Todd spoke about the day-to-day realities of running a restaurant group. For example, he needs a high-quality wine that he can sell by the glass, and has been pouring Thibault-Janisson sparkling wine for years because the tasty sparkler can beat Champagne prices while out-performing in quality. Neal & I nodded our heads in approval-- we both pour Thibault-Janisson bubbly too, for the same reasons.
Why? Well, I posit that it's because a thousand years ago in Burgundy, monks could experiment with all sorts of grape varieties-- and who was financing their work? Tithers. Congregations over the centuries financed all the trial & error that has brought Burgundy to where it is today. What about Bordeaux? Much of that experimentation was financed by royalty, and in subregions such as Graves, you have tithers & religious organizations financing the experimentation there, as well. With proven track records, plenty of existing vineyards and wineries, R&D investment that is centuries out of the way and was financed by someone else, and shipping infrastructure in place, these regions can make profits with less investment than in Virginia. Because who is financing the Virginia wine trade? Passionate individuals spending their own money on brand new state-of-the-art wineries, vineyards, labor, and equipment. And the wine trade infrastructure of Virginia is not a well-oiled machine as it is in established wine regions of Europe.
When I see that we have 260+ wineries in Virginia, most of them founded in the last decade, I see 260 million dollars of personal investment (and probably closer to 3x that amount) that has been sunk into starting these wineries. Wineries take years and sometimes decades to get their finances from red to black, so families who have taken this winery investment risk and need cash flow to cover operating costs end up charging prices that will keep their winery sustainable. Some criticize those prices for being too high, but ultimately the market will decide.
Is there value in local products? I believe that part of experiencing a place, and becoming part of a place, is to eat and drink the products that come up from the local earth. Part of establishing a personal identity and sense of self means taking into account your geography and placement in the world, which translates to consuming and celebrating your unique local products and being proud of what your neighbors produce. Paying a few dollars more to a local winery is worth it to me to support the wine industry here. It's also a worthy price-- in my opinion-- to become part of Virginia, sip by sip.
Eventually, most Virginia wineries will have recouped their start up costs, trade routes will be solidified, and the reputation of the region will have risen to the point where the high-quality wineries can command higher prices without the consumers raising their eyebrows. But that will take time, most likely decades.
For right now, I take heart in the fact that every day I get to watch history being made in my state. I get to participate in it. I get to taste all the results of experimental trial and error. And yes there are plenty of errors. When I buy wine for the restaurants, I put money where I think quality lies; I buy what's good and I tell the producer when I think a wine is no good. I get to be a part of all of it by voting with my dollars, and in my own tiny way, I get to help guide the industry by only buying the good wines and trying to keep anything sub-par out of my cellar. And are there great, profound wines from Virginia? Oh, yes. I taste them every day. After tasting multiple vintages from the same producers I'm starting to see the nuances of terroir emerge in the subregions. It's fascinating watching a whole new industry rise up like a phoenix from the fading tobacco plantations that once thrived and supported so many jobs here. I get to watch Virginia wine become a quotidian part of the lunch meals and suppers of locals. I get to talk to hundreds of tourists a year who have visited my city to tour the wine country here. I get to be a part of it. That makes my life more valuable.
But aside from cultural value, is there monetary value to be found when buying wines here? If you search, you'll find the values. I can still manage to pour Virginia wines year-round at competitive prices because I have found some people making great wines at decent prices. Value from many angles exists here, and I think that as the industry matures, the pricing will only become more enticing from a consumer's perspective.