Jeff Hagley of Atlanta’s Restaurant Eugene on Oregon Pinot Noir - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Jeff Hagley of Atlanta’s Restaurant Eugene on Oregon Pinot Noir

Jeff Hagley runs the wine program at Eugene, and now handles the more esoteric list at Holeman & Finch Public House, chef Linton Hopkins’s recent opening. He notes an uptick in wine sales at his restaurants this past year, and Carson Demmond spoke with him to learn what’s driving that increase.

People are conscious of their wine budget and they’re planning ahead. If it’s a special occasion, it’s not quite the shock and withdrawal that we saw the past few years. The fear of doom is over. They’re planning to spend. They’re expecting it.

I’m seeing a lot of people drinking American. There’s more interest in esoteric wines, sure, but a larger consuming public is going for US stuff. Part of it is ease of recognition. A Spanish garnacha for $8 a glass will win over the fear of not really knowing what it is. But if it’s that garnacha next to a California pinot at the same price point, the pinot will win over one hundred percent of the time.

Guests will come in and immediately ask for pinot noir. There’s an increase here in appreciation for Willamette wines. That’s partly from my love of the region. To me, the region represents the best of both Old World and New World in terms of style and accessibility. In comparison to premier crus from Burgundy or the “premier and grand crus” of California, they keep up toe-to-toe and at a better price point. It’s limited geographically, so it can’t have a boom and expand from a land standpoint. People are really dialed in to what their territory can produce.

What’s the most exciting bottle you’ve opened recently?

We had a special wine brought in from Hanzell in Sonoma—they have a vineyard that’s called the 1953 Ambassador’s Vineyard. We got a case brought in to Georgia for a dinner we were doing with Karen MacNeil, who wrote The Wine Bible. That’s the chardonnay that she wanted. I was expecting a monster, but when I tasted it, I was stunned by its elegance and balance. It reminded me of Louis Carillon’s wines…Puligny-Montrachet…lots of minerality and subtlety…white flowers, crushed rock and freshness. We had a couple of bottles left over, so I put them on the list. We had a table one night…they had been to Hanzell and had never seen it on a wine list anywhere. They ordered one of every dish off the menu and said the wine was absolutely stunning. It was so complete and ready for the food.