Column response on wine industry's regional divisions

The editor's Aug. 5 commentary, “California wine industry needs to move beyond regional efforts” netted several e-mails/letters-to-the-editor. Here's what a few people had to say on the subject:

Dear Editor:

Nice article, Harry (Aug. 5 Commentary). I see the world similarly and I believe the time is right for a California Commission for wine grapes.

I think the tide has turned in the politics that kept the old commission from being successful, and I would think/hope the larger producers should clearly see the benefit now.

They have to recognize foreign wines now account for more than 26 percent of the domestic market, and the battle for shelf space isn't with a neighbor; it's with foreign producers who are targeting the No. 1 consumer country.

The reason it's a battle is in part due to the fact that the components of production in those countries (land and labor) are less in the lower price points. There are lots of solutions but it will take cooperation along many fronts. I wonder who the leader might be who will take this on and promote the creation?

Randy McMillan
Division Relationship Manager
Founder, Wine Practice
St Helena, Calif.

Dear Editor:

Just finished your piece on the battling (wine) commissions. You are absolutely correct in your position that each one is a “I'm better than you” deal. I have been in the wine business with a wholesaler (in different forms) for 26 years. I have seen them come and go in all different sizes and shapes. I also sell Yellow Tail.

At one time the California appellation was good enough. Then we found Napa and Sonoma. No longer good enough to be just California. Sam Sebastiani said if we could just get the truck drivers to have wine with dinner we would be there. They have to show features and benefits of the whole picture, describe wines in a down-to-earth fashion with no intimidation from people who want to protect their jobs by keeping the secret lingo to just a few who “know.”

Yellow Tail is a wine from Australia, but I believe it has surpassed even that moniker to the point that it could be made in Evanston, Ill., and no one would care as long as the price stays where it is and it tastes the way it does every time. Caught California flat-footed and with no answer. Their only dog in the fight was a huge crop and a whole bunch of cheap second labels that were pretty good, but short-lived and no shelf space. Hope someone listens to you.

Steve Fowler
Springfield, Ill.

Dear Editor:

Good column. I agree with much of what you said; a rising tide lifts all boats. And I get sick of seeing some wineries striving to make/sell $200 bottle of wines so they can have their name on a “prestige” bottle when getting more U.S. residents to drink wine would make it easier for the industry in many ways. Not just more/capita, but a higher percentage of wine drinkers. It would make an impact.

But I'm not sure going beyond regions would help that much. The concept of terror seems to be taking hold and it's much easier to make the case for a small area than a large one. I'm in Santa Barbara County, and it's interesting to see how well the relatively new Sta. Rita Hills AVA is doing for both growers and winemakers. It's an easier story to tell when you focus on a smaller area with relatively homogenous characteristics. It may be that with each AVA selling its qualities, people start putting together the puzzle in their own mind and see that California is producing some very good wines. Some might like one area/varietal more; others another, but the sum of the parts, in this case, may produce a more valuable whole.

Anyway, let's hope the column gets producers talking about how they might cooperate to raise that tide.

Bob Dickey
Santa Barbara County, Calif.

Dear Editor:

I read with great interest your comments on spreading the word about wine, specifically California wine, beyond your own region.Those of us growing grapes east of the West Coast have long understood the need to broaden the base of the pyramid of wine consumption. With winery tasting rooms in every state, and an ever-expanding list of successful wine and food festivals nationwide, we understand that our best opportunity to grow our businesses is to convert consumers — one at a time in a non-intimidating environment.

Once we provide an opportunity to taste and explore, be it those first sampling a blended white that is slightly sweet or those who jump into a more complex dry red — we win, but so does the rest of the wine world. Someone who drinks simple entry level wines eventually moves up the scale to something from the floor of Napa if they are not made to feel silly or inadequate when they begin the journey.

Two weekends ago, over 34,000 people traveled to an outdoor farm-science museum near Cleveland, Ohio, and at a gathering called ‘Vintage Ohio’ sampled and sipped over 1000 cases of Ohio wines — then took home over $200,000 in purchases from our ‘wine store.’

Some of these festival visitors were ‘serious’ wine consumers, others had never sipped from a stemmed glass. Similar festivals in New York, Virginia, Indiana, North Carolina and other rather unlikely places are teaching people how to enjoy wine. We know the wine community beyond the Rockies is doing their part to help drive wine appreciation in this country. And ultimately, while our regional wineries are the first beneficiaries, California vintners will ultimately also share in the piece of the pie we are creating.

Donniella Winchell
Executive Director
Ohio Wine Producers Association
Austinburg, Ohio

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