Lewis Pasco: Compliments to the Chef

Long before Lewis Pasco became one of the most influential figures in the Israeli wine industry, he spent his days blending spices in bustling restaurant kitchens across the United States. From eating scraps off of rejected dinner plates to innovating some of the most groundbreaking, cuisines, Lewis has seen about everything there is to see in a kitchen. With his winemaking style deeply rooted in an impressive library of aromas and flavors, Lewis brings his archive of tastes and senses to every vintage of wine he produces.

“I was an Ivy Leaguer,” Lewis told me with a grin. He was paying his own way at Columbia University, working at local restaurants to make ends meet. Lewis recalled the foreshadowing name of the first joint he worked at well preceding his interest in wine: Vinophellia. “I don’t even think it’s a real word, but what an irony,” he chuckled. After sweating through a few different restaurant kitchens, Lewis realized that he had a natural gift and passion for quality food that he could not ignore. He dropped out of Columbia and left New York on a whim for the bright sun of northern California.

Lewis started working at a restaurant in the San Francisco area, quickly acclimating to his unfamiliar surroundings. “From time to time, food would come back to the kitchen for one reason or another.” Lewis explained. “If we didn’t give it to the dishwashers who were busting their butts, it would go to different members of the kitchen staff.” By this point Lewis had become notorious amongst his colleagues as a wine enthusiast, so when a half finished ten year old bottle of the esteemed “Rothchild Lafite” came back to the kitchen, it was clear to everyone whose glass it would fill.

As Lewis sipped the highly acclaimed French wine, something magical happened that changed his life forever. “In that wine I literally tasted every flavor I could think of. Every aroma that I ever sought to infuse into my cooking was right there in that one glass of wine.” The notion that so many intense flavors could be so perfectly balanced would transform the way he approached and styled his cuisine. Like Franklin running through the stormy skies with a kite and key, Lewis ventured back into the kitchen with his newly acquired profound approach to flavor.

With the Rothchild Lafite fueling his creativity, Lewis courageously started adding garlic and lemon to his fettuccini alfredo at the restaurant. “Plates would come back licked clean,” he remembered excitedly. Lewis also started introducing Asian seasonings to traditional Italian and French dishes. “I essentially created ‘Asian Fusion’,” he said proudly.

As the success of his daring style and astute palate become evident, Lewis’ cooking became highly respected among the foodies of the Bay Area. Soon, Lewis would be responsible for taking the trip to California’s wine country to design the drinks menus for distinguished eateries. With progressively more exposure to high end wine, Lewis decided to go back to school, enrolling at UC Davis to study winemaking.

Upon completing his master’s degree, Lewis began contacting wineries in France that might be interested in his newly acquired skills. It was at this time that Lewis’ beloved mother became ill. Putting his plans aside temporarily, Lewis went to aid his ailing mother whose innate palate he inherited. “We spoke about a lot of different things,” Lewis told me, “but then she asked me, ‘Lewis, why don’t you date any Jewish girls?’” Lewis told his mother that he didn’t have anything against Jewish girls, and out of respect to her wishes, he would try to seek them out more actively.

Shortly after that conversation, Lewis’ mother passed away, and “as if God had some plan for me to be in Israel,” Lewis noticed that Dalton Winery was looking for a new winemaker. Although it turned out that Dalton had already filled their position, they put Lewis in contact with Tishbi Winery who had also been seeking a new winemaker. Before he knew it, Lewis was living in Israel, married to an Israeli woman, and revolutionizing the way Tishbi made their wines. Gladly replacing the hot, stuffy kitchens for the cool, moist barrel rooms, Lewis was on his way, and after a few short years, he was recruited to start the then-soon-to-be established Recanati Winery.

Just like his lemon-garlic fettuccini alfredo, Lewis started pushing the envelope as a winemaker, revitalizing the use of petit syrah and instituting blends and techniques that were, at that point, unheard of in the Holy Land. Quickly gaining the trust of his partners, Lewis was given a free hand to concoct his wines in any way he saw fit. With Lewis’ touch, Recanati wines rapidly became world renowned for their unique flavors and high value for quality. Lewis recalls a white wine he produced that could be smelled by tasters that were several feet away just after removing the cork. After dedicating nearly a decade to shaping Recanati, Lewis left Israel, California bound, only to come back a few years later to start his own Israeli winery bearing his name, “Lewis Pasco”. Like a veteran athlete, adorning his hometown’s jersey, Lewis Pasco is back in the game, making the elegant moves that only he could make.
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Tasting: The Pasco Project #2 2013

Lewis compares his winemaking technique to playing jazz music. “While requiring a tremendous amount of natural talent, the flexibility of improvisation is crucial to making great wine.” In my opinion, there is another aspect of Lewis’ style of winemaking that is similar to jazz: the relationship between volume and balance. When jazz is played loudly, often times the bright pitches of the sax or the piercing notes of the trumpet can be overbearing. However, even at high volume, when played in perfect unison, all of the thundering tones of jazz come through in a perfect accord. This vibrant blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and carignan is a perfect example of Lewis’ loud yet balanced, jazz-like style.

As I cleared my mouth with some water after tasting the wine, Lewis asked me what I thought of his newest release. Nervous of sounding ignorant in front of a world class winemaker, I stumbled to find the elegant words that are usually associated with fine wine. Before I knew it, the juvenile word “delicious” instinctively jumped out of my mouth. With a big smile, Lewis said that wine tasters always shy away from the word “delicious” when describing wines, but that was exactly what he wants his wines to be: delicious.

Drink this wine with candles lit, listening to Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” or Herbie Hancock’s “Empyrean Isles”. Feel free to email me about your wine drinking experiences and with any questions you may have at urirosenzweig@gmail.com.

About the Author
Born and raised in Chicago, Uri is now an Israeli farmer, living in Gush Etzion with his wife, Debbie and his daughter, Rakiya. When he is not farming, you can find him tasting wine with good food and even better company. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments you might have at: urirosenzweig@gmail.com
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