Tag Archives: local wine

regional wine

Drink Local Wine Week: Who knew it would outlast the organization?

drink localOnce more, evidence that local wine has become part of the wine mainstream — and a good thing, too

The last proper Drink Local Wine week was in October 2013; the organization went into hiatus the next spring. So what did my Drink Local cohort Dave McIntyre discover a couple of weeks ago?

“Someone just brought it to my attention that people still observe ‘Drink Local Wine Week,’ ” he wrote in an email. Google ‘drink local wine week 2017,’ and you’ll find a bunch of references. Go figure.”

So I did, and he was right – any number of listings on the first Google search page, an impressive performance for something that hasn’t been observed officially in four years. When Vinepair and Wine Folly mention your event, you’ve made the big time.

In this, regional wine has mostly become an accepted part of the wine landscape. In the dozen or so biggest regional wine states, the wines are on retail shelves – even grocery stores – and are represented by national distributors. In Texas, the Central Market supermarket chain is offering 20 percent off local wines for Texas wine month; yes, I bought a six-pack. This sort of thing was unheard of when we started Drink Local almost a decade ago. Most retailers and distributors treated local wine as if it was poisoned.

So, as Dave says, go figure: How did we do this?

• Publicity, publicity, and then publicity. The five Drink Local conferences, starting in 2009, made a tremendous difference in letting the world know local wine was a real thing that was worth learning about. Plus, they were a lot of fun.

• Tying local wine into the local food movement. This might have been our biggest accomplishment, since locavores don’t see wine as local in the way they see beer, spirits, and tomatoes. And too many, sadly, are horrible wine snobs who believe in points, Parker, and that all local wine is sweet and gross. But in Austin, for example, there is a local wine and food week featuring Devon Broglie, one of the country’s leading wine experts.

• Our friends at Google. We’ll take all the help we can get, even if it comes from the notorious Google search algorithm that figures hits are more important than whether something actually exists. And Drink Local has almost 10 years of hits on the Internet.

I found the announcement for the first Drink Local Wine Week in the blog’s archives – we’ve come a very long way in making local wine respectable since then, haven’t we?.

Eight years of Texas wine and the Kerrville Fall Folk Festival

Texas wine

Yes, that’s the Wine Curmudgeon in the hat on the left.

Talking about Texas wine to Texas wine consumers for almost a decade at the Kerrville Fall Folk Festival

In 2008, about nine months after I started the blog, I made my first appearance at the Kerrville Fall Folk Festival to talk about Texas wine. I didn’t do it this year; the event was canceled in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

But in those eight years (I missed 2016 because of a conflict), I’ve seen two things: the growth and maturity of Texas wine, and the increasing enthusiasm for it from the audiences at the wine seminars.

I’ve been hard on Texas wine over the past couple of years, and deservedly so. But that shouldn’t obscure the improvements over the past decade, which have been on display at the wine seminar every Labor Day weekend. The wines are more professional and are made for wine drinkers, and there are fewer of the home-schooled wines made because the winemakers liked them that dominated the industry at the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s. That’s why there are so many Texas wines on store shelves, another change from 2008. Better quality means more retail outlets.

All of which has been terrific. But the audiences have been even more fun – smart, curious, and eager to embrace Texas wine. All they wanted was quality wine at an affordable price. This always reminded me that there was an audience for local wine, and that it was up to the winemakers to reach that audience. If you don’t make something people want, they don’t have to buy it, no matter what the Winestream Media implies.

We didn’t sell out every year, but we had large crowds most of the time. This included our regulars, people who came to the seminar every year. We had our hecklers, too, including one man who gave the panel moderator, John Bratcher, such a hard time you’d have thought we were discussing something important, like the survival of the republic.

And the best part came when the audience booed the one person every year – and there was always one person – who said Texas wine and local wine didn’t matter.

The other three things I’ll never forget about the festival? The legendary Rod Kennedy, who made the entire thing possible. The music, of course – Cook a chicken! And the traffic police, because you’re not supposed to drive faster than 5 mph, no matter how difficult that is to do.

Image courtesy of the Kerrville Folk Festival, using a Creative Commons license

Six things to ponder after judging Colorado Governor’s Cup 2017

Colorado Governor’s Cup 2017Colorado Governor’s Cup 2017: Top-flight wines and top-flight judges

1. Why the quality of the judges at this competition is always so good – especially since it’s a regional event and not very big. This year, the judges included Doug Frost, the Godfather of regional wine; Wayne Belding, a fixture at most of the country’s major competitions; Dave Buchanan, who has been writing about Colorado wine almost before there was any; and Andrew Stover, who runs the country’s premier regional wine wholesale company.

2. Why the Rocky Mountain Dart Association was holding an event at the same hotel at the same time. I saw more darts in two days than I’ve seen in my entire life.

3. Why the first day of judging, when we did about 80 wines, was so lackluster given that quality had improved in the past couple of years. Though, oddly, we did give a gold medal to a chardonnay, traditionally the worst regional wine varietal. But the second day, when we picked the 12 best wines in the competition, was completely different. Two wines – a cabernet franc and an albarino sparkling – were stunning. The cab franc was so complex and so terroir driven that I wondered for a minute if it was made with Colorado grapes.

4. How a 17-year old wine from Colorado, the 2000 Terror Creek pinot noir, could have lasted this long. Belding brought a bottle from his cellar for us to taste, and it still smelled like pinot noir, earthy and mushroomy, and still tasted like pinot, with herbs and cherry fruit.

5. How long I’ll be on the screen – or if I will be at all – for the Colorado wine video that was being shot during the competition. I did an interview for it, but given the way these things works, the 10 or 12 minutes that I taped could turn into one head shot and a quote lasting a couple of seconds.

6. If anyone knows how to get the lights in a Springhill Suites room to go on and off with some sort of coordination. I always end up having to hit three or four light switches to get the light in the part of the room where I need it.

Winebits 494: Wine Spectator, Warren Buffet, song royalties

warren buffetThis week’s wine news: A compliment for the Wine Spectator, plus Warren Buffet takes on three-tier and more wineries can legally play music

Well done, Dr. Vinny: The Wine Spectator gets a lot of well-deserved abuse in this space, but when the magazine does something right, that should be mentioned, too. In its Dr. Vinny wine advice column, the doctor told a reader to stop being such a wine snob: “Most wines sold here are on the sweet and simple side and cost less than $10 – and I think that’s OK. I want wine to be accessible and part of our culture. I love that I can turn on the television and regularly see characters holding a glass of wine. As much as I’d like to share my passion with everyone I know, I don’t feel a need to dictate style. There are styles to appeal to every palate. It would be boring if we all had the same thing in our glass.” Dr. Vinny, that’s a 100-point answer.

Taking on three-tier: Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway holding company owns a Texas food distributor, and the distributor wants to sell alcohol in Texas. To do so, it needs a state wholesalers license, but the state doesn’t want to give it one. Hence, legal wrangling and perhaps a lawsuit. The story describing all this, written by long-time journalist Liza Zimmerman, does a good job explaining a very complicated subject, though I wish she had been a little more even-handed in assessing the need for three-tier. Still, the point is well taken: If even Buffet, long regarded as one of the great capitalists and entrepreneurs in the history of the world, thinks three-tier is obsolete, why are we still messing with it?

Solving the royalty problem: Anyone who has heard recorded or live music at a winery, and especially a small winery, may have been party to a copyright law violation. That’s because many wineries were playing music without paying royalties. This is another controversial and complicated topic that has been going on for years; it’s enough for us to note that the companies that collect royalties for musicians are notorious for their diligence and that many of the wineries couldn’t afford to pay the royalties even if they knew about them. Finally, though, a compromise, brokered by the Wine America trade group, which should solve the problem – affordable royalties. I mention this because music, live and recorded, is key to the survival of many local and regional producers, and anything that helps Drink Local is welcome.

2017 Virginia Governor’s Cup

2017 Virginia Governor’s CupThe 2017 Virginia Governor’s Cup: Lots of quality and very few lousy wines

Seven things to ponder after judging the 2017 Virginia Governor’s Cup wine competition last week:

1. The quality of the wine was the best it has been since I started judging here almost 10 years ago. As I said to several panel members: “This was mostly like judging a California competition – no stupidly made wines, no obvious flaws, just competent and professional wine.” This is not often the case when judging regional wine, and shows again how far Virginia has come. Equally important: We did 100 wines over the two days, about 20 percent of the entries, so this wasn’t necessarily a small sample size. Are you paying attention, Texas?

2. The viogniers were amazing, as Virginia viognier usually is. I gave two gold medals in a flight of six, and all six were worth buying.

3. I was also impressed with the six roses – one gold, and the rest also worth drinking. This is quite a change from just a couple of years ago, when most regional pink wine was sweet and nothing else.

4. Virginia, like other regional states, is still grappling with the price/value dilemma. How can it make and sell wine and be competitive, given that it doesn’t have the economies of scale that California and Europe does? We didn’t know the prices when we judged the wines, but given that red blends and red varietals are usually the most expensive, most of the ones I tasted probably cost more than they were worth. This is not to say they weren’t well made, but that a similar wine made in a more established part of the world would be a better value.

5. There was a noticeable absence of oak, even in the wines that needed it. Was this because winemakers were – hopefully – embracing the idea of less oak and more balanced wine, or was it because oak is so expensive (as much as $1,000 a barrel) and they were forced to use less of it?

6. I’ve made my peace with giving scores. I still think it’s stupid, but if the competition requires it, I’ll do it. Having said that, I was generous with the best wines, and penalized the wines that weren’t very good. What’s the point of giving an 80-point bronze medal to a wine that I didn’t like?

7. Why do hotels ask you to save water by using the towels more than once, but then replace the towels after you have hung them up so you can re-use them?

Regional wine and the wine tourism conference

wine tourism conferenceDrinking local at the wine tourism conference

The Wine Marketing and Tourism conference was a revelation. I wrote in October, partly in jest, that we had won the battle for regional wine legitimacy because restaurants were marking up regional wine as much as they were marking up everything else. Why do that unless there’s a market for drinking local?

The conference, though, showed the truth in my jest. I tasted an amazing chambourcin red blend from New Jersey. I talked to the director of the Kentucky wine association, whose group has 70 members. I found out that a small north central Texas town, one more victim of rural flight, was trying to revive its economy around wine and wine tourism.

We’ve come a long way since the time only a handful of us wrote about regional wine, and the audience seemed even smaller.

Why the change? That too, was part of what I learned at the conference (where I moderated a couple of panels about promoting local wine):

• The idea that wine isn’t just for old white guys. The two generations younger than the Baby Boomers are finally moving to wine, and state and local tourism officials see an opportunity to reach these increasingly younger consumers through the idea that wine is local, in much the way the Gen Xers and Millennials see craft beer and spirits are local. This is a revolutionary change in approach, the idea that you should drink wine not because it’s wine, but because it’s made near you.

• The opportunity cost. Wine tourism as economic development isn’t as expensive as traditional economic development – no giant companies to steal from another state, no costly tax incentives, no wining and dining corporate executives. This means even smaller, less wealthy regions – and local wine is mostly found in less wealthy rural parts of the country – can do it. If you have a enough wineries for a wine trail, some hotel rooms, and a couple of restaurants tol work with you, you’re ready to go.

• The improvements in winemaking technology over the past two decades, so that it’s possible to make professional wine from odd grapes in non-traditional parts of the country. In the early 1990s, when I started writing about local wine, this wasn’t the case, and I’ve tasted the regional chardonnay to prove it. I had a pinot blanc from Michigan at the conference that was as good as any pinot blanc I’ve had from anywhere in the world. That wine couldn’t have existed 20 years ago, when no one was quite sure how to grow pinot blanc in Michigan, much less make wine from it.

Drink local: It’s time to declare victory

drink localWhen restaurants feel comfortable enough to gouge us for local wine, then drink local has arrived

Dinner Saturday night was at a trendy Dallas Southern comfort/farm to market restaurant, and it showed just how far drink local has come. Right there on the wine list, with all of the other overpriced and too much marked up wine, was Texas wine. Overpriced and too much marked up, too.

The McPherson tempranillo blend, $12 at retail, cost $34 a bottle. That was almost three times retail, jacked up like many other wines on the list, including the Juve y Camps cava and the Faiveley white Burgundy.

When restaurants feel comfortable enough to gouge us for local wine, then drink local has arrived.

Our waitress told me that Texas wine sells quite well. It’s not the best seller that pinot noir is, she said, but people like it and ask for it. Plus, she knew the half dozen or so Texas wines on the list and spoke knowledgeably about them. I can’t remember the last time that happened to me in a Dallas restaurant.

In this, it’s yet another sign that regional wine has entered the mainstream. The Virginia wine industry is enjoying record growth, up six percent between 2014 and 2015 and a 34 percent increase from 2010. That’s even more impressive given the overall flat growth rate for wine in the U.S. and that local wine is usually more difficult to buy and is more expensive.

Meanwhile, another member of the Winestream Media has discovered local wine. Brian Freedman, writing in Forbes, talks about the “misperceptions of less famous wine regions in the United States, but also in how, when experienced on their own merits, without the outside influence of geographical stereotypes to get in the way of the juice itself, wine from less-venerated places has the potential to surprise, charm, and ultimately win over otherwise skeptical consumers.”

So the work we started all those years ago with Drink Local Wine is done. We did our job, and U.S. regional wine is the better for it – and so are wine drinkers.

More on drink local:
Local wine matters — another hipster says so
The Texas wine revolution
8 things I learned during my Colorado wine adventure