GENERATION wYne: Healing our strained relationship with fermented grape juice

The millennial generation has a bit of a drinking problem. Specifically in regards to our relationship with wine–it’s needlessly complicated.

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The millennial generation has a bit of a drinking problem. Specifically in regards to our relationship with wine–it’s needlessly complicated. Sure most of us are capable of fielding the most common questions on the topic, such as:

“Would you like some wine?” Yes

“White or red?” The one that has alcohol, please.

“Haven’t you already taken communion today? Are you even a member of this church???” Yes and no—but let me explain!

Yet sadly, when pressed to share our own personal likes and dislikes, most of us will collapse into a self-conscious heap. Shameful confessions soon follow, typically some variation on “Oh, I don’t know anything about wine,” or “I don’t have much of a palate,” and occasionally tail-spinning into “I N-N-NEVER LEARNT TO R-R-READ!!!” Wine appreciation occupies a unique status in our psyche. Most people are curious but remain paralyzed by this stigma that, in order to “correctly” appreciate wine, you have to be an expert. Either you’re chugging Franzia from the box, or you’re writing a dissertation on Burgundian terroir, there’s no in-between.

It’s unfortunate, because the enjoyment of wine has been part and parcel to the human experience for the last 9,000 years. The perception of wine appreciation as an elite and obscure ritual, and the resultant sense of intimidation that it stirs in casual drinkers, is a uniquely modern American problem.

Which leads us to this troubling irony: even as our generation becomes increasingly passionate about buying organic, sustainable and artisanal everything, we routinely settle for industrially produced wines. God forbid if our toilet paper doesn’t comply with the strictest tenants of biodynamicism; but if our wine was made from grape vines that were routinely carpet-bombed with pesticides and manipulated with loads of added dyes, sugars, and sulfites, well, who cares? The label has two monkeys high-fiving on it!

Of course, we’re not entirely to blame for our own ignorance. The mainstream wine media has done little to make wine appreciation more…well, mainstream–catering more to an elite, collector class and spitting out obscure descriptors like they were culled from common experience.1

This irony takes on an added dimension for us Virginians. We sit amid one of the fastest growing wine regions in the country and yet, despite our best “buy local” intentions, many of us wouldn’t know where to begin.

So let me tell you: HERE.

If our collective relationship with wine has been compromised over the last few decades, then consider this couples therapy. There are nearly 100 vineyards located within a two-hour drive of Richmond. Pick one, at random, or based on a tip from a friend or trusted bartender, and go there. Maybe their wines are world class, maybe they’re not. Maybe you’ll discover something you absolutely love, maybe not. What you will find, by and large, are small, often family-run operations; artisanal, old-world production standards; passionate people and bucolic scenery. I don’t care if you’re a certified sommelier, a complete novice, or anything in-between, if you can’t derive any pleasure from sitting on the grass, sipping a glass of wine, and overlooking rolling hills of beautiful fall foliage then you, my friend, are a reptile.

Now, don’t let my quaint depictions of changing leaves and earnest winemakers paint an incomplete picture, Virginia vino is kind of a big deal these days. Wine Enthusiast Magazine listed Virginia as one of the top 10 wine travel destinations in the world for 2012. The buzz has been enough to prompt big shots like Steve Case (former AOL CEO) and Donald Trump to throw their respective hat/hair-helmet into the ring, purchasing existing wineries and reinvigorating them with fresh facilities and gobs of capital. And, just last week, Steven Spurrier, world-renowned wine-authority and organizer of the infamous 1976 Paris Wine Tasting that thrust California onto the international scene, presided over the first ever Virginia Wine Summit.

But there we go again, talking hype when what we need is healing. Hype helps the industry prosper, but never let it get between you and the glass.

Cheers.

Want to learn more? Check out all of Virginia's wine regions and AVAs. And if you're looking for something specific you can search through Virginia's 210 wineries.

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Footnotes

  1. I personally don’t know what a “gooseberry blossom” tastes like, and I sure as shit am not about to drop $62 to find out. 

Photos by: Southern Foodways Alliance

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Matt Brehony

When he’s not musing on food for his blog, or working as a server/Minister of Propaganda for Secco Wine Bar, or writing editorial pieces for various media outlets, or starring in sketches and commercials, Matt Brehony doesn’t do much of anything.

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