subscribe: Posts | Comments      Facebook      Email Steve

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.

  1. Restaurants have all kinds of reasons for constructing wine lists in all kinds of ways. I respect the local Italian restaurant, actually run by a guy fron Tuscany, that has a list of wines he knows personally from his homeland. He has a couple of well-chosen CA wines, but I don’t get in his face about what he does because it suits him. He also brings in his pasta from Italy.

    But, when I see a restaurant like San Francisco’s famous Slanted Door produce a list that it entirely from elsewhere while its website goes overboard to pat itself on the back for its local produce, my BS antenna lights up.

    Here is a restaurant that has ten sparkling wines on its list, most of which are not from Champagne but from all over France, yet has no CA sparkling wine. The argument is that CA wine in general do not go with the cuisine, and I will agree that we do not make Rieslings and Gruner like they do in Germany, Austria, Alsace. But, of course, there are wines of that ilk, and good ones, from Washington, Australia.

    And when it comes to sparkling wine, there are plenty of CA bubblies that are structured classically and are a lot closer to Champagne that the non-Champagnes on the restaurant’s list. At that point, my BS detector says “QED”, case closed. You are no longer engaging in a discussion of which wines go with what. You are simply acting like a Euro-snob.

    And I would stop eating at your restaurant except that you only buy the wine. The cooking is done by the owner, and he knows how to turn out food that I like. So, I go back. Take my out of town visitors there because your restaurant is famous. But, you, the wine buyer, have set off my BS detector because your arguments that West Coast wines are inadequate is BS.

  2. Along the same lines I would urge consumers to support their local wine shop. Many are struggling and having to fight for each cent against BevMo, (and their BS five cent sale) and grocery stores. People counting their pennies are often under the misconception that there are better deals to be found at their Vons or Ralphs but not only in that not true, you are more often than not drinking boring, flaccid wines for the same…if not more money than something you can find in a good wine shop. Choices are doomed to be far more limited if these shops are not supported in these rough times….

  3. Being in the same position as Oded, I agree in the broad sense. I don’t think I would go so far as “obligation” though. It is an expression of civic pride and an act of environmental responsibility to buy local, and I believe the more we can find local products that fit our needs the better it will be for all of us.

    But – “fits our needs” – aye, there’s the rub. My wine-buying budget is not what it was, but I will still skip buying six or seven $5 bottles of Argentinian Malbec so I can enjoy a bottle of local Sauv. Blanc when I go out to dinner. That calculus works for me, but it may not work for someone else. All the same I agree with Oded that wearing a “Slow Food” T-shirt while buying that $5 Malbec is ironic or hypocritical.

    One can’t always buy local. Since I make Pinot I fear I will never be able to break my addiction to foreign oak.

  4. Samantha, great point. Everytime I go into my local, family-owned wine stores, I see wines that look like great bargains. Of course, some of them are from Europe : >

  5. Wow, it’s like old home week up in here, tucked in between two of my most favorite men…hubba. Steve it is true that many of the value wines at local shops are from the Old World and as the French buyer at The Wine Country I will admit that when someone says something like, “I’d like to keep my dollars in the US” I tell them, “Well that importer was born and raised in Berkeley”.

  6. Yes, Sam, and his name ain’t Lynch.

  7. I don’ t think any of us here wants to argue for a narrowminded wine outlook. Oded makes a good point, but he goes a bit too far me. Still, it is the lack of openmindedness that bugs me the most.

    The arguments that all CA Chards are fat and sloppy. The notion that there is not an aromatic white made on the West Coast worthy of the Slanted Door’s wine list. The suggestions that all Pinot Noirs taste like Syrah. Those kinds of notions are practically bald face lies. The damnable thing is that otherwise intelligent people actually believe that BS.

  8. Norm Gary says:


    I appreciate your nod to local wines; however, I am a bit taken aback by your comment about the unavailability of quality tempranillo and sangiovese in California. I have had a number of very good quality wines in both varieties. For both tempranillo and sangiovese, there is Parador Winery run by Steve Ventrello. Boeger makes an excellent mid level tempranillo and there are a number of very good sangioveses coming out of Amador country, notably from Noceto. Granted these wines may not be widely available or only in relatively small lots, but if you make a blanket statement about there not being any to compare with European counterparts, then they aren’t likely to get greater notice and distribution.

  9. Norm, I am going to try and round up every Temp in the state of California and do a blind tasting, with some Spanish wines included as ringers.

  10. People should buy whatever they like rather than support something produced locally just because it is local. Competition is what makes a local business strong, not the opposite. Imagine our wine industry if it never had to compete worldwide. We’d probably still be drinking sweetened Green Hungarian and Muscatel.

  11. vinorojo86 says:

    “There’s no riesling, tempranillo or sangiovese that can approach it’s European counterpart. So what’s a consumer to do?”

    It’s easy Steve, If you’re going to decide that you’re only going to drink locally produced wines and you don’t think the riesling, sangio, or temps are up to snuff, You simply (gasp) don’t drink riesling, sangiovese or tempranillo! There are more than enough great CA wines to keep you wet for the rest of your life if that’s how you want to drink. Sure you may miss out on some nice wines but if your going to commit yourself to a cause, it takes dedication and occasionally missing a few parties.

    It’s like any lifestyle choice that isn’t always easy but you know is right, it takes passion and conviction.

  12. There is a small amount of serviceable Tempranillo, and hopefully there will be more coming and that the quality will keep increasing as folks work with it. To consider Tempranillo any kind of commercial success is way too soon to tell. It is like Sangiovese, in this sense–there are some that are worth knowing about as Noceto that has fooled Italians in blind tastings, but not much to make a commercial dent.

    Should folks like Steve and I and other critics taste Tempranillo? You betcha. We should also taste local Verdelho and Arneis and even Torrontes, which may or may not be Torrontes. But that does not make those grapes something that can or should get wide treatment because the broad readership base simply will never see them.

    Thus they cannot get equal treatment just as they should not get ignored. It will be interesting to see how many Tempranillos Steve can round up. I think I saw fewer than five all of last year.

  13. Stephen Hare says:

    The consumers are tough. For the many years I worked in tasting rooms, I would get into discussions with folks about the many aspects of wine. Yes, they liked the hand-nurtured, low-yielding, hand-selected grapes. Yes, they enjoyed the idea of the grapes being hand-sorted and fermented in small lots-the reds being manually puched down. Yes, they liked the use of brand new French oak. Yes, they liked the fact that a family owns the winery and that case production is small. Finally, when asked how much money they normally spend, the answer averaged to about $10.00 per bottle. Of course at many small wineries, the cost-of-goods is higher than that.

    Most consumers talk the talk but generally do not walk the walk.

    If we want to support the small, family-owned operations whether they be wineries or tomato farmers, we must be willing to put our money where our mouth is.

  14. I didn’t know that the recession was only limited to the US. Listen if you want to support local guys, then do so. But I have many friends farming and producing wines overseas too. The “buy local” mantra works for my family when it comes to the food we eat. But I resent being guilted into buying a particular wine, because someone bit off more than he can chew. Besides, WE DON”T WANT TO DRINK CALIFORNIAN ALL THE TIME

  15. Morton,
    “Competition is what makes a local business strong, not the opposite”! I couldn’t agree more.
    Subsidies, import tariffs and quotas are the antidotes for $ 5 Argentinean Malbecs. But by protecting local businesses, the government would be merely transferring tax payer’s hard earned money to (globally inefficient) domestic producers.

  16. Carlos Toledo says:

    So, we’re all in favour of free market when it’s good for us, aren’t we?

    I don’t think that buying local will SPREAD the money into the community. Given the sectors involved in this discussion, the money MAY stay in the community, but not available for the community. You’re all smart and get my point.

    Next time you pay $ 2.00 for a shirt made somewhere in Asia, go local and buy your USA made shirt for $ 30.00. That surely will be the solution for all problems….

    I live in a country where local wine gets a nice beat from Chile and Argentina, even European wine…. and no one seems to able to reverse the scenario. Follow the money, always follow the money.

  17. Stephen, I laughed out loud when I came to your punchline: “Finally, when asked how much money they normally spend, the answer averaged to about $10.00.” The consumer is a piece of work, that’s for sure.

  18. “Globally efficient producers”? Really? Got three words for you: Fosters, Diageo, Constellation. Paging Mr. Schadenfreude!

    If we were all globally efficient, all consumer choice would be limited to cheap eyewash.

  19. John,
    I’m surprised. So you favor subsidies, import tariffs and quotas? Good for you.
    For “globally efficient producers”, I mean: Martinez Bujanda (Finca Antigua Crianza; US$ 11); Concha y Toro (Marques de Casa Y Concha CS, US$ 13); Catena (Malbec; US$ 13); D’Aremberg (Footbolt; US$ 14)…
    I could spend days citing decent wines, made by “globally efficient producers”, in the US$ 10-15 range. I’m not positive, though, you can achieve critical mass, in this price range, in California.

  20. I had to read this article twice as I couldn’t believe that this is about a California winery. We, in the Finger Lakes, have been pushing the “support local wine” movement for a number of years. We still fight the battles and war daily with restaurants and wine shops throughout the state, especially in New York City, to carry Finger Lakes wines.

    Imagine what would happen to the California wine industry if every New Yorker routinely drank New York wine. Watch out California, that is what we are fighting for.

  21. Power to you, Morgen. May the best wine win.

  22. Just as an aside, that sale of BV and Sterling is rather curious. Diageo sells, then leases everything back. OK, they don’t own it, but they still run it. Seems like a shell game on some level just to raise capital.

    Re: Tempranillo, I know there’s one from Santa Ynez Steve has rated quite highly. Given its price and style, it’s probably not direct competition to Rioja.

  23. Greg, I figure every business transaction is a shell game. Just this morning it was announced that Diageo is raising even more money by using its own whiskey brands as collateral. See

  24. I normally don’t’ buy CA wine for two reasons-the vast majority are over ripe and have high alcohol!
    As a petite woman, I want to enjoy wine for my entire meal. That means starting with a glass of bubbles or a white and then ordering a bottle for the main course. At dinner the other night, there was a choice between a French and Ca SB by the glass. The Sancerre was 12.5 alc. The California producer-14.9!!! I picked the Sancerre. We wanted a Pinot with dinner, looking at the wine list, I knew every producer from CA had notoriously high alcs, so we chose a Burgundy that was 13.1 Yes-I know the numbers aren’t always accurate but can safely assume they aren’t lower than listed. Because the wines were lower in alcohol, I even finished with Maderia and left the restaurant with a clear head. You can bet, that restaurant owner was pleased with the tab-3 different wines on one check.

  25. Hi Steve,

    My grandfather owned acreage in Dry Creek Valley when it was a primary location for growing prunes, pears, and other produce. He replanted his ranch with Zin and Cab; as a young boy I worked on his ranch and witnessed first hand the labor of love and effort vineyards require.

    Today, I work with wineries in Napa Valley and Sonoma county on their direct to consumer marketing efforts. Although I drive a German car (American buyer for years) and wear Italian shoes (American buyer for years), I will only purchase California wines.

    I understand that many countries around the world produce fantastic wines at affordable prices. Like the “Chevy man” my grandfather proudly and exclusively drove American cars, I only drink and support California wines.

  26. Ronnie–

    I get the choice between wines you know are listed at 12.5 and 14.9 for Sauv Blc, but your comments on Burg vs CA PN show a bias that is not reflected in the wines or how much you might or might not be able to drink on a given night.

    You say you knew all the CA producers make wines with notoriously high alcs yet you do not name the brands. Yet, it does not really matter which producer it is, from Siduri or Williams Selyem to Kosta Browne, etc, etc, they make wines with varying alcohols, many of which are under 14.0.

    So let’s say that your choice is between a Burgundy at 13.1 and a CA PN ar 14.1 and that the alcs are accurate–an assumption you gladly make for the Burg but not the CA wines (bias again). At that level, and assuming that you have half a bottle of the Sancerre and were going to have half a bottle of the PN (Burg or CA), the difference in the amount of PN you could drink would have been about an ounce.

    If you are trying to convince anyone that the one ounce made your day, then you are making it up because the arithmetic tells the tale as fact, not as biased opinion.

    And frankly, my dear, if you are the petite women you say you are, your blood alcohol, even over dinner, with a whole bottle of wine and with a glass of Madeira was off the charts. Again, numbers are numbers and they belie your opinions.

    I think CA Pinot Noir deserves a recount.

  27. MajorPronin says:


    Thanks for pointing out the obvious and something that most consumers and many in the trade fail to grasp: Only because a European wine states low alcohol on a label does not mean it is. A number of high profile French bottles have been sent to Vinquiry and sure enough, huge discrepancies were found, something that was pretty obvious to some of our palates and noses and the reason bottles were sent in for plating. 13.9% all of a sudden turned out to be a 15.6% wine, yet ITB wine buyers fall for this same routine time after time and while refusing to buy USA made wines with “high alc levels” of say, 14%+ have no issue buying a French wine with 15.6% no questions asked just as long as “the label says so…”.

    As for buying local, I am in full support of Oded’s POV and have been for years now, too bad that SF Chron wine dept and a few others play dead when I bring up this point in emails to them. Every time I see yet another “legend in his mind” somm in USA proclaim the reason s/he only buys EU wines is because they taste better with their food all I say is let’s set up a test and you guys prove that point to me, pick dishes on your own menu and lets you and me pick wines to go with them, let’s see if your claims are valid. Something tells me not one of these somms will rise up to the challenge. Too bad…

  28. Donn Rutkoff says:

    Fat chance! We import vinestock from Europe. We import the xxx Michel Rolland look-all-the-same from Europe. We import barrels from Europe. We import cheap cars from Japan (now Kentucky, I know) and expensive ones from Germany. We import oil from, surprise, Canada! And California’s economy relies more on technology than on wine. And guess what? Most tech companies derive around half of their sales from exports. If we could import a few square miles of Burgundy and Alsace and Rheingau then I would buy more local wines. Slanted Door is a head case. Even the staff who work there will tell you anonymously that their wine director is a head cheese.

  29. Charlie
    Thanks for the reply. First of all-it was a glass of SB to start-not a bottle. As for the pinot, we each had appx 1 1/2 glasses and we left a glass for the server.

    As for the math-I don’t know how much you weigh but at 115 lbs, I hit .08% blood alcohol with a SINGLE glass of 16% wine. Yes Charlie-a single glass. I’m in the industry and I happen to carry a breathalyzer in my car as a job requirement and I always check it before I drive. I do know Alcohols can vary as much as 1.5% for wines listed under 14% and 1% for wines over 14%. Knowing that-I always try to choose a wine under 14% because I would like the pleasure of having more than one glass of wine with my meal. I really prefer under 13% if I can find it.
    I’ve spoken to so many women about this and they are frustrated, even angry that they have to stretch out a single glass of wine for a meal or feel the effects. I realize many people like big wines, I’m just saying there’s a lot of women out there that would buy and drink more wine if we could. Just something to think about…..

  30. Ronnie, I hear you. It’s not just women. I’m barely 130 pounds myself. That’s why I never, ever drive with even a single drink in me, and haven’t for at least ten years. I too wish there were more wines around under 13%, even under 12%.

  31. Major, some of these Legend in the own minds somms have been drinking the Kool Aid for too long, living in their sommy ghettoes. I would add some MWs too!

  32. Ronnie–

    OK, first of all, an apology. I assumed something about your drinking regimen and should have asked. Mea culpa.

    But, back to the subject at hand. One and half glasses of Burg vs CA PN, assuming that the alcs are reasonably accurate, which is what we have to do unless we want to assume that CA lies and Burg does not, is not the difference between inebriation and not, between DUI and not.

    So, a person of slight and trim stature drinking 8 oz of Pinot that varies between 13.1 and 14.1, who also consumes a glass of light white at 12.5%, and I get that and do it as well if I am trying multiple wines, and then a short pour (no more than 3 oz) of Madera, will make virtually ZERO difference to his or her blood alcohol by choosing the Burg instead of the CA Pinot Noir.

    To put more succinctly, you will raise your blood alcohol by 4% of whatever it would be. So, if your blood alcohol is 0.050%, well within the 0.08% legal limit, you would raise your blood alcohol to 0.052%.

    I am happy to have you put more specific numbers in the equation,but the point will always be the same. There is no significant difference, unless you are pushing the legal limit (and my guess is that you are very careful to avoid that eventuality given the precautions that you take) by choosing a Burg at 13.1 instead of a CA PN at 14.1.

    And Ronnie, just for the sake of argument, if you run the equation with a 15% CA PN, you raise you your blood alcohol by 8%, or from 0.05% to 0.054% in my example.

    The flip side of the amount question is this. In my example, at the difference between 13. 1 and 14.1, and adding in the other alcohol you consume, you are able to drink an additional one-half ounce of Burg vs CA PN.

    Alc is alc, and no one should drive at or over the legal limit, regardless of the fact that we barely notice an impairment at 0.08% BA. But, in your own example, you consume about 16 oz of alcohol. By choosing the Burg, you could consume an extra half ounce. I don’t mean to pick on you, and I hope you do not feel like I am, but the difference of one-half ounce is simply not enough to drink that yukky French stuff when you could be drinking locally and telling those French folks where to stick their snobbish wines. :-}

    Obviously, a bit of a joke, please, but truth enough as to amount.

  33. Charlie and everybody else: I really, really don’t want to use some machine or formula to figure out if I’m drunk. It’s way easier to take the simple position, don’t drink and drive.

  34. Steve–

    You are, of course, right, just as those people who advocate no sex before marriage. Abstinence is the full-proof, no fault policy. It’s problem, of course, is that it does not work, and that being the case for some people at least, the next best policy is one of intelligent limits.

    Ronnie and I may have been engaging in an exercise that does not comport with your good advice, but it is also an exercise in reality for us–and probably for many others of your faithful followers.

  35. Sherman says:

    Just like “All politics is local,” all wine is local — I’m a wine enthusiast (no implied ass kissing to Steve’s employer!;) and enjoy learning about all the wines that the world has to offer by tasting them when I can.

    I might emphasize an area if it’s local to me, but I’m a citizen of the wine world and want to experience all that I can. I want more choices and more options, not less — let the consumer vote with their dollars and the best wines will flourish.

  36. I certainly appreciate the problem that Longboard Vineyards is experiencing. It is considerably worse for wineries in non-traditional regions. For every restaurant that I have been to in Chicago that focuses on sourcing local ingredients, I can count on one hand the number that extend that belief to their wine list.

    I find it disappointing that local in reference to wine carries the stigma of “bad” automatically. There are 37 wineries within a 100 miles of Chicago. Some are bad, some are good and some are great. A situation that I think occurs all over the world. One thing is for certain, they will never improve without experience and feedback from the public who needs to get over its belief that wine is a product that comes from somewhere else. It is all around us and it is time for us to start exploring it.

    By the way, I enjoyed meeting you and chatting over dinner last week.

  37. Gretchen, the pleasure was all mine!

  38. I tend to buy local wines – which in my case means the Queensland Granite Belt, in Australia. I occasionally buy wines made elsewhere in the country. I very, very rarely buy wines made in other countries – I do so mostly to learn new styles and types of wine that aren’t otherwise available easily.

    It is challenging to buy locally. Very few of the local winemakers have bottles available in restaurants, bottle shops, or in locations not the cellar door (around 4hrs drive away for most). I tend to buy once or twice a year, in large quantities, and when I run out, that’s it until next year. This presents some rather obvious limitations, which is why I also buy other Australian wines as necessary.

    Imports are a very rare thing. Perhaps one or two bottles a year will be from overseas (I even tend not to buy NZ Sauvignon Blancs).

    That said – not everyone is even aware that truly local wine exists, not that I blame them. My local makes up a very small percentage of the country’s output of wine, and when it’s hard to get to or find, then it doesn’t often get found. It’s a pity.

  39. “You say you knew all the CA producers make wines with notoriously high alcs yet you do not name the brands. Yet, it does not really matter which producer it is, from Siduri or Williams Selyem to Kosta Browne, etc, etc, they make wines with varying alcohols, many of which are under 14.0.”


    With the possible exception of WS, name one wine any of those guys make under 14%? Seriously. Give me a break. Most of these guys are picking raisins. I swear I am not “Ronnie” either. She must be just another fluke in the wine world asking for wines with balance and not such ripe flavors.

Leave a Reply


Recent Comments

Recent Posts