And now, a word from my crystal ball
It's a new year, with much to look forward to in wine, even if some of the themes might sound familiar.
On the political/legal front, this finally might be the year of direct shipping in Maryland. We've heard that before. After failing to overcome resistance by the well-funded wholesaler lobby in past legislative sessions, the advocacy group Marylanders for Better Beer and Wine Laws predicts that this year's session will give consumers the right to order wine from out-of-state wineries for delivery to their homes.
The case for direct shipping was bolstered last month when state Comptroller Peter Franchot published a study showing that direct shipping won't result in the end of civilization as we know it. States that allow direct-to-consumer sales have not seen economic chaos, declining tax revenues or an increase in underage drinking, all scenarios predicted by opponents of direct shipping.
Interstate shipping by retailers might receive national attention: The Specialty Wine Retailers Association has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review an appeals court ruling that upheld Texas's ban on out-of-state retailers shipping to Texas residents. In his report, Franchot endorsed the idea of allowing Marylanders to order directly from a winery for home delivery. But he said allowing them to order from out-of-state stores would hurt the state's own retail licensees.
So Marylanders will be able to order California wines, or the terrific cabernet franc from Ohio's Kinkead Ridge, but not a case of imports from Wine Library in New Jersey. Boutique Napa cabernet? By all means. Small-production Barolo not distributed in Maryland? Road trip.
We also will be hearing this spring about corkage, or bringing your own wine into restaurants. Maryland and Virginia do not allow licensed restaurants to open and serve a customer's wine. Legislation is planned for the Maryland session to allow corkage in Montgomery, Prince George's and Frederick counties.
Regional wine will continue to grow in prominence this year. Whether or not you equate "eat local" with "drink local," our idea of wine country has expanded way beyond Northern California to include Loudoun County and Charlottesville in Virginia and the Brandywine Wine Trail north of the Maryland-Pennsylvania border. Don't be surprised to find yourself sipping a Gruner Veltliner from the Lehigh Valley or a Riesling from Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula.
Virginia's wine industry continues its blistering growth pace, adding 35 wineries last year despite negative publicity from Tareq and Michaele Salahi's Oasis wine connection and the very public foreclosure of Kluge Estate winery. The DrinkLocalWine.com conference focused blogger attention on Virginia and Maryland in 2010; look for even more online buzz this year when the Wine Bloggers Conference leaves the West Coast to convene in Charlottesville.
Finally, consumers will continue to search for wines that offer extra value in a stagnant economy. Last year we heard that $30 is the new $50, or $10 is the new $20; our frugal buying habits are likely to become entrenched this year as we continue to search out new and interesting wines.
And here's my new year's prediction: The hot source of bargain wines in 2011 will not be Spain or Argentina, our recent darlings for value. This is the year to rediscover France, thanks to the exceptional 2009 vintage. Many of the top wines are not yet released and will go for stratospheric prices, but wines that cost $20 and less are now reaching U.S. retail shelves. Many are terrific. I can say with confidence that you will be reading about this vintage in this column throughout the year and that many of these wines will populate my regular Recession Busters selections.
And maybe, by the end of the year, we will be able to rename that feature.