Sam Pillsbury Turns on New Zealand Wine -- Sort of

Categories: Wine

courtesy of Sam Pillsbury
I watched the chef swirl and sniff as I opened the rest of the bottles. I had learned not to expect too much from resorts, and this was one of them. We have really nice relationships with some, but they tend to be too big, run by out-of-state corporations, and not know or care about local wines.... That's surprising because tourists want to try local wines, but it's easier for the food and beverage department to pick up the phone and order everything from one distributor. So the local pickin's can be slim.

This guy seemed different. He was young, wasn't jaded, seemed like he had a brain and a point of view...and a palate....

He sipped. He lit up. "Wow. I know just what to pair this with! What's next?"

See also:
- Sam Pillsbury Spills on the Reason He Landed in Arizona, and Launches a Wine Column for Chow Bella

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.

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First wine article I ever liked reading.  I cook with wine a lot and I'm a 1 drink every couple of weeks or so person - health and sanity reasons -- so I don't follow wine enjoyment blogs like I do food and cooking blogs.

Sam -- Where are your vineyards and where is your winery?


@scottsdalebubbe Wow, thanks...Vineyard is 12 miles S of Willcox in Cochise County, have a Tasting Room there and also one in Old Town Cottonwood up north between Jerome and Sedona.


Great article, Sam! I'm floored at how few restaurants are actually serving local wine, it just doesn't make sense. In other countries they serve the local wine and they are SO proud to do so, why don't we celebrate our own community in the same way?


@brynb3 It's a kind of colonialism. Really ignorant and boring. But we have great support from some of them, and lots of people have swung over to our support. Arizona is a little bit behind the curve. But it's way better than 10 years ago!!

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