Thursday, December 15, 2011

Where the Wild Things (Grapes) Are

This week Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell announced several changes to the structure of the Virginia Governor's Cup Competition. One change is that eligible wines must be certifiably made from 100% Virginia grown grapes. While we applaud the Virginia Wineries Association (VWA), Virginia Vineyard Association (VVA), the Virginia Wine Board (VWB), Governor McDonnell, and Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore - doesn't this new regulation simply codify what we, as consumers, most likely already expected? Isn't it obvious that the wine that is judged to be the best in the state, be made from 100% Virginia grapes? What took so long? And shouldn't a wine labeled "Virginia Wine" be made entirely of Virginia grown fruit? Nope. Make sure you read this article by Frank Morgan in Flavor Magazine that explains why this may not be the case.

Now that wines entered in the Virginia Governor's Cup will consist of solely Virginia grown fruit, we still may not know from where? Was it from estate fruit? A vineyard in a local American Viticultural Area (AVA)? Somewhere else in the state? Just like the locavour movement, wine consumers should start requesting (or demanding) more information about the source of a wine's grapes - whether from inside or outside the state's borders. And this isn't just a Virginia issue, it should resonate with wine consumers in all states.

Recently I visited Linganore Winecellars in Mt. Airy, Maryland. While browsing their wine selection, I was reminded of a Maryland Merlot they crafted which won the Maryland Governor's Cup several years ago. That state's Governor's Cup Competition has always required 100% Maryland grown fruit and this wine was produced from grapes grown in the Maryland Eastern Shore. But the region and vineyard were not publicized? The wine just stated Maryland Merlot. And in a couple weeks, our family will be headed to Seven Springs where we normally visit Glades Pike Winery, just outside of Somerset Pennsylvania. On the last visit, they were pouring a Norton wine made from grapes sourced from Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg Virginia. Knowing that Chrysalis holds the world's largest planting of Norton I surmised this wine's source. But state law allows the winery to print "Pennsylvania" on the label because Middleburg is within a mile radius restriction. Bizarre. Why not publicize the fact that they grapes are sourced from the most trusted grower of Norton. The same holds for eastern wineries that utilize Finger Lakes Reisling or Long Island Merlot or any other grape sourced from a different vineyard.

In Loudoun County Virginia, several wineries (such as Tarara Vineyard & Winery and Corcoran Vineyards) are moving in that direction by creating vineyard designate wines where the vineyard is proudly displayed on the label. And what better way to publicize well known independent vineyards such as Benevino and Honah Lee. There's also another solution implemented by Virginia's Potomac Point Winery and Delaplane Cellars. On their tasting sheet, they note the appellation or vineyard which provided the grapes for each wine. And if the grapes were sourced from multiple vineyards, both note all the appellations or vineyards. The same holds for practically every California winery we have visited. What an easy way to educate consumers when the grapes are sourced from outside the estate. I think as eastern wineries start competing with left coast wines, the source of their wine must be fully disclosed.

One of the beauties of a bottle of wine - as opposed to beer and spirits - is that the wine, itself, is history. The wine directly reflects the weather that affected a geographic region during a specific period of time. If we don't know the wine's source, this sense of history is lost.

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