A wine list is a reflection of the wine director's ego, says Trace Conway of Butcher & Bee, explaining her decision to offer only female winemakers' wines by the glass.
"Nobody's coming to Butcher & Bee for the wines," she says, instead they are there for the light, bright Mediterranean fare. The patrons' focus on the food gives her the freedom to program a wine list that speaks to her own passions. After a summer of rosé by the glass, she's switching to female winemakers. Maybe it will move wine, but for her, it provides a compelling story for her staff and puts a focus on women in the industry.
Conway came to Charleston two years ago from New York without a job. She wasn't worried about finding one either. As a food and beverage veteran, she had extensive experience. Her most recent gig was working with master sommelier Laura Maniec at Corkbuzz, which has locations in New York and Charlotte.
After settling into the relaxed ways of the Lowcountry, Conway landed at Scarecrow, part of an ill-fated trio of Wise Buck restaurants that never quite got established. She worked with a group of other veterans, mostly from New York.
"We were in our little New York world," she says, pointing out that David and Tina Schuttenberg (Kwei Fei), Ray England (Tavern & Table), Yoanna Tang and Geoff Shyatt (Chubby Fish), Noah Singerman (Melfi's) and Sara Carpenter (RiverDogs food director) all worked with her at Scarecrow, evidence that it wasn't a lack of talent that did that restaurant group in.
One thing she loves about Charleston is the availability of cult wines. "I'll find wines on the closeout lists that you can't ever get hold of in New York" because they're so high in demand, she says, mentioning COS, a Sicilian wine that is impossible to get in New York.
She was shocked to find so many Domaine Guiberteau wines available. She has enough bottles to do a vertical tasting. "No one can do that in New York," she says. "It's so allocated. It's the people who spend $1 million a year who get it."
At Butcher & Bee Conway quickly moved into an operations manager position, overseeing all of Michael Shemtov's venues, including The Daily, Workshop and the Nashville Butcher & Bee. Her front-of-the-house experience complements culinary director Michael Zentner's oversight of the restaurant kitchens.
The wine list is her one pet project, she says, that lets her indulge her wine lover's ego.
The list features a biodynamic Gruner Veltliner from Wieninger, a Pinot Gris from Chehalem, Lalalau from INCONNU, a label created by a former tattoo artist, Laura Brennan Bissell, who makes all-natural wines in California, and a wine by French winemaker Catherine Le Goeuil.
Conway isn't too worried about educating her staff and diners. She's been teaching wine classes for years and sees this new wine list as a way to inculcate inexperienced wine drinkers into her love of great wine.