John David Harmon, Whole Foods' Regional Wine Buyer, isn't afraid to take on a difficult task, but at least he's allowed a few drinks to soothe his nerves. OK, make that a lot of drinks, er, sips.
Recently, Harmon and Whole Foods teamed up with Hirsch Vineyards on the Sonoma Coast in California to create a blended Pinot Noir that they eventually dubbed Southbound Cuvee. The new blend is now on shelves locally in the Mt. Pleasant store. Harmon's difficult, but very intriguing mission, was to create a wine that would bring together the essence of the Sonoma Coast and the American South. Harmon claims these were two main tenets that guided him.
"In that part of California there's a real independent spirit, which I think exists in the American South. There's also a dispute as to what the true Sonoma Coast is, and there's definitely a dispute over what the true South is," said Harmon.
Of course, that's just the philosophical connection. Harmon also wanted to come up with a blend that would make a good food pairing, and not just any food either.
"We wanted to make a wine that would go well with the food we cook down here."
Specifically, Harmon referenced the richness of many Southern dishes as well as the smoky, grilled flavors associated with the South, especially during the summer.
"In the South, summertime grilling lasts from April to November, and [in Charleston] you guys grill pretty much year round," said Harmon.
Chucktown winos might recall hearing the name Hirsch Vineyards recently, since they also partnered with FIG to create Clay Pigeon Single Barrel Pinot Noir for the Meeting Street restaurant. In fact, Harmon and the FIG crew (Chef Mike Lata, his partner Adam Nemirow, and Grassroots Wine's Harry Root) visited Hirsch on the same rainy day in January this year.
Unlike FIG, Harmon chose to create a blend instead of choosing a single barrel, for the simple reason that Harmon and Whole Foods needed a lot more wine. That meant tasting a lot more wine also, and it definitely helps to have some friends along.
"After you've tasted 25 barrels, it's good to bounce ideas off of other people and let them taste your blend," says Harmon, who added that Hirsch representatives and Nemirow, who handles much of FIG's wine selection, also helped in the creative process.
Ultimately, they ended up with a wine that Harmon and Whole Foods hope maintains the essence of the Sonoma coast.
"This Pinot Noir [has] aromas of truffles and mushrooms rising from the glass giving way to bright black cherry cola flavors with a hint of gun smoke on the finish," says Jason Selby, wine and beer buyer for Whole Foods in Mt. Pleasant.
Whole Foods patrons aren't the only beneficiaries of this partnership either, since two dollars from every bottle sold will be donated to the Southern Foodways Alliance. Hirsch Vineyards and Whole Foods are splitting the tab, each of them donating a buck apiece.
"That's really the final thing that sort of unites the Sonoma Coast and the American South," said Harmon.