seasons and the ingredients that should be represented in that particular season. Having said that, there are certainly some fruit wine varieties that would work year-round. The sparkling cherry was a year-round fixture at North Pond.
You do not currently have any fruit wine on the Fenouil wine list. Are you open to the possibility of adding some at some point. Say, from a Washington or Oregon winery?
Absolutely. Fruit wines would be fun to pair with our desserts and the extensive cheese program.
Any other thoughts on the topic of non-grape wine in restaurants?
I would love to represent more non-grape wines/spirits on our cocktail lists here at Fenouil; they could inspire creativity that has endless possibilities of thinking outside the box.
Ginger Henderson is the general manager and wine director at Fenouil in Portland, Oregon. Previously, she had been the general manager and wine director of Chicago’s award-winning American-French fine dining restaurant North Pond.
Categories: Restaurateur's Blog