DrinkLocalWine.com 2010 and locavore hypocrisy

This week, the Park Hyatt Hotel chain announced that it would bring
its annual Masters of Food and Wine event to Washington this June 17-20.
Chef Extraordinaire Brian McBride of Blue Duck Tavern
in the Park Hyatt in the West End will welcome chefs, sommeliers and
winemakers from around the country for a weekend of food and wine that
will ‚€œfocus on the commitment to local farmers and to supporting
sustainable agriculture,‚€ according to a company press release. They
will visit the Dupont Circle FRESHFARM Market and Virginia’s
‚€œesteemed‚€ Chapel Hill Farm in Berryville, which raises an heirloom variety of veal called Randall Lineback.

Will they be visiting any local wineries? No.

Will any local wineries be participating in the event? No.

Who
is the wine headliner? Dan Duckhorn, of Napa Valley’s Duckhorn
Vineyards. An eminent name and hard to fault, especially given the
obvious cute tie-in to Blue Duck Tavern. But hardly local.

This
is a restaurant so committed to local farming that it wants you to know
the name of the rancher who slaughtered the lamb you are about to eat.
But its commitment to local wine consists of a few good but desultory
selections buried in the list at markups (3x retail) guaranteed to
render them mere window dressing.

The Park Hyatt is not alone in
this hypocrisy. Alice Waters, the doyenne of the ‚€œeat local‚€
movement, has organized a series of dinners in DC the last two years to
preach the eat-local gospel. Each time, she has served only California
and Italian wines.

The locavore movement in DC-area restaurants
ignores important advances in local viticulture that should make us
locapours as well. This conundrum was a major topic at last weekend’s DrinkLocalWine.com
2010 Conference at Lansdowne Resort in Leesburg. The conference, which I
helped organize along with Jeff Siegel, a Dallas-based wine writer who
blogs as The Wine Curmudgeon,
focused on how local wineries can get their message out without relying
on the ‚€œwinestream media‚€ of the major wine mags, as well as how to
convince locavores to become locapours.

On that latter point, Todd Kliman, wine and food editor of Washingtonian magazine
(and a friend and former editor of mine), argued eloquently that local
wineries should not focus on the Holy Grail of wine lists ‚€“ those at
the top-tier restaurants such as Citronelle or CityZen. Such restaurants
are designed to impress international and expense-account clients, and
so will naturally focus on top-end wines with international fame and
high point scores. Local wines will find little room to infiltrate their
wine lists.

Interestingly, Kliman derided area restaurants for
touting their Randall Lineback veal while ignoring local wines. One
restaurant he praised for featuring local wines was Baltimore’s Woodberry Kitchen,
whose chef, Spike Gjerde, will be participating in the Park Hyatt
event. Such restaurants in the middle tier are better target for local
wineries, Kliman argued, because they are innovative and often dedicated
to the local farm movement to a greater degree than high-end
restaurants.

(Kliman is the author of The Wild Vine, a
history of the Norton grape to be published May 4 by Clarkson Potter.
One of the more endearing parts of the conference was when Bruno and
Jane Bauer, two Norton fans from South Carolina, revealed that they had
trekked up here in their RV just to meet Kliman, having obtained an
advance copy of the book on eBay. ‚€œEvery winelover should read this
book,‚€ Bruno Bauer said.)

As for how to get around the
winestream media and its focus on Bordeaux and Napa Valley, the answer
was social media. Jen Breaux Blosser, of Loudoun County’s Breaux Vineyards,
described how she uses Facebook and Twitter to forge relationships with
customers and advertise special sales. During February’s snow storms,
when no one could get to the winery, she offered blizzard discounts ‚€“
order now, pickup after the melt ‚€“ and managed to make money even
without people coming to the winery. Jim Corcoran, of nearby Corcoran Vineyards, told me that Internet coupons have significantly increased traffic to Corcoran’s tasting rooms.

The
highlight of the DrinkLocalWine.com 2010 Conference was the Twitter
Taste-Off, in which nearly 30 wineries from Virginia and Maryland poured
two wines each for about 100 participants, including wine bloggers and
writers from across the country.(See my video at the bottom of this post
to get your own taste.) Tasters were able to Tweet live, and you can
still follow them on #DLW10 and #DLW10VA. Statistics of how many tweets
were tweeted by how many twits to how many followers are not yet
available ‚€“ apparently the contractors enjoyed the wine too much. But a
secret ballot revealed the crowd favorites to be the Breaux Vineyards
2002 Merlot Reserve for Best Red and Media Favorite; the Chrysalis Vineyards 2008 Albarino for Best White; and the Michael Shaps 2008 Viognier for Peoples’ Choice.

Richard Leahy,
East Coast editor of Vineyard & Winery Management magazine,
commented that the victory for the Breaux 2002 Merlot Reserve
demonstrated how well Virginia red wines can age, especially considering
the strong competition from so many reds of the excellent 2007 vintage.
I was thrilled at the consistently high quality of the wines from both
Virginia and Maryland.

Local sommeliers should take note. Your customers have.

You can read other participants‚€™ accounts of the conference at DrinkLocalWine.com.

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf

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2 Responses to DrinkLocalWine.com 2010 and locavore hypocrisy

  1. Bravo, Dave! You reminded me of a story that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle some months ago (link here: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/10/25/FDQ71A9DKV.DTL)
    This story describes how Bay area restaurants are guilty of the same
    hypocrisy. The reason? Simply because many California-produced wines
    don’t go well with food, and often California wines are shunned because
    of price, and they don’t want the huge markup on their menus because the
    bottles will stay in inventory, compared to the relatively low cost of
    the Italian and French import.
    Our Virginia and Maryland winemakers certainly look more to Europe than
    to California when it comes to wine styles — if only the restaurants
    would look at that! But even then the problem may come down to price,
    because the small producers just can’t compete on it.
    Stephen Ballard
    Annefield Vineyards
    Charlotte County, Virginia

  2. Thanks, Stephen! That SF Chron article was a hoot, especially since
    local wines there mean California. I think here the mindset is that
    California is local because its domestic. But we need to sharpen our
    focus now that wines are getting better in other areas.

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