As you know… I live in Tuscaaaaaaaaaaaaaany…
Oh, wait, that’s some other guy who critiques wines and makes videos.
Let’s try this again… As some of you know, I was in Colorado recently, touring the Western Slopes wine regions of Grand Valley and (the really high elevation of) West Elks, and finishing up by attending Drink Local Wine 2012 in Denver, courtesy of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board.
During DLW 2012, one of the panels, titled “Local Food, Local Wine, and Why They Don’t Like Each Other” (manned by Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post and co-founder of DrinkLocalWine.com; Rene Chazottes from Pacific Club in Newport Beach; Evan Faber of Salt in Boulder; and Jensen Cummings from the stellar Row 14 in downtown Denver), explored the sometimes rocky relationship between local wines and local restaurants – namely exploring the open question (I’m paraphrasing here):
“Why don’t more local restaurants stock local wines, when they almost always stock local produce without much hesitation?”
This was a discussion I found timely and poignant, seeing only a day earlier how tightly Western Slopes business like the rugged-turned-luxury (and stellar) Smith Fork Ranch incorporate their local wine producers into their wine lists and menus.
Answers varied, but there was no shortage of heated debate about whether or not local restaurants should or should not be stacking the deck in favor of local wines. To understand why this isn’t such a no-brainer, I think we need to first look at local restaurants as not actually being that local…
On the one hand, local restaurants are businesses. Their clientele might be predominantly local, but that doesn’t mean we should somehow expect them not to be rational actors
in the Capitalist sense.
In other words, they have to stock what they can sell, and on what they can rely upon to turn a profit. If the local wines aren’t there yet in terms of quality, then stocking up on local wines is a losing proposition for those businesses – and therefore they shouldn’t be expected rationally to do it.
On the other hand, local restaurants are tastemakers. They influence locals and tourists alike, and therefore could be thought of as an important channel for helping to create awareness of and demand for local wines (like sommeliers in big cities, or popular wine and social media outlets/personalities).
My view after hearing the arguments and debate, was that a bit of both is possible; local restaurants could stock and promote the best local vino, and expect to turn a reasonable profit, but only if three important elements are in place:
1) The local juice is of high-enough quality that it will not cause the beverage director to be embarrassed if poured at the table; in other words, a quality milestone needs to have been reached.
2) The local wine producers aren’t overpricing their wines
(Virginia, are you listening?), so that restaurants can expect normal people with normal bank accounts to buy them with a markup.
3) There are local/regional bodies with a budget helping to promote the best of those local wines so that restaurants and consumers are sufficiently aware of the stuff. This last one requires wine regions to be organized – not an easy thing to do.
Most emerging wine regions in the U.S. lack at least one of those criteria.
Colorado, thankfully, does not – and it will be interesting to see if they start to leapfrog areas like Virginia in the not-too-distant future, simply because of much they actually have their sh*t together on this.
Got an opinion on all of this local wine & food love? Of course you do – so shout it out, cowpokes! To help you get started, here’s a gratuitous shot from the Western Slopes, which is just as pretty as you’d imagine when thinking about Colorado farm country…