Wine Controversies: Wine writing about what consumers want is bunk

by blog on July 11, 2018

Each one of us is a consumer. We express our choices individually and buy we like, or what we can afford. Wine journalists – and people throughout the wine trade – invent a consumer-archetype; they may characterise (or caricature) them as “my readers” or “the paper’s readers,” or “my customers”, which not only gives them a sense of ownership over their audience but implies reciprocity in that their audience has a moral ownership of the medium through which they are expressing their opinions (in the case of wine writing) or have fixed buying patterns that should be respected.

What is it about this drink that elevates it above others, that has inspired poetry and prose, art, and music for hundreds/thousands of years?

This reductive profiling arises from market research which seeks to identify the behavioural patterns of groups of people, and pinpoint the stimuli required to change – or tap into – such behaviour.

Our commitment to wine as a beverage (as opposed to beer, spirits, cider, alcopops or Coca Cola) is a distinct choice. We have chosen to ingest it above all others. What we should ask is what this liquid – that we allow inside our bodies – comprises. Is it more than booze – fermented grape juice with added chemicals? Is it the result of farming and careful winemaking, is it crafted by artisans, the product of culture and place? What is it about this drink that elevates it above others, that has inspired poetry and prose, art, and music for hundreds/thousands of years? If it does not matter to us, why does the origin and personality of wine matter to other people?

The stereotypical passive consumer who slavishly follow trends is a caricature, but one that has become a convenient for consumer acceptance panels, commentators, appellation controllers, people and organisations that want to have a handle on “taste.”

“Customers don’t care”. The stereotypical passive consumer who slavishly follow trends is a caricature, but one that has become a convenient for consumer acceptance panels, commentators, appellation controllers, people and organisations that want to have a handle on “taste.” People, if I may generalise positively, are not cyphers, but are individuals capable of interrogating or absorbing information and changing taste accordingly. There is a lot of talk of “my customers think this”, “my customers would not like that,” which is to suggest that people have identical opinions (so identical that they morph into an average consumer).

It is important to convey meaningful information and to challenge so-called passive consumer acceptance of the status quo.

It is important to convey meaningful information and to challenge so-called passive consumer acceptance of the status quo. Might it concern a drinker, any drinker, that potentially toxic chemicals are being sprayed over the vines from which the grapes will be used to make the wine? Were you to see a list of chemical additives on a wine label, how would that affect your buying choice? We are led to believe that consumers make active choices, so why wouldn’t we care about whether, for example, a wine was made from organically-farmed grapes?

It is a modest proposal to suggest that wine writers should have a mission to explain and enthuse, and also to educate. Instead, there is still too much second-guessing the demographic, reflecting “perceived” opinion and kowtowing to advertisers and supermarkets. It is not the fault of wine writers, but rather an editorial imposition. The same holds true for sommeliers and wine buyers. They have a unique opportunity to expose customers to new and interesting wines and to start them on a journey of discovery.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: