The local wine movement continues to grow, yet there are still many prominent doubters. The Wall Street Journal chimed in recently with a commentary on its Speakeasy blog. The author, Charles Passy, acknowledged that he spent an enjoyable hour or two at Truro Vineyards on Cape Cod, even if he didn’t really know why a winery was there.
But therein lies the real point – and perhaps the real problem, especially for real oenophiles. The proliferation of wineries – there are some 6,027 in the United States, an increase of 67 percent in just the last six years, according to Wine Business Monthly — may be good for tourism, but is it good for wine? As someone who inevitably does a little stopping and sipping wherever I find myself, I’m increasingly convinced that this movement is largely about wine-as-sightseeing (as opposed to wine-as-wine).
Passy is not alone in this sentiment – I know some prominent winemakers in Virginia who recently voiced similar sentiments during a debate over restrictions on winery events. I applaud Passy for his willingness to “stop and sip” during his travels, and I have tremendous respect for winemakers who just want to make wine and not turn their barrel rooms into a wedding chapel.
But note the elitism in that passage: “real oenophiles” and the question of whether the growth of the wine industry is “good for wine.” Back in the ’60s and ’70s, when Napa Valley’s wine boom began, there were similar naysayers. Sure, there are California wineries that are more destination than production (Passy mentions the Francis Ford Coppola winery/themepark in Geyserville, though personally I don’t mind a place to park the kids while I taste wine.) Yet can we really say that wine tourism didn’t go hand in hand with the growth of Napa Valley and its identification in our minds as “wine country”?
As for the winery event restrictions in Fauquier County, Va., and as contemplated in other areas, I say live and let live. Let the artisans quietly continue to work on their wines, but why limit someone else’s business model?