Winemakers next door

N.O. labels craft unique blends, bring West-Coast flavor south

Always a good wine-drinking town, for the next few days New Orleans will resemble something of a wine industry town as the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience (NOWFE) gets rolling with wine dinners, wine auctions, seminars and gigantic tastings.

All year round, however, New Orleans still functions as home base for some who have found a way to pursue their passion for the grape as wine producers without leaving the city they love.

“We spend 80 percent of our time any given day talking about wine, and we decided we wanted to put our own stamp on it,” said Neil Gernon.

Gernon and his wife, Monica Bourgeois, are proprietors of Vending Machine Winery, which does not make coin-op wine dispensers (as some hopefully believe the name might suggest) but is in fact a New Orleans company making Napa Valley wines.

By day, the couple work as sales reps for Neat Wines, a local distributor for very small wineries. As their own side project, they with their winemaker in California produce highly-individualistic vintages, usually from unconventional blends and bearing names like Double Shotgun, Crooked Mayor and Squawking Parrot.

This West Coast-to-Gulf Coast path is similar to the route followed by two other local winemakers, the doctors James Moises and Nicolas Bazan, who each work with Oregon vineyards to produce their own wines, focusing specifically (but not exclusively) on Pinot Noir. Both presented wine dinners Wednesday as part of a citywide NOWFE series, with Moises at GW Fins and Bazan at his family’s Little Gem Saloon. Meanwhile, the Uptown restaurant Patois hosted Vending Machine for a separate, non-NOWFE wine dinner.

Each of these wines is very different, but each is small scale, intensely personal to their producers, and thanks to the local names behind the labels, offer New Orleanians a different read on the wine experience through the winemaker next door.

Moises said it’s common for customers to text him photos of his wine paired with their dinner for the night. In the same spirit, Gernon prints his cellphone number on the corks for his Vending Machine wines, which are sold at local shops and restaurants.

“When someone drinks your wine and reaches out to you like that, you don’t get better gratification than that,” Gernon said. “People are just surprised to see a 504 number on it.”