Friday, July 15, 2011

WBC11 Preview: Drinking Local Breakout Session

One of the many sessions that we are looking forward to at the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference is the Friday Breakout Session: Drinking Local. The session is moderated by Frank Morgan of Drink What You Like - a Virginia based wine blog. The panelists consist of Dave McIntyre, wine writer for the Washington Post and founding member of; Lenn Thompson, founder of New York Cork Report; and Rémy Charest, blogger at The Wine Case in Canada. The topic is the virtues and challenges of drinking local - an issue close to our hearts.

I love local wine; and not only the wine but the personalities, the stories, the trips to wine country. I loved hearing the story how Steve and Shannon Mackey started Notaviva Vineyards. I can hear Jenni McCloud (Chrysalis Vineyards) repeat her passionate speech about Norton wine - a thousand times. I've been known to travel 125 for an evening concert at Veritas Vineyards. I loved seeing Jim Corcoran (Corcoran Vineyards) proudly show off their new Bourbon barrel aged Chambourcin or their Lemoncello based Petit Mensing. My son gets a kick of seeing the photo from Hiddencroft Vineyards where owner Clyde Housel is hosing him down after an accident. Memories. These experiences is what lead us to start the directory and the WineCompass blog. A history, I'm sure, shared by most attendees to the conference.

So naturally, we are advocates for promoting local wineries, especially through and by participating in activities. We all can agree on the virtues of local wineries: preserve open spaces, jobs, tourism, the wines..... Numerous reasons. As well as the locavore\locapour movement, which I follow to a certain degree, particularly when eloquently articulated by Jenni McCloud in our VirginiaWineTV video on Talking Norton and DLW with Jennifer McCloud. To paraphrase: "If you eat locally, its natural to also drink locally."

Yet, I am not a complete convert to the Drink Local movement. Why? Price is one factor. Local wine is expensive, at least in Virginia. I would love to be able to budget a Virginia wine on a regular basis, but the average price is approximately $20-$25 a bottle (my best guess). I understand the economicsand the tourism influences that lead to higher prices. I just can't afford them on a regular basis. And from what I've seen, Maryland, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania are heading in the same direction.

But my biggest complaint with the Drink Local movement, is that proponents are throwing out multiple definitions of drink local. I've heard it used in a sustainability context with the locavore movement that you should only drink locally crafted wines and these wines must be produced using 100% estate grown grapes. No exceptions; minimal footprint. What's up with that? That is way too draconian. And with this definition, forget about someone from Florida purchasing a Virginia wine and having it shipped. Winemakers would never think of following that maxim (I've heard about Jenni McCloud's wine cellar), why should consumers?

Others have generously expanded this definition to say, "no the grapes can be sourced from anywhere within the state and yes, you can ship the wine to other states". Yet, I have a problem with that definition as well. Tarara Vineyard & Winery (Leesburg Virginia) produces an excellent NoVa series using grapes sourced from the Mountainview Vineyard in southwestern Virginia, over 200 miles away. Glades Pike Winery (Sommerset, Pennsylvania) produces a Norton wine from grapes grown at Chrysalis Vineyards (Middleburg, Virginia) - 170 miles and two states away. Tarara is approved, but Glades Pike is put on the naughty list. Why? Should we set distance boundaries to define a local wine? Who then, becomes the drink local policeman?

What does Drink Local mean to you? I don't really have a preferred definition, because I drink anything, from anywhere - wherever the winery is located: Virginia, Maryland, New York, Texas, California, Oregon, Washington, Hungary, Austria, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Turkey.... And I don't really have a problem if a winery sources fruit from California; as long as the wine is labelled as such. Case in point, the Biltmore Estate Winery; if you care, just purchase their North Carolina wines.

As I step off my soapbox, I look forward to this session. Maybe the panelists will attempt to define Drink Local, maybe not. But we all agree on one concept. Local wine is being produced in every state of this country and there are valid reasons to purchase locally. So, get out there and try some; you will enjoy the experience. The directory can help you locate wineries in your state and if you want to visit a Virginia winery check out the Virginia Wine in My Pocket iPhone application. And attendees of the Wine Bloggers Conference will receive a free download of the app. Cheers.
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