Toasting a more local list
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Maureen McDonnell was on a mission. Chagrined that Virginia wines are hard to find on retail shelves and restaurant wine lists, the commonwealth's first lady spent time in late August introducing Washington area retailers and sommeliers to wineries in Loudoun and Fauquier counties.
Her message: Forget what you remember about Virginia wines and taste them anew.
"When I dine at restaurants and see that they don't have Virginia wines on the list, I introduce myself to the manager and ask, 'Why not?' " McDonnell said in an interview after two days of tours, attended by representatives of 28 restaurants and eight retailers. "They usually have impressions of the wines from long ago and didn't take the chance to reexamine them as they improved."
As the "eat local" movement has taken root in restaurant kitchens across the country, a "drink local" movement has blossomed as well. It started, ironically enough, in California, where the San Francisco Chronicle reported last year that area vintners were complaining about locavore restaurants that glorified local farmers but stocked their lists with imported wines. Washingtonian magazine food critic Todd Kliman took the argument national this summer with an essay published on TheDailyBeast.com entitled "The Locavore Wine Hypocrisy."
"Why is it that the lust for local stops short when it comes to local or regional wines?" Kliman asked.
Why, indeed? Vineyards are farms. Many local wineries are small-output, boutique producers with an artisanal approach. So why aren't there more local wines on local wine lists?
McDonnell had at least one very receptive guest on her tours. German Broggi arrived in Washington in June as the new beverage director at the Park Hyatt Hotel and its fervently locavore restaurant, Blue Duck Tavern. A native of Argentina and a 15-year veteran of the Park Hyatt's global empire, Broggi immediately set out to visit local wineries with the idea of building Blue Duck Tavern's "locapour" credentials.
Broggi called the tour an "eye-opening" introduction to Virginia wine country and its family-owned wineries. This month, he unveiled a new wine list for Blue Duck with an entire page dedicated to Virginia wines. He's working on a similar page for Maryland wines and intends to add local beers and spirits.
Broggi's enthusiasm is still the exception, however. A discussion with chefs, sommeliers and growers yields these explanations: Quality is poor, and diners don't want to drink local wines, anyway; and the wines are not well distributed, making them difficult for restaurants to buy.
Winery folks chafe at what they perceive to be a Washington area bias against local bottles.
"I've had calls from trendy restaurants in California, Oregon and Washington state asking for our wines," says Jennifer Breaux Blosser, who hosted McDonnell's group for a locally sourced lunch at Breaux Vineyards in Purcellville. She attributed that interest to out-of-town visitors who take a bottle to their favorite restaurants back home to share with the sommeliers.
"It's amazing that we are embraced more by restaurants in places where I can't sell our wine than we are in the D.C. market," she says. "We're right here. We'll do your wine dinner. You can have the winemaker or a member of the family."