FD: Wine Column October 22, 2008

No law says all good wine comes from California

Drink local.

That means us, since we’re the ones in control of what we drink.

The movement to eat locally has another focus: Learning to drink locally, too.

The concept really is the same. Know what you’re drinking by getting to know the people producing the wine you put on your table and share with friends.

One of the provocateurs of the idea, wine writer Jeff Siegel, writing on a Web site titled drinklocalwine, says the idea was to get a range of writers to talk up local wines, as long as the wines aren’t from California.

“Because it’s about time regional wine got the respect it deserved,” says Siegel, who blogs under the name The Wine Curmudgeon (http://winecurmudgeon.com).

“Yes, some of it still tastes like it was made from grapes strained through sweaty socks, but much of it is as competently made as anything from California.

“I regularly do blind tastings with regional wine; the people who taste it think the stuff they’re drinking is from California or Australia. These wines don’t deserve the ‘Time magazine’ treatment.”

He goes on: “Because we should drink regional wine. There is no law that says all wine has to come from California.”

The “Time magazine’ treatment” to which Siegel refers is an article written earlier this year by Joel Stein in which Stein reviews 50 American wines.

Not only is Stein’s piece “flawed” and sprinkled with “factual errors,” Siegel says, but “Stein seems more concerned with being flip and hip and other clever things than he does talking about wine.”

Fellow wine writer Dave McIntyre, who partnered with Siegel on devising the “drink local wine” idea, said,

“Local wines — broadly defined as any wines not from the West Coast — are getting better. This is especially true in New York and Virginia, but increasingly so in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and unheralded spots such as North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley and the mountains of northern Georgia.

“The Ohio River Valley produces Pinot Blanc of surprising finesse,” writes McIntyre, “and Michigan’s Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas are increasingly known for their spritely Riesling and perfumed Gewürztraminer.”

McIntyre notes the growth of the U.S. wine industry in the past 10 years or so and affirms, “ ‘Wine Country’ isn’t just the West Coast anymore.”

However, as Siegel and McIntyre certainly would agree, most of the domestic wine available to us does come from the Left Coast, which is why you read so much about it.

Writers and critics, like most of the rest of us, sometimes are too lazy to dig out interesting local wines.

There’s also a curious bias on the part of merchandisers, retailers and the rest of the industry against local wine.

Some of that, as Siegel notes, derives from the fact some local wines aren’t very good and aren’t deserving of notice, not when there are so many better wines available.

While you’ve probably never had a pinot blanc from the Ohio Valley or a Michigan riesling, I wouldn’t hesitate to say you’ve also never had the syrah from Bill Musgnung’s Bethlehem Cellars in Paonia or a Wild Rose 07 Estate Rosé from Jack Rabbit Hill Winery or the 2006 Grand Valley Cabernet Sauvignon-Lovie’s Vineyard from Balestreri Vineyards.

These are a few of the excellent wines being made in Colorado, almost all of which are using grapes from either the Grand Valley or the North Fork Valley.

And here’s an important point, as Siegel points out in his criticism of Stein’s article. A wine isn’t a local wine if it uses grapes from California.

Will drinking local wine change the wine world?

Well, in response we turn to Gail Caldwell, lead book reviewer of the Boston Globe, speaking in an interview with writer Robert Birnbaum.

Caldwell, was speaking about books, of course, but the sentiment is the same.

“I don’t feel that novels change the world. I think novels change people’s hearts,” Caldwell said. “People’s
hearts, one at a time, change the world.”

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