Claire Paparazzo, Wine Director of Blue Hill

Portrait of Claire Paparazzo with wine labels

It has been a great experience interviewing Claire Paparazzo, wine director of Blue Hill (75 Washington Place right off Washington Square Park), for this blog issue.  She first caught my attention at a "women in wine" lunch at Aldea, where I sat next to her and couldn't help but repeatedly sneak peeks at her perfectly delineated burgundy lips, sharp in contrast with her powdery white skin, and what came off to me as this Anna Sui-ish style that I love -- and then her voice was NOT too high-pitched but calm and she seemed like this steady electric current with intermittent sparks jolting from her core.  I had to get to know her.  Couple all of that with the fact that she has been working at Blue Hill for about 7 years, starting at the Stone Barnes location in Tarrytown (commuting everyday from Astoria, Queens) and eventually becoming wine director of the one around the corner from where my mom lives -- or more recognized as the one where Michelle and Barack Obama went, and I knew that Claire Paparazzo was a woman I wanted to know and to paint.

Sitting outside at Blue Hill, looking at the wine list.

What is this Blue Hill place?  Maybe you are asking?  For me, it's a restaurant in NYC where one can go to remember (or perhaps to learn) what food is supposed to taste like -- a restaurant where a meat eater could consider living a life with vegetables and, don't get upset, but perhaps even a vegetarian might consider living a life with meat (I've seen it happen before).  Blue Hill is a "Farm to Table" restaurant, where to give you a better feel, the very famous chef Dan Barber (2009 named one of the world's most influential people by Time magazine's Time 100) has A Recipe for Happy Pigs on his website.  I was a very happy diner when I enjoyed the tasting menu and coursed through a beautifully creative presentation of "real food," food that you could stick your fork through and actually guess what you were eating . . . and then even put in your mouth and be shocked, "I can't believe these sugar snap peas, watercress, carrots, radishes taste like this!"    

And before I even knew Claire I remember being surprised by her wine list at Blue Hill.  It was different.  It wasn't just "the usual suspects -- big French, Cali names," as Claire would say . . .  "I was sick of going out and everyone having the same list. . . That is not the art of wine."  We were sitting at the bar at Sauce, in the L.E.S., having just previously discussed how exciting blind tastings can be in that you have to shut off your brain and your pre-conceived notions about a wine and try it fresh always as if for the first time (imagine being able to do with more than just wine in your life?)  "I wanted to make wine my art and in doing that challenge myself."  Claire and I were on our second glass of wine and sharing a few small plates at the perfect corner bar seat.  "Some of the cheapest wines are my gem," I smiled at her and her burgundy lipstick stained wine glass.  "Who are they?" she didn't have to think twice, "Red Newt Cellars from the Fingerlakes, a single vineyard Pinot Blanc -- amazing, sustainable, local; Red Hook Winery sourced from Long Island and the Fingerlakes."   Of course she supported local wineries, I thought, more restaurants in NY should do that.  Claire also mentioned a few international biodynamic wines that she loves: "Nicolas Joly (Loire, France) and Hilberg-Pasquero (Piedmont, Italy)."

Entering Claire's backyard in the L.E.S.

I wanted to try and show the different sides of Claire and somehow a picture of how they all blend together.  She is more than just a "woman in wine."  Before she became involved in the wine world she studied acting and was very proud to share with me that she is just now embarking on a new amazing project where she is the creator, co-producer and talent of a wine travel show/series.  
Trinkets in Clair's backyard in the L.E.S.
We were actually again sitting with each other, this time at her local 'Inoteca and my old hang out spot when I used to work in the neighborhood, when she received the confirmation or go-ahead to start producing her first pilot for her series.  We had just finished a bottle of Terre Nere Etna Rosso, a wine that always had this beautiful nuance of watermelon that I love, and we decided that we must stay and open a bottle of sparkling to celebrate.    

Claire walking up to her backyard

Art, I believe, is very important in the world of wine, and is something I've always tried as well to not disconnect from its very strong business side.  I was extremely thrilled to hear that Claire was committed to this project that would directly connect artists and wine throughout the U.S. and would bring together all her many talents and hard work.  The wine world needs leaders like her who bring passion and creativity into their work everyday.
For her first pilot she would be filming at Red Hook Winery, touring and helping with the bottling and barrel tasting . . . . and even getting tattoed "Red Hook" on her foot by Chris Torres.  Claire we are rooting for you and definitely waiting for this.
Drinking Bandol in her backyard

One of Claire Paparazzo's favorite wines: Jacques Selosse, "I met Anselme Selosse," Claire was so excited.  "The wine was so poetic I had to take a pause," and she still did take that pause, "There's a journey -- a beginning, a middle, and an end."  

Jordana NicoleComment