Over the past few weeks many tributes have been written to New York wine importer Joe Dressner, who died on September 17th 2011, after a relatively short illness. Joe was the founder of Louis/Dressner Selections, a leading importer of predominantly European artisan and natural wines. I first discovered his wines almost ten years ago when we moved to New York City. Since then, the words 'Louis Dressner Selections' on a wine label represent for me authenticity and quality. They are real wines made by real people.
With no great background in wine, Joe started importing wine and formed the company with his wife (whose maiden name is Louis) after spending much time in his wife's native Burgundy. Joe's philosophy and guiding principles in choosing producers to work with are fairly straighforward. He looks for natural viticulture and non-interventionist winemaking, eschewing the industrial methods that have taken over much of the winemaking world.
One of a kind, Joe did not suffer fools easily and could be quite caustic. Known for his vitriolic comments, neither tact nor diplomacy were his most obvious qualities.
While I never met Joe, over the years I had occasion to communicate through both email and phone. I remember fondly the first time we exchanged words. It was shortly after I started writing for The Kitchn. I had tasted a wonderful Loire red wine and I wanted to include it in my upcoming post. As the producer did not seem to have a website, I emailed Joe Dressner to see if he might have some images of the wine that he could send me (I was not yet so adept at taking bottle shots myself).
Within minutes I had a response (aka my 'first' encounter with Joe). The email, which I have slightly paraphrased was brief. It read "Yes, we are the importer but we do not have a library of bottle images. The producer in question does not have a digital camera or a DSL connection. We would be happy to lend you a bottle if you would return it to us."
To be honest I was a little taken aback, not so much by the unavailability of images, but by the idea that he might have thought that I just wanted to get a free sample of this wine, which actually retailed for less than $20. Before I had a chance to respond he called me on my cell phone. His telephone manner was as direct and somewhat intimidating. Slightly nervous, I thanked him for his response, delicately pointing out that I really did not need to 'borrow' a bottle of the wine, as I had already purchased several of them. I tried to explain that the issue was my not-so-good camera skills.
As we conversed, his tone softened and, he became more conversational. As he talked I learned more about the wine and producer than I could ever have picked up from any website or technical sheet. That was Joe's way. The simple, old-fashioned way that actually still works.
Joe Dressner is certainly not someone who courted the media. His sole focus was his producers and selling their wines as best, he could. While 'Louis/Dressner Selections' is by no way among the largest US (or even New York) wine importers, its wines command a disproportionate amount of sommelier, retailer and wine writer attention, love and respect.
While Joe Dressner may no longer be with us, his company and its wines are very much alive and well. So, if you seem those three little words on a wine label 'Louis Dressner Selections' you can be sure of a wine with an real identity and an indelible sense of place.
Dressner Wines to Try
A few of his wines I have gotten to know, and would heartily recommend include:
• 2010 Clos Roche Blanche, Sauvignon Blanc Touraine, $20 - Crisp, minerally, refreshing.
• 2009 Francois Pinon Vouvray Silex Noir 2009, $21 - Made from Chenin Blanc and slightly off-dry but so beautifully balanced. Oozes place and personality.
• 2009 Domaine du Closel, La Jalousie, Savennières $22 - Made from Chenin Blanc. Precise, taut, minerally and extremely long. Ageworthy.
• 2009 Domaine Bernard Baudry, Les Granges, Chinon, $19 - Made from Cabernet Franc - earthy, terroir-driven, refreshing, lively red fruit and supple tannins.
• 2010 Clos du Tue-Boeuf, "La Butte" Gamay, Touraine, $18 - Red wine made from Gamay grape. Absolutely delicious, a refreshing, earthy, light-bodied, food-friendly red wine.
• 2005 Olga Raffault "Olga Raffault" Les Picasses Chinon Cabernet Franc, $20 - Complex, mineral driven, fairly full-bodied, yet retains poise and elegance.
Until next week, enjoy!
Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant.
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(Images: Mary Gorman-McAdams)