After a tour of several NYC kitchens, Robynne Maii returned home to Hawaii to open Fête in March 2016. She brought along her husband, Chuck Bussler, who’s slung wine in places such as Blue Hill and Savoy in NYC. The result is one of the more far-reaching wine lists in Honolulu, filled with bottles never before seen on the island. “It’s like how John Cusack describes his record collection in High Fidelity,” Bussler says of the list. “It’s autobiographical. Most of it is old love, some of it is new love, and it all means something very specific to me and my wife and how we pair it with our food.”
Lagrein and ruché among the bestsellers
I’m on the floor every day, working six nights a week and lunches. I think that, if our staff wasn’t as knowledgeable, and if I weren’t on the floor, stuff like that wouldn’t move. But having a conversation with someone about why something matches something is what makes those work. We sell about a case and a half a week of the ruchè. And Piedmont seems to be a region that is coming back: It has always been there but it kind of got stodgy for a while. I feel like it has some new life breathed into it.
The perks of island life
Taste profiles are a little bit different here, so sometimes things don’t do as well as expected. And there will be a close-out sale on those. If it’s something I love, I will just buy all of it to put on the list at a better price. The craziest deal I got: Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Riesling for $2.87 a bottle. The consumer got to buy a bottle really cheap [$28].
Things that are highly allocated in New York tend to not be as highly sought here in Hawaii. I can pretty much get any Paolo Bea or any López de Heredia wines that I want. It’s more of a struggle in NY because anyone who has an interesting wine list wants that kind of stuff.
Red, white and in-between
The orange wines sell pretty well; they are discussions. I had a ton of success with Zyme’s “From Black to White,” an odd blend of a black grape, rondinella, mixed with the aromatics of gold traminer and kerner. We ran it by the glass and even though nobody had ever heard of this wine, the staff got behind it, and we would sell two cases a week.
The Coenobium we had by the glass for about four months. We have a twice-fried chicken with Charleston grits and a spicy tomato jam, and that wine, with the fried and fat, drinks almost like a soda pop, and people dig it. The people who buy orange wine the most I think are the eclectic, later-in-the-evening dining crowd from Tokyo, or people here for surf season—they really dig the orange wines.
I am looking to expand depth for the long term. What I always loved about living and working in New York was those restaurants that were around for a while, that would put some of their wine down. Eight years down the road you could have a conversation, “I don’t have this on the list but let me tell you about these six different wines that we’ve been holding onto.