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All politics is local: Schumer calls for New York state wines at White House state dinners


(Photo illustration by Susana Sanchez)

After President Obama invited Chinese President Hu Jintao to a state dinner later this year, Sen. Chuck Schumer grabbed the opportunity for a little political theater to publicize New York's wine industry: He sent a letter to White House social secretary Julianna Smoot.

"I write today to respectfully urge you to consider serving wines produced exclusively by American wineries at future state dinners," he wrote this month. "Specifically, I'd like to recommend that you feature New York State wines at these events."

Couple of problems with the note: The White House has been serving only domestic wines for ... oh, 35 years. And Schumer's plea fails to mention if or how often vineyards from his state have, in fact, been represented on White House menus.

Schumer's office didn't return calls; the White House said wines from New York have been served but did not provide details.

We were curious and asked around. A peek at the last two state dinner menus showed wines from California, Oregon and Virginia. Last time anyone remembers a New York wine at a White House formal dinner: A Sheldrake Point 2004 Riesling Ice Wine was served with dessert at the 2006 Governors' Ball.

White House wine steward Daniel Shanks, who started during the Clinton administration, selects bottles for official occasions, which the White House buys wholesale. Wines are picked to complement the menu and heritage of the guests of honor; the May 19 dinner for Mexican President Felipe Calderon, for instance, featured three California wines with ties to Mexico.

California is responsible for 90.percent of U.S. wine production, said Jim Trezise, president of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation. His state makes just a fraction, but its wines have "catapulted" in quality during the past decade. He'd like to see one of the state's Rieslings served at the White House, maybe with a nudge from former senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. (And for those with a long memory: Yes, New York's Clinton Vineyards was served at the White House back in the day.)

Time for another New York wine?

"I don't ever recall one being served at a state dinner," said Bill Plante, CBS News senior White House correspondent and serious oenophile. Plante said New York is creating increasingly good wine, but it wasn't an unqualified endorsement: "The truth of the matter is, you can make decent wine almost anywhere, but decent is not always great."

By The Reliable Source  |  July 21, 2010; 1:04 AM ET
Categories:  44: Obama's Washington  
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