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Wine,Wine Appreciation,Wine HIstory

Why Are Palates So Eurocentric on the East Coast? Easy Question

I believe I may have found an answer, through my 25 years of observations, visiting both parts of the country extensively, by living on both coasts – each for extended periods of time, and having been to Europe, to see that part of life, too.

Here’s what stuck me as pretty true, as I began to write my assessments of Elliot Essman’s Use Wine to Make Sense of The World. His wine journey isn’t as long as mine, so it was fun to return to someone else’s more recent age of discovery. While my explorations have been about learning the wine business, Elliot’s have been really geared toward tasting/enjoying wine. And, his wine tasting experiences and revelations really got me to thinking.

Living on the East Coast, he’s got that advantage of his peers being better schooled in the world of wine, versus the wine world… Since the age of discovery and foreigners landing on our eastern shores from Europe, people on the east coast still have tighter connections to their European ancestors.

Being from the east coast, I can trace my lineage to 1623, for instance, when (great grandfather 14 generations ago) Reverend William Blackstone landed in Massachusetts and founded Boston; and to (great grandfather 14 generations ago) Deacon Samuel Haines, who sailed from Bristol, England in the “Angel Gabriel,” one of Sir Walter Raleigh’s ships. Angel Gabriel was the one wrecked by the great hurricane of August 15, 1635. Haines obviously made it to shore, because I’m here to continue writing the family tree.

I tell you all this to prove the point of knowing how far my European roots date back. To speak with many native Californians, they can mostly trace their ancestors back to the Gold Rush of 1849, to their relatives who came in search of gold. Many brought grape seeds or Vitis vinifera cuttings with them, and got down to making wine for those cold winter nights in the mountains.

For Elliott, he’s more of the east coast type who is willing to go find wine, rather than get into the growing and making of it. While there is wine grape growing and wine making on the east coast, it’s definitely not as concentrated as it is on the west coast, with one winery after the other as they’re laid out in Napa Valley, for instance.

Our east coast and west coast cultures seem to – generally speaking – be of this ilk, in my opinion, experiences, and findings over the years.

East Coast city dwellers – where there are major cities all along that coast, from Portland Maine to Miami, Florida – are very open to imports… The European ones have landed there since the 1600s.

West Coast city dwellers – where there are fewer metropolitan areas along the coastline, from Seattle (not on the coast), to Portland, Oregon (also not on the coast), to Los Angeles – are more involved with their own state’s wines first, then to other west coast wines (Oregon and Washington), and then to imports.

  • When I sold wine in Washington State, I noticed that Washington wines are the primary focus by nearly 50 percent, with the other 50 percent being almost evenly split between Oregon and California wines… with a bare minimum of “other” wine regions being found, but you have to look.
  • When I sold wine in Oregon, I noticed that California wines are sold by nearly 50 percent, Oregon and Washington split the other almost 50 percent, with negligible sales of wines from other wine regions from around the world.
  • California has about 75 percent California wines, and the rest of the world is our oyster, if you visit any large retail outlet for wines, like supermarkets and Costco, for instance.
  • New York? It’s all open to all imports. Many importers are based in New York, New Jersey, and Miami, where the wines enter the country. West coast wines take their place, but they don’t dominate as they do out here.

While I admit there’s a lot of generalizing here, the observations of someone going in and out of wine off-premise* accounts for years in 40 different US states allowed me to study those shelves extensive… and the people who make purchasing decisions. (*Off-premise means that you have to buy the wine and take it off the premises to enjoy it.)

While working in the Sierra Mountains for Ironstone Vineyards, I learned a lot about the Gold Rush: who came, and how they faced the new world. Many of them brought seeds and cuttings, which they planted in their new locations. Today, feral vines are still found in those mountains, as the life cycles continue. I have a feral vine in my back yard which I’ve been watching (and eating its grapes) for years. It just showed up one year, and I’ve been enjoying it ever since. It’s a white grape variety, but I’ll never know which one, unless I pay for DNA testing. It doesn’t mean that much to me, as much as enjoying its fruit does. Coming from a seed, it’s now a bastard child of some variety…

The fact that the vines in the Foothills are vitis vinifera, and not an indigenous kind like Vitis riparia or Vitis berlandieri, for instance, tells us that they were brought from Europe and aren’t Native American varieties.

All of this has me concluding that the East Coast is more Euro-Centric, because it’s closer to them and their roots for enjoying, rather than living in a Mediterranean climate, like we do on the West Coast. West coasters are more engaged with the roots we’ve more recently put down; and enjoy each day going forward in Mediterranean sunshine, rather than looking back to the old country… (You can take the girl out of the east coast, but you can’t take the east coast out of the girl. I tend to look over my shoulder a lot more than the average Californian, I know.)

This is the new country, so being Euro-Centric isn’t as much of a priority, except for those few who continue to fly back to the “Old County.” There aren’t many of those out here who travel in an easterly direction. It takes so long to get to Europe, for instance, from the West Coast. Most of these guys out here haven’t even made it to the East Coast. Hawaii is the direction that’s most coveted…

And, I get that, too, with wine all along the way.

One Response to “Why Are Palates So Eurocentric on the East Coast? Easy Question”

  1. Outstanding and fun to read. Undoubtedly our wine journey will be longer and filled with much nicer quality wines ! Sip on !

    Tom Payette
    Winemaking Consultant

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