The National Restaurant Association (and also just maybe the National Rifle Association) has announced its top 20 trends for 2010. The #1 trend in alcoholic beverages, and #5 overall in 20, is “locally produced wine and beer.” As with other trends in the announcement, this was decided by a ranking of survey respondents; in this case, 79% of restaurant member respondents (a full six points ahead of the next highest trend) identified the local/regional trend in beer and wine.
So why don’t more self-styled ‘localvore” restaurants, who go to great lengths to tell you where they source all their local food ingredients, support local wineries and breweries by stocking their cellars with these wares? Is it because there’s a double standard, or they just don’t think it matters when it comes to alcoholic beverages?
The latter would be a strange view in Europe, where the local-vore movement began and where local produce has always been in co-evolution with local wines and beers. France is famous for restaurants in Burgundy serving nothing but Burgundy (and a few insulting token wines of other regions), with Bordeaux returning the compliment.
So why does the Staunton Grocer, a self-styled local-vore restaurant in Staunton, VA (mentioned in in all kinds of local-vore websites, which offers “the freshest local products and produce from more than two dozen small area farms in and around the Shenandoah Valley…with a commitment to sustainable agriculture..”, take a condescending attitude towards the local Virginia wines?
They claim they are “Committed to sourcing the highest quality wines from around the world…” wait a minute. If the food is so good because it’s so local, why aren’t the wines considered in the same way? “..which represent classic regions such as France and California as well as those like Virginia and Austria that are just beginning to show their potential.”
Why is it that restaurants like the Staunton Grocery can be so staunchly proud of local produce, but only damn by faint praise the wines of their own region, “that are just beginning to show their potential”? If they said that about the local food, they’d be picketed, but they can get away with those remarks about their local wines?
And how would they know a good local wine anyway? The first “wines” you see on their wine list are two sakes from Japan, which is about as far as you can get geographically from local wine (not to mention the grape).
Of the 33 “wines” (note: the Institute of Masters of Wine defines wine as being made from grapes) on the list at the Staunton Grocery, only 3 (less than 10%) are from Virginia, and none of them from the Shenandoah Valley (amusingly, the Blenheim [Monticello AVA] Chardonnay, now rather well-aged from the 2004 vintage, is listed twice). The Barboursville Octagon, a fine iconic Virginia meritage, is also from the mediocre 2004 vintage, but hardly a deal at over $60. Either the wine director doesn’t know fine Virginia vintages from the mediocre, or the selection fits their attitude towards the local wines as being less worthy of attention compared to local produce, since they’re only “just beginning to show their potential”.
Staunton Grocery is just one example. Anywhere you go in this country, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a fanatical local-vore restaurateur and his publicist, who almost invariably have either a complete ignorance about local wines, or a disdainful, condescending attitude towards them, and who go to the same great lengths (at the detriment of the environment and carbon footprint, I’d like to add) by importing rare sakes and gruener veltliners from halfway around the planet. What’s that about, how does that make sense, and why isn’t anyone confronting these people about their double standards, or outright ignorance?
Maybe they haven’t heard what the staffers in the NRA now know; their membership has identified locally produced wine and beer as the #1 trend in alcoholic beverages for 2010, #5 of 20 in the whole restaurant industry. All you have to do is go to wine competition results like the International Eastern Wine Competition (www.vwm-online.com/iewc) and search for top regional wines.
Maybe they haven’t heard that every state in the Union is now producing wine, and more wine is now being made outside California than in it. Maybe they haven’t heard that Riedel Crystal has just designed a specific glass for the native American (gasp) norton.
So get with the program, Staunton Grocery and all you other local-vore wannabes. Get consistent, get earth-friendly, and don’t truck in wines from around the planet if you want to brand yourself as being fresh and local. Go visit some local wineries and taste with an open mind. Call up the owner in advance. And oh, if you’re bold enough to serve Japanese sake in a local-vore restaurant in the Shenandoah Valley, you can be bold enough to serve raspberry wine from a Virginia winery. I served it once to Jancis Robinson, and she was impressed. And if you’re too proud to taste a raspberry wine, you’re not bold enough to be claiming to be in the avant-garde of the food revolution.
Thanks to “Miss Jane” Nickles in Texas for alerting me to the NRA trends story and for providing this link to interested parties: