The locavore movement has gotten a lot of press lately — and for good reason. There’s a lot to be said for eating local meats and produce; they are usually fresher and don’t have to travel great distances, and restaurants can form rewarding relationships with the farmers and showcase the best their area has to offer on the plate.
The beverage menu (with the exception of beer) is often left out of the locavore trend, but as winemaking comes of age in more states, it’s time for restaurants to start thinking about drinking local.
Several restaurants in the Washington, D.C., area already have embraced the “drink local” philosophy. Among them is Harry’s Tap Room, which has inner suburban locations in Arlington, Va., as well as an outlet at Dulles International Airport.
The “all-American” wine list at Harry’s prominently features wines from Virginia, such as a Pinot Grigio from Barboursville Vineyards. Harry’s also frequently features Virginia wines as its happy hour specials, further promoting the “drink local” philosophy. In addition to Virginia wines, Harry’s features options from other lesser-known winemaking states such as Idaho, New Mexico and even Arizona.
Local wines can be a hard sell to restaurant patrons, but if it’s done well, it can work. The farm that produced the steak your customers just ordered is situated just a few dozen miles from the winery that produces an unexpectedly delicious local merlot. Offer generous tastes; project faith in your product, as you would for a wine from any region that you feel confident serving in your establishment.
Sure, it’s risky — many U.S. wine regions in the “other 46” (that is, outside California, Washington, Oregon and New York) have little name recognition among diners, and when you add their offerings to your drinks menu, you tie your restaurant’s good name to those wine regions’ quality. Start by adding a few of the best wines from lesser-known states (such as an exquisite Idaho riesling or an earthy Virginia Cabernet Franc) and expand from there.
How can you make that bet pay off for your restaurant? Hire a smart sommelier and put your trust in him or her. Look for a wine pro who cultivates local connections and is eager to work with your chef to integrate local wines into the menu. Promote the new picks with a tasting menu, happy hour deals or other special offers. Reach out to your best customers. Most importantly, tie your eat-local menu items to your drink-local efforts. Locavore customers will dive right in.
didyk, via iStock.