Jay Bileti talks about the American Wine Society’s program to help its members Drink Local
The American Wine Society is one of the largest consumer wine groups in the country, so that it’s helping its members discover regional wine is one more victory for Drink Local. The AWS’ Jay Biletti, a long-time advocate for regional wine, discusses the chapter sharing program and how it works. And you don’t even have to belong to the group to participate.
This week’s wine news: Three of my friends have earned top wine honors, so many tips of the WC’s fedora are in honor
• 40 under 40: Kyle Schlachter, who has been a long-time Colorado and Drink Local supporter, has been named to the Wine Enthusiast’s Top 40 under 40 Tastemakers of 2017 – people “who are shaping the future of wine, beer, cider and spirits in America.” This is a tremendous honor, since the Enthusiast is a Winestream media outlet that barely acknowledges wine is made outside of three or four regions on the West Coast, let alone anywhere else in the country. That it honored Kyle for his work spreading the word about Colorado and regional wine speaks to his enthusiasm and success. Kyle has always found a way to inject drink local into a wine conversation, and he is not afraid to do it even when talking to the snobbiest California wine drinker. Which makes him even braver than I am.
• Hail to the chief: Michael Wangbickler, one of the best PR people in the wine business, is the new president of Balzac Communications. This would be a big deal in any event, but it’s especially big for two reasons: First, because Balzac may be the best marketing company in the wine business, and second, because Mike replaces the legendary Paul Wagner, who wrote the book on modern wine marketing. Mike’s perspective and long-term vision are what make him so good – he understands that the wine business is about more than what’s going on at one moment in one place, and that success in wine is about more than one news release, one 90-point rating, or one free sample. This makes him smart and unique.
• Hail to the chief, part II: Dave Falchek, once a newspaper reporter, has been the executive director of the American Wine Society for the past year or so. Dave may be even more passionate about getting Americans to drink wine than I am, which should tell all you need to know about his love for wine. And that’s why he is perfectly suited to the AWS, whose goal is to get Americans to drink wine and to be more knowledgeable about it.
Last weekend’s American Wine Society conference reminded me that U.S. wine drinkers aren’t the stereotypes the wine business wants us to be. What a pleasure to be around curious, intelligent, and passionate wine drinkers for two days, people who want to learn more about wine and who are open to something that isn’t what they’re told they should drink.
Yes, it’s a small sample size, and yes, anyone who attends something like this isn’t going to be exactly typical. But when I mentioned the grocery store Great Wall of Wine in my first presentation, there was more than one nodding acknowledgment from the audience. Which means every wine drinker, no matter how experienced, faces many of the same problems.
Among the highlights:
? I took a lot of kidding when I offered to do a Texas wine seminar at an East Coast event, but it sold out almost immediately. The McPherson rose, the Llano Estacado Harvest tempranillo, and the Haak dry blanc du bois were the biggest hits, each speaking to Texas’ terroir and what happens when Texas winemakers make Texas wines. But that’s the point, isn’t it? That Texas wine will only grow and get better if the focus is on making Texas wine, and not California (or wherever) wine that comes from Texas.
? The other key from the Texas seminar? That people elsewhere seem eager to buy the wines, and that it’s time — if the grape harvests cooperate — to start exporting Texas wine to the rest of the U.S. The days when 95 percent of Texas wine was sold in Texas, and everyone was content with that, appear to be over.
? We aren’t scared of weird grapes, even though the wine business does its best to terrify us. That the hybrid blanc du bois impressed so many, with its clean citrus flavors, was one thing, but that the Augusta chambourcin was one of the hits of the regional wine seminar says even more. Chambourcin, a red hybrd, is notorious for its off, foxy aroma, but winemaker Tony Kooyumjian has solved that problem. This is probably the best chambourcin in the U.S., with spiciness, dark Rhone-style fruit, and a wonderful Missouri elan.
? The best wine that almost no one has ever tasted is the Edmunds St. John Bone-Jolly gamay from California’s Sierra Foothills. It seems so simple, but there is so much going on that it’s difficult to believe. Most winemaker tasting notes don’t say much, but Steve Edmunds is exactly right: “Juicy and precise on the palate, mouth-watering, showing lot of depth. The finish is long, and clean. This is already really versatile at the table, as always.” How much do I like it? It’s worth every penny of the $21 it costs.
Take your pick. All provide wine education as only the Wine Curmudgeon can — which means that if you’re stuffy, hung up on scores, or think wine is not supposed to be fun, you should probably look elsewhere:
? My wine class, also open to non-credit students, at Dallas’ El Centro College. We’ll cover the basics, including how to spit, the three-tier system, restaurant wine, and how wine is made, plus at least 10 tastings focusing on the world’s wine regions. Cost is $177, which is a great deal if only for the tastings. But you also get my incisive commentary and occasional rant, which means the school is practically giving the class away. We’ll meet 7-8:50 p.m. on Thursday between Sept. 3 and Dec. 17. Click the link for registration information.
? The annual Texas wine panel at the Kerrville fall food and wine festival, 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 5. This is always one of my favorite events, not just because I hear some terrific folk music, but because the audience appreciates Texas wine and wants it to be better.
? The southwest chapter meeting of the American Wine Society in Arizona, on the last weekend of October, where I’ll talk about U.S. regional wine.
?The American Wine Society’s national meeting Nov. 5-7 in suburban Washington, D.C., where I’ll give two seminars. Not coincidentally, conference registration begins this week. I’m doing “The Texas Revolution: How the Lone Star state learned to love grapes that weren ?t chardonnay, cabernet, and merlot” at 4:45 p.m. on Nov. 6, and “Five U.S. wine regions you probably don ?t know, but should,” at 11 a.m. Nov. 7. The latter will look at wine regions, including one in California, that deserve more attention than they get.
And, perhaps the most fun part of all — the Wine Curmudgeon’s latest marketing effort, which will allow me to spread the gospel of cheap wine anywhere I drive. Yes, a personalized Texas license plate that says 10 WINE.
Maybe tilting at windmills is beginning to pay off for those of us who want wine to be more than scores and toasty and oaky.
Those of us who tilt at wine’s windmills — scores, snotty wine drinkers and critics, and the Catch-22 that is availability — sometimes wonder if anyone cares.
So when we find out that people do care, even the crankiest of us get big smiles. That was the case at the American Wine Society conference last month, where 500 or so of the 25 percent — the wine drinkers who consume 93 percent of all wine in the U.S. — were on hand for seminars, presentations, and the like. The people I met were open, curious, and interested in new approaches to wine — far from what I expected, given how all that tilting reinforces my natural cynicism.