James Beard Award winner Chris Shepherd isn't afraid to break with restaurant conventions — just try to order an appetizer and a main at Underbelly. So it should come as no surprise that when the time came to select an Underbelly-branded wine, he wasn't going to pick some no name special made of mystery grapes.
"This is our new, kickass delicious stuff that I’m really, really proud of," Shepherd tells CultureMap. That "stuff" is Underbelly Hoot'Nanny, a collaboration with California winery Miner Family Wines.
Shepherd traces his 10-plus year friendship with winery owner Dave Miner to his time as the sommelier at Brennan's. On a trip to California, Miner introduced Shepherd to a wine he'd developed in 2010 from grapes leftover from the production of Oracle, the winery's $100 flagship.
"It’s only 29-percent Cab Franc, 21-percent Merlot, 21-percent Petit Verdot, which is awesome. A small amount of cab, a small amount of Malbec, a little bit of Temperanillo," Shepherd says. " I absolutely love Cab Franc. I think it’s a good food wine."
Although he's known primarily as a beer enthusiast for his work at Hay Merchant, Kevin Floyd agrees. "What I like about this wine is it’s full of flavor, but still very subtle and nuanced," he says. "It has the depth of flavor you’d associate with a big, California red, but it doesn’t slap you around."
The wine costs $60 per bottle on Underbelly's list, but the restaurant's beer and wine permit allows it to sell it for $36 retail. "People will have it for dinner and buy a case," Shepherd says. So far, they've sold almost their entire initial order of 14 cases in about two weeks.
Thankfully, Shepherd committed to a full pallet of 56 cases, but the chef anticipates further collaborations down the road. "I want to see how far we can go with it. Are we going to do Underbelly Hoot’Nanny kegs, whites, pinks, whatever?"
As for the name, Shepherd tells a story about another trip he took to California with sous chef Madeline Cabezut, pastry chef Victoria Dearmond and girlfriend Lindsey Brown that included another visit to Miner.
We went to all these little vineyards, and they asked if you owned a winery, what would it be called?
I said Hoot’Nanny, because it’s a fucking party. It’s just people getting together and having a good time. You’ve got friends coming over to throw down, and it’s just going to be a Hoot’Nanny.
They all said it was the worst name ever. Just bad. I said, 'Well, you know what, it’s a fictitious thing. You asked me what my winery would be called, and that’s it.' To me, Shepherd Vineyards? Stupid. That’s just dumb to me. We’re going to be who we are.
Later that evening, the group asked Miner what he thought the wine should be called. As Brown recalls the conversation, it appears fate is not without a sense of irony.
"Dave, without being in the car with us earlier said Hoot’Nanny. The three of us who told Chris it was terrible realized that had to be the name."
Thankfully for Shepherd and Miner, wines are judged by their deliciousness rather than their names. If the speed with which local oenophiles are drinking Hoot'Nanny is any indication of its quality, it's very good indeed.