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Pink Mystery of Sex - Title image

                                                     by Peter F May

Peter May meets wine makers from Massachusets and Michigan and encounters liquid sex in this article orginally published in Wine and Cuisine magazine.


    There are licensed wineries in every one of the fifty United States. However that doesn’t mean they all make wine – that’s if you agree with me that the definition of wine is that it is made from freshly picked grapes. Hawaii ferments drinks from pineapples and Alaska uses juice imported from vineyards in warmer states. But most states grow grapes and make wine on a commercial scale.   

    I had a friendly email from Karen noting I had written about Texan wines. She wrote “I found no mention of the many in the North Georgia area.” She recommends that I try Chateau Elan. I’d love to, but I have never seen any wines from Georgia on sale. Indeed, the only US wines found widely nationally and internationally are those from the three west coast states, Washington, Oregon and California.  We don’t see New York State wines, although they are a large producer. Unless you are in Texas you won’t be drinking Texan. And even though Texas is the fifth largest wine producing state, few Texan restaurants feature home state wines.  

    Why aren’t US wines more widely available? Most wineries are quite young and have been struggling to establish themselves and succeed in local markets. The three tier distribution system means that they are limited selling their wines to large distributors. Chain restaurants need huge quantities of wine and prefer to use a wine list that is the same everywhere. And there are many legal restrictions on shipping directly to consumers*.  

    So, if it is difficult to sell wine to consumers in another state, why not sell internationally? The usual method is to find an agent who will buy a container load of your wines to market and distribute in their country. For many reasons, but especially the (almost) shared language, many American wineries looking to export decide first to show their wines at the London International Wine & Spirit Fair. This annual trade show held in May in London, England is a meeting point for the world’s wine and spirit business. It’s a place where wineries can meet agents and check out the competition. This year was the show’s 25th anniversary. There were 1250 exhibitors from 37 separate countries, with 6,200 trade visitors attending each of the three days.  

    This year, as usual, the California Wine Institute had a large standLarry Mawby of Michigan’s L Mawby Vineyards showcasing the output of the Golden State. Gallo of California had their own separate huge stand and Oregon and Washington State were well represented.  I found two wines from Ohio on their UK agents stand. Just two wineries from the rest of the United States had a presence this year, and they both featured sparkling wines.  

    Larry Mawby (right) of Michigan’s L Mawby Vineyards and Bill Russell (below) of Massachusets’s Westport  River Winery were sharing a stand rented by the Mid-America International Agri-Trade Council – a trade body promoting wines from mid-US states.  

    It was Larry Mawby’s first time at the London show. He was looking for an agent for his range of sparkling wines. “I’m enjoying myself here,” he told me. I was particularly interested in his Sex wine. It is a pink sparkler that he used to call Rose. When he was sending off a batch of labels for approval to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Trade Bureau (TTB) he mischievously included a request for approval of the name ‘Sex’. “I didn’t expect it to get through,” he says. “I did it for a laugh.” But they did pass it and sale of the relabelled wine shot up. A poem on the label reads  

In a pale fresh stream

slowly rising bubbles pour

down our throat & whisper

softly the secret sounds

of that pink mystery. 

    The wine was a beautiful pale pink colour, with a good flow of bubbles and dry refreshing tangy strawberry taste. 

    Standing next to Larry was Bill Russell, the cheerful winemaking co-owner of Westport River Winery. This was his second year at the show. On his first visit in 2004 he’d succeeded in Bill Russell,the cheerful winemaking co-owner of Westport River Winerygetting his 2001 Brut Cuvee sparklers listed by Adnams Wines. Adnams are a small brewery located on the east coast of England. They operate pubs, a couple of hotels, are famous for their traditional beers and are a well respected wine merchant. They distribute wines to restaurants and sell to the public via a design-award winning mail-order wine line list. “I’ve returned to the show to renew relationships with Adnams, and because I’ve had other wines I’d like to export,” said Bill. “But mostly,” he grinned, “because I love drinking Adnams beer and I can’t get it in the States.” As well as methode champenoise sparklers, Bill was showing his Pineau d’Pinot. This is a Pinot Noir wine whose fermentation is stopped by the addition of brandy, leaving it naturally sweet with the freshness of grape juice. ”I use brandy that I make myself,” said Bill. The wine was the colour of onion skins, with a rich sweet chocolately flavour. 

    The 2006 London Wine Fair will be held 23-25 May. I’m hoping to see more wines from other US states.  And maybe then I’ll be able to taste some Georgia wine.  

     * The recent Supreme Court decision hasn’t opened direct shipping to all, despite the optimistic claims in many newspapers. The decision just said that wineries shipping from out of state must be treated the same as in-state wineries. States can, and do, ban all direct shipping to consumers, or place such restrictive conditions it makes it more trouble than it worth. 

Contacts – 



L Mawby Vineyards


London International Wine & Spirit Fair


Mid-America International Agri-Trade Council (MIATCO)


Westport Rivers Winery




This article was originally published by Wine and Cuisine magazine. Graphic images courtesy of Wine and Cuisine, used with permission. Photographs copyright Peter F May.

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21 August 2005