Sunday, November 25, 2007

Think Globally by Shopping Locally

Last year, I grudgingly succumbed to the consumerism of the season and wrote a column on gifts for the wine snob in your life. Personally, I've never been a big believer that "the Christmas spirit" = "a frenzy of consumption", but I'm pretty much alone on that one.

In the intervening year, we've had revelation after revelation about the unintended consequences of global consumerism, particularly with respect to the waves of unsafe Chinese goods flooding this country. Fortunately for our health, China is not a wine exporting nation. God only knows what they'd put in wine to cut costs.

To me, this rude awakening of American consumers to the impact of importing goods from far-flung corners of the world (where health, safety and environmental controls are almost non-existent) is a darn good thing.

Maybe it will make us re-examine the meaning of Christmas. Maybe. Maybe it will make us re-examine our obsession with consumption. Doubtful. At the very least, it (and the cost of transportation) may refocus our priorities toward consuming more locally, where we have greater control over freshness, quality and safety.

This Christmas, our family has decided to begin moving in that direction.

We've agreed that all gifts are going to be local in nature. Gift cards will be to local stores instead of global chains (e.g., Lyon Books instead of Barnes & Nobles). Gifts will be from local makers, or at least from California. Nothing from China will be bought or exchanged.

That will be pretty tough on gifts for the grandchildren, since China makes three-quarters of the world's toys. But for the adults it's less problematic. Sure, there won't be any consumer electronics being exchanged, but what about the cornucopia of great foods that come out of the Sacramento Valley? There are wonderful local walnuts, almonds and olives available. And Chico has more than one great local bakery.

Walnuts instead of a Nintendo Wii? Yes, there's no doubt that it will take a little re-thinking of what to give at Christmas, and of what makes a great Christmas gift. But to me, the eternal Christmas curmudgeon, that's exactly what we need to do anyway.

Of course, there's a practical limit to how local we are going to get this year. We've agreed on California as our definition of "local", so we won't be limited to just almonds and walnuts.

Fortunately for me, California just happens to be the premier wine producing region on the entire continent. That made it real easy to say, "Sure, honey, only buying stuff from California for Christmas sounds like a great idea," instead of, "Honey, have you gone completely crackers?!? They don't make HDTVs in California!"

For you, it might be a bit more difficult, but if you want to keep gas prices down, discourage child and slave labor, mitigate environmental damage, and boost our local economy, you might just give it a thought. Or you can go on being a big fat ugly American pig. It's up to you.

So, what do I recommend you get for the wine lover in your life this year?

How about some local wines? In my last column, I rated over a dozen local wines. In general terms, I can recommend a bottle of pretty much anything from either New Clairvaux or Bertagna Son Kissed Vineyards. I'm consistently impressed with New Clairvaux's whites, particularly the Viognier and the AlbariƱo, and the Bertagna Barbara is one of the best local wines being produced.

How about a wine club membership at one of our local wineries? I know that New Clairvaux, Grey Fox and Quilici all have wine clubs.

Failing that, how about a gift certificate at Creekside Cellars, Vino 100 or Monks? Yes, yes, Vino 100 is a chain, but it's a franchise, so most of their income stays here. Of course, you'll only be buying California wines with those gift certificates, right?

Beyond the strictly local, there are literally thousands of California wines to choose from as gifts. I can't imagine that I really need to list any, but here's a couple of personal favorites worth thinking about.

Mumm Napa Blanc de Noirs
A lightly salmon-colored sparkling wine from the Napa Valley (duh), this non-vintage Blanc de Noirs is a quintessential Christmas and New Year's bubbly. About $14. 4 stars.

La Crema 2005 Sonoma County Pinot Noir
For less than $20, this is one of the best Pinot Noirs I've tasted. 4.25 stars.

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