By Marivir R. Montebon
The rugged country artistry of Chateau Renaissance Wine Cellars stood out in the teeming Green flea market at Union Square last summer. Both by its looks and the outright friendliness of its marketing person, Allen Zausner, had caught my attention. The uniquely shaped wine bottles were inviting.
Zausner was busy attending to some customers, but made an effort to say hi. And so our chat begun. “Times are tough, and being here in the flea market is part of aggressive promotions to survive. But we have a great market who loves our unique taste, that’s the bottom line,” he quips.
Allen would later introduce me to Patrice De May, owner and winemaker who comes from a French family whose lineage with wines dates back to 400 years ago in France.
Chateau Renaissance’s labels are remarkably handcrafted in watercolor painting, something which absorbs you into the time of centuries old conoisseurs. Its logo, the lutin (an amusing goblin which popped up from the cork), is distinctively French.
The labels alone were an attraction.
Its Brut Champagne won a gold medal in California’s 2001 Grand Harvest Awards wine competition, with a rating of 91 points from the judges panel.
Brut Champagne is one of five actual Methode Champenoise Champagnes (the process of blending wines) made one bottle at a time by Patrice, using a 400 year old recipe from his family champagne cellars in the Loire Valley of France. Its cuvee wines are made in the traditional European style using spontaneous wild yeast fermentation.
The label used on the Naturel, Brut, Demi Sec, and Doux champagne bottles was commissioned by Serge DeMay, Patrice’s father, for the DeMay-Gremy Champagne Cellars in France in 1933 while the artwork for the Rouge label is by Patrice which features a painting of his father working on the champagne dosage machine.
Champagne Rouge is for meat and chocolates, Demi Sec for light meats and salad/medium sweets, Naturel for any food, Brut for lobster and seafoods, and Doux for pastries.
Its white wines include Chardonnay, Reisling, Late Harvest Vignoles, D’Artagnan, Basset Blush, Joie de vidal, and Frosty and the red wines are Merlot, Sangria, DeChaunac, Cabernet Franc, and Vineyard House. All the wines are completely from local grapes and pressed at the winery.
I bought the Cranberry and Raspberry fruit sparkles, on a discounted price.
Then Patrice comes back to the booth, in bright red shirt and beige shorts. “It is hard doing business these days. People buy 3-4 bottles instead of the usual 2 boxes at Fingerlakes. That is why we are here at the flea market,” he immediately said.
Survival is the name of the game, Patrice said, who had to cut on labor cost and work the entire business process all by himself and his wife. He admitted to having lost $60,000 in revenues last year. The recession also meant aggressive marketing in the midst of cut throat competition.
He has some bitter words at political leadership today. “This is the worst presidency in my entire business life,” Patrice opines. He believes that taxing small entrepreneurs like him who earn $250,000 isn’t a good idea. “The taxes are killing small entrepreneurs. We better have someone who can straighten things out.”
It is not surprising for many businessmen like Patrice to admire Presidents Reagan and Clinton, who were staunch bipartisan leaders who stood in the middle to unify the ideals of the Democrats and Republicans in the economic and fiscal spheres. A seasoned winemaker, Patrice also teaches wine making at the Corning College in upstate New York.
He said he doesn’t see hope in President Obama and wished that things change in Washington by November, to breathe a new life into his business. Meantime, his centuries old family enterprise is on survival mode.