With Tourism on the Rise, How Are Distilleries Welcoming Back Guests?

The pandemic didn’t slow the momentum of distillery tourism. It just placed it on pause. As restrictions on visiting distilleries loosened in 2021 — particularly for vaccinated folks — early returns suggested the public fervor to visit the hallowed grounds where their favorite spirits are made remains as strong as it did in pre-pandemic times.

This has increasingly left distilleries with the challenge of making sure the distillery experiences match whatever expectations their guests may harbor upon their return. Fortunately for the distilleries — and for those who enjoy their handiwork — they have some solid ideas.

Broad Engagement Options

Customers have had quite a bit of time to ponder what it would be like to once again set foot in a distillery and marvel at a column still. This puts a bit of pressure on distilleries to get their post-pandemic experience right, particularly since visitations are such a prime mover in terms of market penetration. “People that visit distilleries are more inclined to buy our spirits than those that don’t, and we have the data to prove it through consumer research,” says Robert Hall, CEO of Ole Smoky Moonshine. “It’s crucial for us to give everyone that visits us an experience that’s fun, appealing, and approachable.”

Building these experiences tends to be an expression of gratitude, particularly when it comes to the locals. Distilleries are quick to credit communal loyalty for getting them through Covid-19; as things open, they know it’s time for them to return the favor. This volley comes with an increased push toward hatching customer engagement strategies that go well beyond the traditional distillery tour. In Baltimore, for instance, Sagamore Spirit’s sprawling waterfront campus offers a host of activities that foster continuous local interest, from cocktail-making classes to sessions where guests can etch their own rocks glasses. These offerings are crucial in preventing distillery visits from becoming a one-trick pony among fans. “If a distillery only offers tours, people may only visit once, including locals,” says Sagamore’s co-founder and president, Brian Treacy. “Offering more activities lets you connect with your community multiple times in multiple ways.”

Sagamore Spirit’s sprawling waterfront campus offers a host of activities that foster continuous local interest, from cocktail-making classes to sessions where guests can etch their own rocks glasses.
Sagamore Spirit

Engagement and Education

Some noteworthy customer patterns have emerged as distilleries welcome more people through their doors. The distillery tour know-it-all has returned to the fold, and they’re fully prepared to dispense unsolicited information that teeters between passion and showing off. Their comeback hasn’t phased distillers one bit. “They’ve been around since we’ve been doing this,” says Jon Kreidler, co-founder of Tattersall Distilling. “We don’t mind them. If they want to show up and share a few pieces of knowledge, and if that makes them happy doing so, then good on ‘em.”

At the same time, fledgling fans who developed a newfound appreciation for distilled spirits during the pandemic are dropping by for tours and tastings, eager to learn more. Like anybody engaged in a burgeoning hobby or interest, there is a learning curve involved. Treacy says distilleries must be particularly mindful when engaging with this unique stripe of consumer — especially during a post-tour tipple. “If a person tells me they taste cotton candy after I pour them a rye, and I tell them ‘you’re wrong,’ all I’ll get out of that is a bad Yelp review,” he says. “Even worse, that customer may be so put off by the experience, they may decide whiskey really isn’t for them after all.” Acknowledging what these inexperienced patrons taste in a positive manner may make them feel comfortable enough to order a cocktail or check out other spirits.

Maintaining the Distillery Vibe

Spirits are supposed to be fun. This mantra sets the tone for any distillery seeking to build a memorable experience in its facility and tasting room, especially after the pandemic forced it to trudge through dour times. When done properly, this can allow a venue to function as an extension of the good times that its gin or bourbon can build. “The experience sets the tone for the brand overall,” Kriedler says. “It has to tell the story of who you are. It needs to portray what customers can expect of our spirits, and we never want to be looked at as a snooty place.”

In some cases, delivering this experience can involve multiple pieces of real estate. In December, Tattersall unveiled a 75,000-plus-square-foot distillery in River Falls, Wis., some 30 miles east of its original Minneapolis venue, complete with a restaurant, barrel room, amphitheater, and several event spaces. (The new locale also allows it to escape Minnesota’s stingy spirits production laws and scale its liquid output while remaining close enough to the Twin Cities for its local fan base to easily visit). Ole Smoky Moonshine’s quartet of Tennessee properties — two in Gatlinburg, one in Pigeon Forge, and one in Nashville — allow the brand to deliver different engagement points for its guests, from cozy tasting room confines augmented with rustic general stores to wide open spaces built around live music and Ping-Pong tables. These eclectic offerings can frame a distillery as a destination for locals and out-of-towners alike, turning what may otherwise be a quick and simple visit into an extended affair. It can also produce a certain type of energy for spirits geeks that can somewhat resemble the enthusiasm a child may have when they set foot inside an amusement park. That’s the point. At the same time, creating these types of experiences isn’t necessarily a loose affair. “We want to make our distillery visits friendly and fun,” explains Hall. “However, we take the topic of experience as seriously as we take our spirits.”

In December, Tattersall unveiled a 75,000+ square foot distillery in River Falls, Wis. some 30 miles east of their original Minneapolis venue, complete with a restaurant, barrel room, amphitheater, and several event spaces.
Credit: Tattersall Distilling / Facebook.com

A Key Part of City Strategy

Tourism took a beating during the pandemic, but the urge to explore up-and-coming cities throughout the country will likely return in full force once the pandemic fully subsides. As cities cautiously begin building toward this future — whenever that may be — more are recognizing the value of integrating local spirits and distillery experiences within their overall tourism strategies. For instance, Baltimore’s official travel website, Visit Baltimore, uses Sagamore and other city distilleries to promote the city’s rich history and drive interest in hip and emerging neighborhoods. “We’re proud to be able to help bring attention to Baltimore,” Treacy says. “One of our main goals is to help people realize there is so much to see and do in the city, they’ll want to spend a long weekend here.”

Regardless of whether a distillery is part of a city’s tourism strategy or a local’s plan to have fun for an hour or two, the onus on a distillery to deliver a great experience is a responsibility it will continue to embrace as things begrudgingly move toward a sense of normalcy, simply because of the joy that’s inherent in the distilling craft. “We make spirits that are served in a Mason jar,” Hall says. “How can you not have a bit of fun if you’re doing that?”

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Jean Perrier Vin de Savoie Apremont ‘Gastronomie’ 2020, Savoie, France

Savoie is a footnote in wine most guides, often relegated to “other” French wine regions that merit little more than brief mentions after exhaustive examinations of Bordeaux and Burgundy, the Rhône and the Loire, and other areas on the beaten path.

But that may be changing as more wine lovers discover the delights of this Alpine region — Savoy in English — especially its light yet distinctive and affordable white wines.

One of them is the charming 2020 Vin de Savoie Apremont “Cuvée Gastronomie” from Jean Perrier & Fils. Provided you don’t drink it too cold, which will obscure the tastes, it’s as crisp and delightful as any light French whites you’ll come across.

Jean Perrier Vin de Savoie Apremont ‘Gastronomie’ 2020, Savoie, France is a good wine you can find

The wine is from the Apremont subregion of Savoie, a small, mountainous appellation in eastern France bordering Switzerland. The grape is Jacquère, the most common variety here, and Jean Perrier ferments and ages it in stainless steel tanks.

The result is a fresh, delicate, and nuanced wine with a modest 11.5 percent ABV. Pale straw in color, the aromas and tastes evoke green apple with hints of orange and lime as well as subtle notes of flowers, herbs, and wet stone.

This is a wonderful aperitif wine that would also pair well with lighter fish and shellfish as well as raclette, the melted cheese dish that is popular in the French Alps. The Perrier family has been making wine here since 1853 and now farms about 150 acres.

Their Apremont reminds me of summer in its taste and texture, which is not a bad thought as we enter the depths of winter. At around $13, it’s also a phenomenal value to enjoy now and throughout the year.

Buy This Wine

The article Jean Perrier Vin de Savoie Apremont ‘Gastronomie’ 2020, Savoie, France appeared first on VinePair.

Wine Losing Share to Spirits Among Younger Drinkers, According to Annual SVB Report

The relationship between millennials and wine has been a hot button topic for years, with craft beer, hard seltzer, and distilled spirits vying for market share. The Silicon Valley Bank’s recently published 2022 State of the Wine Industry report shows the scale of the issue, using industry-wide surveys and data, sourced from reputable organizations such as the Wine Institute.

In 2021, Americans did not consume more wine than in the previous year. Instead, wine’s market share decreased, with overall declines for on- and off-premise sales. Wine wholesale also decreased, while spirits sales grew compared to 2020 totals.

The data paints a contrasting picture to the comeback many had hoped (and predicted) for 2021, with report author Rob McMillan portioning some of the blame to the competitive on-premise market.

“[Restaurants] weren’t really as interested in wine as spirits, reinforcing that that’s what consumers are saying,” said McMillan. “The wine list has become a beverage page, and you have to share it with beer, cocktails and even spiked seltzers.”

In the report, McMillan notes that only 20 percent of millennials (aged 25-40) consume wine, while 33 percent of millennials are consuming luxury goods. According to the report, the transition of millennials taking over wine consumption from baby boomers has been delayed by a number of factors, including: “millennials’ early preference for craft beer and spirits, questions surrounding the health of alcohol consumption, and the fact that it takes longer to establish careers, families, and wealth than it did for previous generations.”

But this is not the final call for the wine industry, and many professionals believe they can lure millennial drinkers — they just need a good slogan.

Along with other wine industry executives and analysts— Danny Brager (Brager Beverage Alcohol Consulting), MJ Dale (Customer Vineyard), and Dale Stratton (Wine Market Council) — McMillan has formed the Wine Research and Marketing Project (WineRAMP).

WineRAMP will be applying for a USDA National Research and Promotion order, which are national marketing campaigns known for their iconic slogans with both government and industry backing, the most famous of which being the “Got Milk?” campaign. The campaign will cost over $1 million dollars to apply for, but already $650,000 has been secured from industry members and supporters.

So millennials: Got Wine?

The article Wine Losing Share to Spirits Among Younger Drinkers, According to Annual SVB Report appeared first on VinePair.

Ask a Somm: How Long Can You Really Age a Bottle of Wine?

When starting a wine cellar, it can be tempting to buy as many bottles as possible, shove them in a cool, dark place, and not touch them for 15 years. But that tactic doesn’t work for every bottle, with some wines hardly changing after years of storage and others prone to overaging.

To figure out this delicate balancing act, VinePair spoke with Zach Geballe, sommelier, wine educator, and co-host of the “VinePair Podcast,” to get his thoughts about the perfect time to crack open that bottle you’ve squirreled away.

“If I were going to generalize, I would say that the vast majority of wines produced today are intended to be drunk right away,” says Geballe. “There is only a fraction of wine designated and created for significant aging, but those wines generally get more attention because of it.”

When aging a wine, there are three different stages a bottle will go through: young, peak, and peaked. Young wines are generally unbalanced and fresh, often with a little bit more tannin, fruit, or acid than what is desired. Aging young wines will mellow out and give complexity to those flavors. Peak is the term used for when a wine is at its prime. At this point, it will be well balanced, layered, and smooth on the palate. A wine that’s peaked, or over-matured, will have been stored in the cellar for too long, and most of its once-vibrant characteristics will taste a bit deadened or faded — “almost like a photograph,” Geballe says.

“It took me a while to learn, as it does most people, that maturation and aging of wine is not linear. It all depends on so many different opposing factors,” he says. Though aging wines was once thought of as a necessity for wine collectors, Geballe says this is changing. “These days, the number of wines that are initially out of balance when they are young and then developed with age are sparse. But some people still age their wine, because those are flavors they desire.”

Geballe’s top tip for aging a wine is to taste it while it is young. You want it to be promising in its youth; otherwise, aging may be a waste of time. “I have frequently faced out-of-balanced wine that is too tannic or is in too much fresh oak,” says Geballe. “When a wine is out of balance when it is young, aging is gonna rarely fix it.”

A common misconception among wine novices is that the older a wine is, the better it will taste. But for most wines and wine drinkers, that is not necessarily the case — whether due to inconsistent storage or simply individual preference.

“With older bottles in general — even if it is from a style that can age for 20 to 30 years, or a good vintage — look at the storage and what conditions it was in,” says Gaballe. “If you are buying from a high-quality wine shop that can verify where it is stored, or if you are buying it from the winery, that is a good sign.”

The great thing for beginner cellar trackers is that nowadays, with the progress of viticulture, most regions rarely produce an awful vintage that isn’t worth cellaring — meaning consumers needn’t spend hours analyzing vintage charts to determine the right bottles to buy and the right time to open them. Geballe suggests finding a balanced, age-worthy young wine that you already know you love, buying that in bulk, and drinking it incrementally year after year. Once you have found an aging time where that bottle is well suited to your palate, or epitomizes that style of wine, then it is time to let loose and start drinking through your stash.

“Age wine a little more dispassionately, because your tastes may change over time. Give yourself permission to drink the wine whenever you want,” says Geballe. “You just have to go for it.”

The article Ask a Somm: How Long Can You Really Age a Bottle of Wine? appeared first on VinePair.

Wine 101: American Wine History Part III

E. & J. Gallo Winery is excited to sponsor this episode of VinePair’s “Wine 101.” Gallo always welcomes new friends to wine with an amazing wide range of favorites, ranging from everyday to luxury and sparkling wines. Gallo also makes award-winning spirits (but, you know, this is a wine podcast…). So whether you’re new to wine or an aficionado, Gallo welcomes you to wine. We look forward to serving you enjoyment in moments that matter. Cheers!

In this episode of the “Wine 101” podcast, VinePair’s tastings director Keith Beavers concludes his three-part exploration of American wine history. The 20th century was a tumultuous time for American wine, but that didn’t stop winemakers (and home enthusiasts) from pushing the nation towards recovery and innovation.

From the time of Prohibition to the 21st century, how did wine in the United States transform into the booming industry we know it as today? How did the loopholes in the temperance laws of the 1920s and ‘30s foster the recovery of California’s wine-growing regions? And who were some of the key players who shaped America’s premium wine market?

Tune in to learn more about the history of American wine in the final episode of this three-part series.


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Keith Beavers: My name is Keith Beavers, and did you guys know that the original red velvet cake was only red because the cocoa powder added to the batter oxidized in the oven, giving it a nice reddish, rusty color?

We’re going to wrap this up: American wine history. How do we get from Prohibition to here? This is going to be crazy. It’s about recovery. Let’s do this.

When we last spoke, things were going great — specifically for California. There were some problems over in the East. They weren’t doing so well. The hybrid situation was happening. It was producing results; not the kind of results that were happening in California. It was kind of crazy, a little bit messy, but extremely successful. California was nurturing a future winemaking region that would hopefully spread, through the sharing of information and technology throughout the United States, all the way to the East.

It would have been a wonderful connecting thing. But it didn’t happen. All the work that was done in California, and some of the work that was done in New York and in the Eastern states, came to a halt in 1919. That’s when the Volstead Act was passed, making it illegal to buy, sell, and consume alcohol above 0.5 percent ABV in this country. Even though Prohibition started in 1919, people saw it coming. It started in the late 19th century. There are a lot of factors here. There was post-Civil War trauma that was not diagnosed at all like it is today. There was the disappointment of the Gold Rush, which did not produce the kind of wealth they thought it was going to produce. These are factors I’m thinking of. The hard drinking culture of this country at the time was a problem.

There were groups that were popping up to help create what were called Temperance Movements, or movements that calmed down the drinking culture of the United States. A lot of these movements were supported by the church. The two most prominent ones were the Women’s Christian Temperance Union — that was in 1874 — and then the Anti-Saloon League of 1895. This was built over time, and it got the attention of politicians who thought it would be a good idea to run on this. Instead of just making a Temperance Movement, why don’t we just put it in the Constitution and make it a law? It was getting national attention. By the time 1919 came around and the Volstead Act was signed into law, 33 of the current 48 states at the time were already dry. So it was already happening. That’s why politicians jumped on it and made it law in this country for a decade. It was initially thought that wine would be spared when they were talking about the law and negotiating the terms of the law. But when that 0.5 percent came out, it was like, everything’s illegal.

This basically destroyed the wine industry of the United States. Sure, we’ve heard a lot of stories of survival. There were winemakers that did survive because of a loophole in the Volstead Act. The Volstead Act was being amended for 10 years. It was so unpopular in this country that people kept going back and amending it here and amending it there. At some point, it became legal for the head of a household to legally manufacture up to 200 gallons of fruit juice a year. Somewhere in that law, there was a loophole that essentially said, “Hey, you can make your own wine at home.” There were home winemaking kits that you could buy and add water to with a warning saying, “Beware, if you add water to this, it could turn into alcohol.”

There’s a bunch of stories like that throughout Prohibition. But that particular loophole was important, because in California, as wineries were closing left and right and vineyards were being turned into other crops like walnuts, almonds, avocados, and stuff like that, the state started ramping up vine plantings again at a pretty intense clip. In 1919 in California, there were about 300,000 acres of land under vine. Because of this loophole and other factors, that number doubled by 1925 during the Prohibition era. At the time, that was unprecedented. There had never been so many vines in California than there was at the height of the Prohibition era. A lot of that was, again, home winemaking. There was also sacramental wine being made for religious purposes. That was a loophole. And of course, there was a black market. That’s great for California, actually not great for California. But it kind of helped California move and make money so that when this whole thing ended, they could be positioned well. They didn’t know that at the time, but that’s what was happening. Other wineries around the country tried to do the same. Even though vineyards doubled in size in California, that did not translate to the rest of the country. Just because vineyards increased in California doesn’t mean that new wineries are popping up in California.

The winery situation in the country was very bad. You can see that with the production numbers. In 1919, the U.S. produced 55 million gallons of wine. By 1935, it was just over 3.5 million gallons. It destroyed the industry. It was only the full realization of the impact of the Great Depression on economics that helped prove that Prohibition was not actually working. It’s a long, complicated story. The way it happens is, the Democratic Party sees an opportunity to run on repeal. One of their major campaign issues is the repealing of the Volstead Act, because it was initiated and brought into law by Republicans. It works, and the Volstead Act is repealed in 1933. In the last episode, we talked a lot about movement and how things were happening quickly, and it was complicated. The history of American wine after Prohibition is not that. It’s all about recovery. Exciting things happen, but it’s just trying to figure out how to get back to where we were, and in doing so, creating something completely new.

When the Volstead Act was repealed, we were still in the deepest depths of our economic depression. Even though this law destroyed a significant part of the wine industry, there was no government compensation to help people get back on track. So what you had was an industry picking up the pieces, and unfortunately, a lot of those pieces were around in 1919. This industry was nothing. California had a surplus of vines because of that loophole. But they weren’t variety-specific vineyards. These were blended, mixed fields of vines just to make money and survive. The industry was uninstructed and undercapitalized. They had no money. They had a bunch of old equipment, and nobody had any expertise in anything except for what they had before Prohibition. In addition to that, the government not only didn’t compensate any wineries or businesses that had gone under, but they also didn’t fund any research going forward. The government funded no research for wine in the industry at all. Therefore, the majority of the research that goes into wine is done by individual winemakers. Also, research was being done at the University of California, Davis and universities in New York, specifically in the Finger Lakes around Cornell.

Even though things were bad, no one stopped working. This is what’s great. The thing about this part of our story is that it’s not about individual dates so much as it’s about sections of time when things happen. Even though a lot of wineries were closed, there were still wineries around in the Eastern and Western states and some in the Midwest. During the 1930s, there were some sparks of hope, if you will. In the Eastern states, there was a guy named Philip Wagner. He was a newspaper editor in Baltimore, but a very avid home winemaker. And he loved hybrids. With experience in his hobby, he ended up writing a book in 1933 called “American Wines and How to Make Them.” He highly publicized hybrids that are still used to this day that do work. They work in the sense that they have a mass appeal to them. Hybrids with names of Baco, specifically Baco Noir, Seyval, and Seyval Blanc. He wrote another book in 1945 called “The Wine Growers Guide.” This guy is basically regarded as the one who changed the course of winemaking in the Eastern states. He gave the Eastern states a reason to continue using these hybrids that had helped the area survive since the beginning. Until the 1950s, and actually the 1980s, the Eastern states were basically a hybrid-growing wine industry. They did try vitis vinifera, but it never worked out like it did with the hybrids. But we’re going to get to that in a second.

The thing about the East is it didn’t have what the West had then. It suffered from an initial phase after the Prohibition era in that distilleries began to buy up defunct wineries just to have product to sell. Without the knowledge of the varieties they were making wine from, they were basically making bulk wine. They would call these wines Chablis, Burgundy, and Champagne, just so they could have some sort of familiarity as a brand or a name that people would buy. This wasn’t a longstanding thing for the distilleries. They ended up getting out of this whole winemaking business, and in the Eastern states, it had long-lasting damage. Ohio, which was a very important state for winemaking or trying to make wine in the early days, had 149 wineries in 1940. By 1960, it had 47.

In the 1930s over in the West, specifically California, this is where true innovation of the American wine industry really started to begin. Because let’s be honest, it all happened in California, primarily in the Central Valley and in the Napa Valley of California. After the repeal, you had a bunch of vines all over California. There was that loophole back during the home-growing era of Prohibition, where we doubled the acreage of land under vine. When repeal is done, there are vines everywhere. California survives on being a bulk market. In the Central Valley of California, the Napa Valley, and beyond even north of that, all of this is bulk wine. In Napa Valley specifically, there are certain winemakers that have survived the Prohibition era and are doing OK. Actually, after Prohibition, there were about 60 wineries in Napa Valley. But only a small group of them became major players in turning this thing around. Old wineries like Inglenook, Beaulieu, Larkmead, and Beringer start to define what Napa will become. It’s all a bulk market, but you have certain wineries like Beaulieu, which are about quantity. They wanted to make quantity. Then you had a winery like Inglenook, which was known for small production. So you already had this large production/small production thing happening in Northern California. There was this vibe there. In the 1930s, as these winemakers would gather and have meetings, one thing that became clear through pamphlets and newsletters and writings in the area is that the Napa Valley will only be able to compete with the wines of Europe — because the Eastern Coast was all about imports from Europe — if we had a premium wine market. And that’s what Napa should be.

So the focus of Napa, and this is a big hurdle here, is to make premium wine. Which means they had to completely rethink the way they make wine in Napa. And then they had to figure out how to promote it and get it into the minds of Americans and get them excited about it. That took a long time — about 30 years. Not only did they have to get Americans into their kind of wine, but they also had to convince the bulk market, which was doing just fine making the money they were making, to switch over to premium wine. It was a very, very tough thing to do. Through the ’30s, ’40s, and the ’50s, Napa Valley was trying to become a fine wine region in the United States. They were trying to convince people not to do bulk and to focus on varieties. A writer by the name of Frank Schoonmaker came out with a book in 1934 called, “The Complete Wine Book,” which became very popular in the area. His big thing was, “Guys, you want to make this thing work? You need to put the varietal on the label.” His idea is that it would distinguish themselves from the European imports. Which is a good idea, because as World War II became a reality, imports dried up from Europe. It gave California winemakers a moment to promote themselves.

Speaking of Europe, Beaulieu Vineyards owner, Georges de Latour, would go to France every year to take stock of what was going on in wine. He goes out there and meets a guy named André Tchelistcheff. He convinces him to come to California, and André Tchelistcheff becomes the Charles Krug of this era. He became the No. 1 wine consultant in the area. He develops a lab, actually starts to understand the science of wine and technology in this area, and helps people make better wine. The thing about making wine in America is that once you make wine, you have to sell it. There was really no holding onto wine. Sure, there were wineries that did so, but that’s not how money was made. Money was made by selling the wine you make.

Nobody was better at selling the wine you make than two brothers from the Central Valley, Ernest and Julio Gallo. These brothers came up during Prohibition where they would ship grapes. Their family had vineyards, and they had a grape shipping business. They would ship grapes to places around the country during Prohibition where home growing was allowed. At repeal, Ernest and Julio Gallo were running their father’s business. They had a house with some vineyards and a grape shipping business. This is a great American story. These two brothers decide they want to become a winery. They want to start making wine, but they have to be a bonded winery. Well, it just so happens that they have vineyards on their property and they have a grape shipping business, so they actually are able to become a bonded winery. They start with no money. They find a basement in a library in Modesto to start their business. They learn how to make wine from old pamphlets from the Prohibition era of University of California Davis. Ernest is on the winemaking side; Julio is on the marketing side. And Julio Gallo becomes the figure in American wine who teaches us how to market, promote, and distribute wine. When you walk into a store and you see a bunch of wineries and they’re all trying to market to you, you can thank Julio Gallo. The Gallos got bigger and bigger and bigger, and they eventually ended up buying a bunch of vineyard land up in the Northern Coast to help supply the Napa wineries. As Napa becomes big on promotion, they actually poach people from the Gallos to use in Napa for promotion. If it wasn’t for Ernest and Julio Gallo, I don’t know how this all would have happened.

Up in Napa, you had the Mondavi family. You had Peter and Robert Mondavi, sons of Cesare Mondavi, who were a big deal in Napa at the time. He had a co-op and was very connected in the community. But Robert Mondavi goes to school for business, and Peter Mondavi goes to school for wine. And that’s who they were. They were the Ernest and Julio of Napa Valley. Robert Mondavi is the guy who says, “Hey, let’s start bringing people up from San Francisco to this area.” He wasn’t the only one, but he was part of this whole movement of getting people from wealthier parts of San Francisco to the Napa Valley to see what was going on with the winemaking process.

By this point, things are doing pretty well. You had André Tschelistcheff and all of his acolytes helping people make good wine in the area. There were a lot of players in wine, like writers and winemakers in this era from the 1930s into the 1960s. But it was the Gallos and the Mondavis that brought each thing to the light. You had Ernest and Julio Gallo learning how to make commercial wine and getting wine out there to the country, helping the country understand that wine is something they can actually drink daily and enjoy. Then, you had Robert and Peter Mondavi up in Napa fighting to create America’s first fine wine region, trying to define what that even meant. They were getting closer and closer to focusing on varieties of wine like Cabernet Sauvignon, which had been winning awards at state fairs since the 1930s.

When soldiers came back from World War II, they had an idea of a European lifestyle. In the 1950s, they were trying to emulate that a little bit, but wine wasn’t really part of that. But in the 1960s, the baby boomers were coming of age. In the ’60s and ’70s, because of a bunch of factors, wine blew up. Not only did wine become more popular in the 1960s, but we started to see graduates of UC Davis going to other places than California to make wine.

In the early 1960s, some of these California winemakers were told, “You cannot make Pinot Noir in Oregon.” I’m going to talk about this in another episode. That’s when winemakers started making their way to what will be the Willamette Valley. In 1969, winemakers made their way into Washington State. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, Napa started to talk about what it would be like to be an appellation. They start talking about varieties. They start talking about borders and where they want this appellation to be. The government starts talking about an appellation system, and in the ’70s, they start figuring out what that’s going to look like. What do we call it? How do we decide what this is going to be? Because wine is getting popular. There’s a lot of factors here, but wine blows up. In 1970, California had 240 wineries. In 1989, it had 770 wineries. You go to 2004, there were 1,700 wineries. By 2014, there were 3,800 wineries in California alone. But in the 1970s, it really started popping off.

There are things happening since the 1930s in California. It’s been a building and building and building. When 1976 comes around, and the Judgment of Paris happens, that is the boiling point and everything gets exciting from there. I mean, this is the thing. There were always these comparative French-California wine tastings in California. But it wasn’t until the Judgment of Paris happened, with its highly publicized article, that things got going. In 1978, when the AVAs were being formed, Napa became the first American Viticultural Area in California. It’s the second Viticultural Area in the United States. The first one went to Mount Pleasant, Mo., where, to this day, they thrive on one of the most successful hybrids in America, the Norton Grape. From 1981 until 1991 or 1992, over 100 AVAs were awarded to the United States.

This is the thing, wine lovers. This is what begins our wine industry, really, because California has been doing it for a long time. California was the place where climatically and geographically, vitis vinifera worked for a long time. Yes, phylloxera became a problem. But that’s where it worked. There were never the issues of climate, like on the East Coast. So California began it. That didn’t even start into the 1930s, and it didn’t even become an AVA until 1981. Two “Star Wars” films had already come out by that time!

Speaking of 1980, around that time, a man by the name of Jim Law moved from California to Virginia and started making wine there. He and a few other winemakers became the major players of creating a wine culture in Virginia. Thomas Jefferson would be like, “Finally!” If you listen to the New York episode I did, in the 1950s in New York State, they get Dr. Konstantin Frank. He helps revive the industry there by showing them how to grow Riesling. By the ’80s, he’s established and doing amazing things, basically getting the region ready for what we enjoy now.

What’s exciting to me about American wine is that we’re not done. There are places making great wine that we just don’t know. When Napa was trying to figure out how to distribute, and when the Central Valley was trying to figure out how to promote, they weren’t really well known. Now, we have little places like Contra Costa, which is a little AVA just outside of San Francisco. They’re making old, ancient Zinfandel. It’s a place that’s being overrun now by strip malls. You have a place called the Temecula Valley down in Southern California. No one talks about that wine, but there are some great things coming out of there. Adam Teeter, CEO of VinePair, and I actually went to Pennsylvania and experienced a vineyard on a hill in the middle of a cornfield growing Nebbiolo that we drank, and it was delicious. I’ve had a great sparkling Albariño from Maryland. New Mexico makes some of the best domestic sparkling wine on the market at Gruet. That family is from Champagne. And if you hadn’t had wine from Texas, there are some amazing things happening right now. There’s great Tempranillo, great Mourvedre, awesome rosés. Texas has a significant history with wine in America.

I wanted to do this series because I wanted to talk about that. I wanted to talk about how we have so much more to experience. Back in the day, the Mondavis and others were like, “Look, we have to bring people here to see it, they don’t even know it’s here, and we don’t make enough of it to bring everywhere, so they’ve got to come here.” That is the same thing happening with the smaller places in America. With Virginia, it’s hard to distribute. You’ve got to go to Virginia and drink their wines, and who wouldn’t want to go to Virginia? It’s absolutely beautiful. The Finger Lakes, yes, they have better distribution than before. But you have to go to the Finger Lakes to enjoy that. Texas, it’s best to go there because it’s hard for distribution. But at some point, if it works and the quality’s right, these places will grow, and more wine will be available in the United States. So it’s not just about California, but California is absolutely one of the most important players in our American wine history, along with New York, and, actually, Virginia.

I don’t know about you, wine lovers, but I get excited whenever I hear of a new place in the United States making wine. I want to rush to that place, try the wine, and I want to support it and say, keep going — just like Thomas Jefferson did when people were sending him wine from Wisconsin and the Ohio Valley. A really interesting thing about our history here is that, speaking of the Eastern states, the hybrid — the thing that saved us and the thing that we hated the most — is actually being worked with now in the Northeast. People are making wine from hybrid grapes, but we have the technology and knowledge now to make wine from these grapes that the people before us couldn’t. And they’re delicious.

Obviously, there’s more to say. And obviously there’s some things that I had to leave out. But I wanted to give you guys a three-part series of who we are and how we got to where we are. If you guys have any questions about something I may have left out, hit me up. My DMs are open at @VinePairKeith. Let’s talk.

@VinePairKeith is my Insta. Rate and review this podcast wherever you get your podcasts from. It really helps get the word out there.

And now, for some totally awesome credits. “Wine 101” was produced, recorded, and edited by yours truly, Keith Beavers, at the VinePair headquarters in New York City. I want to give a big ol’ shout-out to co-founders Adam Teeter and Josh Malin for creating VinePair. Big shout-out to Danielle Grinberg, the art director of VinePair, for creating the most awesome logo for this podcast. Also, Darbi Cicci for the theme song. Listen to this. And I want to thank the entire VinePair staff for helping me learn something new every day. See you next week.

Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.

The article Wine 101: American Wine History Part III appeared first on VinePair.