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Amber Nimocks: They like us, they really like us!

April 20, 2013 

We found ourselves so moved by Mr. Eric Asimov’s sentiments regarding the wine scene in these here parts that we had to fetch our smelling salts to keep ourselves from fainting dead away upon reading them.

Of course, we couldn’t tell if it was his poetic language causing us to swoon or the sweet and fruity bouquet of the Grüner Veltliner that we plucked from one of the well-polished shelves of our quaintly decorated wine shops. In any case, we would be remiss to let such flattery go unremarked upon, so we thought we’d write a thank-you note, as is our custom.

So, thanks, dude, for letting the larger world know how sophisticated the Triangle’s wine scene is in your recent New York Times article (reprinted today on the front of Arts & Living).

We’re glad you enjoyed your visit. We love that the national media has fallen under the spell of our somewhat Southern charms. We have no quibble with accolades. We’re happy to have Forbes writing that the country’s fastest-growing metropolitan statistical area is Raleigh-Cary (two distinct cities, but we know how demographers work). We welcome Richard Florida declaring the Triangle has the nation’s most educated city centers. And we all cheered a few years ago when Bon Appetit anointed Durham-Chapel Hill the nation’s foodiest small town (except they aren’t the same town – a minor point, but still).

Heck, these days it seems par for the course to randomly turn on NPR and hear Bill Smith telling the world about Atlantic Beach pie. (It was a couple of Thursdays ago on “All Things Considered,” if you want to listen.)

But can the Triangle really claim to be “a Shangri-La for wine lovers blossoming … in the rolling Piedmont hills of central North Carolina”?

Umm, OK, we’ll take that one, too. However, our wine scene, like our food scene, our tech scene and all other scenes that have the national media doting on us didn’t spring up overnight. People have been drinking interesting, even obscure wines here for 10, 20 years.

Are more people drinking more of those wines today? Sure. But that could be because more people live here now than did then (see “fastest growing” title, above) and because more Americans are drinking more wine than ever before and a segment of them want the good stuff.

Stores like Seaboard Wine Warehouse in Raleigh, Chapel Hill Wine Company and Hillsborough Wine Company have been finding and selling wines from small, respected vineyards for a decade or more. Todd Wielar opened the Chapel Hill and Hillsborough stores 10 years ago. And he was far from the first in the Triangle.

“There was already a wine scene then,” he says. “Before me there was Southern Season, there was the old Fowlers – they were on the forefront of wine 20 years ago.”

The market wasn’t large enough to sustain the number of wine shops it does now, Wielar says, but those who searched for good wine could find it. That’s due, in part, to a handful of dedicated wine merchants who figured out how to work with wine distributors to get quality wines.

As the market here grew, more distributors became interested in us. A growing appetite for “the next big thing in wine,” here and nationally, prompted those on the other end of the supply chain to get creative with inventory. As Wielar put it, the wine market now is sturdy enough to allow distributors and merchants to take chances and provide customers with a wider variety.

More than anything else, the growth of distribution networks and surging globalization have contributed to the diversity and quality of the wines on our local shelves.

So is the wine scene in the Triangle better than that in Austin, St. Louis, Atlanta or Birmingham? Mr. Asimov, you’re the expert – and far better traveled – so we will gladly yield to your assessment.

To be honest, though, we’re taken aback by your surprise. It’s as if New Yorkers assume that those who live elsewhere are nothing but a bunch of grocery-store-swill-chugging cretins. Of course we know that’s not what you meant.

Amber Nimocks is a former News & Observer food editor. Reach her at amberwrites.com.

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