Michael Wangbickler on August 18th, 2009

Drink Local Wine

This past weekend, I attended the Drink Local Wine Conference in Dallas, Texas. Some 75 people met at Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts Dallas to meet and discuss the merits of drinking local wine generally, and Texas wine particularly.

Drink Local Wine started as an idea that a handful of wine writers, including Jeff Siegel and Dave McIntyre, would blog about regional wine on the same day, score a few points for North American wine that isn’t from California, Washington, and Oregon, and maybe attract a few new visitors to their sites. Regional Wine Week was the result and it was a rousing success.

The idea caught on and a movement was born. It piqued the interest of The Texas Department of Agriculture, which approached Jeff with the idea of holding a regional wine conference. This was what many hope will be the first of an annual Drink Local Wine conference.

So, why local wine?
Over the past several years, a lot of support has developed for the idea of Eat Local. Many restaurants throughout the country have adopted a menu of food that is made predominantly from ingredients grown/raised within 100 miles. Farmers Markets and Community Gardens have gained popularity and can be found in most major (and minor) cities. Yet, according to Dave McIntyre, many are still serving wines from everywhere else BUT the local area.

Local wines offer several challenges to restaurants and retailers. First, according to Hunter Hammett, Sommelier at Pyramid Restaurant in the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas, many restaurants have a “Texas” page on their wine lists. He saw diners turn right by it, without even looking. Doug Caskey of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board feels that many local wines suffer from perception that anything from [insert local area here] can’t be good. Others use a California model to judge the local industry against, which is unrealistic and unfair. Gil Kulers ventures that it is hard to get distribution for these wines. They are generally too small and have too much competition to get much attention from distributors.

What should wineries do?
In my opinion, the biggest challenge facing local wines is the insular nature of the wineries who make them. HUH? I know, counter-intuitive right? They make their wines for the local market and they sell them just fine. But, their local industries (especially in Texas) aren’t growing very fast or establishing themselves as a major player. Again, it goes back to perception. I strongly believe that in order to establish credibility as a quality wine growing area, these wineries need to market their wines outside their state. This serves two purposes: One, it will increase awareness nationally, and two, it will act as a catalyst to continually improve quality in order to compete with wines from other areas.

I am not suggesting, however, that local wineries should emulate the big boys. In fact, that is what Napa Valley did in the early days, trying to make wines like France. But, California isn’t France and it took years for them to find their own style. Texas is not California and shouldn’t try to be. Texas should grow Texas wine, not Napa Cab. Of course, it took several decades for winemakers in Napa to figure out what grew best where. But, with modern technology in both viticulture and winemaking, it shouldn’t take Texas nearly that long. They are already starting to discover their best varieties.

What can be done in the short term?

Harold Baer of the Colorado Wine News stated most succinctly what wineries need to do: Get the word out to people who write about the wines and get them to taste the wines. In other words, start building your street cred. Win medals, get reviews, get interviews, get noticed. By building your credibility and spurring demand, wineries will lay the foundation for a robust and thriving business.

If these local wine regions want to succeed in the long run, they need find their own styles, expand beyond their current markets, and start building their credibility.

I will be writing more specifically about Texas wines in my next installment.

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