Chef Jamie McFadden is the proprietor of Snowbirds Vintners, and the award-winning chef behind Cuisiniers Catered Cuisine and Events, located in Winter Park, Florida. Over the years, Jamie has received many awards and accolades, including being one of the first Central Florida Chefs to cook at the James Beard House, induction into the Orlando Sentinel Culinary Hall of Fame, a featured chef on NBC’s The Today Show, nominated as one of Central Florida’s ’40 under 40′, and as a celebrity culinary arts instructor at Walt Disney World’s Disney Institute.
As the co-founder of The PEAS Foundation, a local non-profit organization that provides fresh produce to those in need, he’s also passionate about giving back to the community. Below, Jamie shares his thoughts on family, wine, and why sustainability and eco-friendly winemaking matters to Snowbirds Vintners as a brand.
How did you become a chef, and what got you into winemaking?
Jamie: From an early age, I grew up helping my father make wine, and my mother was always in the kitchen whipping up something new and exciting for friends and family, most likely with a Julia Child or James Beard cookbook open on the kitchen counter. By my teens, I knew I was destined to become a chef. I’ve now had the pleasure of working as a chef in some of the most wonderful food and wine regions – Napa, Sonoma, Central Coast, Tuscany, Rioja, Burgundy, Alsace, the Mosel, Champagne, Washington State, even Texas Hill Country – these experiences shape your flavor profiles, and teach you so much about place.
For me, it really is all about family. Snowbirds Vintners was inspired by my parents mutual love for food and wine, and our annual trips from the cold north to the warm, sunny beaches of South and Central Florida. It represents the joy one experiences when you’re in your ‘perfect paradise’, no matter where that is in the world.
I knew from the start that I wanted to produce wines that were not only interesting but approachable. As a chef, I highly believe that sharing wine at dinner time, and occasionally for lunch, totally elevates the dining experience.
What does the term ‘Snowbird’ mean to you?
Jamie: In my mind, I am a Snowbird! Our family spent years and years of vacationing in Florida’s warm climates during the winter months, and we were always asked: “Are you locals or Snowbirds?”
When I was a kid, it was like being a member of a special club, and the club was enormous! Tons of members from all over the world, all escaping the same thing…the cold, dreary winter. It’s not just for vacationers though, it’s more fairy tale perhaps, a unique reminder that even if you aren’t on a warm, sunny beach, you can pop open a bottle of Snowbirds anywhere, anytime, and enjoy a high-quality glass of wine. Snowbirds Vintners motto is ‘Vacation Inspired, No Beach Required!’
You’ve chosen a very fun label for the brand. What was the inspiration behind that?
Jamie: As someone who selects and recommends wines so frequently, I felt that so many wine labels looked similar. Snowbirds is about fun, food, and friends, but the wine itself is serious. Especially the Grüner Veltliner, as it’s a relatively newer varietal for the US, rarely found outside of small lot wineries, and in Europe, it’s considered to be a very serious food pairing wine. Snowbirds Vintners wines are blended and aged to be incredibly approachable-both sommeliers and food fans love them!
Let’s talk about Snowbirds three wine varietals – a Grüner Veltliner, a Merlot, and a Rosé blend. What is so special about each of these wines?
Jamie: I truly feel that Grüner Veltliner should be on every wine drinker’s radar. It’s a known fact that a person’s palate matures as they experience more wine-this means that the more you taste, the more you will be able to experience in each glass! Someone might start with a sweet wine, progress to a Chardonnay or a Viognier, then most go right into a crisp, dry Sauvignon Blanc. Grüner Veltliner, however, is what comes next! It’s crisp and zesty, with fantastic minerality and structure. Snowbirds Grüner also has some tropical notes that makes it unique, and the perfect ‘vacation’ in a glass!
Our Merlot is a passion point for me, as after Sideways came out, I had the opportunity to showcase this varietal and re-educate folks on how delicious it is. To most wine drinkers, Merlot can actually be an even better food pairing wine than a ‘giant’, camphor-forward Cabernet Sauvignon. Snowbirds Merlot is soft and jammy, with slightly lower alcohol and smooth tannins, so if you’re just crossing over into the world of red wines, it’s very approachable.
For our Rhône-style Rosé, this wasn’t about fads or trends. As a chef, I have been drinking French Rosé for years, because it pairs with anything, anywhere, anytime. Our Rosé packs quite a bit of flavor and body, and it’s anything but ‘whispery’! It’s aged in stainless steel, with wild strawberries, red rose petal, and citrus zest on the palate. At our release party, the response was just overwhelmingly positive. Real men-especially men that love great food and wine-really do drink Rosé!
How important is sustainability in winemaking to you, and what are Snowbirds’ vineyards doing in this respect?
Jamie: This issue really important to us at Snowbirds, but it’s not about just one grower or producer, one chef or restaurateur. If each one of us makes the effort and holds ourselves accountable to a higher level, we would see positive changes worldwide. I could go on and on about sustainable practices in the vineyard and winery, however, I feel as though it is more important to share with people the ‘why’s’ of sustainable winemaking, and not just throwing around catchphrases.
This is what it’s about: what we put into the ground, and onto what we consume, sooner or later, is going to affect us, in either a good, or a bad way.
We’ve got to ask ourselves, “Why is it important to not use certain pesticides or watering practices? What do these types of things really mean to my family, and what’s the long-term affect?” At Snowbirds, sustainability and eco-friendly practices are a top priority. We have integrated 100% drip irrigation, with technology that senses soil moisture and monitors plant stress, in order to use only the amount of water that is necessary. Planting a variety of cover crops between vineyard rows improves soil health naturally, prevents erosion, controls vine vigor, discourages weeds, and promotes the sustainable health of the vineyard.
Our vineyards also follow an integrated pest management strategy to allow beneficial insects to control pests whenever possible, using low impact methods like herbal-based preparations applied to the soil to promote soil vitality through increased microbiologic activity and diversity.
Wine Enthusiast recently did a story on how wineries are using animals in farming, which is something we’re very proud of, because ours are birds! Over 250 owl boxes are perched among our vineyards, and local barn owls take up residence in them, nesting during the day, and hunting at night for gophers and mice, which helps to keep the land in balance.
Tell us about The PEAS Foundation. What is it, and how did it come about?
Jamie:The PEAS Foundation, or ‘Producing Eating Alternatives Simply’, was created by myself and my dear friend George Arredondo a few years ago. We wanted to use our knowledge of entertaining and fundraising to create an avenue for folks to give back, in an educational environment. We make a great effort to ensure that folks who attend our fundraisers walk away learning something new. Whether it’s a recipe, a bartending technique, or an organic gardening tip, they come away personally enriched.
We also want folks to know that 100% of their donation goes to the organization in need. The PEAS FOUNDATION is a vehicle for us to do what we love, and then give back to food pantries and shelters, to help with fresh produce and healthy food options.
As a final thought, what affect do you hope your wines will have on people, and where can they expect to see Snowbirds next?
Jamie: My hope is to inspire them to think outside of the traditional restaurant experience for great food and wine pairings, to have a little adventure in their week, and get outside of the box with what they eat and drink. With Snowbirds Vintners, you can enjoy a fantastic food and wine pairing anywhere, and for any occasion. Snowbirds is about creating memories, and I hope to help make some of yours shine just a little bit brighter with our wines!
Currently, you can find Snowbirds online, and in an expanding list of retailers nationwide. Ask your local retailers for Snowbirds Vintners, and give us a shout out on social media with #DrinkSnowbirds! We love hearing and sharing in the food and wine experience with our fans.