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Drink Local Wine Conference 2010

May 4, 2010

A view from the back of the room at #DLW10

Ah, spring. A time for buds to break, vines to grow, and trading reds for whites. With the local wine festival season beginning to come into focus too, what better time for the Drink Local Wine conference? The Drink Local Wine team is dedicated to advancing the cause of wine that’s grown near you – wherever you may be! Fortunately for me, there’s a booming wine industry right across the Potomac river in Virginia that’s getting all the right sort of attention to reel in the second annual gathering for local wine makers and enthusiasts. Don’t worry: Maryland got in on the action too, with positive buzz from the floor around up-and-coming Black Ankle Vineyards and Serpent Ridge Vineyards.

If you haven’t heard of drinklocalwine.com, hit the link and get educated! Then read on about their conference and all the ways they’re helping to connect local communities with their local wines.

Session One – Thomas Jefferson was right: The grapes that work best for Virginia

What it was all about: Just like oranges, which grow well in states like Florida but not so much in the northeast, different varieties of grapes grow with varying levels of success in a particluar microclimate, soil type, altidute, etc. So while a Cabernet grape is genetically a Cabernet grape anywhere, the wine you get from that grape could vary dramatically from one winery to the next.

The panel featured three different Virginia winemakers and each sounded off on their grape strategies. It’s generally agreed that cabernet franc and viognier thrive in virgina while piot noir has a hard time with all the moisture. Beyond the traditional vinifera grapes, however, each winemaker has a different strategy when it comes to lesser known options like norton or albarino. Virgina grows lots of these grapes well, but is that what consumers will buy? Is it better to make the best norton in the world that might get great reviews but little interest from tasters, or a middle of the road chardonnay that critics pan but everyone will recognize? While this generated a spirited debate on the floor, I believe the market is fortunately large enough to support both niches. It’s more for the winemaker to decide which approach best fits their business model and to form long term goals that best serve the niche they’ve identified.

What it means for Maryland: Maryland, while simar in climate to Virgina, also has strengths and weaknesses when it comes to grape varieties. Don’t be afraid to try a grape you’ve never heard of, like a vidal blanc. And don’t expect to see malbec on tasting sheets when you get to the Maryland Wine Festival. Judge your wine by whether it tastes good, and not the grape name on the bottle.

Session Two – Social media: How regional wineries can get the word out

What it was all about: this one played well to the blog- and Twitter-heavy crowd, and focused on how social media can help wineries grow their business. Using social networking tools, a number of wineries find that they can connect with fans and use those channels to build relationships and go beyond simply blasting out specials. From there, things devolved a little bit into a debate over the authoritative voice of digital vs. print outlets. The proliferation of blogs and bloggers makes it more difficult for wine marketers and consumers alike to know who to trust, and which outlets are worth working with.

What it means for Maryland: like reporting for other types of news, consumers are increasingly forced to evaluate both the information and the source of that information. My advice when it comes to learning about wine via social media, or any media, is to take a step back and really consider how the taste of the writer matches your own. Not everyone has the same taste as Robert Parker, or yours truly. And find your favorite local wineries on twitter and facebook – if they’re using it to get their fans involved and imporve your enjoyment of wine, you’ll both get something out of it.

Lunch

Lunch at the Lansdowne resort was outstanding. You should have been there!

If local food, why not local wine?

What it was all about: lately, a lot of restaurants are all about local produce. They’ll tout the food as sourced from this farm, that community, or another local resource. What you don’t typically see is that same restaurant going the same extra mile for their local winemakers. Panelist Todd Kliman of Washingtonian Magazine called out high end restaurants on this double standard, but acknowledged they were unlikely to change positions anytime soon as they serve an entrenched customer set who are not looking for local wine. In this case, it seems the revolution is taking place from the middle, with quirky restaurants that are plugged into he locavore scene already taking the charge to build regional wine lists and seeking out those local wine makers rather than taking only what large distributors offer.

What it means for Maryland: if you read this blog, you probably already know a few things about local wine! Take it to the next step and look for it when you’re out at dinner, too. Restauranteurs need to know that demand exists, and you can let them know by asking your favorite sommelier whether they’re carrying the latest from Black Ankle or Sugarloaf. And when you find a spot that does carry the local stuff, like Bistro Blanc in Howard county, thank them by going back and telling your friends!

Twitter Taste-Off

I don’t think I’ve ever tried to taste 50 wines (25 wineries, two wines each) in two hours, but it was unfortunately less than ideal. It’s also more difficult than you might think to juggle a Twitter device and a wine glass and a ballot. To be honest, I didn’t remember much of what I tasted immediately folowing the session, let alone several days later as I write this post. However, I did taste a couple reds from recently-opened Serpent Ridge vineyard that make me really excited for the upcoming Wine in the Woods!

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