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The Washington state lesson in drinking local

winetrends

local wine trendsToday’s riddle: Which local wine was ignored, overlooked, and regarded as not real wine? The answer: Washington state wine, which got so little respect that a bartender at a Pasco restaurant once told me there was no such thing as Washington wine.

Hence the story I wrote for the Beverage Media trade magazine — that today’s best regional wine states are in much the same position that Washington was in two decades ago. Which means that retailers and restaurateurs who aren’t paying attention are missing a good thing (right, Texas?). The story’s highlights:

• Too many still don’t understand how popular local is. It has been a “hot topic” in the National Restaurant Association’s annual chef’s survey since at least 2010, and local wine was the second biggest alcohol trend.

• It’s just not that wine is made in all 50 states, but the Wine America trade group reports that the number of regional wineries in the United States increased almost 12 percent between 2011 and 2014 — in the aftermath of the recession — and almost doubled since 2005 — during the recession.

• The business types who are part of the three-tier system have figured it out, which kind of surprised me. The biggest regional producers are distributed by the biggest companies in the country; in Texas, for example, the two biggest distributors in the state handle most of the state’s best-selling wineries. It used to be almost impossible, even just 10 years ago, for a local producer to get a distributor.

• Retailers who support local make money off of local. Marketview Liquor in Rochester, N.Y., carries some 800 New York wines, and that’s not a new thing—the store has invested in local since it opened 33 years ago. How long ago was that? Not even I was writing about regional wine then.

• Quality has improved, too, even if no one wants to believe it. Washington’s wines are among the best in the world, and so are New York rieslings, Texas viogniers, and Virginia red blends.

One more sign local wine has made the mainstream

If this wasn’t enough, or even this, there’s this – that 11 regional winemakers made Michael Cervin’s list of the 100 most influential winemakers in the United States.

Frankly, I was shocked, and had not even looked at the list when it came out. Cervin is a California wine writer who didn’t ask me for recommendations, so I figured this would be another Winestream Media glorification of California cult wine.

Shows how much I know, and that I always end up breaking the first rule of wine writing, no matter how hard I try not to – taste the wine before you judge it. Or, in this case, read the list before you judge it.

“We have to stop being so myopic in our choices about where wine comes from,” says Cervin. “This is a big deal that there are so many regional winemakers on the list. There’s a paradigm shift underway, and it has been going on for a while.”

More, after the jump:

Texas wine — 10 years after (part I)

This is the first of two parts looking at where Texas wine has been, where it is, and where it’s going. Part II, detailing some of the best wines I tasted during my trip to the Hill Country, ran on April 15.

In the first years of this century, there were fewer than 100 wineries in Texas, and I knew almost everyone in the Texas wine business. Today, there are almost 300 wineries, and not only don’t I know them, but they don’t know me.

That growth is a function of two things: First, more favorable state regulation, which no longer treats a Texas winery as the work of the devil. Second, the increasing influence of all things local, and especially the local wine and food movements, which has helped to create an increasingly viable market for Texas wine.

Nothing demonstrates this better than Texas wine on restaurant wine lists. When I started going to the Hill Country in the early 1990s, it was almost impossible to find Texas wine in restaurants, and I annoyed more than one employee by asking why they didn’t have Texas wine. This time, there was Texas wine on every list (including a brewpub), and the Cabernet Grill only has Texas wine.

In addition, the locals have made a commitment to Texas wine that didn’t exist before. Ernie Loeffler, the director of the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, is knowledgeable about the local wine business, and sees it as a crucial part of the region’s identity. Five wine country tour buses check in at his office every Saturday, and the percentage of visitors who say wine is why they’re in town has tripled.

Even better, the quality of Texas wine was markedly improved. There was very little difference between the best Texas wines (at any price) and wines from the rest of the world. This does not mean that the state has solved all of its wine problems, and there is still too much poorly made and indifferent wine. But the changes have mostly been for the better, and there is no reason to believe that things won’t keep improving.

More, after the jump:

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