21 May 2012

Gentle Riposte

Last week, my dear friend and fellow Memphian Fredric Koeppel posted an article titled America Will Never Have a Genuine Wine Culture, based on his long history of living in our fair River City and some recent statements about our suburbs. And for the most part, I agree with him. The present state of our city is hostile to wine lovers, but I think there has been real progress recently, and I have a great deal of hope for the future. Why?

Much of the legal and social opposition to wine drinking (or any alcohol consumption) comes from a fairly specific WASPy segment. But Memphis is changing quite a bit, and our newcomers are not as uptight, and international corporate headquarters like FedEx, AutoZone, International Paper, and others have brought in people from all over the world. The additional growing immigrant population of the city is not made up of teetotaler Mennonites from Moravia, and the food scene is already showing that it's much easier to get odd organ meats, obscure vegetables, and delightful spices than it was ten years ago. Saturday I bought Swiss chard from a Vietnamese farmer but chose to pass on his arugula, which was wilting under the heat.

The Gift Bottle
It used to be that when I'd give someone a bottle of wine, they'd leave it beside the oven for months or even years. And that's fine--if you don't want to drink it, I don't care. But in that sort of environment it will get cooked pretty quickly, more so once it's been opened. But now when I give non-wine enthusiasts in Memphis a bottle of wine, it gets consumed within a few days. I don't think people are as scared or as intimidated as they used to be, and I hear more and more about folks visiting wineries just for the fun of it while on vacation, due to the fact that there are wineries everywhere these days.

Wine Tastings in TN Wine Shops
I honestly never thought it would happen, but it did. I've only engaged in this activity a few times (I've got plenty back home that needs to be tasted), but I was really surprised when the laws loosened up a bit. Anything is possible.

The Rest of the Country
Some states like Virginia are getting fiercely enthusiastic about their native grapes. When I was traveling a lot in 2007-2008, I got to see things like a gas station in Dallas that not only sold decent wine but also had weekly tastings. A Super Target in Denver that had wine in racks next to the checkout lanes beside the soda and candy. A Whole Foods in Cleveland that had its own sommelier with a lot of opinions on organic Spanish wines. Five wineries in the middle of Arkansas that are carrying on a tradition of Swiss/German winemaking from the 1800s and sell to busloads of senior citizens every weekend.

My hope is that within the next decade, Fredric and I will be able to walk into a wine shop, on a Sunday, and not only purchase whatever wine or spirits we desire but also some cheese and a spare wine glass because a friend broke one at the last dinner party. And neither of us will look out of place, because we're bumping shoulders with lots of customers walking into the shop.

Cheers, Fredric!

1 comment:

fredric koeppel said...

I certainly share your hopeful wishes for a more enlightened local wine culture, but I'm not optimistic that it will happen. Economic and religious interests both work against the liberalization of such issues as selling wine in grocery stores, allowing package stores to be open on Sunday and the selling of food, cigars, wine glasses and so forth. And Shelby County is the most liberal county in Tennessee! I love your detail of the service station that holds wine tastings, but I don't think such a thing will happen here. But then I am a pessimistic curmudgeon...