It takes serious corkscrew skills to score back-to-back James Beard Award finalist nominations for Outstanding Wine Program, and Neal McCarthy—co-owner, GM, and wine director of Atlanta restaurant Miller Union—has them in spades. Geared toward small producers like Digby Fine English out of Sussex, England and Hungarian outfit Kiralyudvar, McCarthy’s list is fascinatingly eclectic and pair smartly with the restaurant’s honest Southern fare. The awards will take place virtually in September. We recently caught up with McCarthy, who shared his wine inspirations, greatest challenges and more.
What 3 words would you use to describe Miller Union’s wine list?
Dynamic. Fairly. Priced.
Why focus the wine list on small producers who use biodynamic and organic practices?
To follow through with the mission of the restaurant: Buying food and wine from responsible farmers. Growers that care about the earth and follow through with their mission.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
I would say keeping up with all the new producers and making sure that we are not overlooking up-and-coming growers and regions. And really trying to keep track of the inventory.
What does the James Beard nomination mean to you?
It means that I have made people look at the city of Atlanta, a city that I am proud to call home. Georgia is a hard state in which to purchase wine; we have to fight really hard for allocations, so for us to compete on a national stage is fantastic. I have been in Atlanta for 24 years and have seen the culture of wine evolve and feel that we have a good role to play in that.
What’s the first wine you can remember falling in love with?
1993 Gaja Barbaresco.
What wine region are you loving right now?
Ribeira Sacra in Galicia.
What 3 bottles of wine would you take to a deserted island?
I would rather be in the mountains than on a deserted island because I have a profound love of Piedmont, but my three wines would be: Bartolo Mascarello Barolo, Domaine Jamet Cote Rotie, and Alice and Olivier de Moor Chablis— any of their wines.
If you weren’t in the hospitality business, what would you be doing?
I would be a river biologist. My heart and soul is in the mountains standing in a river out in nature.