Toledo, bad place to be into wine? …not so much!
I moved back to my hometown of Toledo about a year ago. Before that, I spent a lifetime (seemingly) in California in the wine biz. I bought and sold for many years, and when time came to return home to roost, a sudden terror came over me. Is there a place for me, and/ or wine in Toledo, Ohio, or do I need to finally finish school, or learn a trade? The answer then was, um, wait and see. But after a year, I can honestly say, Toledo is not a wine purgatory as is purported. Toledo will always live in the shadows of Detroit and Cleveland, so it is assumed that culture cannot survive in the shadows of these great, ahem, cultural hubs. Not only do I believe that this is inaccurate, I believe the opposite is true. I believe that the wine culture can thrive in Toledo where it may fail in other places. Here is my optimists top 10 list of why Toledo can be (and is) a thriving wine culture.
10. Freedom of Choice is on the March- with 20 some-odd distributors now servicing the Northwest Ohio market; we have choices beyond the giant conglomerate distributors and wines. Furthermore, Ohio has actually set some laws of distribution to place small companies and large companies on a level playing field.
9. We drink a lot!- Toledoans drink their share of alcohol, so puritanical efforts to limit availability usually falls on deaf ears. We also have more disposable income than any major market in Ohio.
8. Food TV Rules! – Nationally, we are becoming a culture of foodies. Emeril, Rachel Ray, and the like have found huge ratings, especially in the Midwest where all we have to do all winter is eat and watch T.V. Wine and Food go hand in hand.
7. I remain employed!- My day job is selling wine, and to be able to continue said career in Northwest Ohio had many naysayers saying, well, nay. But I, or rather, you, have proved them wrong. You love wine, you really love wine.
6. Wine is the new black!- For whatever reason, wine has overtaken beer nationally as the #1 preferred beverage of choice. Blame the film, Sideways; blame our following the Europeans in food and wine, no matter. Wine is surging in popularity, growing about 7% in increased bottle sales year in and year out for the last 10 years. That’s pretty healthy growth.
5. Cheap wine has gotten better, good wine has gotten cheaper- With competition from every wine growing country, global wine quality has improved dramatically and prices have stabilized. Good news for a working-class economy.
4. Personalities- In my brief but glorious year, I have met some amazing, exhausting, exhilarating, inspiring, bitter and brilliant personalities in the wine business. People that are true pillars to what is happening in the wine community, and people that, years ago began to steer this ship in the right direction. Every one of these people has put a premium on customer service, and understands the power of a great wine recommendation. You can find these people in the wine shops, and restaurants around Toledo, you will find them at charity events and tastings. And you will find them leading Toledo towards an improved wine culture.
3. A chance to taste the wine- With wine tasting events in every nook and cranny of Toledo, practically every night. Toledoans are afforded every opportunity to kick the proverbial tires before purchasing their wine. This is also a great chance to ask questions and learn about wine.
2. Restaurants that get it!- In the last year, we have seen the rise of the wine list. Restaurateurs that provide not only wine, but wines that are well-thought out, and appropriate for pairing with an exceptional menu.
1. Retail, Retail, Retail- with The Anderson’s (3 locations), Walt Churchill’s Market, Churchill’s, The Vineyard, Joseph’s Beverage Center, Maumee Wines, Aficionado’s, Sautter’s and many more independently owned and run wine stores in the Toledo area, Toledoans have a staggering selection of wines to choose from. All wines are chosen by the area’s most educated and most talented wine people, all in hopes of bringing you and your friends a special bottle of wine at every price.