Drinking 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.