On the last day of 2012 I wrote about a few things I would like to see disappear once the new year had settled down around us. Now, I’d like to focus some attention on improvements I’d like to see come to pass in 2013.
First, I’d like to see the advocates (i.e., hipster trend junkies. Oops, sorry, getting ahead of myself here) of “natural wine” find a more specific term or terms for what it is they are trying to love in such a boorish and public way. Despite their protestations, the appending of the word “natural” to a particular wine or style of wine is pretentious, divisive, and, ultimately misleading for the average consumer. Yes, Mr. I Blindly Follow What Everybody Tells Me Is The Next Best Thing, you are indeed asserting your own superiority when you bloviate about how much you love natural wine, whatever the hell that is. It’s just another way of saying those wines that you love are better than all other wines not made the same way, a vague-and-diverse-across-the-industry-way. If the phrase “natural wine” cannot explain a precise subset of wines in the marketplace, then it needs to be dropped and replaced with something that can. If you want to follow wine makers who assiduously avoid interfering in fermentation, despite the too-often malodorous and execrable results; winemakers who think that everything was just fine until that idiot Pasteur stuck his nose in where it didn’t belong; and, winemakers who want to believe that the rest of the industry is somehow morally deficient for not making wines they way they do, well, have at it. Just stop saying “natural.” All wine making is, at its core, natural. Personally, I like winemaking to be as crunchy and organic, sustainable and biodynamic as possible, as long as the final product doesn’t smell or taste like someone poured a fresh batch of Fizzies into the litterbox. So, for the new year, my hope is that this group of back-to-the-land winos can come up with some language that tells their story straight, without any pretense or preening. Oh, one more thing: stop trying to push wines that really aren’t palatable just to advance this vague agenda. To do so insults anyone who loves wine, whether they make it or buy it. Be honest. Please.
Second, I’d like wineries, from the massive international types, to the little guys in the barn down the road, to start thinking about ways they can do more education and less marketing. Maybe I’m delusional but the differences between these two ways of approaching potential customers couldn’t be clearer. Good commerce is all about relationships, right? Well, education nurtures curiosity, kindles interest, and leads the learner to the sorts of connections that compel new perspectives and behaviors. Education, by its very nature, has the potential to create deep, meaningful relationships. Marketing, for the most part, is a shrewdly calculated, rarely cost-effective, grab at the potential customer’s wallet. If marketers think they are forging relationships, they’re kidding themselves. All they are doing is pasting together a shaky dependency that is guaranteed not to last. And by education I’m not talking about the five-minute canned spiel the 21-year-old pouring jockey at your winery has been trained to rattle off. I’m talking about teaching people about wine. Maybe even someplace other than your winery. I can’t think of any label where this is being done in a meaningful or public way. If I’m wrong I’d love to know. Stop spending all that cash on glossy magazine spreads, stop the hard sell at the winery, and start thinking about ways to invest in direct-to-consumer education, not marketing. Spend more on people and less on paper. The payoff, in the long run, will be profound.
Finally, and here I’m speaking to all my wine-loving friends, from newbies and box lovers to the well-versed types with deep pockets, let’s make this the year of experimentation. We all have heard the lines about “drink what you like,” and “the best wines are the ones you like,” and all sorts of clichéd nonsense like that. You know what’s really behind those expressions? The fact that you are living in a deep, deep wine rut. You’ve become as boring as that mass-produced plonk or those overpriced bottles of pretense you’ve unconsciously resigned yourself to. Well, in 2013 that’s all going to change, and here’s how we’re going to crawl out of the wine doldrums together. Every month we are going to do two things: one, we’re going to drink at least one bottle of wine made from a grape variety we’ve never tasted before; and, two, we’re going to drink at least one bottle (this is where you box folks have to make an extra effort) from a label you’ve never had before. And we’re going to do this every month for the remainder of the year. Only drink American wine? Time for something from Europe or South America. Only drink, god forbid, cabernet sauvignon or merlot? Time for some touriga nacional, grenache, or tempranillo. Never tried wines from Greece or Portugal or New Zealand? Stop making excuses and get on it. We all love wine, right? Let’s prove our devotion, so fitting in the month of the great saint Valentine, to this sacred, life-giving drink. You deserve it. And so does the wine.
If you need tips on how to accomplish all this, or specific recommendations about wines that are friendly to both palate and wallet, just holler. We’ve doubled our staff at The Grape Belt this month order to help with this exact effort. This year is the year of more wine for more people. Drink up. Spread the word. And help your friends and family do the same. If not us, then who? If not now, then when?
See you at the wine shop!