Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Road Warrior - David Pazdar of Pazdar Wines

One of the best known dessert winemakers in the Hudson Valley is David Pazdar. David is a very nice man. You have to say that when you start off writing about David. Because his small brand is so focused, and so driven to fun and excess, one needs to rein in the expectations he might otherwise be the Harlequin Romance line of wines of the Hudson Valley. His wine names would easily earn him the honor, if it was solely based on the names of his wines, with such titillating titles as Rendezvous, Hot Sin, Forbidden Nights, and Secret Lovers.

David’s winery is unique. He’s a one man show, that is if you don’t count his perky wife, his adorable daughters, and his father-in-law Tom ( a quiet, friendly sort, who is always found with the NY Post or NY Daily News in hand, following the Yankees). But seriously, David’s winery is small and focused. David excels at making popular dessert wines. Extremely adept at making Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and other well-known varietals under his “House” label, David has instead focused on a wide range of small production, high quality dessert wines. His flavor combinations are among the most unique in the American wine business. Chocolate wine, wines made with chili peppers, honey and ginger, banana, and mango and pineapple are among the unique flavors offered.

Don’t wrinkle your nose, wine snobs. David is cutting edge.

With limited capital and manpower, David, a former industrial quality control executive (formerly of Pepsi), decided that while numerous wineries were busy slamming their heads against one another fighting over the limited supply of local wine lovers with offerings of Chardonnay, Merlot, and Pinot Noir, that he instead would create a small list of dessert wines, since the bigger wineries had eschewed them. This was the niche David decided he would fill.

The Pazdar Winery was started in 1995 by David and Tracy Pazdar to give consumers innovative and highly creative wines for their palates as well as top quality varietals. The "house" label comes from the original intended name for the winery "Chateau de la Forme Brise'™" A name that was created back when David was still in college. It translates as the House of the Broken Mold. They average 2-3 new wines each year. Wines are fermented in small barrels, the largest being 60 gallons. These are generally made from traditional grapes. The wines are very good.

In addition to using top quality grapes and other fruits from around New York, they use the finest spices from around the world. Some of the peaches in their fortified peach wine came from their tree. Many of the spices they grow themselves on their property. In 2007 they planted their first grape vines. Their first scheduled estate wines were planned for 2012-2013.

Through-out the year, David and Tracy gather ideas. Some come from their customers, others from reading, and others from divine inspiration. After the wines are fermenting and the farmers markets are over for the season; the fun begins. During the winter, David takes those ideas and turns them into reality. Using his skills and the taste palate of his wife Tracy (his chief taster) as well as others, he develops the new wines. This takes numerous trials, many times over a hundred. A new wine can take anywhere from a few weeks to over 5 years to come to fruition depending on its complexity.

They produced the first chocolate wine in the world (Eden’s Pleasure™). They were the first to win a 1st Place Scovie (an international gourmet food) award (Hot Sin®). They now have won more "Scovies" than any other winery in the world. Other wines winning awards have included Summer’s Ecstasy™ (a sweet peppermint wine) and some of their fruit ports.

The winery has been featured in numerous publications including the Times Herald Record, Wethersfield Post, Chile Pepper Magazine, and several newspapers in Westchester County.

David is the ultimate garagiste, and a road warrior. The winery has no tastingroom. He makes his wine in the basement and garage of their suburban house (which he recently doubled in size through new construction). There is no zoning in his residential neighborhood for such a business, so David has to sell his wares on the road. David packs his car to the brim, with little room to spare. He always drives a fuel efficient station wagon or sport utility vehicle, because he spends so much time driving far and wide. A Subaru Forrester was his office of necessity for many, many years. He recently bought a new car, a very exciting moment for him. Packed to the gills, he and Tom (with newspaper), sandwiches and thermos in hand, venture forth with the sun just rising, onto the New York State thruway headed somewhere.

David is one of the most ubiquitous winery owners in the Hudson Valley, possibly the state. You are as likely to meet him anywhere from Albany down to Westchester. You can sample his wares at several farmers markets up and down the valley. Or you can taste his wines at any one of a dozen or so festivals and pouring events. But there is nowhere David won’t go with his small specialized road show. Whether it’s the Empire State Plaza Farmer’s Market or the Finger Lakes Wine Festival, David will be there to meet you in his polo short, khaki shorts, and wire rimmed glasses. From Buffalo to Westchester, David has poured in as many towns as some of the biggest wineries in the state. And he’s always popular.

Knowing what David looks like and seeing him are two different things, because getting near enough to his stand to actually meet him is the hardest part. With his assortment of oddly titled wines, and odd flavor combinations, his is always among the busiest stands at any show, market, or festival. In fact many wineries will ask David at the end of day or at the end of an event if he was up or down, because he is so exacting. At the height of any show, regardless of where it is, David’s booth is always packed.

Firstly, he has an absolutely loyal following. At the Finger Lakes people will make sure he is among their five or six first stops. He is a destination at the event for them. The come to order early to make sure they don’t get shut out. David’s wines are small production. A busy fair, and you are guaranteed to get shut out of your favorite wine. And these people want their wine. They know which wine it is they want, and they buy it.
Secondly, David’s labels and marketing. On the traditional side, wines are by color or style, i.e. reds, whites, sparkling, etc. Not with David. His wines are listed by more ethereal categories, like Chocolate, Romance and Adventure Wines, Chivalrous Wines, Garden of Eden, and so forth.

They are also unusual in that the art on the labels is hand drawn, such as Ravishing Sunrise, with two lovers entwined on a beach, or some other sexy bottle like Hot Sin with a big lipstick kiss on it.

But in the end they come for the taste. David has excelled at funky wines, but they always taste good. Try his lemoncello, it’s fantastic. Try the hot pepper wine. Incredible. Try the cherry chocolate wine. The concept almost makes one’s head spin, but it’s a winner…it tastes great and it sells like crazy.

Another example is the original Dragon’s Fury a wine made with chili peppers. It’s one of his best sellers. Fans will tell you that his chili pepper wine is the ultimate compliment to pizza. And the more exotic the pizza combination? The better the pairing! People bottle bottles. Not just one either. And they come back time and time again. So much so, that there are now four different labels in the line, each of which are popular in their own right. That’s success.

Some wine snobs scoff at David. But David has been doing this for two-and-a-half decades now. He is a full time winemaker. And his success is a testament to his hard work and the quality of his wines. Many a wine festival has come and gone, and winemakers compare receipts, and sometimes shake their heads. David smiles, packs up his meager leftovers, and piles back into his overstuffed car, and rumbles on his way to the next stop. David rarely has a bad show. If you’re lucky, you get to meet him, and taste his wines…but you’ll have to stand in line!