I was but 15 years old when culinary iconoclast James Beard drew his last breath in January of 1985. I had never heard of him growing up in my sheltered corner of rural Pennsylvania, but then again, gastronomy was not exactly front and center in my household.
It wasn’t until a move to Washington, D.C., for graduate school that the world of food opened to me, and with it, the luminaries that transformed culture and elevated even the simplest of foods to star status.
Beard was just such an individual. As described on the website of the foundation that now bears his name, “He was a pioneer foodie, host of the first food program on the fledgling medium of television in 1946, the first to suspect that classic American culinary traditions might cohere into a national cuisine, and an early champion of local products and markets. Beard nurtured a generation of American chefs and cookbook authors who have changed the way we eat.”
When Beard passed, his long-time friend Julia Child endeavored to save Beard’s townhouse in New York City’s Greenwich Village. After all, Beard’s kitchen had been the epicenter of so much evolution in American gastronomy. In entered Peter Kump, another friend of Beard’s, who spearheaded the acquisition of the house, which eventually became The James Beard House “to provide a center for the culinary arts and to continue to foster the interest James Beard inspired in all aspects of food, its preparation presentation, and of course, enjoyment.”
Around the same time, Kump also launched the James Beard Foundation (www.jamesbeard.org). Since 1990, the Foundation has carried out an annual awards program that foodies follow with great fervor, and it is perhaps these coveted recognitions in food, beverage, and related industries for which the Foundation has become best known.
But the James Beard Foundation is up to some amazing things that may get less press but are nonetheless engaging the challenges of the present day. When COVID hit, the Foundation mobilized to offer assistance and grants to independent restaurants. To help address racial inequities, in late 2020, the Foundation launched a grants program specifically to support black and indigenous owned food and beverage businesses.
As a former lobbyist myself, I also love the Foundation’s Chef Bootcamp for Policy and Change, an annual training academy of sorts. According to the Foundation, “Since 2012, [it] has inspired and trained chefs around the country to mobilize in support of policy decisions that impact our food system. Hundreds of chef-advocates have successfully lobbied to provide nutritious school meals, protect SNAP recipients, support American fisheries, reduce food waste, and fight for safer, more regenerative food production across the United States.” Good stuff.
Where the Foundation trailblazes is when it comes to supporting the next generation of great chefs… and ensuring that the future is more equitable for women. One study has found that only 25 percent of chefs are women, a gender gap that increases when looking at those who are Executive Chefs or chef/owners. Another study found that less than seven percent of Head Chefs and restaurant owners are women.
Addressing the gender gap, the Foundation’s scholarship program has awarded nearly $9 million USD to over 2,000 recipients since its inception in 1991. In 2022, nearly 60 percent of these grants were awarded to women. In addition, the Foundation partners with Cornell University offering the ten-week Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership program that seeks to strengthen the business acumen of aspiring women business owners in the hospitality industry.
Like all good philanthropy, the Foundation’s efforts are the result of a lot of hard work, leveraged partnerships, and real money that pays for everything. Enter in Dough Wines.
The powerhouse behind Dough Wines is Distinguished Vineyards & Wine Partners (www.dvwinepartner.com), who count more well-known labels such as Oregon’s Argyle and Napa’s Markham in their portfolio. The wine company’s Clayton Seeto spoke with Polo Lifestyles, sharing at length about their commitment to doing good through philanthropy, including through a unique and pioneering partnership with the James Beard Foundation. Seeto described the partnership as one of “delicious activism.”
Over five years, Distinguished Vineyards & Wine Partners has a goal of donating $1 million USD to the James Beard Foundation through the sale of Dough Wines. The Dough label, launched in the early days of the pandemic, is nonetheless off a strong start: their wines were served at the Beard Foundation’s annual gala last year at the lux Pierre hotel in New York City.
Dough’s winemaker, Heidi Bridenhagen, brings not just a solid scientific understanding of viticulture and winemaking to Dough, she’s also doubling down on the activism to achieve gender equity. Much like the gender disparity within the hospitality world, Bridenhagen’s working in a field where just 10% of winemakers are women, according to Seeto.
The partnership with Dough also has Bridenhagen working closely with the world’s best chefs and sommeliers associated with the Beard Foundation. It’s a collaborative process where she tests out blends of varietals with the group, takes in the feedback and discusses food pairing, and then creates the final blends that will be bottled and brought to market.
The result of the partnership through Dough Wines between the Beard Foundation and Distinguished Vineyards and Wine Partners doesn’t just do great things philanthropically, it also results in the ability to drink well! As the brand’s motto goes, it gives everyone an opportunity to “rise to the occasion.”
Now to the wines. I sat down with a few friends to taste a sampling of Dough Wines and especially thrilled that my friend Kristina Hayden Bustamante, wine director at Santa Fe’s famed Compound restaurant, was able to join us.
First up, we tasted the 2020 Sauvignon Blanc with grapes sourced from California’s North Coast. It was everything one could expect and want from a California Sauvignon Blanc – nothing more and nothing less. Aged in stainless, the crispness bursts from the glass with notes of citrusy lemon zest and notes of ripe melon. It also had a richness to it that made one think some oak aging had touched it though it had not. We decided it was a perfect wine for a warmer day on the patio and would be an excellent accompaniment to seafood or given the hint of richness, even grilled chicken. One final note, as the wine was allowed to sit in the glass, it continued to open up with wonderful complexity.
The 2020 Chardonnay also impressed, again with grapes astutely sourced by Bridenhagen from the North Coast. It was like biting into a delicious, cool, and crisp red apple, a bit tart but in an entirely welcoming way. Barrel fermented with a small percent of stainless, the grape itself is the star. For those looking for buttery and oaky, this is not your Chardonnay. But for those seeking an excellent expression of an un-fussed-with California Chardonnay, this one is perfect. At a healthy 14.5 percent alcohol, this Chardonnay would be perfectly paired with seafood, especially a flaky white fish like cod.
Dough also offers two red varietals – Pinot Noir and a Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet Sauvignon is a North Coast and the 2019 Pinot Noir we tasted sourced from Oregon.
The Pinot Noir was, much like the Chardonnay and the Sauvignon Blanc, a consistent and near-perfect expression of what one would expect from the labeling. Red fruits like cherry and even pomegranate bring a bright freshness to this wine, which we decided is better after being slightly chilled (yes, we popped it into the freezer for a quick chill after the slightly less-than-room temp experience had us wondering). Uncomplicated and solid, this pinot noir would be classically paired with a pork loin or grilled lamb with lots of green vegetables. Finally, no decanting is required here and should even be avoided.
While Dough’s wines are not necessarily complex, what they may lack in complexity, is rewarded with the pure enjoyment of simple, delicious, and consistent expressions of their varietals.
And of course, the pure enjoyment of knowing each sip is also doing good.
To find out where you can obtain Dough Wines, visit www.doughwines.com/find-our-wines/
WILLIAM SMITH COPY EDITOR & CONTRIBUTOR POLO LIFESTYLES 2022