Maison Dupuy just announced the wineries on the schedule their 2011 Wine Festival. Unless we receive word that significant changes have been made, we won’t be attending, and neither should you.
Strong words, I know. We are restaurant fans and apologists at this blog, as well as dedicated oenophiles, and we do not write very negative posts without much forethought. In this case, the justification exists.
The lineup of vintners for 2011 is very strong, including Opus One, Duckhorn, Cakebread, Hess, Chateau Palmer, Sliver Oak, and WillaKenzie. For those unfamiliar, Meritage, the hotel restaurant, designs a menu around (usually) a single vintner, pairing dishes around the various releases, including some of whatever the flagship cuvee that winery produces and often bottles that do not get wide release. Representatives from the winery are on hand, and you get an opportunity to learn about the story behind the wine. We think it’s a great way to dig deeply into a producer’s offering, and Maison Dupuy offers fourteen such chances for the 2011 festival. The New Orleans Wine and Food Experience (NOWFE) holds similar dinners, but they are all on the same Wednesday night, so you must pick one.
We live part-time in the Quarter, we love the grape, so this should be right in our sweet spot, right? Not exactly.
First rule: Don’t criticize when you don’t know what you’re talking about. Rule number two: Don’t draw sweeping conclusions from a limited sample set. Don’t go to a restaurant once, order a single dish, and then tell the world the whole place sucks. That’s irresponsible, and it’s bad journalism.
So for the establishment of credibility, we’ve been to two of these dinners at Maison Dupuy. Last year, we were there for Joseph Phelps, a Napa winery whose Insignia is legendary. In 2008, we were there for Justin, a Paso Robles producer we have visited (just sold to Figi Water, by the way) whose signature Isoscoles is another of our favorites. The point here is that were were strongly predisposed to like both events.
Additionally, we’ve been to three NOWFE dinners. We attended the Commander’s Palace events the last two years, including a Plumpjack/Schramsburg combo that is one of the five best dining experiences I’ve ever had in my life, and the Grill at the Windsor Court four years ago.
The Windsor Court was $125 per person, Commander’s was $140 each time, and if memory serves, Joseph Phelps was $125 and Justin about $100. All prices were inclusive of tax and tip. For reference, the 2011 Opus One is $145, Silver Oak $135, and Cakebread $105.
Obviously, that’ a lot of jack to drop on dinner. If your budget is between $2oo and $300 for dinner for two, shoot us an email or a tweet and we’ll give you ten different places in NOLA where you’ll get a great bottle of wine and an incredible meal. My point, of course, is that these are special event prices. And that is fine, because that’s what these dinners should be. One would think they draw those who are pretty serious about their wine. Honestly, we’ve always had trouble finding people vino-geeky enough to drop the cash and join us.
Which brings me to the issue at hand: At all three NOWFE dinners, it was almost literally impossible to empty your glass. In every case we felt pampered and treated like royalty as we settled in to enjoy the food, listen to the wine makers, and chat with others at our table.
This was not the case at the Maison Dupuy. During both dinners, the pours were rationed to the extent that diners were attempting to flag down waiters for an additional pour and in some cases having those requests actually declined. Unacceptable.
When I discussed this with a local sommelier, he indicated to me that the bottles for these dinners were typically provided gratis. However, I want to be clear that I do not KNOW that to be the case, either with the wine dinners in general or the Maison Dupuy in particular.
We enthusiastically agree that restaurants need to make money, but they also need to make good decisions. I cannot state strongly enough that when people spend $200 or more on dinner here, they do not expect wine-rationing. So whether the wine came free to Maison Dupuy or was part of the cost-structure of the dinner, the festival organizers need to take a long, hard look at their pricing and policy. I suspect that the majority of the diners would have gladly upped the expense by $15 or $25 per person in order to ensure enough wine was provided to prevent oenophilic Darwinism from breaking out at the table. Let me tell you, a bunch of ladies in cocktail dresses fighting over the dregs of the Insignia is not a pretty site. In other words, don’t pour enough wine to lose money; do charge enough money to pour enough wine. Benchmarking is always a smart thing to do. Check out the competition by attending a NOWFE dinner this year and see how it’s run.
So why am I penning this rant the day after the festival menu was posted and months in advance of the event? Very simply, we’d love to go this year. The lineup is good, and we want Maison Dupuy to make changes. With that in mind and in the spirit of fairness, I’ll be sending a link to this post to them inviting their reply. And to our readers: Have you been to any of Maison Dupuy’s wine events? Has your experience been similar, or are we off-base?
Maison Dupuy, the floor is yours. Please let us know if our Justin and Joseph Phelps experiences were atypical; maybe we just had bad luck. More importantly, please let us know how it will be different this year. We are rooting for you.