Local couples make ballsy wine—in Lakeview
Neil Gernon and his wife Monica Bourgeois, along with his sister Laura Gernon and his sister’s husband Grant Schexnider, make world-class wine—in Lakeview. Expert matchmakers, they line up bottles of grape juice on their kitchen table, taste each one, and figure out which grape should move in with which. That’s how they created Double Shotgun, a 50/50 custom blend of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc—an unorthodox combination of two “old” grapes that usually get shoved onto the porch while Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot get the run of the house.
“If you look closely on the label, you’ll see PV and CF written over the doors,” Neil says. “They share a house like two old sisters do, like my grandma and my great aunt.”
Before coming together in this New Orleans wine, however, these sisters were first raised in California. The Louisiana climate being less than ideal for growing red wine grapes, the wine makers (as Vending Machine Winery) partnered with Christopher Vandendriessche of White Rock Vineyards in Napa to source grapes for their blends.
“We’ve been out to Napa to barrel sample before,” Neil Gernon says. “But Christopher ships us shiner bottles overnight—these unlabeled screw cap bottles that are filled to the top so no oxygen gets in, with icepacks all around them so they don’t get overheated. Then we line them up on the table and do our own blending.”
As proprietors, Neil Gernon and Monica Bourgeois own no land, no facility (because “land in Napa is ridiculous!”). Still, they make sure to get what they want.
“For Double Shotgun, Christopher was like, ‘Man, you’ve got to put some Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon up in there,’” Neil Gernon remembers. “And I’m like, “No, don’t!’ I didn’t study wine in Bordeaux like Chris did, but after all my years in the wine business, I have an idea.”
From working in restaurants and running bottle shops (Neil Gernon ran the beverage program for Dickie Brennan for four years and Monica Bourgeois was the first female bartender at Mr. B’s), Vending Machine specializes in offbeat wines. After Vandendriessche insisted on sending along some Cabernet Sauvignon for their Double Shotgun blend—despite Gernon’s wishes—the couple ended up loving it so much on its own that they decided to make a straight Cabernet called Crooked Mayor.
“Crooked Mayor is not like a lot of Napa Cabs,” Gernon says. “Napa has a terrible reputation for steroid-juiced Cabs that really only go with big steak. We try to make it more food diverse. We’re here to fuck things up, man! Cause chaos! [laughs] This is not a Robert Parker-scoring wine. I don’t care about scoring because we don’t make enough wine for scores to help us. We eventually sell out anyway.”
Vending Machine started with 150 cases five years ago. Today, they make 1,200 cases a year. That still counts as small production, and the wines are only available in shops and restaurants in Louisiana and New York (and Belgium).
Their most popular wine is Horror Show, and each year they come out with a new label based on one of Grant Schexnider’s bold and graphic paintings.
“I wanted to make a dark, brooding wine,” Gernon explains. “The easiest idea would have been to start with a Petit Syrah because it makes a very dark-colored wine, but that’s too easy. We had to come up with something outrageous. Sousao, a Portuguese grape, has been described as making Petit Syrah look light. Another grape we love is Tannat, known as the most tannic grape; it’s really good for you. Then we needed a middle guy in there, so we used Montepulciano, and they’d never been put together before. Montepulciano could just as well have been Barbera, but we loved how it came out, this electric purple color.”
Gernon doesn’t wear a tie. He makes sales calls in jeans and a T-shirt. And he smokes when he gets drunk, which can happen at tastings.
“I was standing outside having a cigarette,” he says. “And somebody says, ‘How can you be a wine person and smoke?’ And I’m like, ‘Okay, do you know many people who are wine makers smoke in France? Let’s try this—all of them!’”
Approachable and enthusiastic, he puts his cell phone number on the wine corks in case customers have comments or questions.
“Most of the calls I get are good,” Gernon admits. “Some callers are drunk, but that’s good too. It makes it entertaining. One guy couldn’t pronounce Horror Show. He kept saying ‘The Whore Show! The Whore Show!’ ‘Hey now… is this David Vitter?’”