"The butcher and the baker were the first chefs, if you ask me."
So states chef Marc Meyer of Cookshop in New York City. Then, on the restaurant's website, he explains that his passion runs deep for "sustainable ingredients, humanely raised animals and the support of local farmers and artisans." The result is a clever, impressive menu comprised often of local ingredients.
And so you might be wondering: How about the wine?
Not local. Like most New York City establishments, Cookshop had a very nice wine list that lacked New York state producers.
"We see these great restaurants in New York City, and so many of them push the concept of local food, but their wine lists don't contain anything from New York state," says April Southworth of the Upstate Wine Company, a wholesaler based in Ithaca. "That just doesn't make sense or fit with their mission, and we think a lot of establishments will be open to carrying Finger Lakes wines."
Company president Kevin Faehndrich stresses an important point: It has to be about the wine first, not the message of local or — as Upstate Wine Co likes to feature — sustainable. "When we make presentations, those messages are secondary to the wine," he explains. "If we're not offering a world-class wine, they're not going to carry it. Their customers have to want to order it, and they have to like it enough to order it again."
For now, UWC carries the wines of Thirsty Owl Wine Company, Atwater Estate and Chateau Lafayette Reneau. Faehndrich expects to add several more before the end of summer. His team will target New York City, with a focus on pairing sustainable wine producers with restaurants that feature a similar ethos.
"If we're walking down the street and we see a place that uses the words 'organic' or 'local' on the menu, that's potentially a perfect fit for us," Faehndrich says. "We will, though, go into anywhere that will have us. We're not going to shut something out as we build the business."
Of course, organic winemaking is generally viewed as close to impossible in the Finger Lakes climate. Faehndrich recognizes this, putting the emphasis on "sustainable" over "organic."
"We want to work with people who are conscious about their carbon footprint," he says. "And we know there are New York City establishments that are thinking about the carbon footprint of their food. It's only natural that they would think that away about which wines they carry. How much energy is consumed to bring in wine from California, and how much energy would you have to consume to bring in wine from the Finger Lakes? It's a compelling idea, especially when they realize that there are world-class wines coming out of the Finger Lakes."
The idea might be compelling, but it has been slow to spread. Even in Cookshop, the Thirsty Owl Riesling is a lonely local in a sea of foreign options (though the wine lover would probably delight in the selection). But the Upstate Wine Company is banking on the idea that they can make progress and make money at the same time.