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Straight off the vine

For local wine enthusiasts it seems like it has been ages since they have connected with their favorite wineries or discovered new ones in 209’s numerous wine country destinations. While the pandemic has dramatically changed our opportunities to taste wines or tour facilities at the hundreds of wine producing spots in our area code, it has not diminished our appreciation or pleasures of a nice bottle. If anything during the past four months, our wine purchases and consumption have been on an increase. Super markets are recording record wine sales as we are now forced to enjoy a glass at home rather in the pleasant surroundings of a local winery, a favorite restaurant, or nearby wine bar.

“This does not mean you shouldn’t enjoy or support local producers in this time of winery closures,” said Tom Bender, wine department manager at O’Brien’s Market in Modesto and wine instructor at Columbia College’s Hospitality Management Program near Sonora. “If anything, they need your support now more than ever. 

“Our region is dotted with a number of terrific small producers who rely on winery visits and tasting room sales to stay alive. County restrictions have closed or limited winery activities throughout our numerous wine regions. Wineries in Amador, Calaveras, San Joaquin and Tuolumne counties have had to find new ways to establish new customers while maintaining connections with former loyal patrons.”

While most supermarkets shelves are dominated by larger California producers or popular labels from Napa or Sonoma, many markets have offering a growing number of wines from our local wineries.

Bender has been faced with new ways of introducing his shoppers to a wider range of wines since the store has had to close their wine bar which featured a weekly changing tasting opportunity.

“We enjoyed featuring a local region and pouring their wines because they were small enough to have a story behind them. In many cases our patrons were actually familiar with the winemaker or owner. I now encourage customers to continue enjoying Barbera from Amador County or an Old Vine Zin from Lodi. Or get away from the usual Chardonnay or Cabernet routine and try an unfamiliar Spanish or Italian grape type being grown and produced in our region.”     

So, support your local favorites the next time you go searching for a wine at the market and savor its special qualities while looking forward to visiting the winery again in the near future.