Utah’s predominately teetotaling Legislature and governor are well aware of the dangers of alcohol abuse and the state liquor monopoly’s skyrocketing revenues—from $156 million in 2002 to $396 million in 2015. But what they don’t understand are the intangible aspects of wine, beer and spirits as a part of food culture, a passion and an art form.

Since the turn of the century Utah’s population has been bolstered by young professional transplants who see drinking a part of a “good life.” Consumption overall is going up and wine drinkers are becoming more discriminating—the national trend is towards higher-price, higher-quality wine. Utah’s one-style-suits-most wine and spirits selection doesn’t cater to a wide selection of interests and palates, which is why aficionados return from places like California and Washington—where stores may stock more intriguing or rare wines—with bottles stashed in their suitcases. Buying wine is just like buying anything else—tastes differ. Some fashion customers shop at Nordstrom, some shop at Walmart.

Joel LaSalle

“One of the things that is sort of intuitive is that visitors come here for convention and leisure travel and they’re a different demographic than the majority of folks who live in the state,” Scott Beck, president of Visit Salt Lake, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “Outside of Utah, drinking is not a moral issue. It’s a social issue.”

 “If we want the highest quality in hospitality, in food and beverage—they go hand in hand,” says restaurateur Joel LaSalle, “especially for visitors and people who are moving here who are foodies. Around the world, everyone knows that great wine means great dining.”

Click here for DABC Smashed in chapters.

Or read the article on our digital edition.