Todd Kliman has been taking a lot of heat for his recent article taking restaurants to task if they serve local food but mostly ignore local wine. I'd repeat some of the comments, but this is a family blog.
The criticisms, though, generally revolved around two things: Todd knows nothing about the restaurant business and local wines stink. I'm quite familiar with these arguments myself, since I hear them all the time. And the truth of the matter? They're excuses, not reasons, and neither is true. If you don't want to serve local wine, then don't serve local wine. But don't shoot the messenger -- especially when it's a message that needs to be heard. More, after the jump.
Many restaurant owners don't understand this public scrutiny. They like it when it means good reviews and fawning customers, and many of them even get into the restaurant business because they see it as a path to local celebrity. But they don't realize that public scrutiny also means that people like Todd and I can say things about their business that they don't like. It's a two-way street, even if they don't want it to be.
Hence the argument that we don't know what we're talking about. It's impractical for restaurants to sell local wine, and when we say they should, it shows our ignorance of the economics of the restaurant business. This is, not surprisingly, the same reason restaurateurs give for the infamous three-times markup -- when they charge $8 a glass for a wine that costs $8 a bottle at the grocery store.
I'll skip the economics lecture, which is boring. The point is that I can give it (and have, when I taught at the Cordon Bleu), and Todd can give it, too. Restaurants see wine as a cost to be incurred, not as an opportunity to make money. Given that approach, they tend to carry wines that are easier to sell -- national brands for chains and casual restaurants, and highly-rated wines for fine dining. Regional wine is neither of those. But it would be awkward for a local food restaurant to say it's too much trouble to sell local wine, so they use the economics argument.
Or they say local wine stinks. To be fair, I think they honestly believe this. I've asked wine buyers for two important Texas restaurants why they didn't carry Texas wine, and you'd have thought I had asked them if they did things at home they didn't want anyone to know about. It turned out, in both cases, that their distaste for regional wine was ignorance. They had not had any, though they had heard a lot about how bad it was. But, over the next several years, an amazing thing happened. One of the wine buyers made an effort, tasted Texas wines, and his list today is more than respectable. He has even done Texas wine dinners.
Is some regional wine poorly made? Yep. Just like, as Todd pointed out, so much non-regional wine is. But restaurants don't throw that baby out with the bath water, so why do they do it with regional wine?
This is the only important wine country in the world where regionalism is seen as less than normal. Few people drink Tuscan wine in Sicily or Argentine wine in Chile. But we do it all the time in the U.S, and those of us who ask why often take more abuse than we deserve. Which is what we signed up for, I suppose. It's just not very productive.