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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.

Cheap wine, regional wine, and the typical wine consumer

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Don-Quixote-Windmill

Maybe tilting at windmills is beginning to pay off for those of us who want wine to be more than scores and toasty and oaky.

Those of us who tilt at wine’s windmills — scores, snotty wine drinkers and critics, and the Catch-22 that is availability — sometimes wonder if anyone cares.

So when we find out that people do care, even the crankiest of us get big smiles. That was the case at the American Wine Society conference last month, where 500 or so of the 25 percent — the wine drinkers who consume 93 percent of all wine in the U.S. — were on hand for seminars, presentations, and the like. The people I met were open, curious, and interested in new approaches to wine — far from what I expected, given how all that tilting reinforces my natural cynicism.

What happened and what it means, after the jump:

A college enology class gets its fill of the Wine Curmudgeon

El Centro

The video in this post was part of my appearance on Oct. 3 at a viticulture and enology class at Dallas’ El Centro College, which has one of the best culinary programs in the southwest. I offer wisdom on how to learn about wine, the idea behind cheap wine, and the joy of regional wine — all in less than eight minutes. I also managed to plug The Cheap Wine Book.

The class took 90 minutes, and at the end we tasted six Texas wines. The students were mostly pleased with what they tasted, though there was the usual disagreement that occurs at these sorts of events. One group would like a wine because it was fruity, while another wouldn’t like the same wine because it was fruity. This, as I always point out, is just one reason why wine is so much fun. One can argue and drink wine while arguing.

One other point worth noting: The students were fascinated by the idea of $3 wine, and we spent a fair amount of time discussing whether they were worth drinking. Many of them, as it turned out, were big fans of Aldi’s $3 wines.

El Centro College’s Alex Curran shot and edited the piece, and did a terrific job working with a very awkward Wine Curmudgeon. And did I really say I was one of the leading wine writers in the U.S.? Unfortunately, given when we did the video, he had to use the old website in the montages.

And why don’t I have a hat on? It was raining the day we shot the video, so I didn’t wear one. The legendary Gus Katsigris, who teaches the class and helped start the El Centro culinary program, was very disappointed with me. Gus served Texas wine at his Dallas restaurant in the late 1970s and is one of the true standup guys in the food business, so I should have worn a hat. What are a few water stains among friends?

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