The other day, I was speaking with someone who relayed a conversation that he had with a vintner in Temecula, an area with over 1,000 acres vineyards about an hour and a half from LA and San Diego. The guy asked the vintner why he didn’t try to make better wines. The vintner replied that he had a busload of bachelorettes coming through this weekend and one the weekend after that, implying he was already selling all his wine to locals more interested in quantity rather than quality.
It’s a problem that a lot of American wine regions confront: Long Island’s vineyards, Napa and Sonoma, the Willamette Valley, to name a few, are among all within a bachelorette bus ride from metropolitan areas. As a result, many wineries have policies banning buses and limos; free wine tastings are the rare exception, rather than the norm, in an attempt to push tourism away from quantity.
How to break out of the chug-a-lug trap and focus on quality? It’s a bit of a chicken and the egg problem: if there’s little local quality, then there’s mot much to support with your purchases; if there’s little financial reward, then there’s not going to be much quality. Locavorism may break the cycle though as foodies in a given area pay a premium for quality local foods, wine included. The Times today mentions one sommelier, Thomas Pastuszak at NoMad in NYC, who has 17 Rieslings from the Finger Lakes on his list. Clearly he is voting for quality from the Finger Lakes region with his checkbook.
But for many wine enthusiasts, the wine regions in close proximity don’t offer the kind of quality that they could order from 17 different local(ish) wineries. As my research from a few years ago showed, while local wine is almost always the best option from a greenhouse gas perspective, the carbon footprint of wine is greatly reduced by a boat journey as opposed to truck, sometimes to a surprising degree, and lighter packaging also offsets sheer distance. Thus many wine enthusiasts I’ve spoken with about the issue over the years would rather support a grower with a similar mindset to theirs, be it organic or stylistic, rather than a strictly local one and hope for GHG efficiencies en route or perform offsets elsewhere in their lives.
I’m interested to hear from you: which do you think represents the greater opportunity for improving quality particularly in far-flung or emerging domestic wine regions, tourism or locavorism?