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Catching Up with Natalie Tapken at Lure

T. Edward Wines, New York wine importer/distributor, Natalie Tapken, Karen Ulrich for T. Edward WinesJohn Coyle with Natalie Tapken & Matt Krueger of Bowery Meat Company

“People would look on their phones for Parker points,” said Natalie Tapken of her early days at Lure. Nowadays, thankfully, the “Parker Universe” has imploded and guests no longer scan their phones while considering what to order. “I think the younger generation of drinkers are willing to go anywhere on the list. I think you can see that trend in wine anywhere, including California. Matthew [Rorick] is a great example of working with varietals in California, like Ribolla. His Verdelho is insane. I think Steve [Matthiasson] does a great job of mentoring the [younger] producers. It’s exciting that you have these varietals in California. Ten years ago it would have been a hand-sell on the list. Now it’s, How many can I have?”

Natalie of Lure Fishbar, Burger & Barrel, El Toro Blanco, and most recently Bowery Meat Company, is perhaps the only woman to enter the wine industry to support her passion for philosophy. Just a defender’s stance away of obtaining her PhD, Natalie said, “I was teaching and doing wine and writing, and then I had a baby. I’m still very involved. I love it. I love wine as much as I love philosophy, but they’re very different.”

Yet…“Wine is similar to philosophy,” she added, “in that you’ll never know everything. No matter how much you study, even if you read every wine book, there’s always a new vintage. I don’t think you can be in wine and not have an academic leaning. Appellations and laws are changing all the time. I love it because you’ll never master it. Even if you know an estate and winemaker well, they’re always changing, and there’s so many new discoveries.”

T. Edward Wines, New York wine importer and distributor, Natalie Tapken, Bobby Stuckey, Karen Ulrich for T. Edward WinesNatalie with Bobby Stuckey, M.S. of Scarpetta Wines

Bringing this sense of discovery to her guests, Natalie changes the wine list at Lure, three to four times a week. “There are so many wines out there,” she said. “When a guest comes to the restaurant, there’s always something new to try. I also like to get small, limited producers,” she added and laughed. “Like Emilio Rojo, which I love.”

Striving to strike a balance between the well-known classic producers and those that are up and coming, Natalie spends a lot of time tasting. Wanting to offer a $40 bottle that one can rave about and love, alongside a  $200-300 or $1,000 bottle that’ll leave you “knowing that every penny you spent was worth it.” Natalie added, “Nothing is worse than going to a restaurant and feeling that you didn’t get your money’s worth.”

Keeping her ear and palate close to the ground, Natalie keeps her office at Lure, but maintains her position on the floor. “I have to be on the floor, or you lose touch as a buyer with customer trends and getting feedback. It’s important to talk to guests, to see how they respond to pairings and lists.”

In love with the hours that her position demands, Natalie loves them even more since the arrival of Ella, her two year old daughter, with whom she gets to spend her mornings and days. “Kids make you prioritize,” said Natalie. “So now I’m better at my job. She’s forced me to become a better wine buyer. Avoiding late night tastings probably helps too,” she added and laughed. “I look forward to waking up in the morning.”

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