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01.13.10

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Relax—Have Some Champagne

All is not grim grains and endless squash in the locavore way

By Juliane Poirier


The sign outside Mustards Grill in Napa Valley proclaims, "Way Too Many Wines." For a landmark restaurant in a county pushing 400 wineries, that's not hard to believe. When a wine list for a Napa restaurant is compiled, it inevitably offers Napa wines. Yet just as inevitably the same wine list will include selections from wine regions in various parts of the state or the world, including France, Santa Barbara, Chile or Mendocino. So if the locavore movement is about sourcing close to home, does a "sustainable" restaurant have to stop serving imported wines?

I've heard plenty of whining lately about the rise of locavore wine lists, grumblings tinged with fears that wine depravation will result from locally sourced vintages. Among the absurd and misguided ponderings are "What if the perfect wine to go with that dish is produced five miles outside the locavore sourcing radius?" and "What will they do in New Jersey if locavores want a glass of wine with dinner?" We are meant to shudder at the thought of those diners being forced to drink New Jersey wines. Perish the thought.

Sourcing for locavore meals means finding excellent foods within a certain radius, often somewhere between 50 and 100 miles, depending on where the proprietors decide to set the boundary. This is practical in the North Bay, where chefs typically create food right from the garden (sunhats tipped to Alice Waters); none of the rock stars of local cuisine would think of opening a restaurant without a serious plot from which to harvest. Napa's acclaimed Ubuntu restaurant serves up the organic produce they grow themselves. Sonoma County's Zazu owners and chefs John Stewart and Duskie Estes keep their gardening gloves close to the cutting board as well. These two will also point to a slab of pork or a loaf of bread and tell you precisely where the pig used to snort and gambol before it became bacon, and which member of the Petaluma baking family shapes the bread loaves before they are baked. This is true locavore.

The Zazu team set their sourcing radius at 50 miles. They happen to be located on a rural highway of western Sonoma County, the very belly button of the garden-to-table movement. So it's not difficult for them to gather local food and buy local wine. They buy 60 percent of their wine directly from the wineries, rather than through a distributor, which means more profit stays with the local wine producers. But do Stewart and Estes serve only Sonoma County wines?

"We don't want to be boring," says Estes, who with partner Stewart also owns Bovolo restaurant and Black Pig Meat Company. "If we only did Sonoma County wines, every restaurant would have the same wine lists. Honestly, for all the local winemakers who go out to restaurants, it's more interesting for them to see what's outside. Of course they appreciate us keeping our money local and supporting them, which we do. More than 90 percent of our wine list is local. But some of the best Riesling is made in Germany. And we like to offer Champagne and other French wines. It's always fun to have a French version so people can compare." Fun is the operative word here, a concept often overlooked in the go-local movement.

The locavore movement is not about rigidity or perfectionism. This news may help set fears to rest among those who need reminding that local sourcing by restaurants and home cooks is not government-regulated, not a prescribed nor policed behavior. Instead it's an invitation to return to our senses, viscerally, spiritually, economically and intellectually. Local food sourcing makes for finer dining, a safer and more stable food supply, a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, a more robust local economy and an enhanced feeling of connection to our own community. It's also, according to Estes, plain old fun. So if locavore cuisine invites me to depart now and then, just for the fun of it, from local sparkling to (yes, imported) Champagne, c'est la vie. I'll drink to that.


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