WBC’11 – Drinking Local

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

First, let me say – great job so far to the conference organizers.  The first day of WBC’11 went off without a hitch, the sessions were all good, discussion was lively and interesting, and, despite the heat, dinner and the Virginia wine tasting at Monticello was tremendous.

Not surprisingly the breakout session that really drew me was the Drink Local panel featuring Lenn Thompson of the New York Cork Report and, we learned yesterday, a new board member of DrinkLocalWine.com; Rémy Charest from Quebec, who blogs at The Wine Case, and Frank Martin, wine writer for The Washington Post and founder of DrinkLocalWine.com.

The panel quickly turned into a group discussion with the full room with two topics generating the most discussion, the price of local wines, which to many consumers often feel quite expensive being in the $15-$30 range, and the locapour/locavore issue, in particular why more chefs and restaurants who say they are committed to use of local ingredients don’t also include local wines in their restaurants.

The thoughts and ideas were varied.  The panelists pointed out that too often chefs don’t go out to the wineries to source local wines, and the winemakers don’t visit the restaurants to try to place their wines.    It was also noted that many local wineries don’t produce enough volume to distribute widely in restaurants and that often in smaller markets you’ll find local restaurants serving local wines because the restaurant and the winery are both part of the same community.

Lenn Thompson pointed out that people who enjoy local wines need to be more vocal about asking for local wines when they are in restaurants.   I agree.

However, are there enough of us who truly embrace the Locapour philosophy to make a difference?   How many bloggers attending this year’s conference have featured local wines in their blog this year?   Probably more than I anticipate, but far less than should.

Should we be spending more time and energy building the Locapour movement among our neighbors – and let the restaurants follow?  Having a local wine on the menu is great, but not if I’m one of only a few people who might select it each year.

When I moved to Connecticut about 4 1/2 years ago and started down this journey of exploring my new home one winery at a time, I was absolutely amazed at how many of my colleagues at work, who had lived their entire lives in Connecticut, had no idea that Connecticut had any wineries, no less a very vibrant and thriving local wine community.  Or, if they were aware of Connecticut wine, they either thought it was all crap, or all fruit wine, or it was just Ballet of Angels, the one wine that has a fairly wide distribution across Connecticut.  They had no clue that there were over 30 wineries in all areas of the state, that several of them were no more than 30-45 minutes away, and all of them were well within a 2-hour drive from their homes.

Some of my more open-minded, adventurous friends soon joined me on the wine trail and began to experience for themselves the range of wines available throughout the state.   They began to expand their palates, learning they liked a wider range of wines and grapes than they had believed, and while not all the wines were great, they found some new favorite wines right in their own backyards.

Best of all, they enjoyed the experience and the wines so much that they began planning their own trips with husbands, friends, and relatives, and now when we get together, people are including as part of their regular conversations new wineries they’ve visited, trading notes on the new wines they’ve discovered, and generally encouraging others to hit the trail.

This was the piece of the puzzle that I felt we missed at the Drinking Local Wine panel yesterday.   With all the talk of encouraging local wines into restaurants, of confronting the often long-standing mis-impressions of local wines as being bad, of encouraging state tourism boards to better promote their local wine culture, and of better marketing local wine regions to those outside the region, I didn’t hear much discussion on how we foster a local Locapour community.

I would argue that people like Gretchen or me – or indeed, many of the people attending yesterday’s panel – are the vanguard not the target audience for Locapour efforts.  Just speaking for myself, I’m already very committed to the Locapour philosophy and at any given time you’ll find 50-75% of the wines in my house are from local vineyards that I have personally visited.   I am curious about other regions and am regularly searching both the internet and the library for information about different wine regions, local wineries, reviews of local wines, blogs, etc.   And whenever and wherever I travel, I try to find time to include a visit to at least one local winery on the agenda.   And yes, I go into wine shops and restaurants and ask if they offer local wines.

But I also have almost daily conversations with neighbors and colleagues who believe the only good wines come from the West Coast, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and South America.    Pointing out that even 10-12 years ago people were not embracing wines from South Africa they way they do today, or unless you were a serious wine drinker had never heard of Malbec or Tempranillo and now even the most basic restaurant wine list carries them, usually gets me a “but that’s different” response.

Really?  How is that different?  Why, if the wine comes from an emerging wine region overseas is that “different?”  Why if you’d never heard of Malbec or Tempranillo grapes before everyone seemed to be talking about them is that any different than trying a St. Croix or Marechal Foch from your local winery?

Is the real answer, my cynical side asks, because “everyone was talking about” the Malbecs and Tempranillos and few, if any, are talking about local wines?  Is it because we are snobs – even if we won’t admit it – pooh-poohing anything local because it’s familiar, and the familiar often doesn’t have the same caché as a far-off quasi-exotic location?

And is it because we are lemmings, again however much we won’t admit it, and if the wine press, the wine bloggers, and the wine “buzz” isn’t talking about wines from the “Other 46” it must be because they aren’t worth talking about?

And if that is the answer, then should we focus more time and energy on building a wine region’s buzz from within?  How do we get our neighbors, colleagues, families out on the wine trails?  How do we engage more of the bloggers?  How do we publicize the local wine community to the local community?  And then how do we get the mainstream wine community to notice?

I don’t have all the answers, but I am certainly interested in the discussion.

 

 

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