Sun 22 Mar 2009
With her quiet, pleasant yet commanding and even iron-willed manner, Alice Waters tends to get what she wants, and what she got — or what she was a huge influence in getting — is a vegetable garden on the grounds of the White House, a symbol of sustainability, sensible and local eating and connection with nature and the food chain. The image of First Lady Michelle Obama helping to delve the initial shovelfuls of dirt with a group of school-children made all the print and broadcast media last week, and that’s as it should be. Let the White House vegetable garden serve as an inspiration to the rest of America at a time of economic hardship and rampant obesity. Let’s eat right!
Now, how about the White House becoming a symbol of the diversity of American wine.
Grapes are grown and wine is made in all the 48 of the continental states. No, I’m not going to be so patriotic as to assert that every state produces wine good enough to showcase at the White House, much less on anyone’s dinner table. I was in Indianapolis last summer for a few days, and I tasted through a range of wines made in the state. No wonder the labels say: “For sale only in Indiana.” (Though that’s a curious notion; does any other state make that restriction?)
Considering the states and regions that do produce good and even great wine, however, gives the White House a chance to bring American wine and its industry into focus as a national effort and treasure. Every major wine-producing country in Europe fields a government-financed trade bureau devoted to publicizing the wines of those countries and increasing awareness of them in this country; even separate regions in these countries — I mean France, Germany, Italy and Spain primarily — employ trade units to bolster their presence through advertising and education on these shores. Our government does nothing like that, heaven forbid! so it’s up to the White House to take up the slack.
Now is the time to build a thoughtful cellar in the White House that encompasses the complete range of what American wine offers. At the next state dinner, instead of just making the easy choice and hauling in products from California, as was the case with the inaugural luncheon, how about beginning with a sparkling wine from New Mexico, continuing with a viognier from Virginia, going to a pinot noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley and concluding with a dessert wine from New York’s Finger Lakes region? And when this happens, make certain that the menu and wine choices are known and written about, that a sense of pride is felt in the use and enjoyment of American wine.
Sure, the chief executive and his cabinet and advisers have a lot on their minds now. I don’t expect President Obama to jump up and rush down to the kitchen or wherever they keep wine at the White House and say, “This Koeppel guy has the right idea. Let’s get in touch and follow up and see what can be done.” But I hope somebody reads this and starts to ponder and then realize that my plan is just another small but important way for Americans to feel good about their culture, their country and themselves. I mean, I’m working on that list now.
Image of Alice Waters from creativeloafing.com.