We chatted with one of the owners of Stems & Skins in Park Circle about funky ferments and what’s in the works for the hotly anticipated opening of Jackrabbit Filly
This year, Stems & Skins celebrates its first James Beard Award nomination for Outstanding Wine Program.
CM: Why natural wine?
MT: My partner, Justin Croxall, and I conjured up the idea for Stems & Skins when we realized there really wasn’t a place in Charleston where we wanted to go drink. We first became buddies during my time at Husk when he was close by at Bull Street Gourmet, and we decided that we wanted to open a place full of wines that we’re passionate about: noncommercial, small production, nothing added, nothing taken away. To me, it’s the difference between going to McDonald’s versus a mom-and-pop place.
CM: What’s your process when selecting a bottle of wine?
MT: It’s a lot of fun buying wines for a wine bar. You’re not held to any restrictions, so it’s a little more of a free for all. I’m looking for wines I’m excited about, made by producers that truly define their neighborhood. I would say about 85 percent of the wine I’m purchasing is European.
CM: What is the wine and food pairing vibe all about at Stems & Skins?
MT: The idea for our menu came from traveling throughout European wine country and seeing what foods are native to a region alongside the wines they produce. There’s a saying with wine and food pairings: “What grows together goes together.” So we wanted to showcase the types of food we ate, like the tinned fish from coastal Portugal and Spain. We serve foods that you might have if you were transported to those European countries.
CM: How did you meet Shuai and Corrie Wang from Short Grain, your future collaborators for Jackrabbit Filly?
MT: Our relationship began when we started doing pop-ups here at Stems & Skins. We’re sensitive about who we ”pop-up” with because we want to make sure the food is wine-friendly. I’ve always enjoyed wine with raw fish, noodle soups, and spicy dishes because that’s where you can really showcase bottles with residual sugar in them, so we were excited about pairing with Shuai’s food. We became fast friends, just really hit it off, and love the same aspects of the restaurant business.
CM: Why choose Park Circle?
MT: Park Circle is home for us. We live and work here, as do Shuai and Corrie. We all have faith and roots in this neighborhood. We originally came here because we wanted to feed the community with products we are passionate about, and we felt that this Charleston ‘burb was exactly our speed. I think the area is going to be a great hub for locals in the next 10 years.
CM: What sort of wine and cocktail program should we expect at Jackrabbit Filly?
MT: The wines will be cleaner on the palate than what we sell at Stems & Skins; Shuai’s food deserves this type of wine. We’ll also get into the fresh ferments but not the funky ones as much. Bubbles, off-dry whites, and thin-skinned aromatic reds are what we are focusing on. The whole beverage menu will be small and curated. Cocktail program: yes. Sake program: yes. Sherry program: yes.
CM: How does it feel to be a first-time James Beard Award nominee?
MT: It’s an honor. We love what we do, and we love that our guests love it, too.
Fine and Fortified: Check out Matt’s thoughts on all things vermouth for our Cocktails A to Z feature.
Photographs (Bowen’s Island) Peter Frank Edwards & Courtesy of (Menu) Stems & Skins