Artisan Fine Wines Brings a World of Wines to Louisiana
“I always encourage people to spend less money on wine if they can.”
This somewhat surprising comment comes from Dave Sobiesk, senior wine consultant and sales representative for Artisan Fine Wines, a leading local wine distributor and importer. While one might think that someone in the business would want to push the pricier bottles, the goal for Sobiesk – and Artisan – is to have people enjoy a good glass at a good price.
While Sobiesk won’t object if you want to spend $1000 on a bottle at a top-end restaurant (or for that matter, $10 on a bottle at the grocery store), his primary niche is supplying the good local wine stores and the restaurants that serve great meals in comfortable settings.
“The smaller wine shops in the city are great,” he said, “these are the places that are selling the good wines. You can get some gems in the $15 range, though I have to taste a lot of bad wines to find those. In the $20 to $30 range, there are many delicious wines.”
Sobiesk also observed that “New Orleans is an A market for food and an A market for liquor, but probably a B- market for wine. “People aren’t coming here to drink wine. But it’s trending upward.”
One thing that helps drive that trend, he noted, is that “every winemaker in the world wants their wines available in New Orleans.”
Artisan carries about 1800 wines in its portfolio, and Sobiesk estimated that about two-third of them currently come from France and Italy. This is a transition from when the company first began, in 2000 as the sixth registered importer in Louisiana; at that time, the focus was on domestic wines. American wines are still more popular outside of the New Orleans area, though that is beginning to change. Within the city, with its international aspect, wines from virtually anywhere in the world can spark consumer interest.
People often ask Sobiesk for wine recommendations, which he parries with questions of his own.
“What are you eating with the wine?” is typically his first question. “What’s the occasion? Who are you sharing it with? How much money are you looking to spend?”
While the old standard of having white wines with fish and red wines with meat has fallen by the wayside, Sobiesk still feels that the pairing of food and wine matters. For example, if your meal is going to be spicy, the accompanying wine should probably be more fruity, with some sugar and a little acid. He also noted that some wines are not really intended to go with food at all.
For those looking to start experimenting in the world of wines, Sobiesk recommended going to some of the many wine tastings offered in the local wine stores and restaurants.
“Many of the stores have them every week, and they are a great way to learn about wine and sample a wide variety,” he said. “Different stores will have their own specialties, like a particular country or type of wine.”
Once you find a few that please your palate, “take a picture of the labels, go to your wine shop, and ask if they have something similar. There are so many bridges from one wine to hundreds of others.”
When asked about his own favorite wine, Sobiesk usually replies, laughing, “the last one.”
This exemplifies his approach to wines and background in the business. Sobiesk joined Artisan in 2007, after spending two years as a fixer for CNN and another year working in the old fields. While always interested in wines, and now possessed of considerable expertise on the subject, he still takes the approach of, if the person drinking it likes it, it’s a good wine.
This philosophy has been helpful as the industry comes out of the pandemic. While sales never suffered, costs have skyrocketed.
“Shipping costs have tripled in the last two years,” he explained. “The price of glass has tripled. Shipments are getting delayed more often, but we still have to pay for the wines up front. It’s all adding several dollars to the cost of each bottle.”
Another factor that is beginning to impact the wine industry is climate change. “Things are changing as places get warmer,” he noted. “With the higher temperatures, some wines are going to get a little rounder, a little fuller. Some places are going to get better, some are going to get worse. The amount of rainfall is also going to be a big deal.”
While current trends towards natural and biodynamic wines are something Sobiesk applauded, he also pointed out that “that’s how wines used to be made before technology came into it. People have been making wine for thousands of years.”
Sobiesk clearly loves his work, especially given Artisan Fine Wines’ diverse portfolio, which includes spirits as well as wine.
“It’s a wonderful business,” he said with a laugh. “If the economy’s bad, people drink. If the economy’s great, people drink. Wine is medicine, and we always need that.”