ST. GEORGE — The Painted Pony in St. George and the Spotted Dog Cafe in Springdale have been recognized by the Wine Spectator Restaurant Awards for their dedication to serving great wine in Southern Utah.
Wine Spectator, which reaches around 3 million readers worldwide, awarded 3,800 restaurants across the globe whose wine lists feature a well-chosen variety of quality wines that match the menu in both price and style. A total of 23 restaurants were awarded in Utah.
This year marks the third time that the Painted Pony has received an award of excellence, and the 10th time for the Spotted Dog. Both were winners of the award last year.
‘We’re just here to serve great wine and hang out’
The Spotted Dog Cafe was first opened by Larry McKown in 1984. At that point, McKown and his daughter/co-owner, Rebecca, jointly created a wine list with a selection of over 400 wines. He also opened the first liquor store in Springdale – now owned and operated by the Switchback Grille – in 1978, bringing a unique selection of wine to Springdale that was previously unavailable.
Since Larry McKown’s passing earlier this year, Rebecca McKown said she has worked to honor his memory by continuing to develop their wine selection and expand wine education in Southern Utah.
She said that setting the standard so high was one of the things she loved about her father’s motivations.
“We were always setting our standards high, making ourselves better,” she said. “Because we’re just here to serve great wine and hang out. But I think that he really wanted it to continue – and continue the education behind wine and our motivation for us to keep selling wine and doing fun things with wine.”
She said their wine education efforts start with their restaurant staff, offering experiences such as lessons in flavor profiles, wine tasting trips to Santa Barbara and familiarizing them with the restaurant’s selection of California, French and Italian wines.
In addition to their international selection, the Spotted Dog Cafe has a private label, Flanigan’s reserve chardonnay, which is produced by White Rock Vineyards, a 35-acre family-run vineyard in California; however, they will likely be unable to produce a vintage of the label for next season because the vineyard was burned in recent California wildfires.
“As of right now he doesn’t have wine to sell to me,” Rebecca McKown said. “But hopefully we’ll be able to continue that.”
Big time wine in ‘little old St. George’
The Painted Pony was first opened in 2001 by couple Randall and Nicki Richards and partner John Delaney. The restaurant’s wine list offers 162 options for bottled wine and 28 options by glass.
They recently expanded their selection of Italian wines after remodeling the restaurant in November, which included adding an additional 50 square feet of wine storage and two wine refrigerators in addition to renovating the floors and furniture.
The team is always updating and expanding their wine list to match their changing menu. They have added 24 labels since last year, and Nicki Richards said they are excited to have the hard work and attention they put into their list recognized by a publication like Wine Spectator.
“It’s exciting to be part of such a big reputable organization in little old St. George,” she said. “It’s not just handed out; they really want to see that we’re growing and advancing our program.”
In 2009, the partners worked with Kent Fortner at Road 31 Wine Co. in California to blend their first vintage wine and original label, the Painted Pony pinot noir. The next batch of grapes for the label will be harvested in August, and the restaurant has already ordered another 52 cases of the popular wine.
Delaney called Fortner “an amazing winemaker” and said they have never opened up a bad bottle of the Painted Pony label.
“We’ve been blessed with always getting a balanced, elegant pinot noir.”
Delaney is currently in the process of building his own winery in Dammeron Valley called Bold and Delaney. The 9-acre vineyards will be leased from Dammeron Valley Vineyards, where they will grow 11 different varietals to make wine for distribution to restaurants like the Painted Pony and to eventually blend wines for other restaurants.
A full list of the Wine Spectator Restaurant Awards, along with information about the awarded restaurants, can be found online.
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