Warning: No photos, just words.  Quite a few.

There’s a lane way that looks a likely place for a mugger or rough sleeper to inhabit.  Seemingly a street to nowhere good.  It just so happens to house the hottest restaurant in Chicago right now.  Don’t bother looking for illuminated signage, there is none.  Walk though a working goods lift, dark and industrial.  Beyond the curtain veil in to a 28 seat room open to the kitchen.  Effectively, every table is a chef’s table.  Eight hours later I left with a mind bended by outrageously great food and hospitality.  Staff training in the way of Bindi beforehand, serving eight Bindi wines to guests over their degustation dinner, then three hours of tasting, vocabulary stretching conversation about impossibly fine and complex dishes and great wine pairings all was done.  I said wow a lot to your excellence Oriel Restaurant, Chicago.

Whilst the premise of these past two weeks was the Oregon International Pinot Noir Celebration the opportunity to be despatched nationwide by Ronnie Sanders and Aaron Meeker of Vine Street Imports was too good to pass up.

IPNC is an iconic, soulful, confident gathering of passionate producers, professionals and consumers.  Having been a guest winery in 2008 under the Conservation banner it was hardly entering the unknown but formally presenting 14 Australian pinots to 900 American sceptics was a first for the 30 year old IPNC.  It’s fair to say some minds and palates were turned, or at least the ship is edging in the right direction.  After years of Critter Wine and souped up Shiraz these fine, fragrant, persistent pinots proved to be somewhat of a revelation.  A special mention to Belle Pente winery and Domaine Gouge for including Bindi in the night one on farm dinner.  Sincere and serene.

From Oregon (Portland’s Le Pigeon Greg Basser?  Small and perfect) to Bern’s Steakhouse in Tampa Florida was a hell of a trip for a dinner but the legend of Bern’s was upheld.  All the way back to 1929!  A good way to do business and put another line through a name on the bucket list.

As is the Sanders way, opening and maintaining markets in exotic locations is a life calling and The Island House in Nassau Bahamas is both a great customer and more than enriching location.  Tranquil.  Soothing.  Reaching.  Further from the rain, cold and wind of Melbourne you could not be!

Twenty four hours in NYC and tasting Bindi wines with the brilliant Michael Engelman MS and 50 staff at the stunning Modern Restaurant was a remarkable entree into the pace and quality that their intensity and passion deliver.  It’s hard to imagine that this beautifully located restaurant is now closed for a very significant renovation that will surely see it strive for a move from two stars to three?  Talk about ambition!

I’ve got a lot of affection for Philadelphia and to walk it’s streets and neighbourhoods again and to see old industry contacts and meet new customers was wonderful.  It’s a conservative, old city but scratch the surface and there’s a lot of love in the wine community that Vine Street have connected with and built up.  As always, the lamest of lame background soundtrack in my mind switches from Rocky to Springsteen, no matter what I listen to.  Cringeworthy sentimentality.

The plains of Oklahoma and its own City and sibling Tulsa are warm hearted (well, ok, summer time hot bordering on sweltering) and the people look you in the eye when you pass on the street.  From five years ago the wine culture is racing along and eclectic bars and eating houses proliferate.  The team at Thirst Wine have a lot of love for Bindi and it was here I enjoyed quite a few of our wines from the mid 2000s that shone and looked every bit as young as the wines we hold in our own cellar.  That’s careful shipping and storage at its finest and the longevity of the wines was compelling and appreciated.

Reputations are hard won in a country of great culinary cities and Chicago’s bounty of grand and niche restaurants makes for a deserved claim to a place on the dais.  Showing wines to 17 restaurants in two days looked arduous but in reality was a revelation and full of energy.  So much goodwill, knowledge and smiles.  And a genuine engagement with the Bindi path.

The USA faces some tough issues right now with its unique electoral choices, the enormous presence of guns and their advocates as well as the more global shared issues of race and extremist violence.  The wine and food sector is usually filled with lovers not fighters, carers not haters so perhaps my impressions carry a bias to compassion rather than fear.  Over two weeks I’ve seen and heard a lot of concern, a lot of thoughtfulness.  Of a hope for fairness, opportunity, safety, to be acting and perceived as progressive and enlightened.  It’s been uplifting.

Tonight, before flying on Saturday, I tentatively begin the journey home by presenting a Bindi dinner for the Australian Consulate in LA.  Edging home with work to do.

And next time?  There’s an inspiring event in Dallas that’s captured my imagination called TexSom that is calling for 2017….

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