The best ideas are formed over a few glasses of wine.
Ask Dustin Wilson and Thomas Pastuszak, friends since each held wine director positions at NYC’s Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park and The NoMad restaurants, respectively. During a recent visit to the northern Rhône, Dustin and Thomas were sipping on Syrah when they came upon the idea to put together a northern Rhône-focused event in New York.
A mere 18 months later, the two sommeliers are gearing up to host the first-ever Reboule du Rhône in New York. From Nov. 17 to 19, this three-day series of events will bring the northern Rhône’s top producers and most sought-after wines to wine enthusiasts and professionals alike. All proceeds will benefit No Kid Hungry.
Reboule du Rhône joins a rich lineup of festivals that bring wines from the world’s best regions, producer-studded tastings, and luxury dinners to New York City. La Paulée de New York was launched in 2000 and highlights the wines of Burgundy, and Bordeaux’s dedicated BurdiGala arrived stateside in 2013. Having participated in these kinds of events in the past, Wilson and Pastuszak felt that they could hone their experiences to celebrate the northern Rhône, a region that, in their eyes, deserves to sit among the world’s greatest wine regions.
The northern Rhône is a favorite of sommeliers and industry insiders, but its wines remain unknown to most American wine consumers.
“It’s an area in which the experience goes well beyond the price tag and where the wines are still underrepresented for how great they can be,” Wilson, a Master Sommelier and owner of Verve Wine in TriBeCa, says. “You have this place that’s kind of in the shadow of some of these other regions, like Champagne, Burgundy, or Bordeaux, but the wines are really fantastic.”
A small region, the northern Rhône is largely populated by generations-old, family-run domaines. Its wines center around the Syrah grape, a now-popular variety that has hit it big as Shiraz from Australia has emerged on the global stage. Despite its international success, though, Syrah’s true home is the northern Rhône.
“The true, original expression of Syrah is from this area,” Pastuszak says. He is currently the wine director at The NoMad. “In its purest, most beautiful expression, it’s rich in depth and character, extremely aromatic but not heavy,” he says. “It’s so lively thanks to the specific soils and cooler climate of the northern Rhône region.”
VinePair agrees, and was delighted to come on as a Reboule du Rhône festival sponsor.
“The northern Rhone produces amazing wines that are still so unknown to many average consumers,” Adam Teeter, VinePair CEO, says. “We love the work that Dustin and Thomas do, and it’s great to be able to support a great charity at the same time.”
The first priority for Wilson and Pastuszak was to secure participation from top Rhône producers, something that both felt was essential to the event’s success. They succeeded in their goal; winemakers in attendance will include Jean-Louis Chave, Pierre Rostaing, Jean Gonon, and Andre Perret, the winemaker who helped spark the idea for Reboule in the first place.
“The ultimate goal is for the producers to share the stories of their domaines, their terroir, and the work that they do,” Wilson says. “They don’t realize how popular their region is among wine professionals here in the U.S.”
The cornerstone of Reboule du Rhône is the signature “La Reboule” dinner, named for the annual end-of-harvest celebration that takes place at most northern Rhône estates. Attendees are invited to dine with winemakers over a six-course meal and share special bottles from their personal collections, served by the country’s top sommeliers. After guests have the opportunity to enjoy this remarkable wine dinner, the festivities will continue with a music- and wine-soaked after-party.
Wilson and Pastuszak emphasize the affordability of many of the weekend’s events. La Reboule’s walkaround tasting has a $75 fee, tickets to the six-course dinner are $600, and weekend packages range from $5,000 to $15,000. By means of comparison, La Paulée’s tasting fee was $350 last year, and its gala dinner started at $1,500 per seat. This speaks to the value proposition of northern Rhône wines. Unlike bottles from Burgundy or Bordeaux, the northern Rhône offers incredible quality at a lower price point.
Essential to the mission of Reboule du Rhône is its charitable component, something that Wilson and Pastuzak would like to see more of in the wine industry. Both have long histories with No Kid Hungry — Pastuszak since 2006 and Wilson since 2014 — so the organization, which works to end childhood hunger, was a natural choice.
“Seeing people being so generous and knowing that it’s going to a good cause is really powerful and moving,” Pastuszak says, adding that the organization’s mission resonates even more with him since the birth of his 17-month-old son. While other regional events have featured charity auctions, Reboule du Rhône is the first to commit 100 percent of its proceeds to charity.
Reboule du Rhône may not be the first wine festival to bring regional French wines to NYC, but it is the first to celebrate excellent, unheralded wines with a charitable mission and affordable price point.
“It’s the energy I’m looking forward to,” Wilson says. “It’s already well beyond what we even envisioned.”