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The Washington state lesson in drinking local

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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.

Is Texas wine at a crossroads?

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Texas wineTexas wine may be approaching a crossroads, something that was evident during the 31st annual Lone Star International wine competition this week. That’s because some of the best wines at the competition weren’t Texas, but included California wines sold by Texas producers. Which is not supposed to be the point of what we’re doing here.

Years ago, when a lot of Texas wine left much to be desired, what happened this week wasn’t unusual. Or, as I told the competition organizer when I first judged Lone Star in 2005, “Give us better wines, and we’ll give you gold medals.”

Given the revolution in Texas wine quality and production over the past decade, I had hoped those days were gone. But the uneven quality of many of the wines I judged, this year and last, has me wondering. Has Texas wine reached a plateau, where quality isn’t going to get any better given the state’s resources and climate? Or is something else going on?

After the jump, my take on what’s happening:

Oregon’s example for the regional wine business

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Oregon's example for the regional wine business

Christopher Mazepink: “It’s all about Brand Oregon.”

Those of us who care about regional wine are often frustrated by its “me first” approach, the way too many wineries act like little kids who hog all the toys. It’s always about what they want, even when that’s not what’s best for regional wine.

That’s why it was so refreshing to Oregon winemaker Christopher Mazepink talk about how far Oregon wine has come in the past 15 years, and why it has come so far so quickly. Fifteen years, given the centuries-long history of wine, is hardly any time at all.

“We put Oregon’s wine industry out front, before the individual brands,” says Mazepink, the winemaker at Archery Summit who was in Dallas for a big-time wine tasting. “It’s all about Brand Oregon. That’s pretty unique in the wine world.”

That approach, he says, has paid off in Oregon’s popular and critical acclaim. Yes, it’s important that the state’s wine quality has improved over the last decade and a half, and that it has become one of the world’s great producers of pinot noir. But it also matters that Oregon winemakers work together, help each other, and generally avoid the sniping and backbiting that plagues much of the regional wine business. It’s something I saw all too often during my time with Drink Local Wine.

“When I travel with Oregon winemakers, we don’t throw anyone under the bus,” says Mazepink. “We understand that what’s good for one winery is good for all of Oregon wine. It is Brand Oregon, and that’s what we talk about before we talk about our wineries.”

Would that more people in regional understood that approach — that it’s not wineries or even regions within a state that matter in the long run, but the entire state and everyone who makes wine in it. After all, it’s not that don’t have an example, because Oregon has demonstrated that it works.

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