It is a beautiful Saturday morning here in Dobbs Ferry. I’m at the store sitting at my desk with the door open, Screaming Blue Messiahs 1986 release ‘Gun Shy’ is blazing away on the stereo.(I hope my customers like it as much as I do, ‘cause it’s a little too loud.) The early spring breeze innervates my mind; I’m thinking of a dozen things at once until the hummingbird of my imagination lights on a springtime topic I’ve contemplated a great deal: the Farmers’ Market. More importantly, why doesn’t the Farmers’ Market mentality extend to customers buying wine? I’ve thought about it many times. How can I get people to think about local and/or farm-raised with respect to wine?
One of the many things I love about my adopted state of New York and the HudsonValley is the availability and awareness of local foodstuffs. When I was a kid in the 70s the only fresh vegetables in the grocery store were onions and iceberg lettuce. My family grew tomatoes, string beans, potatoes, squash and Silver Queen corn. Fruit was available at farm stands by the side of the road. In the Fall, we’d head up to the Shenandoahs for apples and fresh cider, again, side-of-the-road. We weren’t driven by philosophy. It was just where things came from. Now here I am situated between one of the world’s great urban centers and acres of rolling farmland. It helps me feel at home.
Farmers’ Markets are not a new idea. Market days and harvest celebrations have been commonplace in human communities ever since mankind adopted agriculture and animal husbandry as primary means of food procurement. Wine has played a part in human commerce and celebration since the domestication of the grape over seven thousand years ago. Yet over the past century or so – and at a greatly accelerated pace in the past twenty-five years – wine ceased to be seen as a drinkable agricultural product and became a cornerstone of a sophisticated lifestyle; a luxury consumer product. I think it possible that this change has occurred most quickly in our country because we don’t really have the kind of regional wine culture that the European wine superpowers do. …or do we?
When we think of American wine we think of California. That’s natural. According to the TTB’s 2011 statistical report on wine, which came out just this month, 88% of the wine produced in the United States in 2011 came from California.* But every state makes wine. The 2009 ‘Wines & Vines’ supplier directory lists six wineries in Alaska and four in Hawaii. Fifteen states barreled a million gallons of wine or more last year. At just over 9 million acres, the Texas Hill Country AVA (American Viticultural Area) is the second largest in the country**, but little Vermont makes 6 times as much wine as Texas. In the 1880s the Stone Hill winery in Missouri was one of the largest in the world. When phylloxera destroyed the vineyards of Francein the late 19th century, it was Missouri’s state entomologist who discovered that American rootstocks were resistant to the root louse. Yup, the Show Me State saved Europe’s bacon.
The first winery in the US opened in Kentucky in the 1780s. We have a very rich indigenous wine culture in our country. You just have to look. I know a fellow who opened a winery in the old Michigan State Asylum in Traverse City. He makes exceptional Rieslings and Gewurztraminers under his Left Foot Charley label. One of my very favorite Merlots is made by Koenig Cellars in Caldwell,Idaho. A few years back I discovered a winery in Rabun County, Georgia that made very pretty dry Vidal Blanc. Every now and again I email Terror Creek Vineyards in Paonia, Colorado to see if their shipping laws have changed. Terror Creek is the highest elevation vineyard in the country and I’d love to try their Pinot Noir. …and my own home state of Virginia has a wine industry more than thirty years old and produces a great number of very fine wines.
The first time you taste a new wine from an ‘emerging’ state, don’t make the mistake of assuming it will taste like something you’d get in California. Wines taste different when grown in different places. A perfect example is our own North Fork of Long Island Merlots. They’re generally more earthy, leathery and structured than the bouncy, juicy California kind. …and you have to be open-minded and not give up if your first experience is a disappointment. There is no filter between local wine and you like there is an imported wine or a big brand from California. You might taste a few downers before you find something you like. But they’re out there. Keep looking.
I love that so many of us are willing to go out of the way to support local farmers. Just don’t forget that local vintners need love, too.
* The second largest producer of wine in the U.S.? Our very own state of New York.
**The largest AVA in the country is the Upper Mississippi Valley AVA, It covers areas of Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin. It is the largest designated winegrowing region in the world.