pluck - \ ˈplək \ transitive verb - to pull or pick off or out noun - courageous readiness to fight or continue against odds: dogged resolution
Though she was born in New Jersey, Skye LaTorre’s wine journey has come full circle right here in New Orleans. This month, she is opening Pluck, her first wine bar, complete with a complimentary food menu, on Girod Street in the Warehouse District. But LaTorre’s oenophilic adventures started almost two decades ago at Emeril’s Delmonico.
Though she had worked in several restaurants before coming to New Orleans, LaTorre had never experienced anything like Delmonico. “Where I worked before, we served things like foot-long hot dogs and BBQ” says LaTorre. “It [Delmonico] was a real awakening as to what hospitality and fine dining and old-school service is really about.” Starting as a busser, she worked her way up through the ranks to Captain, all the while becoming increasingly fascinated by the role of wine in fine dining. At the time, Delmonico’s sommelier Chris Robles encouraged LaTorre’s newfound passion, taking her under his wing. “It was just incredible to me that somebody could just pluck a wine out of nowhere and say it goes with this dish and tell us all about it” exclaimed LaTorre. “It was crazy and I loved it!”
After four years studying under Robles, LaTorre was given leave to take several months off for a sort of educational sabbatical in Europe, including the Rhone Valley, Tuscany, Piedmont and Burgundy. She wasn’t enrolled in any specific wine-making classes, LaTorre says she just “showed up” and was fortunate enough to pick grapes in an early harvest at the Comte Armand winery. “It was the beginning of why I love wine makers so much” related LaTorre. “If they think you genuinely love wine, they’re down with you.”
When she returned to New Orleans, LaTorre tried her hand as a wine rep for East-West Wines with the intention of learning every facet of the industry, but claimed she “was terrible at it.” Bad salesperson or no, she still managed to capture the attention of chef/restaurateur Richard Hughes at The Pelican Club who offered LaTorre her first official sommelier position. Unfortunately, Hurricane Katrina hit less than three months later.
Due to the 2005 levee failures, LaTorre evacuated all the way to San Francisco where she was hired by Shelley Lindgren at A16, a popular Italian restaurant on Chestnut Street in the Marina District. Not only did she digest A16’s notions about hospitality and service (similar to Delmonico), LaTorre also traveled through California’s extraordinary wine country and learned about what that region has to offer.
While in the Bay Area, LaTorre befriended Chef Daniel Holzman, who wanted her to create a wine list for the opening of The Meatball Shop’s first location in New York City’s Lower East Side. She spent the next ten years as Holzman’s Beverage Director while The Meatball Shop grew across the city. “ I moved to New York to help a friend open several restaurants, and I thought it would be a cool experience and it would help me make my own thing happen,” says LaTorre. “But it didn’t work out that way.” For small business owners, New York City can be a tough nut to crack. Unless everything is spot on – your location, business partners, costs, etc. – the likelihood of failure increases. Even with the perfect plan, businesses can much more easily go awry in the big city
Though LaTorre frequently expressed her wishes to return to New Orleans to anyone who would listen, oddly enough, it never occurred to her to open her first business here. “I had been talking about how much I love New Orleans and saying how much I wanted to go back and that it’s really where I feel at home” says LaTorre. “I don’t know why I didn’t think to do it earlier, it just made so much sense.” In what seemed truly serendipitous, the owners of the building at 722 Girod (Sonder, a hospitality firm) sought her out because they had heard about LaTorre and her desire to open her own wine bar. “I got offered this opportunity so I took it. It was perfect.”
The city of New Orleans already offers a myriad of wine bars, stellar restaurants with impeccable wine lists, and expert sommeliers, so what will make Skye LaTorre and Pluck stand out? “One thing that inspired me to have my own place is that I think a lot of the ways we communicate wine to people is kind of (for lack of a better word) lame,” laughs LaTorre. “Fruit names and high acid and tannin levels – that’s kind of the least important thing about wine.” Understanding the subjective nature of wine appreciation and the constantly changing palates of those who drink it, LaTorre takes a different approach. “It’s on us to ask you better questions to find out what you might like, and the more accurate you get, the less intimidated people feel.”
The pandemic actually proved to be a boon for LaTorre when seeking out the perfect chef. Though the grapevine, LaTorre learned that Mimi’s in the Marigny, a favorite haunt, would not be reopening. Because she loved the beverage-centered food at Mimi’s, LaTorre immediately sought out Heathcliffe Hailey. “We got on the phone and talked, and he talked about food and I talked about wine for a really dorky 45 minutes,” laughed LaTorre. “We met a couple more times and just really clicked. We’re different, but it’s super simpatico.” Pluck’s menu has been created to compliment the wine, instead of the other way round. Dishes include fig wood-smoked nuts, goat cheese croquettes with caramelized onion and honey, cheese and charcuterie boards, a “Jambon Beurre” (otherwise known as a ham and butter sandwich), and roasted quail with a Beaujolais reduction.
Pluck Wine Bar is slated to open this month, March 2021
**Photos courtesy of Brittany Conerly**