This interesting blog post came across my feed recently, and it provided a little food for thought, but more reinforcement about why I love winery hopping. It’s a discussion I had with a friend recently too – why not just buy the wine at the grocery store? It’s less expensive and basically just as good, isn’t it?
My (as my son likes to say, OVERLY COMPLICATED) answer is a resounding NO.
For a bunch of reasons.
I’ve mentioned a number of times that a big part of this for me is the experience – I love the interaction with tasting bar staff (and its best when the winemaker or owner is there so you can get a real sense of their process and vision), the opportunity to sample a variety of wines, (especially those I may not typically choose to try), and almost all of the Northern Va wineries are in an amazing setting where you can really drop your stress level and feel like you are far away from crazy city/work life.
You get to sample the wine before you buy it. In the grocery store wine aisle, I used to make purchase decisions based on what friends recommended, price points, and how cool the label was. These are not always the best way to know what you would like. Being able to taste the wines and think about them helps you make sure this is what you really want, and find things you didn’t know about and wouldn’t expect. I never would have gravitated toward tannat or petit verdot, but tasting them in multiple tasting rooms, I have found some I like. I did pick up a tannat from Uruguay at Total Wine one day, and was so disappointed – I’m sticking with ones I get to taste first.
You know something about the production of the wine, quality/sourcing of grapes, etc. I feel like everything about our food these days is a mystery and nothing is required to be on the package. There is nowhere that we are told what chemicals are in our food, how it was grown/treated, etc. When you visit the winery you can ask all those questions and see some of the vineyards. (I’m acknowledging you cannot see whether they poured gallons of something into the barrel, I know that). You do get to ask questions about process and philosophy, and ask about different tastes in the wine to find out where they come from. When you buy mass production wines, they are just that – the grapes come from wherever they can get them, they are heavily processed, and chemicals are used to mask imperfections or off-tastes and create uniformity so that it can be bottled and sold nation-wide. You lose a sense of place and authenticity. I know that’s a marketing slogan for Virginia Wine, but it also resonates for me – I think there is a lot to be said for the unique-ness of a low production wine, where you can taste some imperfections along the way, and you can feel confident about from where the grapes come. Often it is the “imperfections” that make something so enjoyable.
Finally, that buy local aspect. The socialist in me loves supporting these small businesses and going against the WalMart-ization of America. Now, I love me some Amazon and Target, don’t get me wrong, but I also love ensuring these small businesses thrive so that we can have choices. The winemakers are able to put their unique spin on something, and it only has to work for the people who buy wines from the 200 cases they produce of that wine, it doesn’t have to appeal to every single WalMart shopper. Winemakers are able to experiment and bring out certain qualities and aspects of the wine and make something that they love that has its own place. Often they create something that maybe you can find on a grocery shelf after a LOT of trial and error. While I am more than happy to drink tons and tons of wine, that’s a lot of wasted wine to get to the ones you love, that match you.
I acknowledge that it costs more to buy the wines from the winery directly. The bottles I typically buy are in the $25-$50 range, and in the grocery store, I could potentially get a decent bottle for $12-$15. I argue that what you get for that price is unique style, depth and quality, the opportunity to preview what you are buying, and the knowledge that you are supporting an artist in the pursuit of expressing something unique. I would liken it to the difference between purchasing a print from a poster store, and purchasing something an artist created from the artist directly – you will pay a good bit more, but you are getting something unique and different, customized to your taste, that isn’t made for mass consumption. If you want to get drunk, go to the grocery and liquor store. If you want to experience something unique and interesting, go to a winery and sample til you find that special something that matches you.