The scent of wines bursting with fruit, spice and freshly fed mushrooms filled the air and brought an energy to the space that was so electric that it vibrated on another level of happiness, sense of community and pure opulence. As the night went on, winemakers hugged longtime wine clients, Rolling Stone songs became the soundtrack to this party, people chatted about their favorite wine at night while pouring it into a glass of someone they just met several hours ago; the evening culminated with people singing burgundy drink songs while waving their napkins in the air with complete abandonment. It was a vintage dinner in Burgundy to be remembered in the ages, and it was a source of mental nutrition that many drew on during one of the worst times in recent history that would fall upon everyone just shortly after – this was the 20thth Anniversary of La Paulée de New York, celebrated five days before the Covid lockdown in New York City in March 2020.
For 20 years, La Paulée de New York has been considered one of the largest wine festivals in the United States. Former director of wine for Daniel (one of the finest eateries in New York City and further founded by chef Daniel Boulud), Daniel Johnnes, based his La Paulée on a recreation of La Paulée de Meursault in Burgundy, where wineries and their friends come together to share their wines. It is a much-needed gathering that sets aside all competition and the stresses of life to come together without walls so that people can bond to a common love – wine. It does not matter if one is rich or poor, young or old, wine-savvy or novice; many from all walks of life have joined various aspects of La Paulée, which have been celebrated in other American cities over the years; and that is when the wine is best, when good people who drink good wine share it with others. It’s an experience that goes beyond just the alcohol that creates a buzz, as it is a mutual group poisoning that takes everyone on an ethereal carpet ride that creates one of the best wine-related memories for everyone involved.
The creator, Daniel Johnnes, did not grow up drinking expensive Burgundy wines; he had a humble upbringing in the middle-class suburbs outside of New York City. But it was an intense love for all that French that began to percolate as an 18-year-old, and that would eventually lead him to work in the wine world. He became wine director of the Montrachet restaurant in 1985, the first restaurant at the famous wine restaurant Drew Nieporent, which opened in the once deserted NYC neighborhood of Tribeca – later he became one of the most important downtown areas for innovative dining and deadly wine list. Daniel noted that at that time there were nowhere outside the Windows on the World restaurant, which was located in the World Trade Center, in NYC, there were “serious wine restaurants” during that time, and saw Montrachet with its extensive wine list, was a revolution. He then went on to become the wine director of Daniel Boulud’s The Dinex Group from 2005, and Daniel Boulud has been one of the chefs who has been an integral part of La Paulée de New York as well as collaborating with other events such as La Fête du Champagne .
Refill for Vital Good Times
As cities like New York City return to a state of relative normality with the restaurant world returning to life due to high Covid vaccination rates, Daniel Johnnes and his team are now planning live events again, taking place between October 9th-16. With their La Fête du Champagne Festival – a combination of Champagne events and virtual webinars; the webinars will include wine packages for people so they can taste from home. All live events follow the NYC and CDC guidelines and require proof of vaccination from anyone working or attending the events. Champagne wine expert Peter Liem presents La Fête du Champagne with Daniel Johnnes again, and just a few of the extraordinary events include a grand tasting with Olivier Krug, the sixth generation of the Krug family and a gala dinner where participating Champagne producers will be sharing special bottles as well guests bringing their own Champagne bottles from their cellar to be paired with a multi-course menu designed by chef Daniel Boulud, chef Arnaud Lallement from L’assiette Champenoise fame-a Michelin-starred restaurant in Reims and the chef Melissa Rodriguez.
From 10 Novemberth-13th, Daniel Johnnes will restart live dinners, lunches, seminars and tastings for Rhône wine lovers with the La Tablée New York festival, and these wines not only connect Daniel’s deep love of all things French, but it also links back to his early beginnings as wine director at Montrachet as his boss at the time, owner Drew Nieporent, opened Tribeca Grill, which has one of the most comprehensive Rhône wine lists in town.
Daniel hopes to bring La Paulée back live in NYC in March 2022 as well as bring it to Los Angeles for the first time. Earlier this year, in March, they had what was called La Paulée Mondiale – Mondiale means Global in French – which was a 100% online party with people attending from Singapore to the US to Europe and beyond. It was a bittersweet collection online with wineries and chefs led by Daniel Johnnes; many had tears in their eyes that were a combination of pure joy at least being able to connect as a group in some way combined with the sadness that it was not the same – nothing was the same. The question, “What does La Paulée mean to you?” was posed to many of the wine producers in Burgundy in an interview series that was part of the La Paulée Mondiale online event this year, and some spoke with a heartbreaking tone that struggled while holding back emotions by being crushed … one moment they were hugging and kissing people as they passed bottles around, and the next moment French winemakers did not know when they would be able to visit the United States again.
But Daniel Johnnes, as the man he has always been, kept the light on these winemakers (a combination of famous and obscure winemakers who had a special place in his heart), and he would not accept the possibility of the end of these extraordinary events, when he knew there was an even greater urgency to bring back civilized human interactions centered on a passion for wine and food. “Wine is not about money,” Daniel said, and it may seem strange to those who are not in the industry, but insiders know it all too well, as it is a low-margin business, even when it comes to selling wines. for thousands of dollars – and many times the people involved in making that wine or pouring it for a customer at a restaurant do not get the majority of the profits from such a bottle. These festivals that Daniel organizes require a huge budget and huge investments, therefore there is a huge risk and he puts all his livelihood and his future security at stake; such an idea became very apparent when he was on the verge of losing everything if the New York City lockdown had happened just five days earlier and La Paulée de New York would have been canceled at the last minute.
But during the pandemic, Daniel Johnnes has been able to expand into online events, start consulting restaurants by managing their wine programs (Daniel Boulud is his first client), establishing a sommelier scholarship, and setting up Pressoir.wine Club, designed for to take the experiences of wine lovers and collectors to the next level. Daniel has brought along Raj Vaidya, the last wine director of Daniel Boulud’s The Dinex Group, when Daniel Johnnes hired Raj back in 2009 as chief sommelier in the group, guiding him to eventually take his place. Raj talked about the new role of sommelier going back to basics when he said, “You are not just going to have someone who dresses well and be that kind of sommelier. It’s really about service and wine knowledge and having a certain humility. “Another member of the Daniel Johnnes team, who has worked for his La Paulée company for over nine years, Max Goldberg Liu, has known Daniel all his life since he is his son’s lifelong friend. When Max was 13, Daniel took him on a trip with his son to France, and Max noted that such a trip was a great example of how Daniel guides people by simply showing them France through Daniel’s deep connection with culture and people and Max exclaimed, “It was a life-changing experience for me.”
Broken pieces that come back together
Many facets of societies around the world were broken when the pandemic came into full force, and Daniel Johnnes’ business was also one of the many companies that were broken when Covid first raised his ugly head in the United States, and he is traveling put it back together as he has many people he loves depending on him. And his mission is far from over to “turn people on” when it comes to French wine that goes beyond conceptual ideas in a book. Daniel is also very familiar with trying to put together chopped, broken pieces when, at a tender age of 15, he lost his father and quickly found himself getting into big trouble when a teenager tried to process a huge amount of grief. His mother and father had lived in France after World War II for a while, so his mother thought it would be a good way to keep Daniel out of trouble living in the South of France for several months before going to college in the United States. . He ended up living with a local French woman for four years in the small Provencal town where he lived … and that was the beginning of his big love affair with France.
This journey started with Daniel being broken by his father’s death, and these pieces never exactly fit together again. But this is not always a bad thing, as they sometimes fit together again in such a way that it allows more light. And that’s what’s so exciting about the next La Fête du Champagne, La Tablée or La Paulée, as all these events are put together in a different way in a world that is forever changed. While there are certainly plenty of anxious emotions mixed with intense adrenaline, it’s the chance to experience falling in love for the first time again, but with a greater wisdom.