Tag Archives: local wine

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Is this the end of For Sale in Texas Only?

For sale in Texas onlyA proposed change to federal wine label laws could mean the end for wine that says For Sale in Texas Only – a term that implies that a wine is local when it might be made with grapes from anywhere in the world.

The Treasury department’s tax and trade bureau announced this week that it wants to revise the regulations that allow a wine to carry For Sale in Only designation. In Texas, we call it FSTO – which stands for For Sale in Texas Only – but you’ll see FSO labels in every state: For Sale in Colorado Only, For Sale in Pennsylvania Only, and so forth.

Under the new rules, wines labeled FSO won’t be allowed to list the vintage or the grape it is made with, like cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay. Currently, FSO wines can list both and look local in almost every respect, save that they don’t have a state name or other appellation on the front label. The only clue that they aren’t local is a line in small type on the back label that says FSO, and that only wine writers, wine geeks, and winemakers understand.

FSO is sometimes used to circumvent appellation laws when the wine isn’t made with enough local fruit for it to have a state name. This is unfortunately common in regional wine, and has been an especial problem in Texas for the past decade or so, as the number of wineries has almost doubled and grape acreage hasn’t kept up.

That’s because appellation laws require that 75 percent of the grapes used to make the wine must come from that state for it to labeled Texas (or whatever). If a wine is made with less than 75 percent local grapes, it must use the word American on the front label, something producers don’t like to do because it’s obvious that the wine isn’t local. And what’s the point of local wine that isn’t local?

Hence the FSO label.

It’s important to note that FSO isn’t illegal and that many producers use it legitimately. The problem comes when it’s used to disguise non-local wine as local. That, apparently, was the impetus for the rules change – a Georgia winery selling an FSO wine made with Napa Valley grapes in North Carolina, and which caught the attention of a key Napa trade group and the Napa Valley’s U.S. congressman.

In fact, a spokeswoman for U.S. House Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif)., who chairs the Congressional wine caucus, emailed me to say that FSO in the Georgia case was “a TTB labeling loophole” and “works against strict and rigorous labeling rules to ensure that consumers know exactly what they are purchasing.”

The actual rules proposal is almost indecipherable unless you practice liquor law. My thanks to Austin attorney Kimberly Frost, who did her usual brilliant job in explaining it to me. The new rules will limit FSO wines to terms like red wine or white wine on the front label, in the hope that producers will use the more accurate American appellation so they can list the grapes and the vintage..

One irony to all this? The new FSO rules may give regional producers incentive to buy California bulk wine and put their label on it. That means  we could see more California wine sold by wineries in the other 47 — Texas-bottled Russian River pinot noir, anyone? That’s because the revisions will allow producers to use grape names and vintage on California bulk wine, which they couldn’t do if they bought California grapes or grape juice and combined them with local grapes to make FSO wine.

The tax and trade bureau is taking comments until Aug. 22, but there’s no time frame on when the rules will take effect. My guess, given how slowly the agency works, is that we won’t see anything until the middle of next year, and it could be even later than that.

 

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Winebits 436: Mother’s Day wine, expensive wine, local wine

Mother's Day wineAgain, not cheap: Wine advice from general interest writers tends to confirm the stereotype that only expensive wine is worth buying – something that the Momtastic website is eager to push in this bit of Mother’s Day wine advice. There are nine recommended wines, and only one of them costs less than $18. The quality is OK, but there are certainly better values for the amount of money you’re asked so spend. The Guigal rose for $17? Who can’t do better than that if they have paid any attention to the blog for the past couple of years?

Taking expensive to new levels: Or, why the general public thinks wine drinkers are so snotty. Writes Lisa Carley for the New York wine Examiner, discussing a white Burgundy tasting at Le Bernardin in New York: “I was its guest – or was it my muse? It wasn’t the first time we’ve met, but my wine life is irrevocably changed by the experience. For the better? I hope. For the worse? Could be – what can compare to perfection? What in the world am I talking about?” If anyone is still reading, she tasted wines that cost as much as $750 a bottle at a legendary restaurant where lunch costs $85.

Making local a success: Disclaimers first: This story was written by my pal Dave McIntyre, and it features another friend, Andrew Stover. Nevertheless, what Dave writes about Andrew is true – he has brought local wine to the Washington, D.C., area, one of the toughest markets in the country. That’s the kind of place where people spend $85 for lunch and $750 (or more) for a bottle of wine, and if it ain’t chi chi, they ain’t spending. Somehow, Andrew has sold wine from from very un-chi chi like places like Pennsylvania, Texas, New York, Idaho, and Maryland to the retailers and restaurants who cater to those people.

winerant

Wine, food, and truth in labeling

farm-to-fable-ledeimageSerious food writing may be more rare than serious wine writing. Usually, it’s poetic rhapsodizing about quinoa and kale, beatifying this week’s hot chef, and barely paying attention to quality, price, or value.

That’s why it was such a pleasure to read Tampa Tribune food critic Laura Reiley, who wrote that some chefs in her region are – and there is no more accurate way to say this – liars. A variety of Tampa area restaurants that claimed they used local ingredients not only didn’t use them, but were buying the same corporate food from the same distributors that sell to the chain restaurants that those chefs love to hate.

Best yet, many of the chefs didn’t understand why they couldn’t lie about it. As one told the newspaper, “We try to do local and sustainable as much as possible, but it’s not 100 percent. For the price point we’re trying to sell items, it’s just not possible.”

So why does this matter to wine? Because, as regular visitors here know, wine also plays fast and loose with labeling. Artisan and hand-crafted, anyone?

The latest: The federal study that found that about one-quarter of wine labels incorrectly listed the amount of alcohol in the wine. Can you imagine the outcry if one-quarter of the ketchup in the grocery store made the same sort of serious labeling error?

At some point, someone who isn’t looking for an arsenic fast buck will do for wine what Reiley did for Tampa’s phony farm-to-table restaurants. And then, when the U.S. consumer finds out that their favorite $20 bottle of wine, with its expressive boysenberry and toasty mocha flavors, used Mega Purple and highly-processed wood chips to get those flavors, there will be hell to pay.

Finally, a note to newspaper bosses everywhere: Read Reiley’s story. See how well done it is. And just imagine that you had the guts and good sense to do something like that at your paper. Maybe the business wouldn’t be in such bad shape, would it?

Illustration courtesy of Tampa Tribune using a Creative Commons license

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Local wine matters — another hipster says so

local wine

“Local wine is super rad — and I have the booze-soaked road trip to prove it.”

It’s time to declare victory in local wine’s battle over whether local matters. Of course, it does. Yet another hipster wine type has said local is worth drinking.

This time, it’s author Dan Dunn, whose credits include Playboy. He has a book out this spring about local wine, and he told Bloomberg Business “At least right now, they’re not making wine anywhere in the United States better than California. Forty years from now? Things are going to look a whole lot different.”

Which made the Wine Curmudgeon smile. Who can argue with someone whose research for the book, “American Wino: A Tale of Reds, Whites and One Man’s Blues,” was described as a “booze-soaked road trip?” You don’t get much more hipster than that.

Several of Dunn’s choices are impressive — a Texas producer, Bending Branch and its infamous tannat, as well as Vermont’s Shelburne and Miletta Vista in Nebraska, which uses one of my favorite obscure grapes, brianna. His Virginia wineries are far from the best in that state, but they do allow him to write about politics. And Dunn is honest about quality in a way that too many of us who support local are afraid to be.

Know that my point here is not to be too flip, though a little flip and some irony is intended. Besides, anything that pushes drink local is most welcome, especially if it’s better than what we usually get for mainstream regional wine writing. And, of course, I’m jealous. When we did Drink Local Wine, no one wanted to give us a book deal and there wasn’t one booze-soaked road trip involved.

winetrends

2016 Virginia Governor’s Cup

Virginia Governors CupIt’s not the high quality of the wines that impressed me when I judged a preliminary round in the 2016 Virginia Governor’s Cup earlier this month. Rather, it was the consistency. There were almost no undrinkable wines among the five dozen or so wines we did, a far cry from the first time I did the competition in 2010.

If this is not unprecedented, it’s certainly rare in any state that’s not on the west coast. One of the biggest difficulties for regional wine, given that most local producers have too little experience and too little money, is consistency and improving toward that consistency. It’s not enough to make one great wine every three or four years; for regional wine to succeed, it must make drinkable wine every year. If it can do that, the great wines will follow on a regular basis.

And my panel saw that consistency earlier this month, allowing for the small sample size and that we judged blind. Especially impressive — but not surprising, given past experience — were the viogniers, where I though three of the five wines deserved gold medals (though medals won’t be awarded until the final judging in February). The other two were well worth drinking, too. Every wine was fresh and varietally correct, and even the two that had been oaked were nicely done. The oak complemented the wine, and was not its reason for being.

The half dozen cabernet francs, another Virginia specialty, were surprisingly fruity, without the elegance I have come to expect. But they were enjoyable and two were worthy of silver or gold meals.

Even those regional wines that usually fare poorly, like chardonnay and dry rose, were professional and competent. The former are usually under-ripe and over oaked, while the latter are usually just a mess. But though simple, they were drinkable, and that’s not damning with faint praise given the difficulty in making those wines drinkable.

This is the slow, steady improvement that we haven’t seen in Texas for several years, and is one reason why I despair about the Texas wine business. But if Virginia, Texas’ arch-rival, can do it, maybe we can be motivated to do it as well.

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Winebits 421: Champagne, wine reviews, local wine

Champagne ? Get the lawyers: The indomitable Alice Feiring has no patience with wine that is not the way it should be, even if it’s Champagne: “I could not sip without tasting the scorched earth viticulture that still exists in Champagne. This was all sulfur and sugar and bubble. It was cynical. It was false. It was a traitor.” The bottle in question is from Trader Joe’s, Charles de Marques, and while I applaud and appreciate the honesty of her review, I would advise Feiring to get a good attorney. Because we know what the Champagne people do when someone does something that they don’t like. Right, Champagne Jayne?

? How legitimate is that review? Cornell researchers have developed a system that spots phony Internet hotel reviews called Review Skeptic, so the Wine Curmudgeon immediately tried it on a variety of Winestream Media wine reviews. Most were identified as real, which speaks to the quality of the algorithm, since it’s not meant to do wine reviews (and, unfortunately, doesn’t judge the quality of the writing). Given the possibility we could get computer-generated wine reviews sooner rather than later, Review Skeptic — even in its current form — could come in quite handy.

? Make it local: The annual National Restaurant Association’s chef’s survey has again identified local as the hottest trend for 2016 behind the restaurant bar. This marks at least the eighth year in a row that chefs see local wine as important, which makes the Wine Curmudgeon quite happy. Now, if we could only get Dallas chefs to understand why their colleagues feel that way, I would have one less thing to bellyache about.

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Winebits 413: Local wine, craft beer, Lidl

local wine ? Drink local: Our old pal Andrew Stover, one of the world’s leading proponents of local wine, has a message for Thanksgiving: Think less California and more Texas, Missouri, Michigan, and Virginia. Best yet, Stover puts his money where his mouth is, importing local wines as a distributor to the Washington, D.C., area. I’ve known Stover since our first Drink Local Wine conference, and he has never wavered from the cause. He has done such a good job, in fact, that some of my favorite Texas wines sell out in D.C.

? Billions and billions of dollars: It’s actually one bullion, but who’s counting? Constellation Brands, one of the biggest wine companies in the word, paid $1 billion — almost 10 times earnings, a startling number — for the trendy craft beer producer Ballast Point last week. This is incredible on so many levels that I don’t even know where to start, but does speak to how craft beer has become part of the mainstream and makes me wonder: How much longer will it remain crafty?

? Waiting until 2018: Lidl, the other German discount grocer famous for cheap wine, will open its first stores in the U.S. in 2018, with 50 locations in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, and Washington D.C. Said the company’s CEO: “The United States are a strategic market for us.” Should I start a countdown clock?