The wine industry’s very foundation is people who are visionaries—the pioneering winemakers of yesterday, the innovators of today and American wine devotees, who are always eager to try something new.
The poet Robert Frost famously wrote about the road less traveled—the risky, trailblazing route that may be frightening, but almost inevitably yields exciting and surprising results. Certainly America as a country is all about taking the alternative route, from the very nature of our independence in the 18th century to the proliferation of railroads and pioneer prospecting to our own modern and proactive approach to technology. The road less traveled, clearly, leads to destinations we could only dream of.
The wine industry is built on people and approaches that are both visionary and alternative. Stories of pioneers, of creative, adventurous thinkers whose own contemporaries thought them certain to fail, lay the foundation of the wine world as we know it today. These are the icons that, whether taking the reins of legacy estates and turning tradition on its head to great results, or immigrating to unknown lands and pitching an uncertain stake in foreign vineyards, are the reason we today enjoy exquisite, varied wines in our glass. The progressive thinking continues today, whether it’s in experimentation of organic vineyards, solar powering, environmentally friendly packaging or growing varieties in places previously unknown. The wine industry is ignited by trying new things, and delighted by it.
The wine-drinking consumer is right there with us. More American vinophiles, especially that extraordinary group of adventurers, the Millennials, are embracing the unknown, in fact seeking it. Tearing down the stereotype of the discerning wine drinker as unyielding and tradition-bound, these passionate explorers are reaching for the Grüner, the Txakoli and the Agiorgitiko without batting an eye. The more exotic, the more intriguing, the better. The demand means more diversity on wine lists, in retail stores and in restaurants for all of us, opening up a whole new world of exciting wine and food pairing. Where once the older generation was associated with the classic stylings of a refined Cabernet or delicate Chablis, the new generation is exemplified by the elegant vitality of a crisp Spanish Albariño, or the rock and roll rusticity of a South African Pinotage.
From the very beginning, our own approach at Wine Enthusiast has been about thinking outside of the box. Our lead August feature champions just this sort of approach. On page 28, Jordan Mackay suggests alternatives to six of the most common and most popular varietal wines, running the spectrum from Pinot Grigio to Cabernet Sauvignon. But he doesn’t strain too hard to break outside the box every time; that’s like the equivalent of the old guy trying desperately to be hip. So if Syrah, not exactly obscure, is a solid stand-in for Cabernet and Malbec for Merlot, so be it. Also in this issue, Steve Heimoff toured the wine roads of Dry Creek Valley to discover the magic behind the Valley’s consistently excellent —and quirky—Zinfandels. These are the California Zinfandels that exhibit what Steve calls the “briars and brambles” quality so distinct from other regions’ Zins.
If your wine-touring plans include Sonoma, Jeanette Hurt has a suggestion for you: break up the winery visits with an occasional visit to a creamery or to the markets that carry the outstanding cheeses of the region. And tour and taste in Jalisco, the state in Mexico where Tequila is the cultural and industrial king.
Which brings us back to the loose theme. Challenge yourself and motor down the path unknown to you. What you’ll discover along the way, whether it’s a wine you never knew you loved, a dish that you’ll never forget, or a travel destination that becomes your new favorite getaway, will far outweigh the risk of getting there.