Tag Archives: drink local

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.

 

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.

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.

Helping The Daily Meal understand local and the best U.S. wineries

best U.S. wineriesHow do we know that regional wine is firmly part of the wine mainstream? When a hip and with it on-line magazine, edited by Colman Andrews — one of the most influential people in the food world — lists the 101 best U.S. wineries and 13 are from The Other 47. And, even more impressively, the editors knew so much about drinking local that they don’t even need to ask the most qualified regional wine experts in the country for their input.

Call it just another day at the office for the Winestream Media.

Do not take this as poor mouthing on my part. I’m more grateful than I can write that our work with Drink Local Wine made a difference, whether it’s Eric Asimov’s endorsement of New York wine or Food & Wine’s Ray Isle, who is as open minded about regional wine as he is about cheap wine. And when local gets the kind of play it did from something as high profile and as 21st century as The Daly Meal, I know how far we’ve come.

Or think that I need to rant about the regional wineries on the list. Like all such efforts, it’s perfectly imperfect. Yes, it’s missing a couple of Texas producers, including Brennan and Pedernales, who should be there, and that no one from Missouri made it speaks to the list’s shortcomings. (Full disclosure: One of the Texas producers in the top 101 is owned by someone who criticizes me regularly for my lack of wine knowledge, and has done it in a comment on the blog, and one of the writers who helped pick the list recently told a Texas winery official that the next time I got my facts right about Texas wine, it would be the first time I did so.)

Rather, it’s the frustration that once the Winestream Media gets hold of something, there’s only one way of doing things, and that’s its way. In the end, that becomes self-defeating, as anyone who has ever read the Wine Spectator knows. “Scores are good because they are, and everyone we know agrees with me. So how dare you question us? Because we don’t know you and we don’t want to know you.”

Hence the need to consult people who understand what’s going on with regional wine from a national perspective, which is mostly lacking with the people who helped pick this list.

That no one asked for my opinion is one thing. I’m in the middle of the country, and, as several of my pals have pointed out more than once, my location and my inability to play nicely with the other children works against me when important people on either coast need experting. But that isn’t the case with Doug Frost, MS, MW, and maybe the smartest regional wine person in the world. No one called Doug, and that’s like writing about baseball and not understanding that the game is nine innings long. And how about Linda Murphy, who wrote the book about the subject? Or Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post, who co-founded DLW and is the country’s leading authority on Virginia wine. Or Andrew Stover, who owns a distributor that imports regional wine to the East Coast and has probably more wine from the Other 47 as anyone in the world.

I emailed Andrews at the Daily Meal to ask him about this, but never heard back. Hopefully, he and I can talk soon, and I’ll update the post. Until then, check the list out, look for wineries in your area, and give them a try. Drinking local is what matters, a lesson I hope the Daily Meal keeps in mind when it does the list next year.

More about regional wine:
? Texas wine at the crossroads, one year later

? One more sign local wine has made the mainstream
? Drink Local Wine, regional wine, and the growth of local

The Washington state lesson in drinking local

local wine trendsToday’s riddle: Which local wine was ignored, overlooked, and regarded as not real wine? The answer: Washington state wine, which got so little respect that a bartender at a Pasco restaurant once told me there was no such thing as Washington wine.

Hence the story I wrote for the Beverage Media trade magazine — that today’s best regional wine states are in much the same position that Washington was in two decades ago. Which means that retailers and restaurateurs who aren’t paying attention are missing a good thing (right, Texas?). The story ?s highlights:

? Too many still don’t understand how popular local is. It has been a “hot topic” in the National Restaurant Association ?s annual chef ?s survey since at least 2010, and local wine was the second biggest alcohol trend.

? It’s just not that wine is made in all 50 states, but the Wine America trade group reports that the number of regional wineries in the United States increased almost 12 percent between 2011 and 2014 — in the aftermath of the recession — and almost doubled since 2005 — during the recession.

? The business types who are part of the three-tier system have figured it out, which kind of surprised me. The biggest regional producers are distributed by the biggest companies in the country; in Texas, for example, the two biggest distributors in the state handle most of the state’s best-selling wineries. It used to be almost impossible, even just 10 years ago, for a local producer to get a distributor.

? Retailers who support local make money off of local. Marketview Liquor in Rochester, N.Y., carries some 800 New York wines, and that ?s not a new thing ?the store has invested in local since it opened 33 years ago. How long ago was that? Not even I was writing about regional wine then.

? Quality has improved, too, even if no one wants to believe it. Washington’s wines are among the best in the world, and so are New York rieslings, Texas viogniers, and Virginia red blends.

One more sign local wine has made the mainstream

If this wasn ?t enough, or even this, there ?s this ? that 11 regional winemakers made Michael Cervin ?s list of the 100 most influential winemakers in the United States.

Frankly, I was shocked, and had not even looked at the list when it came out. Cervin is a California wine writer who didn ?t ask me for recommendations, so I figured this would be another Winestream Media glorification of California cult wine.

Shows how much I know, and that I always end up breaking the first rule of wine writing, no matter how hard I try not to ? taste the wine before you judge it. Or, in this case, read the list before you judge it.

?We have to stop being so myopic in our choices about where wine comes from, ? says Cervin. ?This is a big deal that there are so many regional winemakers on the list. There ?s a paradigm shift underway, and it has been going on for a while. ?

The top-ranked regional winemaker was Texas ? Kim McPherson of McPherson Cellars at No. 20, and other notables included Andrew Meggitt of Missouri ?s St. James Winery at 64 and Fred Frank of New York ?s Konstantin Frank at 52.

Two things impressed me about the list ? that Cervin had done his homework, and knew who people like Missouri ?s Tony Kooyumjian of Augusta Cellars (89) and Kris Kane of Brix 21 in New York (88) were, and that his methodology was sound. Cervin just didn ?t rank winemakers based on his opinion, but got suggestions from retailers, sommeliers, and other wine professionals. This included Doug Frost, who knows more about regional wine than almost anyone else in the country, myself included. Cervin ?s standard for ranking: The winemaker had to make a range of great wine, and had changed the perception of wine made in his or her region.

?It ?s important that every state is given its due, ? says Cervin. ?If you dismiss them because of what they are, you ?re doing a complete disservice to wine as a whole. ?

Hear that, Winestream Media?

In fact, the list was so well done that it invites comment. Noticeably missing were Colorado ?s Guy Drew (and no one from Colorado made the list) as well as Luca Paschina of Barboursville Vineyards in Virginia. I was also surprised that one of New York ?s top riesling winemakers, like Fox Run ?s Peter Bell, wasn ?t included. And yes, Cervin said with a sigh, he had heard about names left out, and especially Paschina.

Which is just one more example of how many people care about regional wine. Why else would they complain?

Texas wine — 10 years after (part I)

This is the first of two parts looking at where Texas wine has been, where it is, and where it ?s going. Part II, detailing some of the best wines I tasted during my trip to the Hill Country, ran on April 15.

In the first years of this century, there were fewer than 100 wineries in Texas, and I knew almost everyone in the Texas wine business. Today, there are almost 300 wineries, and not only don ?t I know them, but they don ?t know me.

That growth is a function of two things: First, more favorable state regulation, which no longer treats a Texas winery as the work of the devil. Second, the increasing influence of all things local, and especially the local wine and food movements, which has helped to create an increasingly viable market for Texas wine.

Nothing demonstrates this better than Texas wine on restaurant wine lists. When I started going to the Hill Country in the early 1990s, it was almost impossible to find Texas wine in restaurants, and I annoyed more than one employee by asking why they didn’t have Texas wine. This time, there was Texas wine on every list (including a brewpub), and the Cabernet Grill only has Texas wine.

In addition, the locals have made a commitment to Texas wine that didn’t exist before. Ernie Loeffler, the director of the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, is knowledgeable about the local wine business, and sees it as a crucial part of the region’s identity. Five wine country tour buses check in at his office every Saturday, and the percentage of visitors who say wine is why they’re in town has tripled.

Even better, the quality of Texas wine was markedly improved. There was very little difference between the best Texas wines (at any price) and wines from the rest of the world. This does not mean that the state has solved all of its wine problems, and there is still too much poorly made and indifferent wine. But the changes have mostly been for the better, and there is no reason to believe that things won ?t keep improving.

More, after the jump:

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