Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Why Colorado (might) have its sh*t together...(a response to 1WineDude)

In between the time that he is prepping his young daughter for a singing career launched by posting videos on his website (oh wait, isn't that someone else?) and cleaning up after his rhinoceran-sized dog (did you know rhinoceros have no knees?), Joe Roberts is traveling the globe spitingt some of the best (and worst) wines the world has to offer. Last week, he made a quick stop in Colorado (two weeks in Australia and only four days in Colorado, really Joe??) for the Drink Local Wine Conference. I think that the conference was a smashing success, but then again I helped organize it so why wouldn't it be great?

This morning, Joe posted a late dispatch about the conference. The theme of his piece was the topic of one of three seminars at the conference, "Why Do Local Wine and Local Food Hate Each Other?" Unfortunately, I did not get to witness this panel discussion as I was washing glasses for the subsequent Nomacorc Twitter Taste-off. According to Joe (and probably most other people in the room), the panel's discussion revolved around the question, "Why don’t more local restaurants stock local wines, when they almost always stock local produce without much hesitation?" He concludes that local restaurants could (and should) celebrate local juice when three conditions are met. The Dude abides and claims that Colorado seems to have its sh*t together when it comes to these conditions, but he offers no further explanation. Well, I'm going to offer an explanation for Joe...

1. The local juice is of high-enough quality that it will not cause the beverage director to be embarrassed if poured at the table; in other words, a quality milestone needs to have been reached.

Despite probable general consumer perception to the contrary, Colorado does actually produce some kick-ass wines. Yes, we do have our fair share of crappy wine, but the overall quality is improving each year. As some of you may know, I enjoy putting bottles of Colorado wine in blind tastings with the best wines of the world. Some times this blows up in my face, but more often than not people's preconceived notions of what Colorado wine is are turned on their heads. We're still not at the point where a restaurant beverage director can randomly pick a bottle of Colorado wine and get a wine of the highest quality as one might be able to do with say Napa Cabernet. Yet, knowledgeable and determined wine buyers at restaurants can without a doubt find top-notch local wines that any person would be proud to have in their glass. It just takes a bit of effort to do so.

2. The local wine producers aren’t overpricing their wines, so that restaurants can expect normal people with normal bank accounts to buy them with a markup.

One of the biggest complaints all local wine regions hear is that their wines are too expensive. Expensive is a relative term. For some people spending more than $5 per bottle is like drinking with Mitt Romney (if Millard were not a teetotaler). One of the general praises I heard from many of the out-of-town guests at the conference was that Colorado wine price points were very attractive. The average price of a bottle of Colorado wine is somewhere in the $15-$20 range. That isn't out of the realm of possibilities for most wine drinkers. Sure, we do have wines that cost upwards of $100 per bottle, but very few wineries sell more than one or two of their wines for more than $30. One winery that is probably the most expensive throughout their whole lineup, The Infinite Monkey Theorem, is also probably the most popular and fastest growing winery in the state. Most of IMT's sales are in restaurants. So obviously Coloradans aren't afraid to spend money on good local juice. Local wineries are never going to compete with the Yellowtails or Two Buck Chucks of the world, but they're not trying to do so. I can't think of many, if any, California or French boutique wineries (that are widely distributed) that make less than 1000 cases at less than $10 per bottle. The fact that Colorado wineries are able to do it for about $15 a bottle is pretty damn impressive. Many restaurants build their wine lists with the Silver Oaks and Jordans (both very nice wines) of the wine world, but could actually sell local wine of comparable quality for less money (your welcome, consumer) and still make a profit. Again, it just takes some extra effort to find the local wines that will work.

So why don't they? This is where the last condition comes into play.

3. There are local/regional bodies with a budget helping to promote the best of those local wines so that restaurants and consumers are sufficiently aware of the stuff.

Full disclosure with my answer here: I am a part-time state employee working with the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board (CWIDB), but this blog is not affiliated with nor representative of the State of Colorado. That being said, the CWIDB is an organization with a (modest) budget (and even smaller staff of 1.5 people; I'm the half person) with the charge of promoting local wines. Most of the state's wineries are too small to effectively market themselves (or have a distributor do so) to restaurants, retailers and consumers. Thus, the CWIDB is the body best suited to get the word out about Colorado wine to writers, restaurants, retailers and consumers. Bringing events like Drink Local Wine to Denver and hosting trade events for wine buyers are some of the best ways to create awareness for the local vintners. For every curious consumer and geeky sommelier actively on the lookout for interesting, unique and local wines, there are probably 100 that buy whatever they are told to buy (whether that be from the retailer or a distributor). Local wine regions, including Colorado, should not passively wait to be discovered. It is imperative that lesser-known regions actively announce themselves to the world. We need to emulate how Robert Mondavi created the demand for California wine back in the 1960s. All the wineries need to work together and work with organizations like the CWIDB and the Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology rather than against each other. Colorado is starting to do this, but still has a long way to go. But we should also remain optimistic. As more and more restaurants and retailers are slowly discovering the best of our local wines, demand (and overall quality) will continue to rise as well. We shouldn't get discouraged when success doesn't happen overnight.

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