The Wine Doctor

A local doctor’s wine distributorship is aiming to make New Orleans a nationally recognized wine destination.
Keith
Illustration by Paddy Mills

Keith Twitchell spent 16 years running his own business before becoming president of the Committee for a Better New Orleans. He has observed, supported and participated in entrepreneurial ventures at the street, neighborhood, nonprofit, micro- and macro-business levels.


On the one hand, Dr. James Moises could hardly be more prototypically New Orleans: born and raised in Mid-City, graduated from Jesuit High School, then from LSU and LSU medical school.

On the other, he is a first-generation Lebanese-American who reached the top of the emergency medicine field and then decided to become a winemaker, a wine importer and an advocate for making New Orleans a top national wine destination.

While Moises remains on the faculty of Tulane School of Medicine and still sees a few patients, he found that “in medicine I felt a little stifled. It’s so scientific and structured. You encounter a problem, you know how to fix it, you do that.”

While winemaking is also a process, Moises loves what he calls “the magic of wine. It starts with a cluster of grapes, and if you do things right, it transforms into this amazing beverage.”

Moises was introduced to viniculture by a medical school friend from Oregon whose family was one of the first to plant wine grapes in that state back in the 1970s. Moises joined his friend in planting some new vines in 2002 and made his first wine in 2006.

While the whole thing started as a hobby, Moises’ considerable entrepreneurial spirit soon kicked in, and in 2009 he started a wine distributorship, Bizou Wines.

“Originally I was planning just to represent Oregon wines,” he recalled, “since they had so little presence in New Orleans.”

This was when the family background aspect kicked in.

“Lebanon is a wonderful country with an incredible history of winemaking,” Moises said, noting that references to Lebanese wines occur in the Old Testament, and that the famed Temple of Bacchus was built there. “They were reviving the wine industry in the early 2000s, and I wanted to be part of that. Now we import more Lebanese wines than any importer in the United States.”

Not that his Bizou Wines portfolio is limited in any way; Moises imports selections from around 400 small vineyards from all over the world.

“We buy directly from small, family-owned wineries,” he explained. “Some of them are only producing a few hundred cases a year. To me, it’s about keeping it personal. You get great quality from people who have been making wine for generations. Those wines are a lot more special.”

Moises’ own products, which hail from the southern part of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, include pinot gris, rose, and his highly regarded pinot noir. Nothing makes him happier than being out at a local restaurant and seeing people sharing one of his bottles with family and friends.

Yet Moises has realized that depending on restaurants for the bulk of his sales, as most distributors do, is a risky model in the not-quite-post-pandemic world. Thus, one of his next projects is working to make New Orleans a nationally recognized wine destination. He is working on a campaign of short videos designed to showcase the entire New Orleans experience in the context of the great wines, and wine-drinking locations, available here.

Moises is driven in part by the need to sustain his business, a term he applies in a variety of ways. Having purchased a warehouse along the Lafitte Greenway — fulfilling his desire to return to his Mid-City routes — Moises is nearly done making the building completely energy-independent.

“I want to send the message that in New Orleans we can be forward-thinking,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do, and it ties into the wineries we represent, many of which are organic and biodynamic.”

As always with Moises, it all leads back to the wines and the winemakers.

“I love the romance of wine, the special relationships, the creativity of what they can do with these berries,” he reflected. “That’s why humans have been doing this for thousands of years, because it’s such a fascinating beverage.”

 

Keith Twitchell’s blog,“Neighborhood Biz,” appears every Thursday at BizNewOrleans.com.