The Best Secret in Wine Comes to McConnell Golf

by Lauren Barry

 Dec 15, 2016 at 3:50 PM

With nearly 9,000 wineries in the United States wine enthusiasts seemingly have an endless assortment from which to choose. But do they? It surprised us to learn just five companies control nearly 80% of every wine label you see on retail shelves and restaurant lists! A virtual company, Cellar Angels, is looking to change that by making higher quality wine more accessible and also benefitting charities in the process. We sat down with founder Martin Cody after hearing high praise for the wine seminar events Cellar Angels has held at various McConnell Golf locations including Raleigh Country Club, Grande Dunes, Sedgefield Country Club and Old North State Club.

The people we’ve spoke with indicated they’ve never heard of the wines you poured and they were all fantastic. Why is that?

I owned a bricks and mortar wine store in downtown Chicago for seven years and learned firsthand how the 3-tier (wine producer, wine distributor and wine retailer/restaurant) system operates. It’s an efficient system for the mass produced wines which grace every wine store, big-box chain and often restaurant list across the country. If you make 50,000 cases or more it’s a terrific system. If you produce under 5,000 cases, for example like 90% of the 900+ wineries in Napa, the system is terrible. Anyone who has been to Napa or Sonoma has seen this up close when the fall in love with a winery and ask “Why can’t I get this back home?” We solve that problem.

How do you find the wines Cellar Angels features to their members? Also, how much is membership?

Membership is currently complimentary and anyone of legal drinking age can sign up at I’ve been traveling to California wine country, specifically Napa and Sonoma for over twenty years. Since founding Cellar Angels in 2010 I’ve averaged about 4 trips per year and have amassed extensive relations with the artisan, small, handcrafted and boutique wineries. Many of these wineries only make their wines available to their private mail list customers, however they love the opportunity to benefit charity and Cellar Angels affords them the best chance to both grow awareness among fine wine enthusiasts and raise money at the same time. Some wineries produce under a 100 cases and we’ve actually poured some of these at McConnell clubs during our private seminars and the feedback has been sensational. It’s just a fantastic opportunity for members to both taste and order something so exclusive that few people will have access to. And raise funds for charity at the same time.

Numerous current and former PGA tour players have wineries or actually make wine. Why do you think golf and wine make such a good, shall we say, ‘pairing’?

Well played! Golf is a special, special game and when you have the privilege of playing it on courses like those in the McConnell Golf stable, the excitement, enjoyment and fulfillment are all greatly enhanced. The same is true in wine. You could play run-of-the-mill golf courses your entire life, but when you step to the first tee at Sedgefield, Treyburn or Old North State, your pulse quickens and you know you’re in for a treat as great attention is given to every detail. It is truly golf at its finest. The same is true in great wine - why drink mediocrity when excellence can be delivered to your door via the click of a mouse? The attention to detail and quality by someone actually walking the vines each day, hand harvesting and hand sorting to select the best grapes, comes through in the bottle. For those aspiring to the luxury lifestyle, great golf and great wine go hand in hand. Membership in McConnell and Cellar Angels indeed has its privileges.

Coming to a club near you

Cellar Angels will be providing several private wine seminars across McConnell Golf clubs in 2017. These are guided seminars tasting through five exclusive wines not available to the general public and expertly paired with small plates from the respective club’s chef. 

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Gather Together

by Jessie Ammons

 Nov 08, 2016 at 6:31 PM

Whether it’s a cup of coffee or an intimate in-kitchen dinner, McConnell Golf’s culinary innovations are hitting all the right notes.

Premium Coffee

When Raleigh Coffee Company wanted to upgrade the quality of its coffee, they knew just where to turn. “Today, anybody can get a coffee roaster, get their hands on decent coffee beans, and roast them up. We wanted to take an extra step and be more genuine,” says Raleigh Coffee Company Owner Joseph Bland. That meant illuminating the face behind the bean — since September, all coffee served at McConnell Golf clubs comes from the same source, Leonel Vindas’ Costa Rican farm. “Through this single-source farming, we’re able to guarantee consistent flavors to members and also consistent business and support for Leonel’s estate,” Bland says.

Raleigh Coffee Company has sourced McConnell Golf coffee for a few years, always with an emphasis on quality. Only in the past year has Bland begun partnering specific farmers to specific accounts. “McConnell Golf is about networking and connection. They’re building their community across the region and three states, and we knew this would be the right program to introduce.”

Single-sourced coffee stands out for its commitment to a particular farmer. In tropical coffee-growing regions, many farmers struggle to make ends meet. Even the fair-trade market is crowded; to keep up, growers have to produce “mediocre coffee,” Bland says, in order to meet demand. The assurance of a large account — like that of a set of country clubs — gives a farmer peace of mind. In turn, Leonel Vindas is empowered to focus on growing practices that result in a premium crop.

“We’re putting people over profit,” Bland says. “It’s just coffee, but many people do consume it every day. For us, it’s about transparency and knowing where your food comes from.” It’s a committed attention to detail perfectly suited to McConnell Golf clubs.  

Wine and Dine

Joseph Bland likens the coffee sourced from Leonel Vindas to fine wine: “A small producer farm is much like an independent winery or vineyard,” he explains. “These are your small, family-owned plots committed to quality rather than quantity.”

At the Country Club of Asheville, members enjoy tastes of fine wine alongside gourmet paired bites at Chef Bruce McIntosh’s dinners. It’s a more informal take on the same attention to detail behind McConnell Golf’s single-source coffee: chef-led cooking demos. “I call them demos instead of classes,” Chef Bruce explains. “I prepare the food in front of members, so they can see what I’m doing and learn from it, but then it’s plated for them to enjoy.”

The dinners began by happenstance and as an extension of the club community. Chef Bruce knew a group of men at the club who wanted to have a special celebratory dinner on Tuesday nights, when dinner service is closed. To make the meal memorable, he thought to utilize the club’s spacious kitchen outfitted with a large wooden block table. Members sat around the table, and Chef Bruce made every course to order right there in the kitchen.

The evening was a success, and the men raved about it enough to spread the word. Soon, another group wanted a private kitchen dinner, and then another. Chef Bruce decided to make it a regular occurrence. “But I wanted to take it a step further,” he says.

Now, demo dinners involve five or six small-plate-sized courses and shared bottles of wine. When they arrive, members receive a printout with the recipes for a few of the courses (never all of them, because “I like to keep an element of surprise for a few of the courses,” Chef Bruce says). There’s also a space to take notes on any tricks and techniques gleaned from watching the chef at work. Some members take ample notes and others sit back and enjoy — both are welcomed and encouraged. “It’s a real social event,” Chef Bruce says. Between the convivial gathering, the quality time with the chef, and the ability to recreate recipes at home, the dinners are truly something special. “We’re enjoying offering something different to our members.”



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Beef It Up

by Jessie Ammons

 Aug 18, 2016 at 6:12 PM

It’s hard to beat a juicy steak grilled outside in the summertime — and you don’t have to. Often considered a special-occasion indulgence, a quality cut of beef can actually be part of a fresh and healthy everyday menu.

McConnell Golf Corporate Executive Chef Mike Marques says the most common mistake with steak is overdoing it. “People try to go crazy. Salt and pepper: That’s all you really need.”

Rather than the classic rib-eye or filet, Chef Marques recommends exploring more affordable and less fatty cuts of beef for your steak: Look for flank (also called London broil), flat iron (also called coulotte and shoulder tender), and chuck tenders. Instead of gussying up meat with butter and oil, pay attention to temperature and preparation. “A room temperature steak cooks better than a cold one,” Marques advises. “Leave it out for 20 minutes before cooking.” 

When the meat is close to room temperature, generously add salt and let it rest for five minutes, then add pepper. Put the seasoned beef on a grill — charcoal, gas, or whatever you prefer — and cook it slightly below the temperature you’re comfortable eating (so if you prefer medium, cook it to a medium-rare). The key to getting the desired result is to let the steak rest off the grill for ten minutes. “The resting period is important because all of the steak’s juices rush into the center.” Finally, cut the steak across the grain with a smooth chef’s knife, not a serrated one. “Once your juices have rested and flavored the meat, cutting it releases some of those juices to tenderize the steak.” 

Attention to detail will season a good steak better than any sauce. “You don’t need a lot of fat to have a flavorful steak,” Marques says. “As long as you follow the procedure of cooking it, letting it rest, and slicing it across the grain, you will enjoy a really great steak without breaking the bank.” Or your waistline. What’s not to love?

Try topping your steak with a reduced balsamic or pomegranate molasses, both available at the grocery store. Or, make a gastrique by combining equal parts of vinegar and brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat until it reduces by half. All three garnishes “add a little bit of acidity to balance the full-bodied steak flavor,” says Chef Marques.


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At the Chef’s Table

by Jessie Ammons

 Apr 25, 2016 at 7:17 PM

Club dining offers a unique combination of classic favorites and creative dishes.

Ask Chef Mike Marques, one of McConnell Golf’s two corporate executive chefs, to describe the McConnell approach to club dining and he answers without hesitation: “Quality. Consistency.” After all, that’s how favorites become favorites - offering the same foolproof chicken-salad sandwich to hungry golfers year after year.

But McConnell Golf never stops at just achieving excellence; its properties constantly raise the bar. Quality and consistency define dining at McConnell, but it’s the variety that sets it apart. “You can look forward to things that you like at certain properties,” Marques explains. “It’s always going to be a little bit different depending on where you are.”

Standard of Excellence 

McConnell chefs understand the need to preserve tradition, and club menus reflect that. “There are certain things that you have to have at a country club,” says Chef James “JP” Patterson, Marques’ counterpart. “A wedge salad or cobb salad or chef’s salad at lunch, and you’ve got to have a steak on your menu at dinner.” Many members prefer the comfort found in knowing and loving certain menu items, and “members are the bottom line,” Patterson says.

He and Marques act as liaisons between individual club chefs to ensure the classics remain untouched. Now that their team includes 12 private clubs, they briefly considered streamlining recipes and offering the same uniform menu. “We’ve seen that we can’t do that, because clubs are different,” Patterson says. “It took away from the individual freedoms of each chef. Your chef knows what you want and we don’t want to take away from that.”

Creative Liberties 

Empowering each chef to cater to his own club has had tremendous — and delicious — results. “We’ve really left that creative door open for each chef,” Marques says, “and they deliver.” For Patterson and his home club of Sedgefield, that has meant an increased focus on wellness. “I grew up in the South,” he says, “and in Southern comfort food, full flavor means it’s full of fat. So I’ve been playing with substitutes that still give dishes that full flavor.”

At Marques’ home base, Grande Dunes, the thing to order is a pastrami sandwich. “We brine it in house, we smoke it in house, and serve it with homemade mustard. If you come here, try it. It’s a great thing that we do.”

Central North Carolina clubs tend to focus on refreshing American dishes – hazelnut crusted fish at Treyburn, pork loin over a baby kale and quinoa salad with a honey lime vinaigrette at Raleigh Country Club, and purple ninja radish on the menu at Wakefield. In the mountains, look for sliders or fish flown in from Hawaii. Recently renovated Brook Valley sometimes offers ethnic options, like confit pork tacos. And these are always alongside — not in place of — traditional steaks and salads.

To get the most from your dining experience, Patterson and Marques say the secret is to pay attention to the dinner specials. Chefs draw inspiration from what’s in season and available that week to create a dish offered only for one night or through the weekend.

Usually, the dish isn’t revealed until Thursday night or Friday afternoon. But it’s worth the wait: Patterson says the specials often outsell regular menu items on weekends. “Members see the menu every other night, but if they come on a weekend, they know they can get something special. We hit the market up. We use cheeses from across the state. We talk to fish purveyors daily.” 

“Specials are our window for creativity,” Marques says. A standout experience, indeed.

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