Steven Spurrier came to Virginia and liked what he saw — and what he tasted.
“Virginia makes the kind of wines I like to drink,” Spurrier said at the inaugural Virginia Wine Summit held in Richmond earlier this month. Coming from the man who put U.S. wines — and California in particular — on the world wine map with his famous Paris Tasting of 1976, this was a ringing endorsement.
I was eager to go to the summit because I had never met Spurrier. He’s a shy man, unassuming in his demeanor and with a slight hesitance in his speech that gives the impression he’s surprised anyone would hang on every word he has to say. But he was much in demand in Richmond during the summit, giving a keynote address and participating in a Virginia-vs-the-rest-of-the-world tasting similar to the one he famously held 36 years ago.
The Virginia winemakers and politicos – including Governor Bob McDonnell and First Lady Maureen McDonnell, who have championed Virginia wines around the world, and Agriculture Secretary Todd Haymore – lapped it up. And I have to admit, the wines sound better when VEE-on-yay is pronounced vee-ON-yay, and peTEE verDOUGH certainly tastes better when it’s petty VAIRdo. After all, Virginia wine was originally intended to feed the demand of the British motherland, so it’s nice to get such praise from one of London’s wine luminaries.
My take on Spurrier’s praise for Virginia wines is in my Washington Post column published today. Check out the comments – there’s the usual complaint that Virginia wines are too expensive but also some good discussion about other issues facing the local wine industry, including distribution problems and a healthy debate over which grape varieties perform best here. Those issues were discussed at the summit, at two panel discussions I participated in, with much food for thought. Or maybe food for future blog posts …
Spurrier doesn’t pull punches. My favorite quote from him came at the end of our private interview. I included it in my Post article, but being a family publication, my editors left out the really good part. Here’s the unexpurgated version:
I asked what he would say to people who live here but are skeptical of the local vino, like those of us who never visit the monuments or the Smithsonian.
“I think they ignore what’s in their back yard, and in that case they are being stupid,” he said. [At this point I paused, surprised by his bluntness, to give him a chance to take that comment off the record. Instead, he continued.] “They’re short-sighted and uninformed. They don’t wish to see what’s going on around them.”
Spurrier spent a few days before and after the summit touring various Virginia wineries, and promised to share his thoughts in detail in an upcoming column in Decanter magazine.