Four years ago, when we held our first DrinkLocalWine conference in Dallas featuring Texas wine, no one was quite sure what would happen. Was regional wine ready for the kind of spotlight we were going to shine on it? Would the media and consumers in attendance understand what we were trying to do -- judge regional on its own merits and not as a knockoff of California wine?
The answers turned out to be yes (and not surprisingly, I was surprised) -- and we've only seen momentum build since then. In fact, the lesson from DLW 2012: Colorado over the weekend was that we don't have to ask those questions any more. Regional wine is, as several speakers and attendees noted, very close to becoming just another part of the U.S. wine business, and not the novelty it has mostly been for more than a decade. More, after the jump:
"I'm so glad I came," said Kim Culter, a consumer who lives in the Denver area. "I like Colorado wine, but I didn't know there was so much of it and there was so much I would enjoy."
Which seemed to be the consensus. Give people a chance to try their local wine in a setting where no one will smirk at them, and they'll give the wine a fair chance. Which is all we ask. Are all regional wines going to get a 100-point Parker rating? Nope. But as my pal Todd Kliman, who was sorely missed over the weekend, has noted more than once, how many wines from anywhere will get that kind of approval?
Among the other highlights:
• Denver chef Daniel Asher's impassioned plea for people to look at local -- in both wine and food -- as not just a novelty, but as a good idea that makes one's life more interesting.
• Olivia Wilder's internet radio broadcast from the conference, the third time she has done it (and complete with the annual technical problems). She and her guests, who included "Judgment of Paris" author George Taber, were rocking and rolling all afternoon.
• NFL lineman turned school teacher Jay Leeuwenburg, who was on the panel that discussed consumer perceptions of Colorado wine: "All I want to do is to go into a liquor store and buy a case of good Colorado wine. Why is it so difficult to find out what the good Colorado wines are?"
• Taber, who broke his regional wine maiden at the conference and was pleasantly surprised by what he tasted, especially from the state's cabernet francs.
• Joe Roberts of 1 Wine Dude fame, who came to town with some sort of flu bug but made it through the entire weekend with nary a whimper. Yes, Joe, we will have you back next year.
• Chef Jensen Cummings of Denver's Row 14 resturant. If he had done any more for us, I would have had to sell myself into indentured servitude to thank him.
• Evan Faber, who buys the wine for Boulder's Salt restaurant. If I have anything to say about it, he is going to be the national spokesman for regional wine. Evan is so passionate that he makes me seem shy and withdrawn.
• My chat with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. And yes, there is a picture somewhere, which I'll post.
And what about the wines? We tasted what seemed like an infinite amount over the four days I was in Denver, and I was especially impressed with a rose from Creekside Cellars; Garfield's syrah (lots of black fruit and spice); the Guy Drew pinot gris; and a lemberger (a German grape) from Cottonwood Cellars.
Finally, this from Rene Chazottes, who travels the world judging and tasting wine and will be in Burgundy next week. I asked Rene how our event would stack up with a trip to Burgundy. "Frankly, Jeff," he said, "I'll have more fun at this event." What more can we ask for?
More about DrinkLocalWine2012:
• Say, Gov. Hickenlooper, can you talk to Rick Perry about local wine?
• DLW 2012: Colorado ends on a high note
• The regional wine and hat post
• DLW 2012 preview