Tag Archives: local wine

Thank you, Texas Legislature, for a job well done

Texas is facing one of the most serious crises in its history, and no, it’s not the wildfires consuming the state, the years-long drought that has helped cause many of the wildfires, or even our on-going budget crisis.

It’s the breakup of the Big 12 athletic conference. How does the Wine Curmudgeon know this is so serious? The Legislature, which usually approaches state government as if it needs to hurry up and get home, open a beer, and sit in front of the TV in its t-shirt, is actually concerned and threatening action. The governor and lieutenant governor even issued statements.

This is the same legislature, of course, that eliminated $4.3 million over two years in state funding for the Texas wine industry. Gone is the money spent on research, including key efforts to determine which grapes are best for Texas. Gone are the marketing dollars that helped make the Texas one of the top wine tourism destinations in the country. Gone are most of the state employees who helped make Texas the fifth biggest wine producer in the country. It was all part of the 40 percent cut to the agriculture department’s budget.

Full disclosure: The state paid me $5,000 in 2010 for two Texas-related wine events, the taste-off against New York and the Texas wine stage at the state fair. But I’d write this post regardless, because it has never been about the money (and I took less money to do the wine stage this year). Instead, it’s about doing the right thing, which I’ve always done and which I’ll always do.

As opposed to the legislature, which has an agenda of its own and which always baffles the rest of us. To the legislature, football is more important than creating jobs or helping an industry grow that has consistently produced jobs, especially in depressed rural areas — and that has a multi-billion dollar effect on the state. Wine apparently isn’t manly enough for the Legislature, which sees college football — corrupt, money-grubbing college football — as the proper venue for its efforts. They deserve each other.

How desperate is the situation for state’s wine industry? Ed Hellman, the Texas Tech professor who heads the state’s grape research funding, is trying to raise the millions of dollars needed to restore grape research through private donors. State funding, he says, has gone away and will never come back. Meanwhile, a group of Texas wine aficionados has proposed to restore the marketing money through another voluntary donation program. What’s next? Selling band candy or holding a bake sale?

What Hellman didn’t note, because he is too nice a guy, is that Texas Tech signed ex-football coach Mike Leach to a five-year, $12.7 million contract before firing him a couple of years ago. That $12.7 million would fund the state’s wine grape program for six years. Aren’t priorities wonderful things?

Regional wine labels: Is a wine where it says it’s from?

When is a wine made by a winery in your state not from your state? More often than you think.

This is the great conundrum of the regional wine business. The best way for local wineries to market their product is to proclaim its local-ness. But, given the way the wine business works, their wine may not be made with local grapes, but with grapes or juice imported from California or even Europe. Confused? It gets worse. Federal law allows wineries to be appropriately vague about whether the wine is made with local grapes.

All in all, regional wine labeling is a maze that consumers (many of whom are baffled by wine labels to begin with) don’t know they have to negotiate. After the jump — how labeling laws work, what to look for on a regional wine label, and why so many wineries take advantage of this gray area.

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The New York Times, local wine and local food

The New York Times travel section ran a decent enough article on Pittsburgh's best local food restaurants on Sunday, highlighting a quartet that emphasizes "what's fresh and what's local."

Did any of this take into account whether any of the restaurants served Pennsylvania wine? Of course not. I'm trying to contact Kathryn Matthews, who wrote the article, to ask her why she didn't include Pennsylvania wine in an article about Pennsylvania food, and if I can reach her, I'll update this post.

But this lack of respect for local wine is not surprising. Those of us who care about local wine, despite the successes we've had over the past several years, still run into too much of this closed-minded approach to what's local. Critics, chefs and restaurateurs bend over backwards to praise and to find locally-raised tomatoes and pigs, but wine? Too many of them can't be bothered. More, after the jump:

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Local food and local wine

One of the handicaps that regional wine has faced over the past several years is that it has not been embraced by the regional food movement. Locavore has become a key term in the foodie and chef vocabulary, but locapour (with several notable exceptions) has been missing from the discussion. And, when local wine advocates like Todd Kliman point out this discrepancy, they take a lot of abuse.

Which is why I was so glad to hear Kent Rathbun — yes, that Kent Rathbun — plug local wine during our chat at the State Fair of Texas yesterday. Local wine, he said, is a part of the local food movement, just like local tomatoes and local cheese. It's not local wine and local food; it's local, and it's all part of the same process.

His advice? Consumers need to try local wine with the same enthusiasm that they try other local products. The quality is good, he said, and getting better. And you know what you're missing until you try it.