Before my last year of college, the country was in a recession and internships were not broadly available in the region where I lived. So, to make some money, I went to a country club and talked myself into a job as a cocktail waitress.
My parents were horrified, but the experience was lucrative and useful. I learned how to mix drinks and how to be nice to people (a challenge in my early years) while fending off drunk guys who were coming on to me.
At the clubhouse bar, most guys -- most of the customers were guys -- drank beer. The older ones preferred shots of various spirits, sometimes laced with water or tonic. Women drank sodas, beer or mixed drinks like screwdrivers or gins with tonic. Wine was third on the order list.
This may be a skewed sample. Perhaps all the dining room customers ordered wine and it all balanced out.
But I still think things have changed, and the facts support me. We drink LOTS more wine now.
Wine Drinking in America
Last year, for the first time, the U.S. consumed more wine than France. To be fair, there are many
Beer remains our country's favorite tipple, but mostly by men and not by much. And millenials are reported to enjoy wine more than any previous generation. So this wine thing appears to be a trend with legs.
What strikes me is how many wineries we have now. According to the Wine Institute, the United States had 2,904 wineries in 2000 and 8,806 by 2012. Every single state has wineries, including several -- North Dakota, Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada -- where I wouldn't have expected to find them.
This is how I view American wineries: Some produce very good products, and then there are a lot of others.
My friends will attest that I am not a wine snob, but I do believe there are certain locations, including many parts of our country, that are fundamentally unsuited to viniculture.
To be fair, my suspicion extended to New Jersey until I had dinner last year at a local restaurant whose wine list included only local wines. My glass of chardonnay wasn't the finest I ever tasted, but it didn't suck.
So there is that.
A Change in the Landscape
Now, wineries are scattered across the fruited plain, and so are tasting rooms alongside almost every highway. On a trip earlier this year, the Significant Other and I stopped at one such place and were amazed to find it packed, really packed, with families who seemed to have opted for a winery break instead of a stop at McDonalds.
This popularity has led to a new convention at winery tasting rooms. Where in the past, there was no charge for tastings, now a nominal charge, usually $5, will cover the sampling of five wines of your choice. This is probably a good thing because it allows tasters who don't like what they discover to exit without feeling obliged to buy something undrinkable.
And I will attest that this does happen.
Last fall, the SO and I went with friends to an apple festival in a northeastern state that shall remain nameless. After we'd bought sacks of apples, had a nice lunch and viewed the crafts exhibits, we decided to end our visit with a stop at a local winery just outside town.
We paid our $5 tasting charges and began sampling. The first wine, a recommended red, had a nasty kick that developed in the back of the throat. The second and third, a white and a red, also had the same nasty kick. There must be something in vineyard soils in that area. Very unfortunate.
When the counter employee asked which wine we'd like to sample next, the SO looked at his watch and gave a frown. "Uh oh," he said, "we're running late. Gotta go."
I'll bet that counter guy hears the same thing pretty often.