Poring Over the Challenges and Rewards of Local Wine

Did you know that wine is now produced in all fifty U.S. states? While fine diners today increasingly demand locally grown (or even locally foraged) food – and while more and more bar patrons thirst for local craft beers – local wine in most areas has been a much more difficult sell, for a whole host of reasons. However, the benefits to the environment in terms of fuel emissions due to shipping are similar. Depending on what’s available nearby, taking on the worthy challenge of adding local wines to your menu – and winning over patrons who will support those efforts – could pay off in a number of ways.

Why So Tricky?

Historically, part of the problem in getting customers to imbibe locally produced wine is that the product keeps so well; the feeling of urgency just isn’t there with wine the way it is when one thinks of locally harvested vegetables, for example. People are accustomed to the idea of wine being shipped and then stored in cellars. Another reason that keeps us from local wines, of course, is that grapes grown in different regions all over the world truly do produce quite distinct wines with unique character.

The Case of California

Here in the United States, we may have come to think of California as a shining exception. However, the acceptance of California wines did not just happen overnight or accidentally – and for those who believe in the continuing work of the “locapour” movement, it won’t just take hold overnight elsewhere in the country, either. Rather, a delicate balance has to be reached between a commitment, on the part of restaurateurs, sommeliers, beverage buys, and bar owners, to pouring locally produced wines – and a commitment on the part of producers to create an incredibly desirable commodity. This is exactly what happened in California in the 1970s and 1980s, with many in the restaurant and beverage industry taking a stand against local wines until they became less fruity and more refined. Winemakers stepped up to the challenge.

But This is No California!

Another challenge to more fully embracing the “locapour” movement is the smaller-scale nature of production it involves. One may consider parts of New York State as being some of the better locations for wine production in the United States outside of California, for instance, but the amount of wine it produces simply is no match for the wine-drinking population of the nearby New York City metropolitan area.

Again, however, California’s wine did not win the industry over in a day. But given the fact that so many contemporary fine diners are so attuned to environmental issues (and supportive of local businesses), if a wine program featured a well-marketed menu including even just a few well-chosen local varieties, there are certainly patrons who would be responsive. How does one go about finding the nearest wineries in an area that isn’t known for its wine? All American Wineries’ website links to a list of locations in every single state.

Start Small

If you are interested in giving nearby domestic wineries a try, consider hosting wine-tastings and being prepared with pairing suggestions, especially pairings with entrees made with locally produced food – as a way of getting the attention of patrons who are already predisposed to the idea of supporting local products. Featuring wine flights that include just one local variety is a great way of introducing patrons to locapour selections without overwhelming them, with the locally produced wine balanced out by the inclusion of wines with which consumers are already more comfortable. As with any good wine flight, you are both offering patrons the opportunity to compare several varieties and educating them about each.

In the end, of course, the degree to which your business will ever be able to embrace the locapour movement may well depend on where you are. However, if there’s any chance the movement truly might catch on in your area, wouldn’t you like to be able to say you led the way? Try establishing contact with the wineries nearest you, since they hold a stake in hearing what they could do better – to make a product that you (and your patrons) would love.

Josh Saunders