Farm-to-table restaurants aren’t just trending in New York, it seems they’re here to stay.
For a decade now, scanning a menu to see how many local farmers, ranchers and cheese-makers are listed feels as de rigueur as reviewing the daily specials. But local wine? It’s an afterthought.
Not for Noah Schwartz though.
“We work closely with many of the local wineries and collaborate doing wine dinners,” Schwartz says, adding that Lieb, Bedell and McCall have all participated in pairing dinners at his award-winning restaurant, Noah’s in Greenport.
Indeed, a recent glance at the wine list revealed Lieb Cellars, Channing Daughters, RGNY, Paumanok, Croteaux, Wolffer Estate, McCall, Jamesport Estate, Bedell, and Sparkling Pointe. There were a handful of California, Italian and French wines by the glass and bottle too, but Long Island rules the roost.
His pioneering commitment to not just including, but highlighting the work of local vintners earned him the New York Wine & Grape Foundation’s Restaurant Award this year.
Growing the Local Wine Movement
Schwartz believes his dedication to serving local wines is part of a growing movement.
“A lot has changed in the restaurant industry in our area since we opened 13 years ago,” Schwartz says. “We have worked very hard to promote the local wine industry, and we have seen the relationships between restaurants and wineries in Long Island continue to grow stronger.”
The “what grows together, goes together” philosophy of wine and food pairing is as old as, well, wine. But when trade was globalized, all bets were off—and dining on food and wine from equally far-flung corners of the planet became a signifier of sophistication and a certain financial status.
But what goes around, comes around, and as Schwartz learned early on in his culinary career in Sonoma, Californians began to embrace the glories of thinking local decades ago.
“I worked for several restaurants in Napa and the Sonoma Valley, and many of the restaurants had fabulous wine lists that focused on collaborations with wineries in the area,” he recalls.
He fell in love with the concept of serving seasonal, farm-fresh cuisine with locally grown wine in California—and he also fell in love with his wife, Sunita.
“We met working at the girl & the fig in downtown Sonoma,” Schwartz says. “When we decided to move back to Long Island [where he is from], we knew we wanted to eventually open a restaurant where we could do something similar.”
Thinking Local in Long Island
His first stop though was as a chef at The Seafood Barge, a now-shuttered, much beloved restaurant in Southold.
“They were known for having an all local Long Island wine list, and were well ahead of their time,” says Schwartz.
The Schwartzes opened the doors to Noah in 2010, with a very specific vision that has remained firmly in place.
“We always wanted to be a place that had great food and where everyone felt welcome,” he says. “We wanted fishermen and farmers to pull up alongside tourists visiting the area for the first time. We also wanted to showcase the bounty—in food and drinks—that the North Fork has to offer. The menu changes seasonally, as well as whimsically, although we do have signature items that stay on.”
Current favorites include Peconic Bay Little Neck Clams (try it with the 2021 Paumonok Chenin Blanc), Crescent Farm Duck BBQ with aged white cheddar grits (try it with the 2019 Bedell Malbec) and Noah’s Hot Lobster roll with cardamom butter (try it with the 2019 RGNY Scielo Sauvignon Blanc & Sémillon).
In 2012, two years after opening to wild success, they expanded from 75 to 150 seats. He runs the kitchen, his wife runs the front of the house and the beverage lists. He sees the wine list as an ambassador of sorts.
“A lot of tourists coming to our area are here to try and explore the wineries but do not get the chance to try everything, so we try to offer a lot of varieties and wineries on our menu,” Schwartz says.
Receiving the Restaurant Award is “an honor,” he says, adding that he only sees the ties between restaurants and wineries in New York growing and strengthening in the coming years.
Between curious tourists and in-the-know locals, Schwartz says they find they “move through the local wine quickly,” he says.
Thinking local, it seems, is a wine-and-financial-win for everyone.
The Unity Awards were created in 1990 as a way to recognize, encourage, and celebrate cooperation among grape growers, wineries (and their staff), researchers, retailers and others to advance the entire industry. The winery and grower community in New York state has a rich history of working and succeeding together despite facing a variety of challenges through the years. Recognizing the longstanding and bold spirit of our community members and their numerous achievements, the New York Wine & Grape Foundation is proud to continue honoring industry leaders & champions of New York wine for more than 30 years.