The U.S. has a rich history in the arts, sciences and agriculture—and each bottle of wine we export can remind the world.
There is no specific incident I can point to. No outright hostility or rudeness. But there is a change in the air, and it’s been building for several years. I’ve been traveling frequently in the last few months, particularly to Europe and Asia, and I’ve noticed a change in attitude overseas toward the United States and Americans in general. I’ve spoken to several people who travel often and they confirmed this impression. Most of the people they encounter while traveling will declare their affection for America and Americans, but they hedge. There is a reluctance, a mistrust, an edge. There’s a patina of suspicion, coldness and distance over formal politeness. No doubt there are many who have turned against us completely, but they’re too correct or timid to say so.
Obviously, this is due to our government’s actions in the Middle East and the way we’ve dealt with our allies.
I’d like to think that America’s long history of fighting global tyranny would help dispel this cloud, but there is clearly a short memory when it comes to that. Another way of reminding the world of our greatness is through our technological and cultural exports: movies, music, fashion, gadgetry. Popular as they are among the general populace, I’m sure many conservative cultures regard these as a mixed blessing: The freewheeling sense of humor, violence and sex in our movies is bound to offend. Our popular music and fashions, very much the same. Our iPods, cell phones and computers, our medicines and medical treatments and all the other marvels that American ingenuity has helped to bring about—I don’t think we get much credit for that. It’s taken for granted, or as just another sign of American techno-imperialism that they’re only too happy to take advantage of.
But wine is an exception. When someone overseas takes a bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon in hand, and enjoys it in all its fruit-forward, full-bodied complexity, it is a reminder of American culture at its most genteel: tied to the land, bound to a tradition that dates back to Greek and Roman culture…indeed, if you think about it, to the Cradle of Civilization, where wine was first made, and where our troubles center today.
American wine exports are enjoying a boom. Exports of American wine are up in 2006 over 2005. Although the volume increase was actually quite modest, the value of these exports grew dramatically at a rate of 30%, to just under a billion dollars. This disparity between volume and value points to increased sales in the premium wine category. Most of this premium wine is exported to Europe, but the fastest-rising export market is the Far East.
I don’t want to make too much of this. I don’t expect American wine to reverse the political situation or create world peace overnight. Wine and other alcohol beverages are prohibited in many of the very arenas in which we all hope some dialogue can start. But perhaps the opinion makers, the policy makers, those who are more likely to have access to fine wines, will linger over the U.S. portion of the list, see names that evoke pride in quality, pride of place, and be reminded of America’s great cultural legacy.
Nowhere is that legacy maintained with more substance than in Napa Valley, and in this issue we pay a visit, and pay tribute, to that great American wine region. We asked our editors and contributors to describe their favorite wineries, restaurants and activities. There is so much to do in Napa Valley, not just for the wine lover and gourmand, but for the outdoor enthusiast, the fitness nut, the art lover, the history buff, that we had plenty to choose from. We think the article is a great guide—really, a genial companion to the more formal guides—to the best the valley has to offer.
Napa’s equivalent in France is, of course, Bordeaux, and in the minds of many wine drinkers that region is associated with high prices. But in fact, Bordeaux is much more multifaceted. There are more than 9,000 producers, and in his article, European Editor Roger Voss finds those who craft quality wines that reach our shores at very reasonable prices. “Bargain Bordeaux” is the title of the piece, and it is as fitting as the article is useful.
In this issue you’ll also find articles on rum and Tasmania—proving that we’re willing to travel the world to find great wines and great stories. And let’s raise a glass in hope that the world becomes a more civilized place, and soon.
Have a comment on this month’s Enthusiast’s Corner? Email Adam Strum