“Other States” Wines…The Reputation Grows

I’ve worked with wineries outside the big three wine states (CA, WA, OR). Let me tell you, it is very very difficult to get a wine writer, let alone writers at the major wine magazines, to give consideration to wines from Michigan, Ohio, Texas and other states where the wines really can be quite good.

Bruce Shoenfeld of The Wine Spectator showed just how difficult it is to get America’s top wine magazine to give consideration to "other states" wines when he commented on Missouri wines in a story printed in the Springfield News Ledger on the up and coming wines of Missouri:

"I have some familiarity with Missouri wines. There’s no region of the country that doesn’t say it does well in blind tests. I have a hard time believing Missouri wines would do well (at tasting contests)….If you have a great meal in Missouri wine country, you want a great wine, not a norton."

This kind of attitude is common. It results from a number of factors. First, for a long time wines from "other states" really were not that good. Second, rarely is there an active promotional body in these states representing their wineries outside their home states. Third, most wine journalists have VERY LITTLE experience with the caliber or scope of wines from "other states". Fourth, because it is very difficult to find Missouri, Michigan, Texas or New Mexico wines in New York and San Francisco, Wine Journalists simply don’t write about these wines because they assume access to them is nearly impossible.

Reason number four is one reason why nationwide, legal direct shipment to consumers is probably just as important to "other states" wine industries as it is to California’s wine industries. Given the ability to ship wine across the country, Missouri’s wines would be perfectly available to wine lovers reading about them in magazines, newspapers and newsletters no matter where they live.

There is every reason to believe that as states begin to allow direct shipping we will see more acknowledgment of wines from a variety of states besides CA, WA and OR. In turn, this will lead to more "wine tourism" in those other states. This in turn leads to a broadening "wine economy" in these states.

Reputations are built slowly and built on the shoulders of quality-minded winemakers. Reputations can be built somewhat faster if the media is willing to look at these "other states" products with an open mind and palate. The reputation of a number of states is growing as we speak. Michigan for one is a state whose wines could grab the attention of a number of wine lovers. Texas too makes some outstanding wines.

I’m hoping we see direct shipping legislation open more markets and more minds.


14 Responses

  1. Lenn - May 31, 2005

    I’m sure you knew I’d chime in on this…as a wine writer who covers “other wine.”
    Oddly…even though NY wines ARE easily accessible (at least some) in NY…they don’t get much play in the big media outlets either. Sure, Howard Goldberg writes a weekly column about Long Island wines, and there are small pubs in the Finger Lakes that cover those wines…but beyond Bully Hill and Dr. Konstantin Frank, very few wineries get much juice in the big boys.
    As you say, reputations are built slowly…and LI has only been a region for 30 or so years. Problem is, because of financial considerations, LI winery owners aren’t always patient…they want their due NOW NOW NOW…to help them finance their operations. Hard to blame them, but the fact is that Dr. Frank is one of the few that gets good pub because it’s one of the older NY wineries…and he’s the first to show that vinifera grapes can do well in NY.
    It just takes time…and one open-minded writer to take a region under his/her wing.

  2. Lenn - May 31, 2005

    By the way…I’ve not had an MI wines…or TX wines for that matter. But I have heard great things about MI riesling…
    Of course…you missed NY as an up-and-coming region…but I’ll let it slide…this time. 😉

  3. tom - May 31, 2005

    I know why I missed NY. New York is niether a first line wine state (CA, WA, OR) nor is it an “other state”. It’s somewhere in between. Now, please note, I’m not talking quality here. I’m talking recognition.
    Funny though, I know MI, TX and MO wines better than NY wines.

  4. Bob - May 31, 2005

    This discussion is really interesting, because in the 1970s, New York state was the #2 wine producer in the nation. Of course, back then it was Taylor and all of that concord and catawba stuff. I agree with the previous comments, and will add that Finger Lakes now makes world-class riesling, the best in America; Long Island makes merlot, but the chardonnay is superb (Gristina is one winery, and the character is that appley-crisp style of, say, Argyle of Oregon); Virginia is making some incredible cabernet franc and viognier (I think the viogniers from Horton and Chysalis are among the best in America).
    I travel to eastern wineries on business, and every year I come back amazed at the progress.
    —Bob in St. Helena

  5. Lenn - May 31, 2005

    Thanks for chiming in on the NY wines. Gristina was actually sold to Vincent Galluccio a few years ago and renamed it Galluccio Family Winery…and now he’s selling it as well. You’re right that there is some good chardonnay here…along with merlot, cab franc and increasingly sauvignon blanc.
    I too have had some good Cab Franc from VA…and a decent Cabernet Sauvignon…Grey Ghost winery I believe.
    You know I was just joking around! But thanks for the clarification.
    I’m actually not sure, but NY might still be the 2nd biggest producer in the country behind Cali…but it’s still largely junk wines.

  6. Bob - May 31, 2005

    Right you are that Gristina became Gallucio Estate (brain cramp). On the topic of East Coast reds, I think we need to be cautious.
    Certain drought years, such as earlier in this decade have produced some wines of intensity, but in general I believe there’s too much rainfall in those regions to find the concentration levels that we expect in, say, California and Northwest reds.
    The eastern reds seem a little thin. This is balanced, however, by the fact that eastern grapes often achieve full ripeness at 22 degrees brix, as in Europe.
    Aside from more humidity and rain, another climatic difference of the East is warm, downright tropical,summer nights. I don’t know if ripening can take place without sunlight and photosynthesis, but warm nights do create a different prospect for the vine.
    One might think that Pinot Noir would do well in that part of the country. A couple of Finger Lakes winemakers are working on it, but to date, I’ve never had a decent Pinot from the east coast. It is hands down the most disappointing classic varietal.
    Spanish reds, like Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional, are thriving in Virginia, and yield wines of some intensity. They also color well.
    I do love the whites, however. Some of them are sensational.
    —Bob in St. Helena

  7. Bob - May 31, 2005

    Lenn mentions “junk wines”, and I have to concur that there is all too much “junk wine” in the East. By that, I mean cheaply produced, sweet wines from viitis labrusca (concord, catawba), and simple but sometimes interesting wines from French hybrids (Chambourcin, Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc).
    It’a all in the economics. Vitis vinifera, the grape species with the “noble grape” varieties, is difficult to grow in those regions. Vinifera is very suseptible to powdery mildew and other fungal diseases.
    In addition, the clientele of many of these “farm wineries”—particularly in Ohio and Pennsylvania— have not discovered classic wines yet. A winery can buy catawba grapes for $300 a ton, make a 6-dollar catawba rose, and sell it out the door all summer long to thirsty tourists.
    This makes more economic sense to some of them than to struggle growing Chardonnay and barely clear a profit.
    Or, their cheap stuff finances their true passion for classic wine–making many wineries seem schitzophrenic
    if you visit them. They will have a cheap concord wine, and also a cabernet sauvignon, aged in French oak!
    However, this kind of behaviour is on its way out. Nearly all of the new wine regions of Virginia and North Carolina are strictly classic vinifera, with a few exceptions. And you NEVER find concord on Long Island! L.I. is quite snooty about its new-found “acceptance” into the wine world. And the Hamptons are right around on the south fork.
    Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes is now largely vinifera, especially riesling, chardonnay and gewurztraminer (the best Gewurz I ever had in America came from tiny Red Newt Cellars).
    No, I think that Lenn’s comment about “junk” wine is still true, but fast disappearing.
    Just look at what’s happened to their big wineries. Most of them were bought out by Canandaigua (Constellation) and then closed down. Taylor, Gold Seal, Widmers—all huge wineries at one time, 30 years ago—are moribund.
    Grape growers who used to sell niagra, catawba and concord to Taylor, have either had to plant new varieties or go out of business.
    Upper New York State has had to make some painful adaptations to the New World Wine scene, but they are gradually doing it.
    In Virginia and many emerging areas, they were never burdened with that legacy.
    —Bob in St. Helena

  8. Lenn - May 31, 2005

    I think perhaps you’re being a ‘bit’ harsh on “eastern reds.” While I’d agree 100% that many of them do fall into the thin and “green” category, here on LI, there are quite a few wines that don’t qualify.
    Sure, 2001 (known as LI’s best growing year to date) offers up the best reds here…but there are others.
    As for the Finger Lakes…I’ve not had a single red wine (yet) that I’d consider anything beyong gulpable. I should mention, however, that I’m not nearly as familiar there as I am here on the Island.
    I mirror your comments on the whites up there though…Red Newt is great with it…as is Atwater Estates (whose winemaker used to work as an assistant here on Long Island). I’ve actually had some really good Vidal Blanc too…and even a Cheyval Blanc or two that I’d serve to wine friends.
    When’s the last time you came to Long Island to taste? Come on out and I’ll show you where to go 🙂 Gristina/Galluccio isn’t it 😉

  9. Bob - May 31, 2005

    I didn’t realize you were on Long Island! And yes, I was a bit harsh on eastern reds. The 2001 vintage (a drought year) was excellent. And I didn’t mention that Long Island has some very talented winemakers: Russell Hearn, the Australian; Kip Bedell, a pioneer whose wines get better and better; Jason Damianos; Roman Roth; Adam Supernant; and Richard Olsen-Hart, are all classically trained and talented. Wineries I admire are Osprey’s Dominion, Raphael, Bedell Cellars, Galluccio, Pellegrini, Macari, Pindar, Wolfer Sagapond, Martha Clara and Duck Walk. All are top-flight and worthy of any serious wine advocate’s consideration.
    I haven’t mentioned, either, that Long Island wineries have had a new infusion of cash in recent years from wealthy East Coast patrons. You’re starting to see California-style “chateaux” being built (Raphael is a particularly impressive example). Long Island is a class act!
    I just wish that Long Island would find the red that’s best suited to the climate. Palmer was one of the pioneers with merlot, and merlot, an early-ripener, is now everywhere.
    But merlot and cabernet are now world commodity wines (so is chardonnay, but L.I. excels there). I would like to see some varietals which emphasize L.I.’s uniqueness.
    Perhaps some Spanish or Hungarian varietals would spice things up a bit. Maybe sangiovese, which has failed miserably in California. Or nebbiolo. Just some random thoughts.
    Lenn, I am originally from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. I became a home winemaker in the 1970s at Penn State. I knew that wine was to be my career. In 1976 I came to California to spend a few years soaking up winemaking; always with the intent to return to the East and make a contribution to your industry.
    That “some day” never happened–winemaking jobs and opportunities in the early 1980s in Napa and Sonoma were just too good.
    I am now a sales representative for wine barrels, and I travel all over. It’s a job I love, because I still have the chance to be in the cellar and to guide winemakers with their production decisions. And I get to visit wineries all over America, like few other people.
    I didn’t make a sales trip to the east last year, because of the poor economy and because of the horrible rains the wineries there endured.
    But I may make one trip this summer, and I’d be delighted to meet you. I’ll certainly make another visit post-crush, in November. I look forward to another “Uncork New York” experience [those are the words of the state’s public relations campaign].
    —Bob in St. Helena

  10. Bob - May 31, 2005

    At the top of this thread is a quote from Bruce Shoenfeld, of the Wine Spectator:
    “I have some familiarity with Missouri wines. There’s no region of the country that doesn’t say it does well in blind tests. I have a hard time believing Missouri wines would do well (at tasting contests)….If you have a great meal in Missouri wine country, you want a great wine, not a Norton.”
    Those are fightin’ words to the owner of Chrysalis Vineyards, in Middleburg, Virginia. I don’t know if I want to forward that post to the winery owner or not, because she will be ballistic.
    She has bet the farm on Norton.
    Chrysalis Vineyards is a northern Virginia winery which makes, arguably, one of the greatest Viogniers in America. The winery owner, Jennie McCloud, is also experimenting with some of the first Spanish varietals ever produced in North America.
    Chrysalis is big on Viognier, but it’s also big on Albarino–a Galician varietal which puts Pinot Gris to shame (With Pinot Gris, I say “the emperor has no clothes”—I personally think it’s a waste-of-time varietal, like Semillon, except under certain climatic circumstances, like Oregon. Even then it’s ho-hum, most of the time).
    Albarino is sooooo much more interesting; why bother with Pinot Gris/Grigio??
    Jennie McCloud has also experimented with several Spanish and Portuguese reds, Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional—that I think she’s “on” to something about creating unique wines in Virginia.
    Before I continue—Chrysalis has not been a customer of my barrel company for a few years, but we still are close friends. There is nothing self-serving in my remarks about this winery.
    Jennie McCloud, of Florida, made her fortune in software. She sold the company and plunged into fine winemaking, within expectorating distance of Washington, D.C.
    She’s smart and acute to forecasting wine trends. She knows her stuff about vineyard location (very important in the East). She has the best consultants at her beck and call.
    She also has her own vineyards mapped down to the very vine. She can, on any given morning, locate a single vine on her topo maps in her computers and tell me exactly what nutrient deficiencies this plant has.
    In spite of her innovation, by introducing classic varietals to Virginia, she has instead bet the farm on Norton.
    Norton–the sidekick to Jackie Gleason, we are all wont to say at first blush.
    Norton—if we were ever so lucky to have tried a Norton wine in our experience—it was a tannic, “sauvage” native American grape of low expectations.
    Norton, “vitis cynthiana” , is actually a native Virginia grape,with none of the methyl anthranilate, “foxy” aromas associated with the other dominant American grape species, v. labrusca.
    It was “tamed” in the 19th century from crude riparian origins, by one Dr. Norton, of Virginia. Some acreage was planted in Virginia before the civil war, but by the 1870s, the “late unpleasantness” had killed off most of the stock, along with a generation of young Confederate soldiers.
    Norton as a grape migrated to Missouri, America’s “wine capital” of the period before 1880, when California wines came into being.
    Anyone who knows the brand of Cook’s champagne (now a cheap California brand) should be aware that it was a champagne made in Missouri (the founding family, the Hecks, bailed eventually from Missouri to California by 1940, creating in California the champagne known as Korbel).
    And Norton? This odd native grape, with a totally weird tannin structure, yet a “vinous” promise, admired even by winemakers at the time in Europe, became esconsed in Missouri, and not in its native home in Virginia.
    Enter Jennie McCloud, of Middleburg, in the 1990s. She and Chrysalis have bet the farm on Norton, to the tune of $millions.
    She has by far the largest acreage of Norton in the world.
    One night my boss and I were invited to a dinner at her home. Five or six other guests were present. Venison (shot by someone who worked in the vineyard, and caught a wildlife interloper in his gunsight) was on the table.
    It was one of the most memorable dinners of my life.
    Jennie served up 2 wines that evening: 1982 Lafite-Rothschild and 1982 Mouton Rothschild.
    I can hardly conjure up my taste sensations at that dinner, but memories linger today. It was one of the most memorable dinners of my life.
    Finally, unwittingly, I said to the hostess the magic words—what about Norton?
    Instantly, an entourage covened to go down to her wine cellar. She brought up a bottle of 1989 Stone Hill (Missouri) Norton. It was uncorked before us; the servers brought an extra glass to each of us. And we compared 1989 Stone Hill Norton to 1982 Lafite and 1982 Mouton.
    I will not say that this rustic American wine was anywhere near equal to the gustatory eminence before us, but it surely held its own, in complexity and finesse. It was a revelation!
    This is the wine that Chrysalis is creating now in Middleburg, Virginia.
    Norton has a totally weird tannin structure. It’s actually painful when young. The juice is deeply colored before fermemtation, verily a teinturier grape. No winery worth its salt should release a young Norton wine.
    But after a decade in the bottle, Norton becomes a partner to many world-class wines. Can’t say it’s my favorite, but it is definitely an American original, worthy of respect.
    It was a religious experience. I plan to collect Chrysalis Nortons in the future. Not to be open until I’m retired.
    In the current haste to produce “instant” Cabernets and Merlots, how nice that one winery in the US is betting the farm on long-term ageing. What a concept!
    —Bob in St. Helena

  11. Jack - June 1, 2005

    Hey, I love to try wine from everywhere! But, don’t you get turned off when you taste one of these wines priced at $25 or $45 (or more) and it tastes like a $12 wine (or worse)?
    There’s one producer in Michigan (whose wines I’ve never tasted) charging $54 retail for a bottle of Gewürztraminer right now. Like holy cow!

  12. Lenn - June 1, 2005

    I wonder if Tom is getting sick of our comments on NY and LI wines 🙂
    Yes, I live on Long Island (after growing up in Pittsburgh, PA) and I actually cover the local wine scene and wines for two Long Island Papers…Dan’s Papers on the east end and Long Island Press elsewhere…so you could say I know what’s going on better than most.
    You bring up a REALLY great point about merlot and cab being commodity wines in the global marketplace…and that’s one of the reasons I ‘argue’ (for lack of a better term) with the wine marketers here who are trying to push the region as a merlot region “just like Oregon is a Pinot Noir region.” I think it’s a mistake… especially in the current market.
    More and more, I’m loving our cabernet franc more so than anything else. The problem with that grape is that while it makes some great wines in good years and in the right hands…the bad ones are much worse than the lesser merlots. It’s basically a matter of what’s most consistently at least average I guess.
    Another interesting varietal (though it’s only made at Channing Daughters Winery on the South Fork) is Blaufrankisch. Frankly I’m shocked that this early-ripening red isn’t focused on more.
    Of course I’ve heard some here say that Merlot is the big push here mostly because that’s what people already have planted 🙂
    I’d only add Chris Tracy (a former chef who is now winemaker at Channing Daughters) and Les Howard (of Jamesport vineyards…but formerly under Roth and Bedell at their wineries). There is a lot of talent out here…and as you say, many have been trained in the great wine regions of the world.
    If you ever do find yourself out here again, definitely let me know. Russ Hearn is also the winemaker for Lieb Cellars…and he’s got some great wines there as well. Plus, you must mention Eric Fry if we’re talking sparkling wines.

  13. el Catavinos (the Winetaster) - June 6, 2005

    Manitou Springs Festival Wrapup

    Over at Fermentations there has been a discussion of “other states” wines. Specifically national wine writers write about California, Oregon and Washington wines, so the debate is why don’t they write about other states’ wines,

  14. Jason Feulner - March 31, 2006

    2005 was probably one of the best years for New York Finger Lakes wines in recent memory. The 2005 Dr. Frank Dry Riesling is simply unbelievable. The reserve version blew my mind. The gerwurztraminer is also excellent. If you are thinking about trying some New York wines, 2005 vintage is the year to invest in.
    I would disagree that Pinot Noir has not had success in New York. Dr. Frank has had some success, as well as Lamoreaux. Ravines, a small boutique winery on Keuka Lake across from Dr. Franks, makes an unbelievable pinot. The owner is a French trained winemaker and selects his grapes very carefully. I found it more appealing than some mid-priced Burgundies.

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