I am American (even though sometimes I am embarrassed to admit it). I come from a country that in recent times is proving to be quite Grape-ist. Grape-ist? – you ask, what on earth is that? I am speaking about our overall trend to colonize the US, and really the entire planet for that matter, with Cabernet and Chardonnay (and maybe a few others). But when did we decide that we only want one flavor of wine? What happened to celebrating diversity?
Several nights a week, I host tastings for people from all over the world, but quite often from the US. When we go around the table and introduce ourselves, say where we’re from and what wines we drink, I can almost always guess what the Americans will say….I drink Cabs, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, blends, maybe an Oregon Pinot (because those are quite trendy at the moment). Rarely someone mentions a place they drink, like Bordeaux or Carneros (which are still quite general), Barolo or Finger Lakes. Am I surprised? Never. Because sadly, in terms of commercially significant wine, about 95% of what we drink comes from less than 10 varieties.
So why and how did this happen? And most importantly, how can we ‘make America great again’?
Well, let’s start one at a time. America has a really short history in terms of wine. Sure vines have been planted for 300 years, but it’s really a product of the last 50-60 years due to phylloxera, Prohibition, and depressions decimating the industry. Wine is something that needs time, as they have had here in Europe. Monks weren’t concerned with the bills of today and the costs of land that we face now. Europeans knew they were making wine for their grandchildren’s grandchildren. There was time to learn, experiment, make mistakes and define local flavors and varieties. Now, winemakers driven too often by the bottom line, are making what is easy or trendy in the moment.
The other sad thing is that wine is “dumbed down” at nearly every turn for us. In the 70s, Americans knew practically nothing about wine and what regional wines of Europe tasted like (please don’t mention ‘Bottle shock’), so in an effort to grow CA’s wine industry (which was at that time making some progress) and push out European sales, they started naming wines by varietal instead of appellations or origins – making it easier to understand and more approachable by giving you a dozen names to remember, as opposed to thousands, and essentially dumbing down what was always a cultural experience, strictly linked with place.
To make matters worse, much of the wine industry in the US has been dictated by one person’s palate (which sadly has now even affected how wines in much of Europe are made). Robert P, the emperor or dictator of wine as he is known, single-handedly changed the way wine is made and tastes with his palate’s preferences towards big, bold wines with oodles of fruit, and through his 100-point scoring system which he admits was done to make wine easier for us Americans to understand. All this has done is entice winemakers to please his palate for a good score, and in turn colonize our palates to think that this is ‘good wine’.
And for a country that is fed up with being overrun by Wall Street and large corporations, let it be known that only 30 companies control 90% of the wine sold in the US.
For a country that prides itself on freedom, we’ve given it all away to 1 man, 10 varieties, and a mere 30 companies….I digress.
But, believe me, believe me… I have a tremendous plan to ‘Make America Great Again’! (and yes, there is actually a ‘plan’).
To fix this problem, WE must be the solution. WE must never allow them to consider us dummies who are susceptible to marketing tricks like 100-point scales which only help stores and wine makers to profit more. WE must educate ourselves on the world of wine…worst case, you learn a bit about history, culture, places and pairings. WE must demand more than cabs and blends and take risks with unknown wines so that we have the chance to experience something new. WE must start taking a trip to our local wine shop instead of being lazy and using the supermarket for one stop shopping. WE must believe in our own palate instead of blindly following one man. WE must start experimenting with planting different varieties and be willing to make mistakes. WE must stop making decisions for the flavor or trend of the week and be willing to sacrifice for the betterment in the long run.
WE have the power to choose choice and freedom, and together, WE can MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.
*PS…to all the winemakers making experiments and planting numerous varieties, we thank you.