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Cork Dork: From Romania, Via Brazil, With Love, Axinte Delivers the Joys of Cachaça

A Romanian-born entrepreneur has raised the bar for Cachaça. Now he wants every bar to serve it.

As an 8-year-old growing up in Communist Romania, Dragos Axinte recalls reading The Black Pearl, a biography of Brazilian soccer star Pelé. Axinte would fall in love with soccer, World Cup history and Brazil.

“Brazilian people are the most beautiful people inside and out. And it’s a beautiful country,” Axinte said.

Now 30 years later, the Bellevue entrepreneur is sharing that passion with Cachaça, a rum-like distilled spirit originating in Brazil. Through Sunday, Oct. 30, Axinte and his Downtown Bellevue-based company, Novo Fogo, will be participating in Seattle Cocktail Week, along with other spirits producers, promoters, distributors and restaurateurs.

, , , , and in Bellevue, and , , and in Kirkland will be among the restaurants participating with discounts and special cocktails.

“I know there’s enough of a cocktail culture on the Eastside,” said John Ueding, bar manager at Trellis. “We want to help it grow and make sure it gets noticed.”

Ueding will be serving a Rye Whiskey-based Chal Sour for $6 for the weekend’s promotion. Daniel’s Broiler will be serving the HeadStrong, a barrel-aged white Manhattan made with Headlong White Dog. John Howie Steak will be featuring the Pearadigm, a Bulleit Bourbon-based cocktail with Boulard VSOP Calvados.

Axinte will be sponsoring a Cachaça cocktail competition at Vito’s on Seattle’s First Hill, pitting three bartenders from Seattle (Sambar’s Jay Kuehner, Vessel’s Jim Romdall and Liberty’s Keith Waldbauer) against three bartenders from the rest of the state (Chris Keil from 1022 South in Tacoma, Vancouver resident Dave Shenaut from Rum Club in Portland and Gabe Pimentel from jimgermanbar in Waitsburg).

For Tequila producers such as Jose Cuervo, it is an opportunity to leverage the traditional Mexican holiday Day of the Dead celebration into this weekend’s Seattle Cocktail Week’s festivities.

“We wanted to support the local bar community,” said Stephanie Raines, brand ambassador for Jose Cuervo. “It’s the first Seattle Cocktail Week ever. Any opportunity to help we wanted to jump on it.”

For the Romanian-born Axinte, the focus of his business and this weekend’s festivities is Brazil.

“Brazil is close to my heart. Cachaça is close to my heart,” he said.

Axinte moved to Los Angeles from Romania as a teenager with his family in 1991, two years after the Iron Curtain fell in Eastern Europe. He moved to Seattle a year later, eventually enrolling at the University of Washington. He graduated in 1999 with an English degree with an emphasis on creative writing as well as a concentration on organic chemistry.

He had initially planned to go to medical school but was more challenged by mastering the English language. Axinte also speaks Romanian and some French and Portuguese.

“I was a chemistry major. Everything I was studying I had already done in high school in Romania. I got bored,” Axinte said. “I started getting an interest in English because it was my weakness. Then I just wanted to graduate and start a business.”

Shortly after graduating he went to work for the family business producing and selling electrical solders. That would last for about 10 years.

In 2008 he was meeting a friend for cocktails at the now defunct Trader Vic’s in Bellevue. He was craving Cachaça and lamented the lack of quality product that he had enjoyed while visiting Brazil.

“I couldn’t find good Cachaça in the United States. I was a frustrated consumer,” Axinte recalls. “I remember thinking, 'Someone should be bringing Cachaça to the United States.’ Then I thought, ‘That should be us!’”

By March of 2010, Axinte and his wife, Emily, founded Novo Fogo. The Axintes are teaming up with Agroecologica Marumbi, distillers in Parana Brazil. Novo Fogo produces two Cachaças: the elegant Silver (aged in steel tanks) and the robust Gold (aged in oak barrels for two years).

Now in his second year in business, Axinte expects to more than double revenue over the first year. Novo Fogo is distributed in Washington, Oregon, California, Illinois, Nevada and Washington, D.C. The products will soon be distributed in New York State and Georgia.

According to Axinte, Cachaça is the third most consumed spirit in the world but it is not as popular in the United States.

“There’s an opportunity in the United States. Cachaça can be one of the mainstay spirits in this country. It can be a very versatile spirit. We want to show its special qualities.”

Wine Pick of the Week: 2010 Guardian Cellars Angel Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley

winemaker and Lynnwood cop Jerry Riener blends Sauvignon Blanc from two different sites to craft a complex and versatile 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc. The backbone is 80 percent fruit from the hot Klipsun Vineyard on Red Mountain. The balance is from the cooler Spring Creek Vineyard. The nose of green apples and guava are courtesy of Klipsun. The acid, grapefruit and lime zest qualities are courtesy of Spring Creek.

A hint of firmness on the mid-palate and creamy lip on the back palate, courtesy of seven weeks of fermentation in new French oak barrels, distinguishes this wine from other Sauvignon Blancs. The wine is finished in stainless steel. A touch of grassiness, redolent of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, completes this wine.

This versatile wine pairs nicely with the Greens & Bacon salad at Preservation Kitchen in Bothell. The mixed young greens echo the grassiness in the wine. The honey-mustard & bacon dressing weave through the wine in a harmonious single note. The crumbled chèvre, or other goat cheeses for that matter, are a natural pairing for this wine.

The 2010 Guardian Cellars Angel is available for $20 at the Guardian Cellars tasting room, open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 pm. It is also available at McCarthy & Schiering on Queen Anne and Portalis in Ballard.

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