Those of us who pay attention to regional wine know two things: First, that most consumers aren’t aware of regional wine, and those that are know that it stinks -- and they don’t even have to taste it to tell you so. Second, that the regional wine business is, for practical purposes, just two decades old, and yet it is being held to quality standards set in places like California, with some 100 years of experience, and France, with 500 years. So of course it’s going to suffer in comparison.
Yet there it is, this feisty little scrapper, which has somehow rooted itself in all 50 states -- even though it often uses grapes that hardly anyone has ever heard of, and even though it's made quite often by people who are just a couple of years removed from crushing grapes in their garage.
The question, then, should not be, "Why isn’t regional wine better?" It should be, “How did this happen, and what does it mean for the wine business?" More, after the jump:
As my pal Todd Kliman notes: "If wine quality was the only consideration for restaurant wine lists, half the wines on most lists wouldn't be there."
Does regional wine taste like it came from Burgundy or Napa? Of course not -- but it’s not supposed to. It's supposed to taste like it came from Texas or Virginia, which is part of its appeal. I've never been able to understand why consumers want regional wine to taste like California wine, and it's even more baffling why so many regional producers play to that conceit. Why make a knockoff of California wine -- often with California grapes -- when the California wine made in California is usually better and cheaper?
Yet, despite all of these problems, regional wine isn't going away. It's only getting more popular -- 220 wineries in Texas, 300-plus wineries in New York, more than 150 in Ohio. In fact, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois have about 500 wineries between them. That, more than anything, should make the wine world take notice of what's going on.
Regional wine, in fact, may well lead to the thing that the wine business fears most -- democratization, in which consumers drink whatever wine they like from wherever they like, without interference from the wine magazines, wine retailers, and the three-tier system. Every person who buys an Indiana traminette or a Missouri chambourcin or a New York baco noir is reducing the power and the importance of the oligarchies that have run the wine business in the United States for 40 years.
And who thinks that's a bad thing?