Mark Aselstine
November 8, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

The Passionate Foodie, Emerson Brown Drink Local & More

With the state legislature in Massachusetts set to vote on a direct shipping bill sponsored by Free the Grapes (among others of course) which would bring the state largely into compliance with an increasing number of states allowing competition, abiding by the commerce clause (if you believe it actually exists, or has gone way of the Dodo bird) and most importantly, giving consumers a wider set of choices when it comes to the wine they drink.

For me, no state has been quite as frustrating as Massachusetts.  I think a lot of the frustration stems both from our inability to compete for customers in a state that, based on demographics would be good for us and receptive to our message of better wine, from smaller vintners.  Also, I’ve seen one of my favorite winemakers and a true star of the industry in Napa Valley struggle with a law that is either simply unfair, certainly politically motivated and quite possibly unconstitutional. Keith Emerson who spends his days making wine at Vineyard 29 under Phillipe Melka, but who also makes a personal brand called Emerson Brown has roots and strong family ties in and around Boston.

Emerson is an interesting case because he comes with a family background where his family owned high end restaurants in an around Boston.  The current shipping and regulations do not allow Emerson’s family to buy and serve his own wine at their restaurants.  Based on my experiences as a kid and my dad owning a Dairy Queen (and more importantly the relationships that was created by simply being around the restaurant as a kid), I don’t think it is a stretch to think these world class wines, would be warmly received at locations where the family is well known.

Another great example is Drew Bledsoe who has returned to live in the Northwest where he grew up and then attended college.  He’s since founded a winery called Doubleback. Bledsoe as you might expect, has become the perfect spokesperson for the wine industry when it comes to Massachusetts shipping.  He’s known and after years have healed some wounds, well liked almost universally within the state.  It doesn’t hurt that his winery cannot legally ship wine into the state either.

That’s probably a longer introduction than I intended, but when it comes to Massachusets based wine writers, there’s a relatively short list of memorable writers.  With perhaps a handful of exceptions, I think that list begins and ends with Richard Auffrey ie the Passionate Foodie.

Auffrey is an interesting case, even in the world of wine writing which seems to bring out a nice range of personalities.  The guy has written a series of books called the Tipsy Sensi, which includes zombies, ninjas and cats.  Seriously.  I’ll admit, I’m slightly intrigued by anyone who may be able to weave those elements into an interesting novel. My personally favorite aspect of the Passionate Foodie blog is his Monday Rant series which is where you see (IMO at least) his best writing and personality shine through.  From a rebuff of a Kansas couple that refused to tip a waiter who provided excellent service, but whom they believed to be gay (seriously, this exists still?) to his continued reminders that drinking and driving is preventable and pointless, to a request that we all stop eating shitty fast food hamburgers from major chains he offers a varied set of tastes and statements.  Among my favorite, a request that we stop spoiling our kids when it comes to food, in a family where my soon to be 3 year has never seen a chicken mcnugget and thinks it’s “silly” when kids at other homes get something different to eat than the parents, I couldn’t agree more.

A practicing attorney he also is well versed and certified when it comes to Spanish wine and Sake while most interestingly, is a board member of the Drink Local Wine organization.  Drink Local has a singular purpose, to provide a set of resources for people looking to drink wine (that we don’t sell!) that doesn’t come from the west coast. 

I’ve expressed support for these type of sites and organizations before, only to have customers and readers ask “Why?” The answer is really simple, wine like food is best from local sources.  Admittedly, a wine drinker who starts drinking $10 local wine often times grows into someone who wants single vineyard, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir as well-at least to try and we’re frankly a really good source for that.  That’s just to say that these type of organizations help to grow the industry and some of my own favorite tasting experiences have taken place well outside of Napa Valley, like Wilcox Arizona where I found a group of established, interesting, insightful and exceedingly gracious vintners making wine better than anyone in California might otherwise give them credit for. 

I also think these organizations say something important about the wine industry in general.  In France there are stringent laws, rules and regulations about what grapes can be planted in each region and what wines can be made (and even how they can be made).  That lack of experimentation and improvement has allowed California to grab a dramatic amount of market share in little less than a generation.  New wine regions will continue to push local vintners here in California to not only keep prices reasonable (a very real concern when it comes to not only Cabernet Sauvignon but Chardonnay and Pinto Noir as well) but continue to try new grapes, new planting locations and generally speaking to not rest of their laurels.

Just like direct shipping in Massachusetts, competition from new and lesser known wine regions should help everyone continue to grow this industry over the long term.


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