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From local bottles to screw caps, a decade of wine trends

Sommelier Ryan Ibsen pours wine at Bestia restaurant in Los Angeles in 2015. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
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Ten years ago, on Oct. 1, 2008, The Washington Post published my first wine column. It was about minerality, a buzzword favored among the vinoscenti, controversial and misunderstood, touching upon the conflict between the intellectual rigors of science and the romanticism of wine. Not great literature, perhaps, but I think it holds up today, even if the term minerality has fallen out of favor.

Over the past decade, I’ve written about 500 columns, give or take, considering the occasional week off, plus articles for the Food section’s All You Can Eat blog when it was active. Add my effort to steer readers toward terrific values by recommending five wines a week — that’s about 2,500 wines, and many more tasted over the years — and you’ve got a fair body of work.

In all these columns, blog posts and recommendations, I’ve tried to chronicle the exciting changes in the world of wine over the past decade. In 2008, there were about 6,000 wineries in the United States. Today, there are nearly 13,000. California still dominates the U.S. wine industry, of course, but most of the excitement is elsewhere — in Oregon, Virginia, New York, Michigan, Texas, and . . .

Right after starting the column, and in cahoots with my friend Jeff Siegel, author of the Wine Curmudgeon blog, I founded Drink Local Wine, an organization aimed at promoting the idea of “wine from around here, wherever here happens to be.” We encouraged writers, bloggers and other journalists to visit and write about their local wineries. Over five years, we brought writers to Texas, Virginia, Missouri, Colorado and Maryland to explore these emerging wine regions. Ten years ago, you rarely read about these areas in wine magazines or travel publications such as Wine Enthusiast, the Wine Advocate, Garden & Gun or Food & Wine. Now they are the darling destinations. Winemakers deserve the credit, of course, but I’d like to think I helped push the needle.

I’ve chronicled some exciting developments in local wine. I was the first to write about RdV, an ambitious project to create a “first growth” Virginia wine, met initially with skepticism but now internationally recognized for its quality. The renaissance of Boordy and the rise of Old Westminster demonstrated Maryland’s impressive growth. My four-part series on the 2015 vintage at Barboursville celebrated a local winery (and its vineyard crew) but also detailed the work that goes into producing a wine, from pruning to harvest. I wrote about the heartbreak of an Ohio vintner who saw his wines devastated by the polar vortex of 2014 and faced the hard task of revitalizing his vineyard.

There were other changes in the wider world of wine. This decade saw the professionalization of sommeliers and their ascendance as arbiters of our taste in wine. And today we drink wine from countries we wouldn’t have thought of 10 years ago. We can explore the world by following a trusted importer, and through these columns, we have.

We’ve rid ourselves of some of wine’s fusty old traditions. Screw caps have overcome initial market reluctance, and wine in boxes and cans have shed their Skid Row image. “Natural wines” remain controversial among the wine crowd, but they have become increasingly mainstream as mostly younger drinkers seek out wines made with fewer additives and grown organically or biodynamically.

Some of my favorite columns have dealt with wine’s ability to connect us to our culture and history. I sipped a 1914 Bollinger Champagne, harvested as the Guns of August roared nearby. Thanks to the Smithsonian’s food and wine history project, I profiled pioneers of California wine as they celebrated the anniversary of the Judgment of Paris, as well as Mexican Americans who worked their way from vineyard laborers to winery owners.

And I’ve had a little fun wordsmithing along the way. I think I can claim credit for coining “vinoscenti” in that inaugural column on minerality, though neologism experts may have to decide. It seems a nicer word than geek or snob to describe those of us who spend an inordinate amount of our time, energy and money on wine. Though as I write this, “vintelligentsia” comes to mind. Something to think about as I write into the next decade.

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