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Texas and Drink Local Wine’s sixth annual Regional Wine Week


Texas drink local wineRegional wine week started yesterday, and what kind of co-founder and past president would I be if I didn’t participate? So here are my links for this year’s effort, focusing on the changes in Texas wine since I started writing about it:

• How much more accepted is Texas wine than just five years ago? The culinary students I spoke to on Thursday night at Dallas’ El Centro College were interested not because they were supposed to be, but because they really wanted to know about Texas wine. Contrast this with the culinary students I taught at the Cordon Bleu, whose main interest in Texas wine came when I drew my not very accurate map of Texas on the board.

• Not only has Texas wine changed, but so have the people drinking Texas wine — the focus of a story I wrote for the Texas Wine and Trail website. The new generation of Texas wine drinkers I talked to this fall were not “the older Anglos who have powered the local wine movement in the state since the 1990s, and doing yeoman work in the process. Rather, they were younger and, at Grapefest and especially at its People’s Choice wine tasting and competition, less white. I talked to a Chinese husband and wife who asked such detailed questions about what was going on and which wineries to visit that I couldn’t answer all of them.”

A French producer made sparkling wine in the state 30 years ago, though the winery eventually failed. Still, one has to admire the effort: “Texas-made sparkling wine is rare, even today. Thirty years ago, when there were only a handful of wineries in the state, it was much less practical. Sparkling wine is difficult, costly, and time-consuming to make, requires top-notch grapes, and needs an established market for its products.”

• The Hill Country is the focal point for Texas wine for most consumers, and it has undergone huge changes, too — not only in the number of wineries and quality of the wine, but in how the region sees wine in terms of tourism and its economy. Ten years ago, wine was an afterthought; today, Highway 290, with its dozens of wineries, could be a wine trail in California.

• And what would a Texas wine post be without reviews of Texas wine?

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.”

The top-ranked regional winemaker was Texas’ Kim McPherson of McPherson Cellars at No. 20, and other notables included Andrew Meggitt of Missouri’s St. James Winery at 64 and Fred Frank of New York’s Konstantin Frank at 52.

Two things impressed me about the list – that Cervin had done his homework, and knew who people like Missouri’s Tony Kooyumjian of Augusta Cellars (89) and Kris Kane of Brix 21 in New York (88) were, and that his methodology was sound. Cervin just didn’t rank winemakers based on his opinion, but got suggestions from retailers, sommeliers, and other wine professionals. This included Doug Frost, who knows more about regional wine than almost anyone else in the country, myself included. Cervin’s standard for ranking: The winemaker had to make a range of great wine, and had changed the perception of wine made in his or her region.

“It’s important that every state is given its due,” says Cervin. “If you dismiss them because of what they are, you’re doing a complete disservice to wine as a whole.”

Hear that, Winestream Media?

In fact, the list was so well done that it invites comment. Noticeably missing were Colorado’s Guy Drew (and no one from Colorado made the list) as well as Luca Paschina of Barboursville Vineyards in Virginia. I was also surprised that one of New York’s top riesling winemakers, like Fox Run’s Peter Bell, wasn’t included. And yes, Cervin said with a sigh, he had heard about names left out, and especially Paschina.

Which is just one more example of how many people care about regional wine. Why else would they complain?

Drink Local Wine, regional wine, and the growth of local

This week, the second most important wine writer in the world wrote about what she called the 50 states of wine: “But the exciting thing is that the proportion of good to very good wine made somewhere other than on the Pacific coast has been increasing markedly recently.”

And then Jancis Robinson mentioned Drink Local Wine. Even the Wine Curmudgeon had to smile.

Five years ago, when we held the first Drink Local Wine conference, I fully expected it to not be very successful. Why would anyone want to come to a day-long event at a culinary school to listen to people talk about Texas wine? I thought it would be interesting — but that was one more reason why no one would attend, given how out of step I am with most of the wine world.

As usual, I was wrong. What I didn’t realize then, and which has become increasingly evident over the past five years, is that most of the wine world is out of step with local wine. They dismiss it as marginal or not well done or economically insignificant, but all they want to do is to sell wine with cute labels that tastes exactly the same. Which is not what anyone who cares about local wine cares about.

Drink Local Wine is the best evidence of this. We’ve put on five conferences in five years, plus five Regional Wine Weeks, without one paid employee – just volunteer executive directors, a volunteer board, and a volunteer president. We have spent so little money for each conference that it’s kind of embarrassing. The first thing I always had to explain to sponsors was that we weren’t there to give them a big-time hospitality suite; we were there to tell the world about local wine, and what little money we had went for that.

And five years later, we’re poised for the biggest and best conference ever – this weekend in Baltimore focusing on Maryland wine.This wouldn’t have been possible unless there was a demand for what we were doing. Yes, we worked hard on DLW, and we had some wonderful people do that work because they believed in local wine. And, yes, we were smart and savvy and ahead of our time.

But it was never about us, because all we did was tap into the growing enthusiasm for local – local wine, local food, local retail and everything that isn’t Walmart and mass produced and soul sucking. That we were able to help, and that I was part of it, is one of the best things I have ever done.

I won’t be in Baltimore this weekend, but will be following the conference – on Twitter, of course, using the hash tags #MdWine and #DLW13. Which is something else local wine gave the wine world – the Twitter tasting. I wonder: Is the wine world angrier at us for that than for making them pay attention to local wine?

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