Why Do Local Wine And Local Food Hate Each Other? (A Late Dispatch From DLW 2012)

Vinted on May 8, 2012 binned in on the road, wine industry events

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…

Cheers!

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    Comments

  • Thomas Pellechia


    In my view, restaurants should serve the wines that pair well with the food on the menu, no matter where the wine was produced, but they must do so within the confines of running a business for profit.

    Having said that, I also believe that local restaurants should at least gain early consideration.

    Having spent many years on the road in NY State trying to sell NY wine to restaurants I can say without hesitation that the majority of them…nah, I better not…

    Re, Virginia: I was there two weeks ago. Yessir, many of the wines seemed to me to have been priced above their level.

  • Colorado Wine Press


    So when are we going to start seeing videos of your daughter singing with the Philadelphia Philharmonic?

    • 1WineDude


      CWP – ha!!

  • @WordsnWine


    Hey Dude … Very interested in this local concept … Thanks for bringing it up … In my opinion, a lot of American communities have been infiltrated by "a concept" of what food is … ie chains, fast food, and poorly recreated international dishes … In other words, the focus on what food actually is has been diverted from the local to one where an international "experience" can be found at a store or restaurant up the street … As those products grown in popularity and been diluted by processing, our natural inclination has been to refocus our attention on local products … ie products we can buy/eat up the street that are actually made up the street … you bring up two good points: the quality has to be there and pricing must be reasoned … I laughed out loud when I read your Tuscany comment, I was just in the Colli Aretini + Verona for VinItaly. If we could take one cue from the Italians it is in increasing the quality and value of an experience for the consumer, whether that consumer is on vacation or (perhaps more importantly) living down the street … Questions I ask myself: What is American food? Do we have a food culture or are we simply consumers? Food for thought … ?

    • 1WineDude


      @WordsnWine – thanks, food for thought indeed! The pendulum does seem to be swinging the other way now.

  • Thomas Pellechia


    oops, I meant "local wines should gain early consideration."

  • Jason Phelps


    I've never thought local food and wine "hated" each other, more so that Americans lack a historical and cultural context for the role wine plays in meals, both at home and at restaurants.

    You hit the high points on how to understand why someone sees more or less local wine at restaurants in the same local area. The point about restaurants being businesses bear a bit more focus based on my own research into the subject.

    Even when restaurants can get wholesale or direct from the winery prices on local wines the price point is higher than many larger distributed brands. With markup the wines aren't that attractive on the list on price alone. Lowering the markup would reduce revenue, something restaurants can ill afford, especially in a tough economy. Small wineries can't hit the low prices of bigger brands and nobody should be surprised by that. Running a small business costs money and the investment cost in each bottle is higher than the volume brands. If the same wineries take an approach of shooting higher on price than their quality supports the problem is magnified and they will then see even less interest in their product.

    Quality is an interesting point to debate. If you look at the top 10 selling brands of wine I wouldn't say any of them are high quality, but I would agree they are consistent; meaning a safe bet to serve in a restaurant or bar. But are they really any good? Not to my palate. Local wines may be less consistent, but they also taste better than many of the top 10 brands. The risk of a bad bottle heading to the table is there though, and we should again not be surprised that taking that chance is minimized.

    Ultimately I wonder if the loud voices in this debate are just expecting too much. There are so many more restaurants than there are wineries. When a few have a local wine program it may be a "good fit" number for the locale and more would produce a negative return for all involved. In New England, and specifically NH where I live, there are several restaurants located near each of our wineries that have local wines on the list. I don't feel asking more to stock the wines is good business sense because very few people know the wines. I think visits to the wineries and getting to know the local juice at the source needs more time so the collective education can create legit demand at the restaurant table.

    Jason

    • Thomas Pellechia


      Jason,

      May I point out that quality is not subjective; it is measurable.

      You say: "…But are they really any good? Not to my palate. Local wines may be less consistent, but they also taste better than many of the top 10 brands." But your palate is the arbiter of your taste, not the arbiter of quality, which is a technical and objective matter.

      • Jason Phelps


        Thomas,

        You can point it out but since I don't believe that wine quality is universally perceived using solely objective measures and know many others don't either, I'd ask that you back up that statement so I might better understand where you are coming from. I know you have a good deal of experience making, tasting and writing about wine to draw from and my request is delivered with the utmost respect.

        Once you remove technical flaws, which many consumers don't pick up as much as we would like them to, what is left causes intense debate between tasters, critics and writers of all levels of education. Watching it happen is all I need to empirically know that the final conclusion of quality isn't objective.

        Jason

        • Thomas Pellechia


          Jason,

          Every product is made from quality guidelines set either by the industry or by the producer (or should be). Even a low end wine that is consistent and free of winemaking flaws can be a quality product, provided consistency is what the producer intended. For instance, you may not like their wines, but you cannot find better quality winemaking than at Gallo, where scores of fabulous winemakers have developed their "creds."

          I've come across many people who hate inconsistency in their wines. I don't believe that automatically reduces the quality of vintage wine? Do you?

          You point out that there is intense debate between tasters, critics and writers and that causes you to believe that the concept of quality is not objective. The debating is simply people disagreeing over their subjective tastes, which has nothing to do with the level of quality a wine reaches. Quality is tied to the wine; it does not change its status from person to person.

          I blame the overall wine industry for why we keep having this debate regarding quality and subjectivity. The industry ought to have developed a set of standards for a variety of quality levels in wine so that everyone is on the same page when making an evaluation. The free-for-all way that wine is evaluated is, to say the least, confusing to consumers, not to mention its lack in educational value.

          • Jason Phelps


            Thomas,

            I better understand where you are coming from. For me it is too technically motivated and not consistent with my experiences on how the majority of people approach wine. That could be wrong, but it is where we are at and similar to how people consume/observe so many things in our world. I say all of this and should also note that I am a winemaker, wine writer, adventurous taster and a technical person by trade.

            I've come to believe wine is like art. It's all about experiences and more about taste and personal impressions, even biased ones, than a sterile view of objective merit. Someone's 5 year old might be the greatest artist they believe they have ever known. What can I say objectively about that that makes any difference? And where would it matter? In a classroom?

            Wine is meant to be enjoyed. For many people quality (or what they would call it) is how well wine pleases them in the setting and the circumstances where it was consumed. The spectrum of wines that can fit this idea will include many that would be deemed both high quality and low quality in solely objective terms, but what does it matter if the person enjoyed them?

            To me consideration of quality in objective terms is something entertained by a small sliver of industry folks and very few consumers. You say you wish the industry would set standards about quality. But just like scores and ratings won't that go wrong if people don't understand it has nothing to do with their own personal tastes and experiences?

            I struggle with all of this in my current world. I am writing so much less these days because I found that trying to provide objective assessments of wines I tasted didn't make for interesting reading and didn't resonate with enough people. Lots of wine writers are asking the same question regarding their methods for scoring and rating wines. "Does anybody care". My answer is not enough people to make that specific effort worth it. That leaves experiences. But I then find that for maximum enjoyment I have to be focused on the moment and not what I might write or share about the experience. That means the experience is only shared with those that were there first person. I'm OK with that. It feels right.

            Glad to share perspectives. Do you make wine for commercial producers in the Finger Lakes? I'm going to be out in the region again in June and would love to check them out.

            Jason

            • Thomas Pellechia


              Jason,

              We have found agreement: quality is a technical measure rather than a preference, and it begins in the vineyard.

              You ask, "does anybody care?" I respond with a question: why should anyone care what I (or anyone else) likes?

              Critics exist because most consumers don't do their own leg work, and people have been led to believe that someone other than their own palate can provide them with a better taste experience. I am averse to most aesthetic criticism, but I get almost violent against proclamations of taste ;)

              I used to make wine for my own small winery, but closed it down in the 1990s. Now, I write about the subject, have even cut off all wine judging gigs–and I make it at home every once in a while (just bottled 2011 Gewurztraminer and nursing 2011 Riesling for a June bottling).

              Let me know if and when you come to the Finger Lakes.

              • Jason Phelps


                Thomas,

                I think the only reason why anyone might care to read what I write about wine is not specifically what I liked, but how I might have combined wines, foods and people into an enjoyable experience. As a reader they may take away ideas of how to arrange their own experiences using ideas or tips that I share. It is as you hint much less about any one wine and my feedback about it. I have yet to figure out how to share this well, but I am enjoying all the practice!

                I will be in the Finger Lakes region for the WineMaker Magazine Conference on June 1st. I will stacking around for a few days afterwards (June 3,4,5) with my wife and friends to do some tasting. One of the days I expect to get out Hammondsport way, but I am not sure which one yet.

                I'd love to swap a bottle of homemade with you if we can plan to meetup.

                Jason

    • 1WineDude


      Jason – really well-put; thanks for adding that and for summarizing the key points better than I did!

  • Karyn


    Joe, a great topic that can be debated until the end of time. I have some counter points I'd like to make.

    1. Many wineries in NC are producing wines of high quality that are competitive or better than many of the wines on a list that are not regional. However, restaurant staff and consumer refuse to be swayed that NC produces wines other than sweet muscadine. If if your business slogan is "Got to be NC" or "Got to be Local" then IT HAS TO BE LOCAL through and through. Consumers aren't going to be swayed until restaurants make a stand in supporting the local wine industry.

    2. Local wineries are not KJ conglomerates. It's costly to make wine, which is why local wine is costly, just like that special organic local vegetable you're purchasing that cost 2x more than something non-regional that no one seems to mind coughing up for.

    3. The budget exists in NC, but no amount of money and advertising is going to change the minds of people when there are pervasive comments like, "it's overprice because its VA wine" like Thomas said above. In blind tastings, regional wines do just as well, and often better, than the fancy labeled CA wines.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks,Karyn. I disagree about the money and the marketing. Those programs and messages can change perceptions. They need to be focused and effective to do so, but they *can* work & we can see it work for promoting several regions. It also takes time. I do agree that places that are preaching local or have local as a central aspect of their brand should be considering the best of the local wines as well, otherwise they're not walking the talk.

  • @wineywomen


    Joe,
    Thanks for the laugh this morning! I enjoy reading your blogs.
    I think awareness to the public is what it takes.. Marketing and getting people to just try the wines. Festivals are great for this but sometimes even that setting is flawed.. It could be really hot that day and then the wines taste like crap.
    I know I always scan the menu to find local wines and when I do, I always tell the server to thank the person in charge of ordering the wine… And then if I know the area, I may give them a few more wines that would be a great add to their menu!

    It was good seeing you.. Look forward to seeing you again in August!

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Kim!

  • clay h.


    Great post, Joe. Here in the Finger Lakes, (i can echo Thomas P) my clients (i work for a high quality distributor & do not sell local wine) often complain that people tell them they want to see more local wine on the lists, but it doesn't always translate into sales.
    This is even the case in Ithaca, which is arguably ground zero for local wine sales in retail stores.
    The restos who are most successful with local wines make a solid commitment to the project. Others don't have the time, the exposure, or the interest.
    Our local wine industry solidly meets 2 of your 3 criteria. However, many of the best wines are perceived as being too expensive for sweet spot wine list/WBG movement.
    The good news is, local wines are being –gradually– included in the best local on-prem programs.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, clay – I think marketing has a big role to play there in progressing that so customers actually have a demand for the local juice. Not easy or cheap to do!

  • Deborah


    Joe, you are spot on with your comments. I would also add "familiarity breeds contempt" as a factor. If it's from somewhere far away it MUST be better than what's right in my backyard.

    Speaking for Colorado, where I lived for several years and became quite familar with the vineyards of Palisade, there is certainly a case to be made to drink local. There are very decent wines made in this area, but there are also a fair number of sweet fruit wines (i.e. not grape). They appeal to visitors to the region, but if the wineries producing fruit wines are looking for Denver and Boulder restaurant placements, this may not be a reasonable expectation.

    Great post, thanks.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Deborah!

  • Lisa Howard-Fusco


    Love this subject,nice article! Sadly, I think the "image is everything" axiom gets in the way. I'm afraid to talk about NJ wine sometimes: after all, most people think it's an industrial cesspool,not farmland or vinyards.If you are from NJ," flashbacks of "cranberry wine or "blueberry champagne" haunt you.How do you get restaurants to stock Turdo or Amalthea, then? Interestingly enough, local craft breweries seem to be gaining in restaurants ( and are frequently using local ingredients in their production), can we learn anything from them?

  • foodstoriesblog


    I found your site through another food blog and thought I would stop by to check yours out. I just subscribed to your blog feed and can’t wait to see what your next post will be!

  • Airwineguy


    Here's the deal: many restaurants sell spirits and beer. If you want to sell Grey Goose or Captain Morgan or whatever it is made quite clear that you need to pick up the wine that is tied to those brands in some manner. Remember the money is not in the wine sale. It is in the cocktail sale. That's why the big guys are called the 'Drinks" Business and not the 'Wine' Business. Also the big guys are able to offer distributors, who call the tune, various incentives to push the large brands. Vacations, extra discounts etc. Goes like this: "nice food place you have here, now if you want any more of that hot top shelf special trendy Tequila, you're going to have your wine list look like this…."

  • Mark F


    I think we need to push "If it grows with it, it goes with it" much more! This would get people to at least try more local wine and decide for themselves if they want to revert back to more recognized region.

  • Evan Dawson


    I think it's important to point out that the person you reference in your opening comment is a filmmaker, not a video maker nor a critic. A filmmaker. That's an important distinction. Yes, the "films" are "videos" of him "critiquing" wines in front of their "marketing directors" or "chateau president" or "estate owner," but I digress. Filmmaker it is.

    • 1WineDude


      Evan – okay, filmmaker it is. :)

  • dmwineline


    Airwineguy – Your point is true for a distressingly large number of restaurants who give their wine lists over to a distributor out of laziness or convenience. But the "locavore/locapour" argument centers on restaurants that tout their reliance on local produce. They want to introduce you to the farmer who picked your salad that morning, or who birthed and slaughtered the local lamb for your dinner – but then they shun local wines.

    Joe rightly focused on the main point I raised in the panel discussion – quality has to be there. But in a number of states, it is. New York, Virginia, Colorado, Texas, Missouri, etc etc – locavore restaurants in these areas can easily find a few local wines that are high quality. No one is saying the list should be exclusively local, only that if they preach the local gospel, it should include wines.

    On a purely local-to-me note, I'm sympathetic to the "Virginia is too expensive" argument. But give me a price range from about $18 and up, and I bet I could find some Virginia wines for a blind tasting that almost anyone (anyone honest, at least) would have to admit are in the ballpark.

    Dave McIntyre

  • MyrddinGwin


    Personally, I work in a restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Every wine we have on our wine list is from the Niagara Peninsula, and we're proud to operate this way. If someone tries one of the wines and loves it, we can actually give directions to the winery–that's something slightly more challenging to do with imports.
    This isn't to say that I don't like imports at all. I do love them, and there are many things we can't do or grow in this region since it's too cool to ripen, or certain vines die in chillier winters like in '04-'05, or '10-'11. As well, trying only wines from just one region, even if it's your own, doesn't give you a broad picture of what's out there in the rest of the world.
    Dismissing local wines only on the basis that they're local, regardless of quality, is ignorant. That said, there is value in being familiar with imports, too. In fact, why close any options on wines, if they're drinkable and delicious and you still can afford to do other things after buying a bottle?

    • 1WineDude


      MyrddinGwin – thanks. It's awesome that places like yours exist. those kind of places are, i think, daring – and they expand people's horizons.

  • Carl Helrich


    Joe,

    Great though-provoking post again. From the winery side, here's what I know: locally-grown food is usually not less expensive than agribusiness-produced produce. That said, if a restaurant pushes local produce, I think it's inexcusable to not have local wine. Yes, there's a quality issue, but you can't tell me that there is a wine region in the world that doesn't have at least one winery producing decent juice at a decent price. (I mean, seriously, the restaurant probably sells Beringer White Zin or Yellow Tail by the glass. It's an easy bar to reach.)

    Bottom-line is that restaurants in our area can't be convinced that local customers will buy local wine. Funny thing is, local wineries somehow survive by selling wine to local customers. I think there's at least one side that doesn't quite get it.

    BTW on my last trip to VA (three days last month) I found every single restaurant I went into in the N. VA area had a VA wine. And that included a couple local bar/hangouts.

    Take care,

    Carl

  • 1WineDude


    Thanks all for the great discussion! Been trying to keep us as best I can with spotty Internet coverage here in Oz and some of my responses have been getting eaten up in the Australian ether. :). Anyway, great discussion and you People are the shizz!!!

  • Mark


    I'm "political" and l love music. But I do NOT want all my music political. Just because it's political music doesn't mean it's GOOD music. Same for wine. I like wine. But I'm not going to forgive crummy wine because it's local.

    Most local wine – and now, hard cider – waver between tolerable and awful. They're made by people very young in their careers and often in the absence of a strong cultural influence, history or knowledge base. These people are taking a risk, blazing a trail and unfortunately too-often releasing product before it's ready for prime time.

    You can see the same thing in farmstead cheese. Lots of growth and interest but a lot of duds as well. Hopefully market forces will weed out the crap – or the producers will get better.

    Until then, drink local wine carefully and don't tolerate it when it sucks!

    • 1WineDude


      Mark – well said!!!

  • Shisha Hookahs


    I agree with you. It is a great idea that local restaurants should serve local wines. It's like a trademark for certain place. Travelers and tourists would like to visit a place that has a specialty or a product that is only available on that place or which is sold cheaper and comes originally on that place.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Shisha. But now I want to hear about pairing local wines with local food and hookahs! :)

      • Shisha Hookahs


        That would also be cool. :)

        • 1WineDude


          Ok… well.. bust ‘em out! :)

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