Young and Hungry

Restaurant Eve Has a Problem With Todd Kliman’s Column on the Locavore Wine Hypocrisy

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Meshelle Armstrong has been on the warpath about Todd Kliman's recent opinion column for The Daily Beast on the "locavore wine hypocrisy." It's a provocative piece, full of writerly angst about how, for many restaurants, the "buy local" philosophy stops at the local vineyard's front door.

Kliman singles out Restaurant Eve, where Armstrong and her husband/chef, Cathal Armstrong, are the co-owners. Writes Kliman, author of the recently released, The Wild Vine, which tells the story about a local varietal, the Norton grape:

Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Virginia, is so devoted to the local movement that chef/owner Cathal Armstrong calls farmer David Lankford his "biggest inspiration" and likens him to "Santa Claus." Some 150 area purveyors have a relationship with the restaurant. You might expect that a menu long on the bounties of the Shenandoah Valley would feature prominently the wines of Virginia, too. Yet only two locally produced bottles make the cut.

In sending me the same (and then an updated) letter she has posted elsewhere, Meshelle Armstrong noted that she doesn't have a problem with the subject matter, or Kliman's writing, but with the simple fact that the author never contacted Restaurant Eve before writing the article.  Her full letter is below, but here are two highlights:

But know this about “Restaurant Eve’s idealism” — We don’t and won’t showcase items JUST because they are local. We showcase and promote products that are exceptional. Purchasing Local is our preference because it sustains our economy. Purchasing Local is superior because the product is FRESH — off the vine to the plate — not off the vine, to the bottle, then to the distributor, then to the glass.

For the sake of accuracy and for those who feel “left out of the feel good foodie fad” — between Restaurant Eve and The Majestic we carry eleven, gorgeous, Virginia Wines. The Cabernet and Merlot from Gadino Cellars happen to be personal favorites. Todd Thrasher our sommelier was born and bred in Virginia — which explains why the bounties of the Shenandoah Valley don’t stop at our food and wine choices — we also carry eleven Spirits (whisky, bourbon and vodka) harvested and distilled in Virginia.

Meshelle Armstrong goes on to hint that Restaurant Eve may even get into the local wine business itself. You can read the most recent version of letter after the jump.

Dear Todd Kliman,

Your recent article , The Locavore Wine Hypocrisy was sent to me with a wagging finger by a Virginia wine salesperson and distributor. As we were not contacted in reference to this article, we feel we should illustrate our position.

Coincidentally, last week Cathal and I were in Virginia Wine Country visiting our friend, Claude Thibaut, whose gorgeous Sparking Brut rivals any in the country. An interesting conversation about Virginia Wines developed while sipping bubbles from his upcoming release. The question: Who are Virginia’s leading vintners and where is the wine headed?

This called to mind one of Virginia's trailblazing wineries — Barboursville. I happen to keep a 1992 Monticillo, Malvasia. ‘Nothing fantastic,’ some could say, but to me — a young restaurant manager who ordered it for a wine dinner at Cities Restaurant — it was special because it was handcrafted and local. I kept it not because it would age or be worth more; I kept it as a result of pure admiration — a respect of what Virginia visionaries were creating and what those little gems would one day be — outstanding.

The term ‘Old World Wine’ is used for good reason: the time span of several millennia and the combination of climate, geology, patience and human skill — these are key, contributing factors. There’s Old World, There’s New World, and then there’s Virginia — unarguably "young," yet patriotically on the rise due to American ingenuity — that’s just what we Americans do: invent, produce, and reinvent better than any other country in the world. And one day many Virginia wines will prove it on the world stage.

But know this about “Restaurant Eve’s idealism” — we don’t and won’t showcase items JUST because they are local. We showcase and promote products that are exceptional. Purchasing Local is our preference because it sustains our economy. Purchasing Local is superior because the product is FRESH — off the vine to the plate — not off the vine, to the bottle, then to the distributor, then to the glass.

Generally, hand-crafted products from regions establishing themselves are more expensive — as the demand increases, so does the supply. It’s a matter of restaurant economics — an inventory that does not move quickly and ties up valuable space costs money. Issue two: If a guest does not like the wine who pays for it? If we leave to the guest to assume responsibility for the experiment, then larger costs incur. It is blogged about, or a letters are written to critics, or worse — we've lost valued guests (which also means losing future revenue). Fine dining Restaurant margins are slim. A huge snow storm, a few letters and being called a hypocrite greatly affect our livelihood.

For the sake of accuracy and for those who feel “left out of the feel good foodie fad” — between Restaurant Eve and The Majestic we carry eleven, gorgeous, Virginia Wines. The Cabernet and Merlot from Gadino Cellars happen to be personal favorites. Todd Thrasher our sommelier was born and bred in Virginia — which explains why the bounties of the Shenandoah Valley don’t stop at our food and wine choices — we also carry eleven Spirits (whisky, bourbon and vodka) harvested and distilled in Virginia.

Just as you have your personal favorites, those who create beverage and wine lists do too. Experienced oenophiles often pride themselves in deciphering the author’s assemblage. I know my husband and Todd Thrasher do. It’s a game we play — unravel the story. A pattern may appear (or not) but the author is surely influenced by a magical mixture of possibilities. Maybe he met his first love in a particular wine region. Maybe his 'ah-ha' moment took place in a bodega. Maybe the price point suits his owners budget, or maybe there’s a special relationship with the vintner. Sometimes, it’s as simple as that...and, if a wine is not on the list, quite possibly it could be — we just don’t like it.

How about we all share in the promotion. Writers continue to sing Virginia wine praises, restaurants continue to serve what they think is best and the public... ‘Go visit the wineries.’

The drive is beautiful and so close. The way to DIRECTLY support them — is for you to support them by purchasing from them too.

And who knows, Restaurant Eve and company just may be toying with the idea of purchasing a local, vineyard plot. The real question (and had you called us to research your article, you would have known this) is: “If we were to produce our own wine, would we add it to our list even if we believed it wasn’t good enough?" — Chances are “no” but then again (“idealistic mission statement," notwithstanding) — it’s our restaurant, and we have to live up to our own standards too.

Photo by taberandrew via Flickr Creative Commons, Attribution License

Dear Todd Kliman,
Your recent article , The Locavore Wine Hypocrisy was sent to me with a wagging finger by a Virginia wine salesperson and distributor.  As we were not contacted in reference to this article, we feel we should illustrate our position.

Coincidentally, last week Cathal and I were in Virginia Wine Country visiting our friend, Claude Thibaut, whose gorgeous Sparking Brut rivals any in the country.  An interesting conversation about Virginia Wines developed while sipping bubbles from his upcoming release. The question:  Who are Virginia’s leading vintners and where is the wine headed?

This called to mind one of Virginia's trailblazing wineries -  Barboursville.  I happen to keep a 1992  Monticillo, Malvasia. ‘Nothing fantastic,’ some could say, but to me – A young restaurant manager who ordered it for a wine dinner at Cities Restaurant – it was special because it was handcrafted and local. I kept it not because it would age or be worth more; I kept it as a result of pure admiration – a respect of what Virginia visionaries were creating and what those little gems would one day be – outstanding.

The term ‘Old  World Wine’ is called that for good reasons: the time span of several millennia and the combination of climate, geology, patience and human skill – These are key, contributing factors. There’s Old World, There’s New World,  and then there’s Virginia – unarguably "young," yet patriotically on the rise due to American ingenuity — that’s just what we AMERICANS do: invent, produce, and reinvent better than any other country in the world.  And one day many Virginia wines will prove it on the world stage.

But know this about “Restaurant Eve’s idealism” -  We don’t and won’t showcase items JUST because they are local.  We showcase and promote products that are exceptional. Purchasing Local is our preference because it sustains our economy. Purchasing Local is superior because the product is FRESH — off the vine to the plate — not off the vine, to the bottle, then to the distributor, then to the glass.

Generally, hand-crafted products from regions establishing themselves are more expensive – when the demand increases, so will our supply. It’s a matter of restaurant economics – An inventory that does not move quickly and ties up valuable space costs money.

For the sake of accuracy and for those who feel “left out of the feel good foodie fad”between Restaurant Eve and The Majestic we carry eleven, gorgeous, Virginia Wines.The Cabernet and Merlot from Gadino Cellars happen to be  personal favorites.  Todd Thrasher our sommelier was born and bred in Virginia – which explains why the bounties of the Shenandoah Valley don’t stop at our food and wine choices – we also carry eleven Spirits (whisky, bourbon and vodka) harvested and distilled in Virginia.

Just as you have your personal favorites, those who create beverage and wine lists, do too. Experienced oenophiles often pride themselves in deciphering the author’s assemblage.  I know my husband and Todd Thrasher do. It’s a game we play – unravel the story.  A pattern may appear (or not) but the author is surely influenced by a magical mixture of possibilities: maybe he met his first love in a particular wine region, maybe his 'ah-ha' moment took place in a bodega, maybe the price point suits his owners budget, or maybe there’s a special relationship with the vintner. Sometimes, it’s as simple as that...and, if a wine is not on the list, quite possibly it could be – we just don’t like it.

And who knows, Restaurant Eve and company just may be toying with the idea of purchasing a local, vineyard plot. The real question (and had you called us to research your article, you would have known this) is: “If we were to produce our own wine, would we add it to our list even if we believed it wasn’t good enough?" — Chances are “no” but then again (“idealistic mission statement," notwithstanding) - it’s our restaurant, and we have standards to live up to.
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