Since the Drink Local Conference the other day, I have been thinking more about the 3rd session which discussed why many people focus on local food and not local wine. I think it’s a much larger issue–not one of local vs. local but rather one of quality vs. quality.
Working in a retail wine shop that also sells cheese, wild caught seafood and local free range meat and poultry gives me a good perspective on how people view food and wine. Throwing the idea of local wine out the door, lets just think of quality products. It amazes me when customers come in and spend a premium on either beef or seafood to buy local or wild caught, but then want me to pick out a wine that is $6. Obviously a disconnect between what they expect from food vs. wine (and what they are willing to spend). They think, and I agree, that wild caught seafood is better for them and better tasting than farm raised. They don’t hold the same opinion with wine, however. Paraphrasing this typical customer, “It’s $6, it tastes good and I probably wouldn’t know the difference between this and a $20 wine.” I’m all about drinking what you like, that is what wine IS about, but why not require high quality for all things you ingest?
I think it comes down to how wine is talked about and again a disconnect. Tasting notes for wines usually never talk about how a wine is produced, and frankly for the 2500 wines we carry it’s hard to remember them all. If people knew that the cost reflected in their wine was related to hand picked, double sorting, extended maceration and barrels versus wood chips they might think twice. If consumers equated this the same way they do local, organic, free range, etc. you might see a different situation. But again maybe not, it’s more than a 2 minute conversation explaining the difference between mass produced and artisinal wines.
As a retailer part of that responsibility is on me, educating people about the product they are buying. At the end of the chain though, a lot of times people are set on a fixed price range for vino and you don’t want to up sell them a whole heck of a lot.
Unfortunately my insight stops there as I don’t have a complete solution for local vs. local or quality vs. quality. The discussion and education needs to continue through the entire “wine chain” if you will, as I am sure it already is in some situations.
Let me know your thoughts.
Interesting take on this. I think you’re right that people have more knowledge about artisinal cheese than artisinal wine. I also think that most people have no idea how that $6 of wine comes to be $6. It’s also important, however, to realize that people will have to pay a premium for these small producers. We do because we value keeping a much business local as possible. Wine made 1 or 2 counties away has a much smaller carbon footprint than wine made in Australia and shipped to us in the US. We also try to keep money with local farmers as much as possible (and wineries are agricultural ventures). Until the big names int eh eat local movement start to make noise about drinking local, however, the 100 mile diet won’t really include beverages. We’re just not the folks these local eaters are listening to..although they should be. 😉
Thanks for the thoughtful article. It’s a discussion that needs to continue and I agree there’s a lot work to be done to educate folks on the difference between how a $6 bottle of wine is made and a $15 and up bottle of wine. That said, there’s still times that a $10 or less bottle of wine works fine.
My opinion on dining and drinking local has always been this: grab high quality products that are made in your area and are geographically suitable. I live in Memphis, TN, so at farmers markets I can get amazing tomatoes, green beans, all sorts of squash, etc. What I can’t get are citrus fruits, so I get those from points beyond.
Likewise, I’m a wine lover, but there’s only one winery within 100 miles of my house. I’m not a big fan of their very sweet fruit wines. It’s a personal preference, but I can’t match dinners all year long with four or five wines I don’t like. So like coffee, tea, or chocolate, I’ll purchase wines from states or countries that are better suited for wine production.
You know what often gets lost in the whole drink local argument? Beer. Awesome beer can be made anywhere in the country, and you’ve typically got a broader selection of styles and flavor profiles than you might in a non-traditional wine state. Like when people ask me about Tennessee wines, I tend to promote our beer and whiskey.
I’ve tried wines from 16 states and 25 countries, so I’m always happy to sample something from off the beaten path. And I’m anxious to see how wineries in “the other 46” develop over time. But when it comes to quality wines that will pair well with meals, I’m out of luck in my area, even if I extend the radius out 250 miles.