Not many conferences have agendas that basically read like this: “Taste a variety of wines. Discuss the variety of wines. Eat something delicious (accompanied by wine). Meet the people who grew the grapes. Taste some more wine. Learn how the wine was made (and done so practically in your own backyard). Enjoy a gourmet lunch featuring some of Baltimore’s finest fare (and have some local wine that compliments it just so). Engage in discussions about how we should really all be drinking more local wine. And finally, join in the Twitter Taste-Off—sampling over two dozen wines from Maryland’s wineries.” Presumably, after this, one goes home and takes a nap. But it’s really not a particularly tough sell, is it?
Drink Local Wine was founded in 2008, and as an organization, it’s dedicated “to telling the story of American wine.” And what does that mean, exactly? Well, we all know (or should, by now) the whole thing about Champagne only coming from the Champagne region of France, right? It may be white and sparkly, but without that particular postmark, it’s got no name recognition. Likewise, other wine varieties are named for the grapes from which they’re made. These grapes may have been originally cultivated (and squashed, and fermented) in France or Italy, but today, with a couple hundred years of American history behind us, haven’t we got a right to claim our own place in the story of oenology? Certainly, the grapes that American vintners have been cultivating over time—and the soil, climate, and location of their wineries—make for something very different than the traditional European product. We’ve all embraced the movement toward local food (especially easy in a place with Maryland’s lengthy growing season and vicinity to the Bay); but, as the folks at DLW put it, “Does locavore mean loca-pour?” Our answer and theirs: it certainly should, shouldn’t it?
Maryland, because its landscape is so varied (especially for such a tiny state—go us!) actually supports four distinct regions for growing grapes—the Piedmont Plateau, the Eastern Shore, the Southern Plain, and the state’s Western Mountains. Of course, when one thinks of American wines, the first thing to come to mind is that giant in the west, California. But according to DLW’s president, Jeff Siegel, “California has not always been the center of the wine universe. The U.S. wine industry was in the Ohio River valley during the Civil War, and Missouri at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.” Sure, that’s not exactly Maryland, but when someone says “Civil War” we can’t help but feel like somehow we must have been involved. Siegel goes on: “California didn’t become the predominant wine state until after World War II — and it suffered in the shadow of France until the late 1970s. Those were the days of mountain chablis, often made with table grapes, and hearty burgundy, a red blend that had nothing to do with pinot noir. If you had asked a serious wine drinker what they thought of California wine four decades ago…they probably would have used the adjective ‘gross.’” Now we’re not trying to disparage California’s wines, here. Rather, we’re out to make the case for a greater appreciation for all regional wines; after all, wines are now produced in all fifty states (Alaska? Really?). “Regional wine is not supposed to taste like California wine,” says Siegel. “Or French wine. Or like any wine other than where it is from. Missouri wine tastes like Missouri wine, and there’s nothing wrong with that. “
When someone starts talking like that, it’s easy to get fired up about supporting one’s local wine industry. And the best initiation to this world of local wine enthusiasts? The 2013 DLW conference, which we are just over-the-moon excited about, seeing as how they’ve chosen Baltimore for this year’s conference (some past conferences were held in Texas, Missouri, and Colorado). It’s really the best place to learn what Maryland wines look and taste like, and who’s growing grapes right outside your door. Meet your local vintner, learn about Maryland’s several wine trails (perfect for a spring day trip out of the city), and taste, taste, taste. Sure, the offerings at this year’s conference may not be the mass produced pinots and cabernets that you’re used to. But a wine distinct to where we’re from? A wine that we can be proud to show off to visiting guests precisely because it tastes like a Maryland wine? Oh yes, we’ll drink to that.
The Drink Local Wine conference takes place on Saturday, April 13th at Tremont Suites Hotel and Camden Yards. Tickets and more information are available at www.drinklocalwine.com and www.marylandwine.org.
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