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3143 Ponce De Leon St
New Orleans, LA, 70119
United States


swirl and savor

Reflections on the Last Five Years

Beth Ribblett

It is truly hard to believe it has been five years since we opened our doors on Ponce de Leon Street.  It was an uphill battle from the start.  Rebuilding our home after Katrina; leaving a very secure, well paying job of 8 years for the unknown; dealing with a neighborhood association that was initially against our plan; a terrible accident that took place in the shop just days before we opened; a business partner who disappeared in our first week; needless to say, it was a drama filled beginning.  And despite the many  challenges that were thrown our way over the past 5 years, we have persevered, even flourished and finally find ourselves settling in to a very good rhythm that we hope will continue for many more years....

As I love to do, I sat today and reminisced over the past five years, left out the low spots, and came up with my favorite things that have happened.  This is more or less in chronological order, not in order of importance...

Me and Carol Short, one of the original "Nuts" crew.

"Nuts 'n Bolts" was an educational series of classes I offered soon after we opened and the first one brought in a wonderful group of people.  Eager to learn and happy to drink together, the class encompassed everything we were about; building relationships through educating myself and others about the world of wine in a fun and unpretentious environment.  We've all become close friends and most are still regular customers.  I've led many other classes through the years, but that was a special group at a special time and they still continue to meet regularly on their own and hold themed wine and food pairing nights.

Team Swirl, 2010 MS150 Bike Ride

Our decision to start "Team Swirl" began when one of our friends was diagnosed with MS in 2007. Christy began to train with us in June of that year on a 20 year old 10 speed road bike, which she road up until the day of the MS Tour. She completed the first day of the tour, 75 miles, on her new and improved road bike and inspired us all to continue to train, raise funds and ride the MS Tour.  We've been the top fund raising team in the Louisiana Chapter for the past three years, the largest team last year at 57 members strong and are hoping to do both again this year and continue in our dedication to making a difference in the lives of people with MS.

Chef Dan Esses & Antonio at one of our many wine and food events.

What can I say about the friendship that has developed between Kerry, me and Antonio Molesini?  We love him like a brother and have so enjoyed our times together over the years.  But a specific highlight for me was our very first Tre Bicchieri dinner at Ristorante Da Piero, something I had been wanting to do since I first discovered the Italian wine bible, Gambero Rosso.  Antonio helped me make a dream come true as we drank the best of the best of Italian wines with amazing food and wonderful company and started a tradition that we have upheld every year.  His wealth of knowledge, generosity, kind spirit and comedic talent have become invaluable to me both professionally and personally and I always look forward to our time spent together.

Kerry and I had the privilege of meeting Clovis Taittinger through our friends at Republic about three years ago and made an instant connection with the quirky, humble, funny and somewhat shy French aristocrat. So when we found out he was coming back in October of 2009, we teamed up with Commander's Palace for a Taittinger Champagne dinner hosted by the man himself. Eating fabulous food in one of the world's most prestigious restaurants, drinking the amazing 1998 Comtes de Champagne with Clovis, surrounded by customers who have all become our friends, it couldn't have been a more wonderful evening.

In the vineyards of Passopisciaro, Mount Etna Sicily
One of the reasons I got into this business was the hope of being able to offer wine and culinary travel opportunities to our customers.  There is no better way to understand the culture of a people than to immerse yourself in their day to day lives, eat with them, drink with them and hear their passion as they share their stories with you.  Our Wine and Culinary tour of Sicily in the October of 2009 was the first trip and could encompass 10 top moments on its own!  Thanks to Cynthia Nicholson and Elisabetta Zoria of the Farmhouse Table, we were able to team up and organize an incredible tour of Sicily, meeting some of the most influential producers, take cooking classes, visit archaeological sites and enjoy the best food I've ever eaten and drink the most intriguing wines with a wonderful group of people who truly appreciated all that the Sicily offered us. Hopefully the first of many as we leave in a month for our upcoming tour of Tuscany with Antonio as our guide!

We first stumbled upon one of Marco de Grazia's wines by accident a few years back in a little shop in New York.  It was the first wine I had ever tasted from the Etna region, and I knew then that something very special was happening on that wild volcano in Sicilia that I needed to know more about. Thanks to our friends Nick Selby and Dave Kenney at Uncorked, we had the pleasure of Marco's company in the shop for an intimate, seated tasting of his wines as well as a few others he is importing.  Soft spoken, loquacious and extremely passionate about the region, it was wonderful to hear about his approach to wine making on the Etna, to taste the wines with him and hear his stories about what makes this reason so special and one of the most exciting wine producing regions in the world today.

There's always something special about tasting wines with someone who has literally had their hands in the process from start to finish.  It's even more special if it is someone you've grown to love and respect for the person they are as we have with James Moises.  The August 2009 launch party at Swirl for Moises Wines was a special night as producer and local ER doc James Moises and friends generously poured fabulous, small production, single vineyard Oregon Pinots for 3 hours straight! The standing-room-only crowd stood elbow to elbow inside and out to celebrate the first ever release of James' wines, a true labor of love for the native New Orleanian! We've held many events with James over the past two years, but the first was a truly memorable night!

Supporting local artist through our business has been a priority from the start.  We've met and shown many talented artists over the years, but none have quite had the impact of RK(Rudy) Rowell.  Introduced to us in 2008 by friend Paula Pizzaloto, there was something about the spirit of Rudy's work that just seemed to belong in our shop.  A kind, generous and talented man, we developed a wonderful relationship and sort of became a gallery for his work.  His tragic death  in December 2009 marked the loss of a wonderful man who fiercely loved New Orleans and the south. His colorful works were a passionate display of that love and touched so many people.  We feel so fortunate to have known him and really miss his presence in our lives.

The Food Network's filming of a Rachael Ray segment in our shop marked the beginning of a lot of national and local recognition for our us.  While many have mixed feelings about Rachael's star power, we had a lot of fun shooting the segment with them and Rachael was a warm and gracious host.  Many family, friends and customers came out and showed their support during the Friday night filming, and a good time was had by all.

In this business, as with any other, you meet people who look at it as a job and a paycheck and those who wholeheartedly love what they do.  Monica Bourgeois and Neil Gernon bring a creative passion to the wine industry that is both refreshing and infectious.  So when an opportunity became available to pour that passion into a bottle and produce their own wines they jumped in head first and never looked back.  We held their first launch party at the shop and many other events since and just love what they are doing with their label, Vending Machine Wines.  Besides our years of friendship, our support comes from the fact that their approach is a perfect match for our own; do what you love with the people you want to do it with, do it with passion and heart and have a lot of fun along the way! 

There are so many more moments and people that have had a personal on professional impact on us like Linda Smith whose continued support, especially in the early days, made her a lifelong friend; Abe Schoner and his eyeopening unconventional approach to winemaking; Chef Josh Smith from a Mano who shares my love of southern Italian wine and food; Matt Lirette who is building an unrivaled portfolio of Italian artisan producers; chef Dan Esses who brought his creative culinary talents to Swirl on many Friday nights; author Robert Camuto who joined us for an incredible evening of Sicilian wine and food; sommelier Michelle Gueydan who has become such an important presence our lives and all of our purveyors, friends, family, customers  who I wish I could take the time and space to name!

So, while there were times throughout the past years where life was challenging and difficult, it is nice to think back on these moments of joy spent with people we care about, sharing our passion for food and wine. Because a great wine is nothing without someone special to share it with and I am thankful to have a partner and friends who appreciate these wonderful moments just as much as I. Thank you all for you support over the past five years and the wonderful memories you've helped us create!  Cheers!