Virginia wine took a slap in the face Thursday, in this article in The Washington Post. The article described how newly inaugurated Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) is trying to establish good relations with legislators from both parties by hosting daily cocktail hours at the governor’s mansion with pretty good hootch he springs for himself.
McAuliffe is wealthy, you see, and can afford the best. He also has no experience in Virginia politics so has every incentive to establish good relationships on both sides of the aisle. And of course he has every right to serve whatever beverages he wants during his schmooze fests.
Some context is important: The previous governor, Robert McDonnell, a Republican, and his wife Maureen were tireless champions of the Virginia wine industry and much beloved by winemakers for their advocacy. They are also under federal indictment for allegedly accepting gifts from a pharmaceutical company executive seeking state approval for a nutritional supplement. Not much is known about McAuliffe’s preferences in wine, though winemakers were relieved when the new governor retained McDonnell’s agriculture secretary, Todd Haymore, who is also a fierce champion of Virginia’s wine industry.
So back to the Post article, which is about politics, not wine. (It was written by Laura Vozzella, who covers Virginia politics and used to be a food writer for the Baltimore Sun.) Buried within is this quote from state Senator Thomas A. Garrett Jr., a Republican from the 22nd senate district, which zigs and zags across central Virginia from the western suburbs of Richmond up towards Louisa and then back down and across to Lynchburg:
“McDonnell had served exclusively Virginia wine and Virginia liquor, and we have some fine wine and liquor in Virginia, but there’s some finer options, to some tastes, to be found in places like Kentucky, and Tennessee, and California, and Australia and Chile,” Garrett said. “And one of the things [McAuliffe] pointed out is, while he would carry on the proud tradition of serving Virginia spirits, he was not closed to the idea of serving libations from France and, you know, elsewhere.”
You know, the good stuff. Not the politically correct stuff.
From looking at an Internet map of Garrett’s district, which skirts south of Charlottesville, it appears he does not represent much of Virginia wine country, though there are certainly a few winemakers who have the chance to vote for him. And it sounds like he knows where some good wine is made. (“California, and Australia and Chile … France and, you know, elsewhere.”) I imagine he’ll be hearing from a few vinous constituents.
It would be easy to read too much into Garrett’s comment and McAuliffe’s decision to serve non-Virginia wine and booze at the governor’s mansion. McAuliffe has committed to presenting the Governor’s Cup trophy to the state’s best wine in Richmond on February 27. (I spent three days this week as one of 15 judges in the final round of that competition.) And as he apparently told Garrett, he plans to keep championing Virginia-made libations.
But the article points out that Garrett was not imbibing at the particular daily party when he was interviewed, so we can’t blame the alcohol for a slip of the tongue. It would be ironic if McAuliffe is successful as governor in part because he does not insist on serving Virginia wine when wooing legislators. Garrett’s apparent relief at being offered Kentucky bourbon and California or French cabernet is a reminder to the Virginia wine industry not to get too wrapped up in its own press clips. It certainly suggests there may be some Made in Virginia fatigue in the commonwealth’s capital.