The Twitter aspect of these events has always bemused the geezer in me. Audience members listen with heads bowed over their laptops and smartphones as if praying in 140 characters or less, and speakers and winemakers receive instant feedback. (I vividly remember one Tweet last year during the panel I moderated, imploring me to shut up and start pouring wine.) During the Tasteoff, Tweets with the appropriate hashtag were displayed on a large screen — much to the chagrin of one taster who dozed off toward the end of the day and had his slumber displayed for all to see.
In our panel discussions, we tried to focus on how social media are helping the explosion of the regional wine industry across the country, as well as give bloggers and others in attendance an introduction to Missouri wines.
Social media: Today’s wine consumers tend to be younger and more technologically savvy than the crusty old collectors of yore. They also don’t depend on major wine publications such as Wine Spectator or Wine Advocate to tell them what to drink, relying instead on word of mouth, including recommendations from online “friends,” “followers” or bloggers. Using Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, blogs and other online media, wineries can engage these consumers inexpensively but profitably, offering special discounts or promotions. The keys are to express your story and personality, and keep it a conversation — don’t let your messages become another form of spam e-mail. The Friday session was led by Russ Kane of VintageTexas.com and Rick Rockwell, associate professor of broadcast journalism at American University.
Grape Varieties: Doug Frost led a quick panel discussion with three winemakers to introduce us to the wide variety of non-vinifera grapes grown in Missouri. From my East Coast perspective, this was like stepping back in time, for most Eastern U.S. regions have moved away from hybrid grapes such as vignoles, seyval blanc or chambourcin in favor of the classic and more familiar European vinifera varieties. Missouri, however, is forced to rely on hybrids and native grapes because its harsh winters and torrid summers are inhospitable to vinifera. Missouri’s main red grape — in fact, its official state grape — is Norton, the spicy, gamey love-it-or-hate-it red that is building an increasing following in Virginia as well. There is even a special Norton wineglass designed by famed stemware meister Georg Riedel.
Locavore vs. Locapour: The last two sessions discussed how local wines such as Missouri’s can overcome the perception that they are novelties, as well as the conundrum of “locavore” restaurants touting their local food suppliers but ignoring local wines.
Joe Pollack, who has written about the St. Louis food and wine scene for four decades, emphasized the essential need to continue improving quality to grain market acceptance. But later Todd Kliman, food and wine editor for Washingtonian and author of “The Wild Vine” (Clarkson Potter, 2010), argued paradoxically that quality shouldn’t matter — or at least, we consumers shouldn’t get hung up on measuring quality and price. He was trying to poke holes in the lament that local wines are more expensive than wines of equal or better quality from elsewhere.
Kliman drew the analogy of buying books from Amazon.com: When we purchase online, we save a few dollars and enjoy the convenience, but we lose the experience of going to a bookstore, especially a small independent one, and forging a relationship with the shop owner, listening to an author at a reading or discovering a new and unexpected book while browsing. If we as consumers or restaurateurs are willing to support the local farmer, cheesemaker, coffee roaster or bookseller, even though their products may cost a little more, then why not support the local winemaker as well? No one is arguing that we should drink exclusively local wines or that a locavore restaurant should have an all-locapour wine list, only that the emphasis on local applies to wine as well as other ingredients.
Thought provoking ideas to ponder over a glass of summery, peachy vignoles.