I wrote this exhortation to “open your mind to local wines” in Dave McIntyre’s WineLine #56, in August 2006. That was more than two years before Jeff Siegel and I created DrinkLocalWine.com. Looking at it now, I’m a bit chagrined that I still hear some of the same arguments against local wine that I lamented six years ago – especially the price/value theme. Yet think of how much has changed: “Local wine” has exploded in the market, and acceptance has grown dramatically. Virginia’s wine industry alone has nearly doubled in size and more than doubled in economic impact since I wrote this. Social media, especially blogs, have helped turn a new generation of drinking age adults into local wine fans. The “locapour” movement has, with some halting success, linked wine to the “eat local” movement. And best of all, I don’t hear the Cheval Blanc comparison anymore – winemakers are justly proud of their wines and no longer feel the need to identify with a more famous wine region. They are forging their own regional identity.
Although I live along the East Coast, I find a distressing amount of consumer
resistance to the idea that good wine can be grown here. “Oh yeah, I hear there’s
good wine in New York, but we can’t get it here,” is a common complaint (or excuse) in
the DC area. Or I hear this one: “Yeah, this is an excellent wine from Virginia, but the
nerve of them to charge 20 bucks!”
There is also consumer resistance to unusual grapes. Wines from Petit Manseng or the
tongue-twisting Rkatsiteli (think of it as Fluffy channeling Animal Planet) can be ripe,
beautifully structured and thrilling (yes, I’m thinking of Horton and Dr. Konstantin
Frank, respectively), but they are also unfamiliar to our palates, and many people just
can’t get over their fear of the unknown.
There’s an unspoken bias that says, “If the wine is from [INSERT NAME OF ANY ONE
OF 47 STATES HERE], it must be crap, unless it proves to me otherwise. If it’s from
California/Oregon/Washington, it must be good, unless it proves otherwise.”
There’s logic to that, of course. California, Oregon and Washington have a track record
of quality, while anyone who has tried “local” wines likely has some unfortunate
experiences to remember. But as local wines get better, we as consumers have to stop
expecting them to taste more like California wines.
Good wine is grown here, and it really is irrelevant that $20 will give you more options
in California Merlot than equal quality Virginia wine. There’s plenty of bad wine
produced in California, after all. We can no longer assume that local wine is bad and
insist that they prove otherwise – we just have to learn to accept these wines for what
they are, even while we encourage winemakers to keep improving.
We as consumers (and writers) need to open our minds to new grape varieties and new
flavors, and stop mentally subtracting points from East Coast wines simply because they
are not from California, Italy, France or anywhere else. They are what they are, and they
are getting better all the time. Let’s applaud that. (Note to winemakers: You can help us
change our outlook if, whenever you manage to ripen your Cabernet Franc, you stop
comparing it to Cheval Blanc.)