I happened to bump into the October 31 issue of Wine Spectator magazine this week and found an editorial by James Molesworth called “Are Locavores Also Locapours?” Although the local food movement has pushed farm fresh produce to the menus of top restaurants around the country, local wines have yet to do the same. By tracking a New York winery’s struggle to make it on big-city wine lists, he argues that consumers are willing to pay extra for local food on the table but are willing to put almost anything in their glass—just as long as it says Italy, France, or Sonoma on the label.
As a self-proclaimed locavore, I have often raised the same questions as Molesworth about the Minnesota wine market. With nearly 30 wineries and a thriving cold-hearty viticulture program at the U of M, it can be difficult to find an extensive local wine menu. Sit down at some of the Twin Cities best restaurants and you will be promised vine-ripened tomatoes and fresh-picked greens from local growers. More than likely you won't be offered a local wine. Minnesota is home to an international wine competition, but there are only 2 bottles—one white and one red—on the shelf in my grocer’s wine shop. Is it really better if it’s foreign and I can’t pronounce the vineyard’s name? What stands in the way of exclusively local wine menus? The sommelier and a wine education that often overlooks regional flavor? Or the customer who believes a trip to a local winery is a cute novelty, but not exactly the real thing?
Like most challenges in our food system, a combination of micro- and macro-level factors stand in the way of Minnesota wines earning the respect and market share they deserve. But also like most challenges in our food system, an individual choice can go a long way in generating change. Here are three ways I try to show a little more “loca-pour”:
• This is an easy one: Visit a local winery and buy the wine. Minnesota has 4 wine trails, perfect for a day trip or weekend get-away. I take my friends and family for a visit, try the wines, and learn what to serve when they’re around. (WinetrailsUSA.com has a complete listing of wine trails by state that I use if traveling.)
• Ask the wine shop to stock what I want to buy. If retailers know that local wines will sell, they will be on the shelf. Sometimes a simple conversation can go along way. If not, I try to spend my dollars where my voice is heard.
• When I see a local wine on the menu, I’ll choose that and order my food to pair with it. If I don’t see one, I might ask the waitperson anyway. Again, a conversation can go a long way in communicating the message that to me, locapour means just as much as locavore.
I left off recommendations for specific wines since I am by no means an expert--and my tastes for dry, robust reds completely contradicts my husband's preference for sweet, crisp whites. I believe wine is entirely about personal preference and sommeliers/experts are what discourage well-meaning drinkers in the first place. That being said, below I recommend three of my favorite local wineries with some "gentle" suggestions. All three offer different tasting and wine experiences and all three are within one hour of the Metro:
St. Croix Vineyards--Stillwater, MN. My favorite Saturday afternoons in early October involve St. Croix Vineyards. Located in Stillwater, just 30 miles from the Metro, their tasting room, vineyards and orchard are perfect for a picnic or strolling around with a glass of wine. My visits always include admiring the art from local artists on the tasting room walls while sipping on a glass of their Raspberry Infusion dessert wine. Any wine that pairs well with dark chocolate ranks at the top of my list. I typically grab a bottle or two of their Delaware, La Crescent, or Summer Red for the road; all are great choices for those "show up with a bottle of wine" dinners and gifts.
Falconer Vineyards--Red Wing, MN. When I'm truly desperate for some wine-related R & R, a visit to Falconer helps recreate visions of sipping on a glass of white wine on the patio of a vineyard in Tuscany. The open patio overlooks a rolling valley of grape vines, and is a perfect spot to spend the afternoon catching up with a friend over a bottle of their full-bodied Marechal Foch. They recently began offering wood-fired pizzas and live music on the patio as well. Really, does it get any better than that? My favorites to bring home for the wine fridge are the Riesling, La Crescent Moon, and if I can manage to catch it in-stock, the Frontenac Rose.
Cannon River Winery--Cannon Falls, MN. I always like to bring anyone interested in becoming a locapour to Cannon River because of the extended wine tasting. For $7, you can taste all of the wines they currently have in stock, typically close to 15. It's an affordable way to sort out preference and try nearly all of the cold-hearty grape varieties that grow in Minnesota. Each time I try and bring home something new, although the Sogn Blanc and Cannon River Reserve can almost always be found on my wine rack.
Amy Sippl is a new contributor to Simple, Good, and Tasty. She grew up in rural Wisconsin, but now calls St. Paul her home. She writes about her successes and struggles to eat and grow local food on her blog: Minnesota Locavore.