Tag Archives: local wine

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.

Wine, food, and truth in labeling

farm-to-fable-ledeimageSerious food writing may be more rare than serious wine writing. Usually, it’s poetic rhapsodizing about quinoa and kale, beatifying this week’s hot chef, and barely paying attention to quality, price, or value.

That’s why it was such a pleasure to read Tampa Tribune food critic Laura Reiley, who wrote that some chefs in her region are – and there is no more accurate way to say this – liars. A variety of Tampa area restaurants that claimed they used local ingredients not only didn’t use them, but were buying the same corporate food from the same distributors that sell to the chain restaurants that those chefs love to hate.

Best yet, many of the chefs didn’t understand why they couldn’t lie about it. As one told the newspaper, “We try to do local and sustainable as much as possible, but it’s not 100 percent. For the price point we’re trying to sell items, it’s just not possible.”

So why does this matter to wine? Because, as regular visitors here know, wine also plays fast and loose with labeling. Artisan and hand-crafted, anyone?

The latest: The federal study that found that about one-quarter of wine labels incorrectly listed the amount of alcohol in the wine. Can you imagine the outcry if one-quarter of the ketchup in the grocery store made the same sort of serious labeling error?

At some point, someone who isn’t looking for an arsenic fast buck will do for wine what Reiley did for Tampa’s phony farm-to-table restaurants. And then, when the U.S. consumer finds out that their favorite $20 bottle of wine, with its expressive boysenberry and toasty mocha flavors, used Mega Purple and highly-processed wood chips to get those flavors, there will be hell to pay.

Finally, a note to newspaper bosses everywhere: Read Reiley’s story. See how well done it is. And just imagine that you had the guts and good sense to do something like that at your paper. Maybe the business wouldn’t be in such bad shape, would it?

Illustration courtesy of Tampa Tribune using a Creative Commons license

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.

2016 Virginia Governor’s Cup

Virginia Governors CupIt’s not the high quality of the wines that impressed me when I judged a preliminary round in the 2016 Virginia Governor’s Cup earlier this month. Rather, it was the consistency. There were almost no undrinkable wines among the five dozen or so wines we did, a far cry from the first time I did the competition in 2010.

If this is not unprecedented, it’s certainly rare in any state that’s not on the west coast. One of the biggest difficulties for regional wine, given that most local producers have too little experience and too little money, is consistency and improving toward that consistency. It’s not enough to make one great wine every three or four years; for regional wine to succeed, it must make drinkable wine every year. If it can do that, the great wines will follow on a regular basis.

And my panel saw that consistency earlier this month, allowing for the small sample size and that we judged blind. Especially impressive — but not surprising, given past experience — were the viogniers, where I though three of the five wines deserved gold medals (though medals won’t be awarded until the final judging in February). The other two were well worth drinking, too. Every wine was fresh and varietally correct, and even the two that had been oaked were nicely done. The oak complemented the wine, and was not its reason for being.

The half dozen cabernet francs, another Virginia specialty, were surprisingly fruity, without the elegance I have come to expect. But they were enjoyable and two were worthy of silver or gold meals.

Even those regional wines that usually fare poorly, like chardonnay and dry rose, were professional and competent. The former are usually under-ripe and over oaked, while the latter are usually just a mess. But though simple, they were drinkable, and that’s not damning with faint praise given the difficulty in making those wines drinkable.

This is the slow, steady improvement that we haven’t seen in Texas for several years, and is one reason why I despair about the Texas wine business. But if Virginia, Texas’ arch-rival, can do it, maybe we can be motivated to do it as well.