New Orleans Couple Purchases Pontchartrain Vineyards
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — When Monica Bourgeois and Neil Gernon got wind last summer that Pontchartrain Vineyards was for sale, the New Orleans couple, both deeply entrenched in the wine world, thought it sounded too good to be true.
The pair rushed to tour the property in the rural north shore town of Bush. Then they returned for one of the winery’s signature Jazz’n the Vines events, where a crowd gathered to enjoy wine and watch Charmaine Neville perform. As darkness fell, some there set up candelabras.
They were sold.
“You could see every star, it was one of the most charming things I’ve ever seen,” Bourgeois said.
In November, the couple purchased Pontchartrain Vineyard from John Seago, its longtime owner and winemaker. Bourgeois and Gernon plan to reopen as Wild Bush Farm + Vineyard as soon as permitting allows.
Founded by Seago in 1991, the winery has withstood devastation from Hurricane Katrina, financial duress and, most recently, the pandemic, making it one of the oldest and most enduring endeavors of its kind in the state. Seago listed it for sale a few years ago, hoping a budding viticulturist would take the reins.
Bourgeois and Gernon met while working in the food industry in New Orleans, he at a Dickie Brennan’s restaurant group and she at Mr. B’s Bistro across the street. He courted her with expensive bottles of Barolo, she said, and introduced her to the world of fine wine.
They later worked in wine distribution and retail, including at a little wine store on Magazine Street in New Orleans.
“It was part of my job to just drink and enjoy these amazing tiny production wines,” she said. “It became a real passion of mine to support and focus on small producers that were really thoughtful about what they were producing.”
In 2009, they founded Vending Machine Wines with a vineyard owner in Napa, crafting unique red blends with California grapes, each with a Louisiana connection. There was a Double Shotgun, a Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot blend, and a Cabernet Sauvignon called Crooked Mayor, which she said “speaks for itself.” They learned to make piquette, a beverage made from byproducts that are leftover from wine pressing to create a lighter, lower alcohol drink.
Bourgeois found herself with more time on her hands during the pandemic, and took several LSU Agricultural Center courses, growing her interest in native plants.
“They’re adapted to here, they deal with humidity, pests all those things and they thrive in it,” she said. “I said, ‘I think what we’re ready for is a vineyard and a winery that has native fruits.’ ”
In recent years, Seago and his winemaker, Lincoln Case, imported grapes from California to make their in-house wine because of the difficulty of growing grapes in Louisiana.
Bourgeois and Gernon will do the same for their first couple of years in business while they wait for their vines to produce enough fruit, but ultimately hope to have a thriving vineyard.
Bourgeois, who has begun pulling up the irrigation lines from the brambles in the vineyard to prepare for uprooting and replanting the 13 acres, said she will plant Mayhaws, elderberries,
blueberries, and of course, muscadines. They’ll grow traditional grapes and hybrid varieties, but leave room for experimentation with dry muscadines, orange wines and differing oxidation methods.
“It’s going to be this really cool viticulture playground out here,” she said. “There are hardly any wineries in Louisiana and I don’t know anyone that’s trying to do what we are going to attempt to do out here. We’re going to do the style of wines we would enjoy drinking from around the world: thoughtful, honest, sustainable wines and that’s what we want to focus on, building an ecosystem, producing things of nutritional value that are beautiful.”
The couple has envisioned an upgraded version of the vineyard grounds. They painted the burnt orange walls of the tasting room a deep blue, replaced furniture and added quirky decorations, including a 7-foot bigfoot cutout in the woods visible from the window of the bathroom. They plan to add a ping pong table and frisbee golf course to the grounds, as well as a projector for movie screenings.
But with the upgrades, much of what people have grown to love about Pontchartrain Vineyards will stay the same: Bourgeois and Gernon have a spring Jazz’n the Vines lineup that kicks off with Amanda Shaw on April 2. And they inherited plenty of Pontchartrain Vineyards wine with the purchase of the property.
“We’ll have a lot of different offerings for a lot of different people,” Bourgeois said.
By Marie Fazio for the Associated Press