By Evan Dawson, Finger Lakes Correspondent
Alder Yarrow of the Vinography blog wrote a great post about wine in America last week and I wanted to build on what he very effectively wrote.
First, while it might take years of effort, the most effective way to erode the stigma of pretension that wine endures is to get it on the dinner table in more families, more often.
One big step would be to lower the legal drinking age to 18. How is this related? This country has strange obsessions with morality, even though most efforts tend to have the opposite of the desired effect (for example, reference the recent news that kids who make abstinence pledges have just as much pre-marital sex, only with less protection than their peers). The idea that alcohol is taboo leads to silly efforts to keep drinks out of the hands of young adults completely, and they tend to respond by seeking out the cheap, easy-to-chug options. Lowering the drinking age is the first step in encouraging responsible consumption and taking the forbidden fruit aspect away from alcohol.
When getting drunk on Natty Ice goes from an alluring weekend idea for some teenagers to just plain stupidity, we'll be moving in the right direction. But there's still this steep hurdle to climb when it comes to wine's perception.
My friends in Europe grew up with plenty of wine in the house, and they tell me that's largely because wine regions are so close. Maybe their family is in the industry, or they know someone who is, or they've simply traveled to their local wine country to check it out. And what they find is that pretension is not found in the dirt under the fingernails of winemakers. It's not found in the vineyard staff, pouring their souls into their beloved varietals. Pretension most often comes from the collectors who want you to know that they have a case of '82 Latour, and if you don't know what that is, well, that's because you're an unsophisticated idiot.
Of course, those people are the idiots, and the good news is that the vast majority of wine drinkers are nothing like that. The problem in the United States is that most people don't live within driving distance of a wine producing region (though that's certainly changing). But for those of us in NY state, we have the advantage of being able to meet the men and women making these lovely wines. Sure, the limo bus is a fun way to check out the scene -- I've certainly done it -- but wouldn't it be nice if more families took the tours that wineries offer in the Finger Lakes, in the Hudson Valley, on the Niagara Escarpment and on Long Island? And wouldn't it be helpful if the wineries that don't offer tours opened their production facility doors and let families in?
My kids are going to grow up knowing the smell of a fermenting batch of wine. They're going to know that wine is not for the high-society types alone, And they're going to know that their mom and dad treasure their '06 Ravines, or their Roman Roth merlots, or their '05 Loire Valley reds -- even though they bought the bottles for less than $15.