February 26, 2007

Farewell to an Old Friend!

At the time Friends of the Grape (FOG) was created, it was necessary for those who were passionate about wines. Nearly 17 years ago, there was nothing even remotely wine related, including wine tastings, restaurants, clubs, or dinners in the Las Vegas area. A small group of acquaintances talked about wines and decided to pursue their love of wines by having wine dinners, with members rotating hosting duties on a monthly basis.

Until recently, this system worked fairly well. And then things began to happen. People developed other interests and left, others moved out of the area, and still others found that “real life” often interfered with their love of wine and, subsequently, their ability to attend scheduled meetings.

Two other phenomena took place during that seventeen-year time span: One was the Internet. The other was the dizzying growth of Las Vegas.

With the advent of easy access to the Internet, the world of wine opened up. With literally thousands of websites dedicated just to wine, it became very easy to be more analytical and knowledgeable about wines, to know where to go to buy these wines, and, more importantly, learn about the lure of inexpensive travel to wine country.

The mind-boggling growth of Las Vegas was another factor. Seventeen years ago, Las Vegas still possessed its “Wild West” demeanor. People knew each other, Henderson was a short ten-minute drive from the very rural area of Charleston and Buffalo, and the population, while growing, was still relatively small by metropolis standards.

Over the years, that has changed.

Nowadays, everything local is far away! If not by distance – after all, the distance between Henderson and Charleston/Buffalo hasn’t changed – then by time, culture, and interests. No longer is Henderson “a part of Vegas,” but its own entity. No longer is the drive from Vegas to Henderson a mere ten minutes; it can take up to an hour or more. The $1.99 casino buffet is a thing of the past. The easy comps and comfort food restaurants have gone the way of the dinosaur.

In their place has arisen a whole new Vegas: that of "Celebrity Chef" restaurants, mega-resorts, high-rise condominiums, and corporate, impersonal casinos. There are “real” casinos in Henderson, world-class eateries everywhere, and $10 buffets are considered a rare bargain.

In this mix of maturity and growth, the wine world has changed as well. Instead of the usual “house wine” for about $2.00 a glass, even the most modest of restaurants sport extensive wine lists. Modern wine drinkers are no longer interested in just a “glass of red/white wine,” but want to know the vintage, varietal, appellation, and score. A trip to Napa for the weekend is taken as casually as a stroll down the block, often accompanied by purchases of high-end (expensive) treasures. Wines are carefully paired with menus, classes are available at the local community college, university, and cooking schools, wine publications are available at the local book stores and supermarkets, and everyone has a wine cellar. Even if the wine cellar is a Pier 1 wine rack in the closet.

Those changes have posed a lot of challenges to a small, casual wine club. With a pretty strict schedule of one meeting per month on the fourth Saturday, it became more and more problematic to keep the membership focused because of all of the wine-related activities that abound. It has become very easy to plan an important wine event on the same night as the usual club meeting/tasting. In fact, it has become very easy to plan a wine event on nearly every night of the month. Inevitably, the attendance at tastings has dropped gradually over the last few years.

As a result of that, our interim leader/president, Nancy Hara-Isa, decided that the best thing to do for FOG was to disband it, even if just for a while. While it’s tough to see it end, the decision was a well-thought-out, logical one. Every single person sitting at the table had something else planned (wine wise, in fact!) for the next scheduled tasting. That meant that at least five people (out of a membership of about a dozen) would not be able to attend. And those people were the known factors.

However, the hosting of wine parties is still a very practical and desired fact of life. The difference is that it is no longer scheduled, no officers have to be elected, and the usual club problems and issues are gone. In other words, we can have home tastings just for fun and camaraderie. Which is not a bad thing at all.

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