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The locavore movement is growing and for some people, eating local isn’t enough – they want to drink local too. The region’s wine industry has blossomed over the last few decades, but unpredictable weather and favoritism for European or California wines mean local vintages still have a long way to go. We take a look at the ways weather, culture and history combine to create wines unique to the Washington area.
- Tony Wolf Professor of Viticulture, Virginia Tech; Director, Alson H. Smith, Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center
- Dave McIntyre wine columnist, The Washington Post; co-founder, DrinkLocalWine.com
- Todd Kliman Food and Wine Editor and Restaurant Critic, Washingtonian Magazine
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's Food Wednesday. As the old saying goes, if you don't like the weather, wait a minute, it will change, which has certainly been the case this spring. Unusual weather almost always has a big effect on crops. And for vineyards in an already challenging climate, like Maryland or Virginia, extreme weather adds an extra layer to an intricate process.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut no one ever said making wine was easy. And there's a long history, complex culture and loads of research poured into every bottle of locally made wine. Joining us in studio to discuss this is Dave McIntyre. He's the wine columnist for The Washington Post and the co-founder of DrinkLocal.com. (sic) Dave McIntyre, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. DAVE MCINTYREThank you, Kojo. Glad to be here.
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Todd Kliman. He is the food and wine editor for the Washingtonian, where he also serves as the magazine's food critic. He's the author of "The Wild Vine: A Forgotten Grape and the Untold Story of American Wine." Dave McIntyre, you should be offering congratulations to Todd Kliman because he's gotten yet another James Beard Award nomination. He's up for the M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Award for his work in Lucky Peach magazine.
NNAMDIBut he's up against two other writers, and the winner will be announced on May 4. Of course, Todd won a Beard Award in 2005 for best newspaper column when he was writing for the Washington City Paper, but that's enough praise for Todd, don't you think?
MCINTYREWell -- and for the record, I think I was one of the first to even tell him about the nomination when he got it, so...
MR. TODD KLIMANI think I didn't even know when Dave sent me a text.
NNAMDIWell, good luck to you, Todd Kliman.
NNAMDIYou can join this conversation by calling 800-433-8850. 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, send a tweet, @kojoshow, or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Weather is a factor in growing any kind of plant. But how does it affect wine grapes in general, and how are recent extremes shaping the 2012 season so far? I'll start with you, Dave McIntyre.
MCINTYREWell, as I wrote in my column in The Washington Post last week, the early season has caused the vines to -- what we go through what we call bud break about two weeks earlier than usual. And that one thing sort of brings an early season. It might be better in the fall. But, right now, it presents a danger because there's always a chance that the weather will turn -- as you said, just wait moment -- and if we get a deep freeze around 28 degrees, that can be disastrous to vines when they're in this early stage.
MCINTYRESo that's what local growers were worried about at least for the last couple of weeks. Now that the weather stayed warm, they might be beginning to worry about strong storms and hail.
NNAMDIYou talk about the joke in California that there was no climate there, and that's why the wine always did so well.
MCINTYREThe wine was consistent because they would always have a good vintage. And, of course, that actually has been turned on its head the last two years. California has had troublesome vintages in 2010 and 2011. So they're being reminded out there that Mother Nature has her say.
NNAMDIUnderscoring Todd Kliman's point that two years are alike.
KLIMANThat's, to me, the beauty of wine, is you don't know what you're going to open. I mean, maybe that's not consoling to the consumer spending a lot of money in some cases on a bottle of wine. But the idea that you don't know what it's going to be. You don't know what's going to be until you open it. It might be bad. It might be wonderful. It might surprise you. I think that's one of the nice things in a kind of a plasticky homogenized world to have something that is so dependent on the seasons and on time and place. To me, it's a beautiful thing.
NNAMDISo the better growers are constantly adapting, constantly studying, and that's one of the concerns. Let's cut to the chase here. That's one of the concerns you have, it is my understanding, about the Trump family getting into the winemaking business in Virginia, this business of knowing and studying and adapting and learning.
KLIMANWell, learning is nice. And I think people who are serious about what they do, they spend time to learn. They do their homework. They immerse themselves in the culture. And that's not what the Trump family appears to be doing. I did an interview about a month or so ago with Eric Trump, Donald Trump's son, who is a Georgetown graduate. And it was actually a pretty hilarious interview because he talked about the family move into wine as if it was just this very natural thing.
KLIMANAnd I said, well, this is not what you as a family do. You build skyscrapers. You build casinos. He said, well, it's very consistent with what we've been doing, which is opening golf courses. And I said, what's the connection? And he said, well, they're both agricultural ventures. And I thought, oh, gosh, here we go. OK. He also talked about the idea that one of the great things about Virginia, beyond the history, what attracted the family, is -- to buying the Kluge estate, which had gone to auction, was that there's so much diversity in Virginia wine.
KLIMANAnd I -- you know, it's a buzzword I hadn't heard before. And I said, well, how do you mean diversity? He said, well, you've got red wines. You've got white wines. You've got sparkling wines. And I thought somebody who is very much out of his depth here. And they're all about point scores. And it's -- I see them coming in as -- certainly, they're bringing a lot of attention already to Virginia wine nationally. But Trump is a vulgarian, and what he symbolizes is kind of everything that passionate winemakers have worked to not be.
NNAMDIDave McIntyre, it's not my fault that climate doesn't understand the relationship between water and greens and growing grapes, but explain for us what do you think the entry of the Trumps into winemaking in Virginia can or may not do.
MCINTYREWell, I do remember laughing pretty hard when I read Todd's interview. But I'd like to look at it this way. The learning curve aside, there are people working at the former Kluge estate, now Trump winery, who do know the business. And the Donald has always had a reputation for hiring and, of course, firing people to -- who know what they're doing. But what, I think, we'll actually -- you'll actually see is that -- and when I interviewed Eric Trump, he made the point that this was a logical extension of the luxury business for them.
MCINTYREAnd they were going to put the sparkling wine into all their hotels and all their golf courses and all their resorts and business mediums and things like that. So if you think of somebody going to a Trump casino in Vegas and there's a bottle of Trump winery sparkling wine in the room and they try it and they like it and they say, wow, this wine is from Virginia, next time they come to Virginia, they might remember that and say, oh, yeah, I've had some good Virginia wine.
MCINTYRELet me try a Linden or let me try a Barboursville, let me try a Horton. And so I think, in the end, in that way, at least, it's going to have a good influence for the industry.
NNAMDIIt's a conversation about local wines. That was David McIntyre -- Dave McIntyre. He's the wine columnist for The Washington Post and co-founder of DrinkLocal.com. (sic) Todd Kliman is also with us. He's the food and wine editor for the Washingtonian magazine, where he also serves as the magazine's food critic. Joining us now by phone from Winchester, Va. is Tony Wolf.
NNAMDIHe's a professor of viticulture at Virginia Tech, where he's also the director of the Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center. Tony Wolf, welcome to this conversation. I'd like to hear your take on the recent extremes in weather and how they might be shaping the 2012 wine season so far.
DR. TONY WOLFYeah. Well, thank you. Thanks, Kojo and gentlemen.
NNAMDIAnd feel free to welcome the Trump debate that we're having.
WOLFI got in on the tail end of that. And I'll address your question. I think I'd prefer to do that. Yeah, it's certainly been a rollercoaster ride this spring. And I've been with the industry for close to 30 years. And this is certainly, in my memory and industry's memory, the earliest bud break that we've seen -- bud break being the onset of the growing season for the grapevines -- you know, throughout most of the state occurring around the third week of March.
WOLFAnd we -- you know, the thing that really makes us nervous at this time of the year, of course, is the fact that we do have the potential for spring frost after their -- that bud break event. And if that occurs in a widespread fashion and a severe fashion, we stand to lose a good bit of our crop for the year. So that's always a possibility. And here in Northern Virginia, certainly in the Winchester area, we have at least another two weeks before that threat has really dropped to nil.
WOLFSo we've got a ways to go before we're out of the woods. Current concerns right now are -- I mean, we're -- this is agriculture. If you're growing grapes, you'd always got an eye to the weather forecast. And, you know, we're concerned about frequency of rain, how much rain we're going to get, the untimeliness of that rain. But I think a point that needs to be made and just kind of come full circle on this is that it's -- you know, the early part of the season has a bearing on how much crop will produce.
WOLFIt's really the last 30 to 50 days of the season that determines in large part the quality of the crop and ultimately the wine quality potential. So we've got two ends of the spectrum here, the early part of the season and the latter part or the last part of the season. And they really have kind of two different influences on the vintage per se.
NNAMDIAnd, Todd Kliman, as with so many things, location is a big factor in success. What role does terrain play in successful winemaking?
KLIMANWhat role does the what play? I'm sorry.
NNAMDIThe location, terrain -- terrain.
KLIMANOh, the location. Well, it's actually a huge -- it's a huge factor in terms of both the quantity and the quality of grapes. In fact, a lot of what we did in the early '80s, you know, really with the current revival of the current industry was really focused on vine survival and obtaining a consistent production of grapes on a year-to-year basis. We've kind of shifted gears somewhat in the last 10 to 15 years and focused more of our research efforts on improving the quality of grapes and wine quality potential.
KLIMANBut if you go back, you know, 30 years or so, winters were more harsh. They were colder. Despite the fact that we grow a lot of -- I mean -- there are a lot of native grapevines indigenous to this area. The predominant grapes that we grow, the species of grape, vinifera, are not indigenous to this area. And they're susceptible to winter injury. And so in those winters when we had temperatures dipping below zero degrees Fahrenheit on a routine basis, we would have routine problems with cold injury to grapevines.
KLIMANSo a lot of the site selection that went into this industry in the '80s, late '70s, '80s and even into the '90s, a lot of that focused on where we could grow grapes to have them survive from year to year and also to produce a consistent crop from year to year. That is still very important. We've more or less learned those lessons.
KLIMANFor the most part, though, we still see sometimes vineyards go into places where we would rather not see the vineyards planted. But people that understand topography and local mesoclimate type of impacts on grape production understand where grapes should and should not be grown.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Jennifer in Middleburg, Va. Jennifer, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JENNIFEROh, hi, Kojo. How are you doing?
JENNIFERYou know, you've got -- you have on a couple of my favorite wine journalists, and I needed to say hi.
JENNIFERHi, Todd. Hi, Dave. How are you guys doing?
JENNIFERSo, you know, when you're talking about native grapes, I'm all ears.
NNAMDIWell, I'm glad you're all ears because I'm about to ask Dave and Todd to talk a little bit about the particular challenges that Virginia faces, that winegrowers, say, in France or California do not face. First, you, Todd Kliman.
KLIMANWeather is a big one. Rain, changing of the seasons, dramatic shifts -- I mean, California, as you said earlier, really has no weather, except that -- and as Dave said...
MCINTYREExcept good weather.
KLIMAN...good weather and a lot of consistency. And Virginia's got all sorts of challenges. Jenny, who's on the line now, told me a story many years ago when frost came one winter. She was panicking and -- Jenny McCloud at Chrysalis Vineyards, she was panicking because the frost was about to destroy her vineyard, and so she hired in helicopters to...
NNAMDIJennifer is the helicopter person.
KLIMANYes, to circle the vineyard and have those blades going and hoped that that would bring in some warm air over the crops.
NNAMDIDid that work for you, Jennifer?
JENNIFERYeah, it actually did during those really cool nights where there's no wind. The cold air has a tendency to settle in the lower lying areas, and it displaces the warmer air to -- not just even 20 or 25 feet up, it can be six or seven or even eight degrees warmer. So that's what the wind machines do, you know, that you see in vineyards sometimes.
NNAMDIYeah, Dave, you've written about windmills that some wineries have on their land. What's the purpose of those?
MCINTYREWell, it's the same concept as the helicopters, to move the air around and avoid the cold air settling right around the buds and the shoots with vines.
JENNIFERYeah, you're mixing that warmer air that has stratified up above the cold air and just mixing it up and warming up the air in total.
NNAMDITony Wolf, to a lot of people, that would seem a little bit counterintuitive, but it seems to be that some good science behind it.
WOLFYeah. Well, you know, the downside of the wind machines is their capital cost, and these units are costing 25 to $30,000 a piece just for the purchase price. The operational costs add to it as well. So if you don't have frost on a regular basis, maybe just once every 10 years or two times in a decade you have a problem, certainly flying a helicopter at $800 to $1,000 an hour or so avoids some of that capital outlay and gets you through the problem. As Jennifer said, it's basically pushing that warm air down to the environment of the grapevines.
NNAMDIJennifer, thank you very much for calling. We've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation on local wines. Inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. If you've got questions about the history of wine in the U.S. local wine culture or how grapes are grown, give us a call. 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's Food Wednesday. We're talking local wines with Tony Wolf. He's a professor of viticulture at Virginia Tech, where he's also the director of the Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center. Dave McIntyre is the wine columnist for The Washington Post and co-founder of drinklocalwine.com. Todd Kliman is food and wine editor for the Washingtonian Magazine, where he also serves as the magazine's food critic. He's the author of "The Wild Vine: A Forgotten Grape and the Untold Story of American Wine."
NNAMDICall us, 800-433-8850. Have you visited a local winery lately? We'd love to hear about your experience. If so, you can send email to email@example.com. Todd, you have written about the history of wine making in the U.S. When it comes to Virginia wineries, it seems there are two long-standing divergent mindsets among vineyard owners. How do they differ?
KLIMANWell, you have what I call the terroirs. These are folks who have surveyed the land. They've tried various methods. They've determined that there are certain grapes that are not going to grow here. They might be the wines that everybody wants to drink: chardonnay, pinot noir, et cetera, et cetera, but they're not really suited to the soil, to the land, to the air that's in Virginia. And they move beyond and then try to see what historically has worked or what will work now, and that brings in a grape like Norton, which was the inspiration for the "The Wild Vine."
KLIMANYou have winemakers like Dennis Horton, like Jenny McCloud, who are embracing grape varieties that the average person probably has not heard of. I said Norton, cabernet franc, petit verdot, viognier. And, you know, in the wider wine world, these wines just don't have cache. They don't have any kind of reference point for most casual drinkers. And, of course, therefore, they don't have any real perceived worth for Somali restaurants, for a lot of higher-end restaurants to stock.
KLIMANWine magazines generally don't have a great interest in them. They're not getting the big point scores. But they do tend to flourish in all the regions of Virginia. On the other hand, you have what I kind of think of as the by-any-means-necessary crowd, and Patricia Kluge used to be in that camp. I think the Trumps certainly are going to be in that camp. And these are winemakers who are just interested in producing a good wine, whether it reflects the character of Virginia, whatever that might be, whether it speaks to a time and place.
KLIMANThey're simply interested in a good wine that will impress a journalist or somebody giving a score, and it's a wine that if you -- there are some good examples. I'm not trying to paint with too broad a brush. But, generally, those wines are -- there's a kind of a generic quality to them. They are kind of across the board good, but not indicative of anything that is going on currently in Virginia.
NNAMDIThe two groups, in a way, might be chasing different dreams. Dave, Virginia wines are often in the spotlight, and they're earning an increasing number of accolades. But Maryland wineries are growing by leaps and bounds. What's different when it comes to the wines that they produce and the conditions the vineyards are coping with and are there any similarities?
MCINTYRECertainly climate is similar. The big difference you have between Virginia and Maryland aside from the relative size of the two states is that the Virginia government has long supported the wine industry and has helped it develop with some favorable laws and regulations, whereas Maryland did not until fairly recently. But since right around the turn of the millennium, you have a real growth spurt in Maryland wines, so you had about 12 wineries in 2000, and they're up around 54 now.
MCINTYREAnd part of that is also a big drive toward quality. You have a winery like Black Ankle Vineyards up near Mount Airy. It's fairly well credited with launching this. Young couple had some money, wanted to open a winery, and they searched three or four years until they found a nice rocky hillside with porous soils that would give them that good water drainage to help with the rains and the air drainage that Tony Wolf was talking about to help with any frost potential.
MCINTYREAnd they planted vines, and they used different techniques than were popular in Maryland in planting their vines and growing them. And they just started making really nice wines right off the bat, and other people turned around and said, whoa, we can do that here? And more are. So what you're seeing in Maryland now is more wineries focusing on making quality wines from grapes that either they grow in Maryland or at least the grapes are grown in Maryland.
MCINTYREAnd that's kind of one of the dirty little secrets of local wines is that a lot of them can be made with at least a substantial portion of grapes that are shipped in from California or elsewhere. So even if it's a Maryland winery or a Virginia Winery, it's not necessarily a local wine.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. We'll get back to the calls in just a second, but is there a type of wine to which you typically gravitate? Call us, 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow. What is it that you like about your favorite wine? You can also send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Tony Wolf, Virginia has put a lot of resources into fostering its wine industry. Now, you're expanding your scope beyond the commonwealth. What are you working on now?
WOLFWell, our focus is really still the commonwealth. I mean, I'm an employee of this commonwealth, Virginia Tech. It's agency of the commonwealth, and so that's really where our efforts are. I think what you'd might be alluding to, though, is the fact that last year, we received a fairly sizable grant from the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, their specific programs, especially crops research initiative. And this is a large grant that involves those research and educational components.
WOLFVirginia Tech is the lead institution on that, but there are seven institutions, mostly land grant institutions involved in the Eastern U.S. And in a nutshell, the title speaks to much of what you've -- your listeners have already heard in the last 20 minutes or so. But the project is entitled "Improved Grape and Wine Quality in a Challenging Environment," with a subtitle of "An Eastern U.S. Model for Sustainability and Economic Vitality." One of the key words in there, though, was challenging or challenging environment.
WOLFSo we have -- there are several different objectives in here, but one of the primary objectives that we're pursuing -- there's 20 researchers involved in this project. One of the primary objectives is really focused on understanding, measuring and modifying the variability that we see in vineyard and in grapevine growth. All of these things that we've talked about with climate -- untimely rainfall, for example -- lead to quite a bit of variability in the ripening of grapes, in the amount of growth to the grape vines.
WOLFSo what we're really trying to do is be able to predict that in a more measurable way so that we can advice growers on means of adapting to that. We can't, for example, turn the rain off, but as Dave commented with Black Ankle Vineyard, we're really paying much more attention to the water holding capacity of the soil and practical ways that growers can modify that, even using competitive cover crops that reduce water availability to the vines particularly during the ripening period.
WOLFSo we have other objectives in this project. One of the -- another one of the large areas, just briefly, is the development of sort of a new generation geographical information system approach to better matching grapevine variety with a particular site. And, again, this speaks to some of the things that you've heard here in the last 10, 15 minutes. Should we be growing chardonnay in all locations of the state? Probably no.
NNAMDIIndeed, I will get to that more specifically in a minute, but I want to bring the listeners back in on the conversation. Chris in Warrenton, Va., thank you for waiting. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISThank you, gentlemen. It's great to have this program on. My question is regarding geographical importance. California is New World, Europe, Old World, and Virginia is geographically -- and also by palate structure, I think -- halfway between the two. And the benefit Virginia has with its challenges is a long hang time. I like to hear a little bit of input about the benefit of humidity and its challenges of getting the grapes to ripe which increases hang time and increases more interest of terroir into the fruit itself and the wine that it represents.
NNAMDIHere is Dave McIntyre.
MCINTYREWell, it's the first time I've heard humidity in Virginia as a good thing. Certainly, I think what -- and Tony can speak to this. The growers here have learned to cope with the humidity a lot better now, and they have better canopy management, they call it. That's pruning the leaves off the vines during the season. It promotes air flow through the grapes and helps dry them out a little bit. And there are various different ways that they have to deal with the problems of humidity.
MCINTYREAnd as far as the hang time goes, it has actually been kind of impressive if you follow the harvest as I do every year. In 2010, we had a really early one, but -- and last year, of course, everybody wanted to build an ark 'cause it would rain for 30 days in a row, and it was extremely challenging. But in previous years, you'll have people -- wineries in Northern Virginia at around Front Royal that are harvesting as late as October and November.
MCINTYREAnd that does help increase the ripeness of the grapes and gets the -- what we call as green unripe or vegetal flavors out of the grapes. So, again, this is part of the way that local grape growing and winemaking has been improving over the years.
KLIMANThe caller brought up the idea that Virginia is, you know, in between, as you could say, in between California and Europe. And I think one of the things that's interesting for people who are not currently turned on to Virginia wines is that what you have is -- when you have a really good Virginia wine, you've got something that, I think, has the best of both worlds. You've got that nice fruitiness, that freshness that you get in the lot of the California wines.
KLIMANBut you have the lower alcohol content and the kind of the -- sort of the leaner qualities of European wines, and so Virginia wines at their best are something different in the marketplace. Beyond that, of course, is just that if you drink a local wine, you're drinking something that's an expression -- it's a cultural expression. And it's not simply that you are trying to buy something to impress somebody or you're buying a bottle to make a statement. You're taking part in something that's going on now and that's reflective of the place you live.
KLIMANSo much in the food and wine world is, you know, so much hinges on this idea of the best. But it's a really shaky argument. You have things like -- they're really popular right now at a lot of restaurants, local oysters, Rappahannock oysters. Well, they're not the best oysters in the world. I wouldn't even say they were top three if I were going to rank the oysters in the world, but there's a different taste to those oysters. There's a different quality. And you eat that oyster, and you know you're kind of taking part in something that's now. And there's a beauty to that.
NNAMDITony, partly through trial and error, vineyards and researchers have identified some varieties of grapes that grow well in this region. What are some of the best bets locally?
WOLFThe, you know, just as it's sort of a general categorization of grapes that do well in this are those that we growers tend call weather grapes, those that withstand these rainfalls and these rainy harvests that we have had such as in 2011. Petit manseng, for example, is one of those sort of esoteric varieties. It's really grown principally only in one very small region of France, but we took it interest in it in the '80s because it has -- it had done so well in a research planting in New York state.
WOLFWe brought cuttings down here, evaluated it, and it just does very well. It's very small varied variety. It withstands the rainfalls that we can get during the fall and right and fairly uniformly. It's not -- does not produce a wine though that everybody likes. It's not as perhaps food friendly as a more neutral white variety, like chardonnay or pinot grigio, but there are others as well. We have some what we call hybrid varieties.
WOLFThese are interspecific varieties that have both American-type grapes in them and the European vinifera grapes, things like vidal blanc. We produced a lot of vidal in Virginia, and Maryland produces a lot as well. We have others, such as among the Bordeaux reds, petit verdot does reasonably well in this climate. Again, these are all varietals. There's opportunity for blending these as well.
WOLFDave and Todd can speak more about that in terms of consumer preferences, but we don't -- I think as a consumer myself, we get kind of hang up on just varietal names and the blending opportunities as illustrated by the Hodder Hill, which won the Governor's Cup this year. I think it's a good example of what we can do with putting some of these varieties together.
NNAMDIDave, you also flag petit manseng.
MCINTYREWell, petit manseng I really enjoy because it can do an off-dry wine with just a little bit of sweetness, but it can also do a late-harvest dessert wine that is really unctuous and sweet and quite lovely. But I'd like to follow up on what Tony just mentioned about the blending. One of the movements you see now in Virginia is an emphasis on -- and I think this is a sign of the maturity of the industry -- an emphasis on single -- what we call single-vineyard wines, wines that are an expression of the place.
MCINTYREAnd these might be not labeled as cabernet sauvignon because to do that, you need 75 percent of that grape to put that on the label. And they would be blends of several different grapes to try to get an expression of the place. For instance, Tarara Vineyards in Loudon County is going in that direction. Linden has always been in that direction. And he -- Jim Law makes some very expressive reds from his growers, and he always bottles them -- I mean, he makes some blends, too, but he bottles the single-vineyard ones.
MCINTYREAnd, of course, the one that's gotten a big splash the last year is RdV Vineyards out near Delaplane, which is one-site blend of three or four Bordeaux-type grapes. And the Glen Manor Hodder Hill that Tony mentioned just won the Governor's Cup. And in that competition, we had 12 wines singled out, and five of those were what we call Bordeaux blends or Meritage blends. So that's a good trend. That's an area that Virginia is doing really well.
NNAMDIChris, thank you very much for your call. I got to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation about local wines with Todd Kliman, Dave McIntyre and Tony Wolf. The lines are busy. So if you'd like to get in touch with us, shoot us an email to email@example.com, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. If you have a go-to favorite type of wine, you're wondering whether there's a local variety that you might also like, you can send us a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's Food Wednesday, local wines with Tony Wolf. He's a professor of viticulture at Virginia Tech, where he's also the director of the Alson H. Smith, Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center. Dave McIntyre is the wine columnist for The Washington Post, and he's the co-founder of drinklocalwine.com. Todd Kliman is the food and wine editor for the Washingtonian. He also serves as the magazines food critic.
NNAMDIHe is the author of "The Wild Vine: A Forgotten Grape and the Untold Story of American Wine." We go directly to the phones and talk now with Cathy in Delaplane, Va. Cathy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CATHYHi, thanks for taking my call. And, yeah, I live in what is now becoming wine country in Delaplane, and it's lovely to see so many vineyards popping up all over the place. I have a question about a particular variety of wine, the Norton. When I went to one of the wineries nearby, there was a wonderful story about how the Norton was preserved during Prohibition. And I wonder if you could tell more about that story. And also, I tried to go back to the same winery...
NNAMDII'm afraid we only have about 15 minutes left, and you should know that Todd Kliman's book is about Norton red wines. So I'm going to ask him to, as they say on the Hill, restrict his remarks. Go ahead, please, Todd Kliman.
KLIMANWell, I think Norton is a fascinating grape and a fascinating story. And just to link back to what we were talking about earlier about the best versus what's interesting, you know, most people in the wine world have very little regard for Norton, including, at times, the gentleman to my right, but…
NNAMDIIt would be Dave McIntyre.
KLIMANNo. It wouldn't be Dave. It wouldn't be Dave.
MCINTYREPutting words in my mouth.
KLIMANBut I think it's such an interesting wine. And so many wine makers in Virginia are so concerned about making wines that will compete nationally. You hear that a lot. You hear it in Missouri, too, which is a really interesting and important -- historically important wine region. And I think that what Norton gives these wineries may not -- it's a challenging wine -- challenging grape to work with, certainly in the vineyard and in the cellar as well. And it's not to everybody's taste.
KLIMANThere's just this quality about it. There's a wild quality that not everybody cops to. But the thing is that what Norton gives Virginia is a story, and a story is really important, a story that goes back 200 years, and in reality probably 400 years, because of the experiment of Daniel Norton who created the Norton grape in the throes of despair after losing his family. And that story, I mean, his breakthrough, his cracking of the code has -- you know, the context of that goes back to the earliest settlings of the country.
KLIMANSo that story is really fascinating, and I think that it doesn't necessarily make for an easy wine for people to embrace. But that story can be used, I think, for marketing purposes and for introducing people to a new taste.
NNAMDIAnd, Cathy, he won't do it, so I will shamelessly plug the book, "The Wild Vine: A Forgotten Grape and the Untold Story of American Wine" by Todd Kliman.
CATHYWhere can I get it?
CATHYNo, I mean, the Norton wine.
KLIMANOh. No, don't drink the wine. Get the book. No. The wine is -- there are at least more than -- I want to say more than two dozen, more than three dozen in the state.
MCINTYREI think so. The leading ones would be Chrysalis in Middleburg -- Jenny called in earlier -- and, obviously, Horton, and everybody loves saying Horton Norton.
NNAMDICathy, the conversation we had with Todd about this book was on June 22, 2010, so you can find that in the archives at our website, kojoshow.org. Thank you very much for your call. Here is Jennifer in Warrenton, Va. Jennifer, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JENNIFERHi. I am the wine director at The Inn at Little Washington, and I've had the absolute pleasure to not only sit and taste wine with Dave McIntyre but to have a conversation with Todd Kliman. And I also read his book before coming to Virginia to take on the position...
NNAMDIAnd you're still so young. That's amazing. But go ahead, please.
JENNIFERNo, no, no, no. It was amazingly interesting, and shed so much light on the subject that I was embarrassed I didn't know enough about. And it's been amazing to me how often people have spoken about the wine industry and don't know about Virginia. And I've had the ability to almost have an educational platform with using "The Wild Vine" as my backdrop. And the information that I gleaned from that has been unbelievable.
JENNIFERI would like to say, though, for those who have any doubts about Virginia wine, I spent 11 years in California, and my second day on the job, I went on a tasting with the first lady of Virginia. And I hate to use the word embarrassed again, but I will because I could not believe that I did not know this was happening here. I was blown away. Impressed is an understatement. And it was just fascinating to me to be able to be part of what, I think, is becoming the new winery generation.
NNAMDIHere's Dave McIntyre.
MCINTYREYeah. I'd like to add to that. It's something that led myself and my friend Jeff Siegel down in Dallas to create DrinkLocalWine.com as a means of calling attention to this happening throughout the country because what we call the winestream media, the magazines and everything, tends to have their editorial schedules, and there's no room for new regions...
NNAMDIAnd I'm glad Jennifer called because it allows me to raise this issue with you and with Todd -- and feel free to jump in, Tony, also. A lot of people like to eat local, but they don't necessarily drink local. Why do you think there's a bias against American wines, with a possible exception of California? Why does that bias tend to persist?
MCINTYREWell, I think a lot of it is...
NNAMDII hear Tony laughing in the background already.
MCINTYREYeah. And he knows that this is a subject dear to Todd's and mine hearts. We call this the locavore, local poor, conundrum. The -- I think a lot of it is a sense that -- and mistaken sense -- that local wines aren't very good. I mean, there are some very bad Virginia -- wine made in Virginia and Maryland. There's bad wine made in California.
NNAMDIThere's bad wines everywhere, yes.
MCINTYREExactly. And a part of it, too, is that, you know, some people might have tasted wine 20 years ago at a festival and not liked it. Or they might have tasted wine 20 days ago and had one that they didn't like, so they write it off and say, well, OK, Virginia is making wine, but it's not very good. The quality is getting better. Some (word?) like Jennifer and others here in D.C. are beginning to pay attention, which is great. So we're beginning to see more on local lists.
MCINTYREThere's also a distinction that people say, well, local food is fresh, and local wine isn't. And I don't buy that. I think that's a false distinction because they're farmers, and you're supporting your local farmer whether he's growing lettuce or growing grapes.
KLIMANI think a lot of it comes down to status, and it's something that a lot of people in the industry will just not admit. When you're eating, you know, some kind of heirloom pork grown in some town in Virginia, and it's presented to you at a restaurant, and there's this, you know, lengthy explication at the table, and you get the papers for the pig, and you're told the entire history of the pig, I mean, that's selling of a story. And you're being presented that as kind of a status symbol.
KLIMANThis is better, you're being told implicitly, because it's coming from here. And it may be better. It may be a wonderful thing. But the argument doesn't extend to wines. When it comes to wine, all sorts of arguments are thrown up to shoot it down, as Dave just mentioned. And I think the problem is that -- what people are missing is that when you eat that local pig or you eat any local greens, I mean, you are supporting a larger system of making and distributing.
KLIMANBut you're also supporting people who are making this product in the here and now, and you're supporting something that is part of this micro or local culture, I guess we could call it. And that has intrinsic worth.
NNAMDITony, care to comment?
WOLFWell, just to follow up. I agree entirely with what Todd and Dave have already said. There's no point in repeating that. Just a sad statistic, though, in the industry is the fact that Virginia still hovers around a 4 percent market share with Virginia wine sales. And we could compare ourselves to Oregon, a figure that I've heard recently from there is upwards of around 40 percent.
WOLFSo 40 percent of the wines in Oregon that are purchased by Oregonians are Oregon wines, and yet we're down at a low single-digit figure of four. And that figure has stayed there, not budged in many, many years. So we do have a lot of room to grow. I think the general greater availability of wines and good wines today also it gives, you know, consumers this vast opportunity to try different wines.
WOLFAnd I guess I would just echo the comments that have been said before. The variability that sometimes occurs with vintages here leads to, you know, some people's displeasure with wine. If they go back to the same winery looking for the same wine, it may vary in quality from year to year.
NNAMDIWell, Jennifer, thank you very much for your call.
JENNIFEROh, my pleasure. Thank you so much for having it.
NNAMDIAnd Jennifer addressed Virginia. Now, here is Regina in Baltimore, Md., who will talk a little bit about Maryland. Regina, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
REGINAHi. Thank you so much. As Kojo mentioned, I'm from Maryland, and I actually work with the Maryland Wineries Association. And I was calling to ask your guests to speak about the local food and local wine movement, but they've covered that in depth. So I just wanted to mention one of my favorite things in working in the industry is the personality and getting out to go visit wineries and meet the people who are growing the grapes and making the wine and the stories behind the industry, again going all the way back to the beginning of this country.
REGINAAnd Maryland's history parallels Virginia. And those early grape growers -- you know, Thomas Jefferson had a friend up here in Maryland named John Adlum, and they would send wine samples back and forth. So I really feel the personality of the industry members add so much to the wine experience 'cause wine is so experiential.
NNAMDII guess it gets back to what you were talking about, to some extent, Todd Kliman, and that is the story. People need to know the story in the same way that Jennifer and Regina now know the story.
KLIMANA story is so valuable. A story, you know, illumines so much. I think it's so interesting to talk to people -- call them foodies -- who travel to Europe, and they go to these small towns and they eat at the local cafes and bistros and trattorias. And, you know, the idea is that you go into this local place, and you're experiencing this local culture, and you drink the local wine.
KLIMANAnd it's not great wine, but it's the idea of this food is going with this wine. This wine was made here. This food comes from here. And yet, here, in Virginia, that doesn't have any resonance for a lot of people.
NNAMDIDave McIntyre, back to Maryland, you were telling me about a book.
MCINTYREWell, Regina McCarthy, who just called in, is also the author of a new book called "Maryland Wine: A Full-Bodied History," which is telling the story of the wine -- the growth of the wine industry through the state. We also have a new book published in -- about Virginia by a gentleman named Richard Leahy called "Beyond Jefferson's Vines." I was -- I wrote the introduction to that.
MCINTYREI haven't had a chance to read the full book in published form yet of either of those, but I'm looking forward to it. I think that's a sign that the local wine movement is growing, that we have these books. I've read one recently from Texas called "The Wine Slinger Diaries" by Russ Kane. It's great to see this attention out there.
NNAMDIRegina, for being so modest, I will shamelessly plug your book again, "Maryland Wine: A Full-Bodied History." Regina, thank you very much for your call.
REGINAThank you so much.
NNAMDIAnd here now is Mary Ellen in Purcellville, Va. Mary Ellen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARY ELLENWhy, thanks, Kojo. I'm a big fan of yours and local Loudoun County wines and just wanted to state that Loudoun County is identified as D.C. wine country. And we have 24 vineyards and wineries, which are only an hour outside of D.C. And I certainly hope that one day the Loudoun County viognier will be known like Napa's chardonnay.
MARY ELLENAnd you had asked what we like besides the flavor of local wine, and of course it's the beautiful rolling terrain, the awesome tasting rooms that are here and the gracious hospitality and, as you already did mention, the winemakers. And one in particular I would just like to share is North Gate Vineyard and their petit manseng, which is done by Vicki Fedor.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We're running out of time very quickly, but, Todd Kliman, we have not yet talked about cost.
KLIMANNo. And that's the bugaboo here. The wines are -- some of them are very reasonably priced, $10, $15, $20. But the really -- a lot of the exciting stuff is in the $25, $30 range, and that's kind of out of reach of a lot of people.
NNAMDIIn this economy.
KLIMANYeah. And besides which, the wines are not easy to get. I've had a lot of people say, where can I get a Norton, or where can I get a viognier? And you can't just wander into most wine shops and find them. You've got to seek them out. That makes things complicated, and Virginia is going to have to do more to address those issues.
NNAMDITodd Kliman, he's the food and wine editor for the Washingtonian magazine. He also serves there as the magazine's food critic. He's the author of "The Wild Vine: A Forgotten Grape and the Untold Story of American Wine." Good luck with the James Beard nomination.
NNAMDIDave McIntyre is the wine columnist for The Washington Post and co-founder of drinklocalwine.com. Dave, thank you for joining us.
MCINTYREThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDITony Wolf is a professor of viticulture at Virginia Tech. He's also the director of the Alson H. Smith, Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center there. Tony, thank you for joining us.
WOLFThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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