Over the weekend I finished an article about Kentucky wine. The article is for a local food publication and is built around this familiar contradiction: local food advocates are not also consumers of local wine. A sidebar to the article recommends a half-dozen widely available local wines for readers to try.
And here’s where my sense of doom sets in: the best local wines aren’t as easily available as bad local wines. That is, of course, how the whole wine industry works. But in this case it is not just that particular wines are scarce, but that there is an institutional bias against Kentucky’s best wines. The long-existing market for local wines is dominated by sweet, simple wines usually made out of fruit other than grapes.
I’ve spent a lot of the last two weeks visiting wineries and retailers, and the difference between the selections at the two is striking. Wineries taste their whole product lines, from sweet fruit to dry table wines. But the stores tend to carry only the sweet wines, because that’s what consumers of Kentucky wines have traditionally bought.
We’ve all had bad wine, and we explore past it and find wine that we like. But in this case, someone inspired by my article to seek out Kentucky wine will most likely confront a selection of stereotype-confirming bottles that don’t imply the necessity of further exploration. As one Kentucky wine salesman said, “People try one thing and that gives all Kentucky wines a bad rap, and they never try another.”
Given that most of the Kentucky wines in liquor stores are sweet fruit wines, the odds are that the first wine someone tries as result of my article is going to be bad.
Hence, my feeling of foreboding. I feel a little bit like I’m driving people to confirm their bias rather than giving them a realistic option in their wine buying.