The Case For Local Wine
Editor’s Note: We are pleased to introduce you to our new columnist, Wendy Aeschlimann. Actually, to those knee-deep in the Chicago food world, you probably know Wendy, an active participant in LTHForum and someone who has organized many events with them. Still, did you know that Wendy is also passionate about wine, and especially passionate about local wine. Please follow along today, and in weeks ahead as Wendy makes the Case for Local Wine.
Chateau Chantal – Photo by Jeff Greenberg
Why Not Local Wine?
Even people dedicated to local eating neglect to drink local wine. It’s easy to see why — we live in the upper Midwest, which is not readily associated with winemaking. It might also be because wine is made from grapes that are crushed, fermented, aged and bottled before shipping — thus, the product necessarily does not suffer in shipment as would, say, a peach. These considerations aside, there remains a case for integrating Midwestern wine into our wine-drinking rotation.
A recent article in the New York Times discusses the trend to broaden eating local to drinking local. In this article, California Bay-Area restaurants were charged with not offering enough local wine on their menus, which they claimed could be too high in alcohol and heavy in tannins and, therefore, not food-friendly. However, even those restaurants more motivated by palate than environmental considerations are coming around to recognizing that local wines deserve a place on their menus. This discussion highlights that, although drinking wine allows us to traverse the world via a bottle consumed from our tables, drinking locally allows us to experience more deeply another aspect of our home turf.
This notion of “home turf” is generally reflected in the winemaking term, “terroir,” which loosely stands for the notion that each wine reflects the characteristics of the place from where it came. Put another way, pinot noir made from grapes grown in Oregon will taste different from those grown in Austria simply because they were grown in different climates, soils and topography. While some wine lovers may quibble about which wine is better, the real point is: In a way, it doesn’t matter. That each type of wine is a product of a certain place is a wonderful thing and worth celebrating in its own right.
For the past few years, I’ve been dedicated to exploring the local wineries of the Midwest. In the context of integrating local food into your regimen, it can be very rewarding to visit the wineries in your backyard, drive through vineyard after vineyard, and meet the winemakers. I’ve found that many Midwest winemakers are dead-serious about growing wine grapes and making wine, knowing that they sometimes face difficult conditions (such as unforgiving winters).
Why drink local wine? Many of the reasons for drinking local are the same as eating local. Here are five more reasons:
One. Support your local winemaker. You experience the same sense of pride of place as when buying a local tomato or radish, knowing that it was grown by a nearby farmer.
Two. Environmental considerations. Less fossil fuels are consumed and carbon emitted in getting the wine to your door.
Three. Branching out. Because the Midwest generally plants cold-hardy grapes, you have the chance to try more unusual varieties, such as Norton, Traminette and Vidal. Just like at the farmer’s market, where your curiosity is roused by new varieties of peppers, so can it be with wine.
Four. Support your local economy. The Midwest, like many areas of the country, is an economy in transition. By supporting your local farmers, you may be supporting a growth sector of our local economy.
Five. Help influence the direction of local wine market. As with any business, wine-making is, at bottom, a money-making endeavor. As more wine-making consumers buy local wine, the money will be reinvested into the wineries, and they will only improve over time.
In advocating that Midwest wine (and spirits and hard cider) deserve a place in our drinking habits, I do not suggest that we should give up drinking our favorite wine from other places in the world. Eating and drinking local is not an extreme all-or-nothing proposition — just as you do not always follow a local eating regimen, nor should anyone have to strictly drink local wine. However, if you drink wine and already make the effort to fit in local vegetables and even meat into your diet, why not local wine as well?
As I write this column, I plan to chronicle my travels around the Midwest, exploring its varied wineries and winemakers. I’ll help direct you to worthy wineries, source these wines in Chicago, and taste them with Chicago wine professionals and enthusiasts. I look forward to hearing from people who drink local wines, spirits and hard ciders, and wish to discuss their finds. I hope that you will agree with me that integrating a local wine into your wine-drinking rotation is a satisfying and worthy extension of eating locally and celebrating pride of place.
NEXT: Tasting Local Wines With West Town Tavern’s Wine Director, Drew Goss. What Will We Find?