TAMPA — Kim Crawford stands with a glass of Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc in his left hand as a gaggle of bloggers, wine writers and independent wine retailers swirl around him in a private dining room at Grille One Sixteen on Dale Mabry Highway.
Some are bold enough to say hello to the tall, bespectacled New Zealand winemaker and shake hands. Others sheepishly ask to take a photo with him. He is polite and kind and makes conversation.
His body posture, though, screams, “This is nice, but I'd rather be making wine.”
But the wine isn't going to sell itself unless he goes on the road. He stopped in Tampa as part of a three-city tour through Florida to promote his new Loveblock wines.
“It's all about relationships with your buyer,” Crawford says. “To get into an account, it's all about personal relationships.”
Crawford knows about building a brand. In 2003, he and wife Erica sold their Kim Crawford Winery brand for a reported $49.5 million to Vincor International of Canada. The deal came with a 10-year non-compete clause and a pledge that none of the Crawfords use their name to promote any other wine. That explains why Kim and Erica go only by first names on the Loveblock website.
During that time period, Crawford began buying vineyards in New Zealand in preparation of creating a new line. Instead of making wine with other people's grapes and not being able to control how they were grown, he would instead make it using his own.
And, he and his wife decided, they would do it using organic methods in the field instead of using weed killers and fungicides and in the fermenting tanks where additives are frequently deployed. The decision came after Erica began having heart palpitations that prompted her to stop drinking soda and coffee and begin eating organic foods.
“She said we need to push our way into that [organic segment of the wine market], since that's where she wanted to go viticulturally and winemaking wise,” Crawford said. “I said, 'Fine. Alright.' ”
In November 2013, the first varietal of Loveblock was bottled. Loveblock offers five varietals: pinot gris, sauvignon blanc, riesling, gewurztraminer and pinot noir.
He describes the Pinot Gris as “a Pinot Grigio with flavor.” The sauvignon blanc is crisp and citrusy and ideal for summertime drinking in hot climates such as Florida but “not a grapefruit bomb like most sauvignon blancs.”
Loveblock's pinot noir “will surprise you. It's got balls,” he said. “That's a good thing. It's not a wimpy pinot. The chef [at Grille One Sixteen] tasted it and thought it was a Merlot. It's big and ballsy.”
The wines are being distributed in the area by Premier Beverage and can be found at Whole Foods and other local wine vendors. For information on Loveblock, visit Loveblock.com
DRINKING IN LE MERIDIEN
Among the many highlights of the sleek Le Meridien hotel in the former Tampa federal courthouse downtown is the Bizou Brasserie and its adjoining bar.
SoHo Hospitality Management, owners of the popular Ciro's Speakeasy & Restaurant, CopperFish Seafood Grill & Oyster Bar and Boca Kitchen Bar & Market, will operate the 227-seat French-themed restaurant as well as an adjoining marble-top bar adorned with antique brass lamps.
As is done at all Le Meridien hotels, the bar features a Sparkling Program from 5 to 6 p.m. each day where champagne, spritzers and the cocktails are served. Separating the bar from the dining room is a wine rack partition that can hold 3,000 bottles. Adjacent to the bar is a charcuterie and pastry counter where terrines and house-cured hams are cut with a hand-cranked Berkel flywheel slicer. The host station is a former courtroom witness box. Glass on the door of Room 207, the doorway which leads to the dining room restrooms, reads, “UNITED STATES HEARING ROOM.”
Outside the hotel on the north and south edges of the former courthouse's grand staircase are open-air patio areas where customers can dine and drink (when the weather permits, of course). I suggest the south patio, which has a gorgeous view of the Romanesque architecture of Sacred Heart Catholic Church across Twiggs Street. The church is the oldest on Florida's west coast.
Le Meridien's staircase off Florida Avenue leads pedestrians and curbside valet customers directly into Bizou. The idea, general manager Brent Scarbro said, is to make the public feel welcome to dine at the restaurant without feeling as if they need to stay overnight to do so.
If nothing else, Bizou should make for a lively bar scene after the federal courthouse lets out for the day.
VINOY CRAFT LANDING
The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club has partnered with 3 Daughters Brewing to produce Paul's Landing signature craft beer for service at the hotel. The citrus wheat beer's flavor is a nod to the former citrus grove where the hotel was built in 1925, food and beverage director Jonathan Sullivan said.
The name is a reference to William Paul, who was commissioned in the 1850s to find a landing depot for the U.S. Navy to run supplies between St. Pete and Fort DeSoto. The Vinoy approached 3 Daughters in December to make the beer.
“We wanted to bring in some local craft beers,” Sullivan said. “Our hotel is all about local discovery. If it's indigenous, especially microindigenous, we have to have our hands on it.”
Sullivan says the hotel is planning a monthly series where cocktails, mixology and a craft beer market will be paired with Sunday brunch. A growler program also is in the works.
On June 26, the Vinoy will debut the beer during their “Global Day of Discovery” event, including a tour of Cycle Brewing, St. Pete Brewing and 3 Daughters on the Tampa Bay Brew Bus. The four-hour tour, which is available to locals and hotel guests, will return to the Vinoy, where Paul's Landing will be paired with food by chef Marc Heimann at Marchand's bar & Grill.
Tickets, which cost $20, can be purchased online at http://brewsoftheburg.eventbrite.com.
Steel City Brewhouse has moved to the Roosevelt Boulevard area of St. Petersburg from its former spot on Central Avenue in downtown.
The decor and menu are new, and the 16 craft brews on tap, as well as the wines offered, are all American-made. Why “Steel City?” The owners are from McKeesport, just outside of Pittsburgh, and their descendants are eastern European and Italian, so when you eat the pierogies, you can taste the handed-down recipes from Grandma Bubbie.
In addition to local craft brands on tap such as Cigar City, Steel City pumps Full Pint out of and Rivertowne beers from Pittsburgh and ACE Cider out of California.
Steel City Brewhouse is at 10400 Roosevelt Blvd. N., St. Petersburg. For information, visit steelcitybrewhouse.com.