Restaurant Review: Julie St. Marie
Aug 07, 2017 12:28PM, Published by Arden Haley, Categories: Eat+Drink+Shop
Women in WinemakingBy Rita Calvert | Photography by Larry French
Talk about dramatic contrast! When I first interviewed Julie St. Marie in the front event room of her catering business, various projects were parked on every flat surface. We did sit down at an impressive distressed wooden tabletop, reclaimed from an old dairy.
“You won’t recognize this place when the show is on,” she quipped, referring to the soon-to-be magical transformation of the space for her “Women in Winemaking” event. I had no doubt. Her previous gig dubbed, “Get Your Bubbly On!” and featuring Veuve Clicquot, or “Veuve” as St. Marie calls it, was a complete blast with 30 people paying $95 each to attend.
This was just one of her clever themed happenings or “Experience Parties” - as St. Marie calls them. Her themes draw capacity crowds to the intimate space. It seems people are eager—and happy—to pay for the novel opportunity of combining food and spirits with a learning experience. Her goal is to provide fun, educational events at least once a month.
“My bourbon dinner was a huge hit with guests still staying on until midnight. That’s six hours! A special birthday party I hosted here was actually interactive. After the guests arrived, they made their way into the kitchen where they met the chef and saw the cooking stations. At this point, they were able to choose the particular ingredients to go into a recipe.”
At her recent event, “Women in Winemaking,” St. Marie highlighted female winemakers from California to Italy to a crowd that wasn’t just about the gals. Male attendance was just as robust.
As we arrived, everyone was greeted with our first wine sampling in fluted glasses, and just-right background music. St. Marie welcomed us and explained the flow of the evening and then introduced Katy Santiff, the Maryland district manager for Kobrand wine distributors, who would guide us through the pairings of the perfect champagne or wine for each of St. Marie’s delectable bites, regaling us with wonderful anecdotes about five global wines and the women winemakers behind them. Katie Harper was also introduced as an expert wine buyer for Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits.
And flow it did. The event was orchestrated to encourage mingling and conversation. All were seated at either the large central rectangular table or 60-inch round tables throughout the room. Artisan cheeses, grapes, and charcuterie on rustic wooden boards served as each table’s centerpiece; they certainly looked to be fashioned from wine barrel lids, but perhaps it was a figment of our festive moods. Tables were spacious for comfortably accommodating the perfect stemware mix at each place, promising just the right glass for each wine sampling. St. Marie says she has always had collections of glassware and dishware and now they are really coming in handy.
Folks quickly relaxed with get-acquainted personal tales of favorite wines and wine-related travel, while sipping our flutes of Domaine Carneros 2012 Brut Vintage Cuvee, the signature wine of Domaine Carneros in Napa Valley. The “vintage” tag signals aging for a minimum of three years following Mother Nature’s supportive cooperation during the 2012 growing season. Another hallmark of 2012: founding winemaker Eileen Crane’s 35th harvest, making her the most experienced sparkling winemaker in the country. Wild Mushroom and Artisan Cheese Tarts were served as an hors d’oeuvre with two bites per tartlet. Spinach stuffed mushrooms were added quietly for a gluten-free attendee.
Once we were seated, a platter arrived sporting large grill-marked cumin dusted shrimp nicely encircling a bowl of tomato salsa with spicy specks of red onion and mango. It was the perfect accompaniment for our Domaine Ferret 2015 Pouilly-Fuisse, the chardonnay of southern Burgundy’s Mâconnais district in France. Years ago, it was Jeanne Ferret who broke with winemaking tradition by bottling wines at the domaine. Her daughter Collette continued in her footsteps, striving for excellence. And even after Louis Jadot acquired the property in 2008, today’s winemaker is also female, Audrey Braccini, who expertly navigated the hot dry 2015 season for this successful production, half aged in steel and half aged in 2nd to 5th use oak barrels—as opposed to new barrels.
Next, we were treated to Foley Estates 2013 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir. My tablemate to the left was swooning over this selection as Kobrand’s Santiff described its earth elements of mushroom and mineral, in contrast to the oft-apparent cherry note of many other California pinot noirs. Twenty-Thirteen saw a moderate growing season with near ideal conditions. It shows, as perhaps does winemaker Lorna Kreutz’s special fondness for pinot noir, as it was the first wine she learned to make. Paired with bites of Braised Short Rib wrapped in Applewood Smoked Bacon, delicious!
On to the excellent full-bodied St. Francis 2013 Old Vines Zinfandel, paired with generously portioned Mini Beef Wellington with Gorgonzola. Santiff noted that while “old vine” Zinfandel is not hard to find, there’s actually no legal definition of the term. All the more impressive then that St. Francis vines are at least 50 years old, some over 100, and are maintained with minimal pruning and dry farming (no irrigation) before the concentrated fruit is hand-harvested, steel-fermented, and oak-aged. Winemaker Katie Madigan has been known to say she “never wants to leave work at the end of the day.” That’s devotion, perhaps born of her early introduction to St. Francis—with a cabernet her parents gave her on her 21st birthday. She credits that with her commitment to “make wines people will remember.”
Our evening closed with Tenute Silvio Nardi 2010 Brunello di Montalcino, ideal with both our remaining cheese and charcuterie and the charming medley of delicious tiny chocolate truffles interspersed with a few berries, each with a different look. The wine complemented both the savory and sweet. Brunello is often cited as a collectible, and this one is made in accordance with the DOCG laws that entitle it to be classified “di Montalcino” near Tuscany. The grapes are hand-harvested to facilitate choosing the top 70 percent for this wine. The wine is aged in two types of oak and in the bottle before release. Winemaker Emilia Nardi is Silvio’s youngest daughter and said to be one of the most respected women in the wine world. No doubt her work is infused with fond memories of childhood summers on the land.
Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits made it easy to order our favorite selections for store pick-up—with a generous discount. The event showcased St. Marie’s versatile creativity with food, portions, and atmosphere, surely skills her clients appreciate.
Wild Mushroom & Artisan Cheese Tart
Grilled Herb Shrimp with Mango Salsa
Braised Short Rib wrapped in Applewood Smoked Bacon
Mini Beef Wellington with Gorgonzola Sauce
Artisan Cheese Platter