When FIG's beverage director, David McCarus, left abruptly, after the James Beard Foundation Award finalist selection, the rumor mills started spinning. Would McCarus leave for D.C.? Was he opening his own place? What was going on? Eater recently sat down with the young standout to determine where he was headed.
McCarus hopes to help catapult Charleston even further into culinary excellence by expanding what eateries can offer on their beverage lists. McCarus started a distribution agency, named McCarus Beverage Company, a year ago and is expanding. His aim is to bring some amazing wines and, in his words "the Pappy Van Winkle of tequila," to Charleston. He has a passion to offer a new facet to the food and beverage world here—not just one restaurant, but all of them. McCarus's allocations will be in establishments around the Holy City, and he says he will also be on dining room floors consulting various wine programs.
To understand some of the conversation, you must first understand McCarus's background. 1) He attended the College of Charleston (cue love of everything Lowcountry). 2) He bused tables at Charleston Grill, where he excelled at blind tastings and developed a love of wine. 3) He spent some time in San Francisco, working for A16 and Heirloom Café, which shaped his relationship with vintners and purveyors.
What's been happening?
I think my eyes were opened two months ago, when we made the long list for James Beard outside of food, for Outstanding Wine Program. I was looking at the list, and we were the only restaurant that did not have a sommelier that worked the floor and we had a really small wine list, comparatively. I thought, "Wow, eyes are really on Charleston."
People all over the country are watching Charleston. When we were nominated—and we had no idea—I thought, "Wow, people want more from Charleston, and people are looking for great things to happen here." And then when we made the finalist, it was great, because we were getting attention like they do in San Francisco and New York. Then I realized, why aren't we getting all the wines and all the liquors and other things that those other states are getting? I know we're a small town in South Carolina, but people want it. They're coming for it, and they're asking for more.
What I've decided to do is, well just over a year ago, I started a distribution company and brought wine in from a few wineries, like Dan Petroski of Massican. He showcases vintage, but he's inspired by Friuli, Italy. He's showing that California can make wines that really exemplify grapes and terroir, like in Friuli or anywhere in France. I reached out to him and told him I really wanted his wines in our restaurant. I asked him what I had to do and he said, "Well, you have to be legal." So I made it happen.
I started with him, and I've got about four more wineries on the way. I hope to have 20 by the end of the year. They're all things only available in Northern California or in New York.
I think it will bring more attention to Charleston from the wine world—people will be wondering how Charleston got these wines.
How difficult is it to bring these labels here?
You need to want it. Like anything, my belief is if you want something bad enough, you make it happen, no matter what you have to do. You call someone, and you say, "I know you only produce limited quantities and you send cases to New York and your wines are heavily in demand in San Francisco, but what do I have to do to get ten cases? I'd be honored to have your wine, honored to put it on someone's table and honored to introduce someone to what you're doing." These guys are making such small amounts that they will not just give the wines to anybody.
Do you see that Charleston is becoming a more wine savvy town or was already that way?
I think it was always there, but it's becoming more wine savvy, because there's lots of people here that love wine and love food. When you work in restaurants or you love food, you want to drink something that dances well with the food.
I think that Charleston has a underground collective of young sommeliers and people who are interested in wine, that are dying for knowledge, and dying for a place to come together. They also don't want to be excluded from what people in New York and California get to taste. I'll be making a full-on effort to help with the process by bringing these wines into the market—not just in one restaurant, but the overall market.
I think the potential for Charleston to be an overall food, wine, and beverage mecca is there.
When people heard I was splitting my ties with a restaurant—I thought about leaving Charleston—but I had all of these people coming up to me and saying, "Hey, I don't know what's going on, but I really hope you're not going anywhere." All of these people made me feel connected in a deeper way than I've ever experienced. Everyone wants Charleston to be able to offer more.
Now that there's a James Beard nomination outside of food and tons of press, it's clear that in the next three or five years, that Charleston will be at the forefront of people's minds.
[Photo: Andrew Cebulka]
· James Beard Foundation Award Finalist in CHS [-ECHS-]
· GM David McCarus leaves FIG [P&C]
· All Charleston Grill Coverage [-ECHS-]
· All A16 Coverage [-ESF-]
· All Heirloom Café Coverage [-ESF-]
· Massican [Official]