ER physician James Moises balances life by spending half of it creating top-notch winesGrowing up in a close-knit family of six children, Dr. James Moises was introduced to festive family gatherings and social soirees at an early age. “My parents loved to entertain. They hosted dinner parties and gatherings regularly, so there were always lots of fabulous food and wine around. It’s a Lebanese thing … friends and family have always been a priority. Looking back, I guess that is where my interest in wine began.”
But is wasn’t until he met his future business partner, Mark Wahle, during his residency at LSU in the mid ’90s, that Moises became seriously interested in winemaking and viticulture. “Mark moved to New Orleans while his wife was attending Tulane Medical School. He’s originally from Oregon and trained in wine science and oenology at UC Davis, so he’s the one who really turned me on to the whole world of wine. He’s the brains behind the entire project,” said Moises.
Today, the affable New Orleans native and Jesuit graduate spends half of every month teaching students and residents at Tulane and LSU, while his clinical practice is split between Ochsner Baptist Medical Center and University Hospital. The remaining two weeks are spent in Oregon producing his own wine, simply named Moises. “It’s been a real juggling act for the past nine-plus years while working as a physician and trying to get this project off the ground,” he explained. “In the last few months, I’ve rearranged my life, and now I’m putting in a lot more time at the winery because it’s important that I’m involved in every aspect of the business.”
While Moises professes to have thrown out several of his multiple hats in the past few months, this part-time ER doc is responsible for wine production (along with Wahle, who is also a doctor), sales, marketing and even delivery. Around his work schedule, he spends time going from restaurant to wine shop showcasing and tasting his labor of love with local wine buyers and restaurateurs. “I think it’s important to be totally hands-on. Especially being a new kid on the block and a small, boutique winery. It’s vital that I get to know my customers personally,” he added. Moises does have one sales and marketing person who is helping him spread the word about his wine, and he admits that being from New Orleans and knowing a lot of restaurant owners and bar managers has given him an advantage. “Being a native has certainly made my job easier and opened many doors, as people do love to support locals.”
The doctor duo oversees every aspect of winemaking from vine to bottle. “When we put the plants in the ground in 2003, I brought about 15 of my friends out there from New Orleans just so they’d experience what it’s like to plant a vineyard. The project has grown now, so naturally we have employees to help us keep it going, but getting your hands dirty is the fun part. It’s not just about writing the check, but rather being involved in the entire process. I’m always there during the important times, from label approvals to picking and crush to blending,” he said. They are in the process of building a tasting room, slated to open to the public this December and a winery that should be fully operational by next harvest.
One key thing Moises is quick to point out about his wines is that they will only be available in New Orleans (with the exception of the 2006 Vieux Carre, which is being sold in Oregon) and with a mere 300 cases currently available, his “children” will be in high demand. “My goal is to have them in a few top wine shops and local restaurants around town,” he said. So far, response to his wines has been overwhelmingly positive. Moises recently hosted a kick-off party at Swirl and more than 500 wine enthusiasts turned out for a taste. “It was crazy! There were people everywhere, even spilling out into the street,” he says.
The 2007 being his second vintage released, the Moises brand consists of three similarly styled, yet distinct pinot noirs. His 2006 Yamhill Carlton Vineyard, which comes from 35-year-old vines, is rich and concentrated with dark fruit flavors and is aging gracefully, while the 2006 Holmes Hill Vineyard is a somewhat lighter style, showing more bright red fruits, and has a long, beautiful finish. The third in his wine trilogy is aptly named Vieux Carre, which pays homage to his hometown and represents the blending of grapes from both the old and new vineyard plantings. Soft and supple, with well-balanced flavors of plum and cherry, the 2007 Vieux Carre possesses the same lingering quality of the other two wines. All three are made in a Burgundian style: elegant and supple with rich, ripe fruit flavors impeccably balanced by the careful use of oak. His goal within the next two years is to increase his overall production to 2,000 cases.
In addition to his own wine label, Moises has a wine distributorship called Krewe du Bizou Wines. “My goal with Krewe Wines is to bring in 10 or so boutique Oregon brands to the New Orleans market. Having spent so much time in Oregon, I’ve discovered many terrific, small brands that just don’t make it here, so the point is just to get the wine out to places where people can enjoy it,” he explained. While his love for the pinot noir grape is apparent, he plans to bring in a few other varietals, including pinot gris and possibly some malbec and tempranillo, which he says some Oregon winemakers are playing around with and are quite good.
While Moises is “loving life in the wine world,” his physician alter ego is still quite apparent. “Winemaking is about half science and half art. It’s chemistry. Wine is a living thing, so there are certain steps you have to take to make sure the wine continues to grow and mature in the right direction. The art part is what the winemaker adds to it to give it its unique flavor—what each winemaker does differently. It’s his or her thumbprint,” he says.
In addition, Moises has a keen interest in the health benefits of wine. “Pinot noir is one of the healthier wines on the market because it has more antioxidants and higher resveratrol levels than any other wine, other than a few malbecs grown at an substantially high altitude,” he explains. “So pinot noir is both good and healthy.” Moises and Dr. Nicholas Bazan, an LSU colleague, are doing some analysis on the wine at different stages to determine if there are ways to further enhance the level of antioxidants. “Obviously I don’t want to do anything to compromise the taste of the wine, but just using the natural extractions, the skins, et cetera, to see if we can enhance the levels of antioxidants naturally. Being trained as a physician, I can’t completely abandon the process,” he added.
Although Moises adores Oregon, he’s definitely a New Orleans guy through and through. An avid Hornets fan, he gushes about his love of the city, its music, culture, food, the people, their joie de vivre and how lucky he is to have been born and raised here. “This is my home, and I will always live here. Oregon is beautiful, but it’s no New Orleans,” he says. As for what the laid-back, congenial doctor–winery owner has gained from his latest venture, he can sum it up in one word: patience. “My nearly 10 years involved in viticulture and oenology have taught me the true meaning of patience. It’s measured not in days or weeks but rather months and years. As an ER doctor, this has given me a great deal of balance in my life.”
All three Moises wines retail for about $35 to $40 per bottle and are available at Dorignac’s, Swirl and Partysist. As of press time, they are also on the wine list at Muriel’s, Vega Tapas Cafe and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Harrah’s Hotel.