A vintner’s plea: Buy local, please
Oded Shakked is throwing down the gauntlet.
“When you go to most good restaurants these days,” writes the winemaker/owner of Longboard Vineyards, “you often hear the staff talk with pride about the fact that local produce is used to make your meal…You now can understand why I get irritated when I go to the grocery store and see a person wearing a ‘Slow Food’ t shirt putting a $5 Argentinean Malbec in their shopping cart.”
Oded blogged on the topic of talking local, then buying non-local, the other day, where he let his emotions out for a run. Give it a read, then come back here.
His point is that these are extraordinarily tough times for many wineries — not just little ones like Longboard, but even big, entrenched wineries. (You think Diageo would have sold Beaulieu and Sterling if times were good?) Wineries are in a Darwinian struggle for existence; when Oded concludes his post with a poignant, “So please, make you next purchase from us, your neighbors,” he’s speaking not just for himself, but for California winemakers from Temecula to Boonville, Murphys to Lompoc. Some wineries are as endangered as the northern right whale, and Oded is telling wine drinkers that they — we — have an obligation to support our local wineries.
I’ve known Oded since the early 2000s. I put him in my 2005 book, “A Wine Journey along the Russian River” (which University of California Press has just re-issued, with a new preface) because he’s such an interesting guy, and his Longboard wines (mostly from Russian River Valley) are quite good. He used to be the winemaker at J Wine Co. before taking the plunge to devote himself fulltime to Longboard. That was before the recession.
Lots of winemakers with their own personal brands continue at their day jobs. It must be a terrific decision to go out on your own, especially if you have a family, as Oded does. Part of you wants the freedom and independence that go with running your own company, doing things your own way and not having to take orders from anyone. On the other hand, you covet the security of a real job. In Oded’s case, I think, he made the jump because the economy was booming, and it seemed like a hard-working young winemaker, with access to good fruit, could make a go of it.
The recession, of course, took Oded, and everybody else, by surprise. I don’t know how Longboard is doing, but from the sound of Oded’s cri du coeur, I’d guess there’s some wear and tear on the balance sheet. Hence his plea. “Next time you are in a restaurant and see no California wine…ask to talk to the wine buyer and give them a piece of your mind. Understand that supporting your local winery helps preserve a heritage and make our local communities more diverse and therefore stronger.”
If you want to know what I think, it’s that I fully understand where Oded is coming from. In these tough times we should support our local businesses. It’s the patriotic thing to do, but it also helps our neighborhoods and, ultimately, ourselves, by keeping our spending money in our communities.
On the other hand, buying strictly local does limit your choices. There’s no Riesling, Tempranillo or Sangiovese in California that approaches its European counterpart. So what’s a consumer to do, especially one with a conscience? Next time you’re in the wine store deciding what to buy, do you go with that Argentine Malbec, or that racy imported Sancerre? Or do you take your locovore sensibilities and stick with California (or Virginia, or Texas, or Washington State, or wherever you happen to live)?
Easy question. No easy answers.