NRA Lists Local Wine & Beer as #1 Trend in Alc. Beverages, #20 Overall for 2010

Jan 20

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:
http://www.restaurant.org/pdfs/research/whats_hot_2010.pdf

Virginia Takes 25 Awards at the San Francisco Wine Competition

Jan 15

2 Cabernet Francs,1 Chardonnay Win Gold

Proclaimed as the “Largest Competition of American Wines in the World,” last week the 2010 San Francisco Wine Competition awarded Virginia wineries with 23 awards. Virginia excelled in the Cabernet Franc category where six wineries took home top awards. Another strong category for Virginia was Viognier, bringing home four medals.

Tasting Report from 3 Shenandoah Valley Wineries

Jan 07

I spent today (1/2/10) driving through the freezing cold and blasting winds in the southern half of the Shenandoah Valley visiting wineries (it was either that or see the “squeakwell” to Alvin and the Chipmunks at the movies). A couple of the wineries in that area were either closed or offering only two seasonal sweet wines. The ones that were open, though, did a brisk trade from eager Virginia wine tourists, all the way from Fincastle to Fishersville. The season and cold did nothing to stop wine tourism, and this is a trend I’ve seen around the East. It’s a very reassuring sign when people will drive miles around the countryside to taste and buy local wines, rather than simply going to the nearest supermarket aisle.

From south to north, here are the highlights:

Fincastle Vineyard & Winery

Located in a kind of circuitous way south of Rts. 11 and I-81, this winery has one of the cutest tasting buildings (separate from the winery) in the state, made of field stone with nice floor-to-ceiling windows. The product line mostly features whites, but the stronger and more reliable quality is in the two reds, which are both estate grown. The cabernet franc ‘06 (13.8%) is in the class of better VA cab francs from that challenging vintage. It is ripe, but with solid black cherry fruit, lots of flavor, and a classic crisp finish, with oak in the background (12 months). It’s a “New World” style but still balanced. The cabernet sauvignon ‘05 is the “yan” to the cab franc’s “yin”. This spent 24 months in oak, but that time also allowed the wine to mellow and gently oxidize. As a result, you have a cabernet sauvignon in an Old World style, very much like a traditional Bordeaux or a Rioja reserva. The classic cedar and cassis aromas and flavors are there, and the tannins are smooth and mellow, with no hint of green “veggies”. There are also some smoke, cigar box and tea notes, so this is a fully mature but elegant cabernet you can enjoy now. In fact, since it’s only 12% alcohol, this is a cabernet you could enjoy even in the summertime. (note: if you don’t like Robert Parker’s palate bias towards low acid fruit bombs, you’ll probably enjoy this).

Rockbridge Vineyards

Owner/winemaker Shep Rouse is one of the leading winemakers of the state and a veteran of the Virginia wine scene, so it’s hard to pick out the highlights, since his quality is evenly high across the product line, with a nice balance of fruit and acidity as a house style.

Tuscarora White ‘08: While the white product line has other fine examples like the chardonnay and riesling, I was so impressed with the balance of this wine I had to mention it. It’s a well-made blend of vidal (70%) and traminette, the Cornell hybrid of gewurztraminer and a French hybrid (30%). Usually, traminette is so unctous and perfumed you can pick it out right away, but in this case, it hides beneath the vidal, while adding complexity and some depth. While the wine isn’t dry, it has great fruit/acid balance, and is flavorful and refreshing. At $10, it’s also  a great choice for parties, weddings or just buying a case and sharing with friends at the beach.

Syrah ‘05: Grown in a local Valley vineyard, I first tried this wine at the VA Governor’s Cup competition a year ago and was amazed to find a Northern Rhone style syrah made locally. Nose: mineral, smoke and red /black cherry notes. The palate is fresh, with delicate cherry fruit balanced with crisp acidity. Not a “shiraz” style. Fans of northern Rhone syrah should seek this out ($20)

DeChiel Merlot ‘06 The DeChiel label is the high-end reserve label at Rockbridge (an homage to a family name). This merlot is stunning, both for quality in a difficult vintage and for the price ($15). If a Napa merlot tasted like this and sold for twice the price, it would sell out pretty quickly. The nose is rich and juicy, with black cherries and berries. On the palate it continues juicy and smooth, with a rich chocolate finish.

Reading between the lines folks, this is sex in a bottle, for those of you who always wanted to know where to find it but were afraid to ask for it as such. For those of you/us who think 99% of merlot is overpriced and overrated, this is the one percent you (and your significant other) have been waiting for…

V d’Or ‘07 This is Rockbridge’s proprietary “cryo” wine (grapes artificially frozen, then pressed), made from estate grown vidal blanc, riesling, vignoles and traminette. A nose of cinnamon, caramel and creme brulee, is followed by a ripe, sweet but balanced palate of pear and peach and nectarines. While sweet it is still elegant and has refreshing acidity. (For those of you who prefer your…ah, after-dinner recreation with sweet instead of dry red wine, here’s where you’ll want to go..)

Barren Ridge Vineyards

Located just north of Fishersville, this new winery (first vintage in ‘07) has nonetheless shot to the top of Virginia wine quality (their ‘07 meritage won the Best in Show at the State Fair this year) in a short time. As with Rockbridge, both reds and whites have high and even quality, but so far their critical reputation is being made with reds.

Merlot ‘07: This was a great vintage, so it was easier to make a luscious merlot than perhaps in ‘06, but if you liked my description of the Rockbridge ‘06 above, this is much the same, except a bit more forward and lush per the vintage. The nose has hints of mocha and truffle. On the palate, smooth tannins are matched with a luscious mix of chocolate and black cherry, but finishes with fine balancing acidity. Like the Rockbridge, it’s not over-oaked, and it has other, ah, things in common with that wine…Great finesse, but well-balanced. $18.00

Touriga ‘08: During the Virginia Wine Expo last February, Bartholomew Broadbent presented some Virginia wines he and I had selected that we felt represented the state which were paired to wines in his portfolio on the international market. We had selected the ‘07 touriga, which was a rich, fat, low-acid and juicy wine with loads of fruit and spice. This wine is the “yan” to that wine’s “yin”; this is from a cooler vintage and a different vineyard (Mt. Juliet near Crozet).  The nose starts subtle, but evolves with hints of black cherry, mocha and smoke. The palate is still largely closed (more texture than flavor at this point) but has firm, fine tannins. If you liked the ‘07, this is a very different style, but at least as good; it just needs more time to open and develop. Try again in a year if any is left. $18.00

Meritage ‘07 As stated above, this won Best of Show (and a gold medal) at the 2009 Virginia State Fair. A blend of 50% merlot and the balance cabernet franc and petit verdot, the nose is dominated by dark fruits and chocolate. On the palate, it is rich and smooth, with a fine balance of fruit, tannins and acid, leading to a chocolate finish. The wine is just opening up now, but has lots of depth, structure and finesse to last for years. Stylish and elegant ($32)

Andy Beckstoffer, Renowned Napa Grape Grower, to Deliver Keynote Address at Wineries Unlimited 2010

Jan 03

Santa Rosa, California (December 17, 2009) — Andy Beckstoffer, the most highly regarded independent wine-grape grower in Northern California, will deliver the keynote address at Wineries Unlimited, the largest vineyard and winery tradeshow and conference east of the Rocky Mountains. Produced by Vineyard & Winery Management magazine since 1976, the annual event takes place March 9-12, 2010 at the Valley Forge Convention Center (www.vfconventioncenter.com), King of Prussia, Pennsylvania in suburban Philadelphia.

Attendees, 21 and older, may take a virtual tour or register for a variety of packages via www.wineriesunlimited.com while phone registration is available at 866.483.0172 and general information at 800.535.5670. Early-bird rates apply through January 31, 2010.

Beckstoffer headlines the Keynote Speaker Luncheon on March 10, and joins several outstanding Eastern grape growers during the panel discussion “Extreme Viticulture: What It Takes to Get Top Dollar” later that day.

A native of Richmond, Virginia, Beckstoffer garnered a BS in engineering at Virginia Tech and an MBA at Dartmouth. As president of Beckstoffer Vineyards, his empire stretches through the North Coast counties of Napa, Mendocino and Lake. As a visionary, Beckstoffer was responsible for planting 500 acres of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon in the early 1970s, a remarkable feat considering only 682 existed in 1969. As a 33-year-old entrepreneur, he devised a 1973 leveraged buyout of a vineyard company and 1,200 acres of land in Napa and Mendocino with an investment of only $7,500 in cash.

His many accomplishments include founding the Napa Valley Grape Growers Association (NVGGA) in 1975, and introducing the modern-era practice of pricing a ton of grapes on the future bottle price (i.e. bottle price times 100 equals the cost of a ton of grapes). The NVGGA presented him with its first “Grower of the Year” award in 2006 while in 2007, the Napa County Farm Bureau named him “Agriculturist of Year” and he received the first-ever “U.S. Congressional Wine Caucus Commendation”.

Wineries Unlimited offers four days of seminars conducted by renowned specialists from the North American wine industry: sessions focused on industry newcomers (Mar 9), two days of multi-track sessions on viticulture, enology and finance/management/marketing (Mar 10-11), and a full-day marketing workshop (Mar 12).

The “buyers’ trade show” for the Eastern wine industry, Wineries Unlimited offers two days and over 100,000 square feet of exhibitor space on two levels with an estimated 700 exhibitors and 330 exhibitor booths.

The event has several social-networking opportunities: a Regional “bring your own wine” Welcome Reception; Keynote Speaker Luncheon, the Best of the East Grand Tasting and Gala featuring gold medal winners from the 2009 Intl Eastern Wine Competition; and a Grazing Buffet Luncheon on day two of the Trade Show.

Official event sponsors include Nomacorc, Pall Food and Beverage, TCW Equipment, and Baltimore Glass Decorators, Carlsen & Associates, and Susquehanna Glass.

About the producer

Vineyard & Winery Services Inc. publishes Vineyard & Winery Management magazine (www.vwm-online.com), the Wine Industry Index and Wineries of the Index on compact disc. Based in Santa Rosa, California, the multimedia corporation produces seminars, conferences and trade shows (Wineries Unlimited, Wine Club Summit, Wine Country Water Summit, Tasting Room Profitability, Managing the Winery Laboratory) as well as three wine competitions (Grand Harvest Awards, International Eastern Wine Competition, and West Coast Wine Competition).

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