Tag Archives: local wine

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

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.