Attitude about Georgia wine should change

We are a near-sighted bunch, we humans. What is here and now is what many of us think always was and will always be. Wines made outside the known and usual regions offer a perfect example of this phenomenon. How could a wine made in Georgia be any good? The typical attitude is they have never made any good wines here and they never will.

Unless you are a quality Georgia winemaker yourself, you probably wouldn’t dispute that assessment of non-Californian, non-Burgundian, non-Tuscan, non-etcetera wines. Even folks I know who know better still do the eyeball roll when the topic of quality wines from places like Georgia comes up.

Shame on us all.

So just imagine — with the above-mentioned human frailty of pre-judgment in mind — what you would be thinking if you sat down at a fancy, $170 per person dinner and you saw that Georgia wines were on the menu. Let’s take this one step further: The dinner takes place in New York City at America’s culinary epicenter, the James Beard House.

You’d probably have the same reaction as New York City resident Jeff Gundeman, who was at the Georgia Grown dinner held at the James Beard House in October. “I actually asked to see the bottle before I would believe a wine that good came from Georgia,” he said after tasting Yonah Mountain Vineyards’ Genesis, a cabernet sauvignon-based blend made in Cleveland, Ga.

Think of how odd it would seem if JBH hosted a dinner featuring California agricultural products and someone said: “Wait a minute! Wines from Napa Valley? C’mon, don’t pull my leg. Let’s see that bottle.”

Admittedly, it is hard to get your mind around to the idea that not 50 years ago, Napa was a sleepy valley full of nut and wheat farms and the occasional cattle ranch. They grew grapes there, of course, but nobody, even locals, took the winemakers very seriously. Even the committed, quality winemakers were thought to be a joke outside of Napa.

When the 25-year-old Kevin Zraly, the first wine director at Windows on the World restaurant in New York City, put California wines on his list in the mid-1970s, he faced the scorn that Georgia wine fans know too well.

So who was crazy enough to drag several Georgia wines up to such a prestigious dinner that celebrated all the yummy things grown and produced here? Julian Goglia, someone as crazy and idealistic as Zraly was back in the day. As the beverage director and a partner at The Mercury, The Pinewood and Proof Cocktail Syrups, Goglia would prefer the title mixologist to sommelier, but these days if you’re not hip to cocktails, beers and wines, you are probably over 30.

And that is what local wines here in Georgia (and everywhere else) need to rise up from the ashes of ignominy. Someone like Goglia who lacks outdated, preconceived notions of where good wines come from. Someone who tastes a wine before determining its quality. Someone who sees new, uncharted destinations as an opportunity to explore rather than a place to be suspicious about. You go, Julian! Perhaps, someday we’ll all see what you see so clearly.

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Gil Kulers is a sommelier and maitre d’ for an Atlanta country club. You can reach him at gil.kulers@winekulers.com.

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