THE WINE TRADE JUST DOESN’T GET IT!
Can you imagine going to a restaurant and ordering food you’d never heard of, shelling out for a West End theatre ticket without having some idea of what the show was about, or choosing a dress you didn’t even like? Of course not. But that’s just what happens when it comes to wine. Most people haven’t a clue what they’re buying. Amazingly, the wine trade seems cool with this state of affairs, ‘keep them in the dark’ seems to be the marketing slogan! If it is, it’s working!
If you ever have any doubts about Joe or Josephine Public’s lack of wine knowledge, take a look around the next time you’re in a restaurant. You’ll soon pick out the poor b………. who’s been landed with the wine list after the usual frantic game of pass the parcel. His ‘rabbit in the headlights’ look as the waiter approaches tells all – bet your bottom dollar he’ll choose Chablis, Sancerre or Chateauneuf du Pape – the only wines he knows and can pronounce ! The wine trade’s done such a good job that he’s even too embarrassed to get help from the wine waiter!
Or, check out the guys drifting along the wine shelves in your local supermarket gazing aimlessly into a wall of wine. Compare this to the group of girls flicking confidently through the dress and jean racks most days at a shop near you.
Pity is, it’s to the shame of all of us in the wine game. From supermarkets to journalists, we must all take the blame for making wine so inaccessible. If you ask a football fan about “4-4-2” he’ll explain this ‘team formation’ with gusto but if that same fan asks about wine, chances are he’ll walk away confused as the vinous door is slammed in his face. Most of the football fans I know think that the wine trade’s full of snobs. It’s not true of course but that’s the impression we give by promoting a shroud of mystery through an impenetrable, members-only vocabulary that, like the trade itself, has changed little in decades.
Whilst the wine trade’s hardly moved, other businesses have moved swiftly with the times. The fashion industry reinvents itself every year and goes out of its way every season to explain the latest lines, colours and cuts; all sold in great looking, customer-friendly shops. The result is that we all rush down to our nearest shopping centre to grab a piece of the latest style, cash in hand. Wine trade please note!
Even professions once seen as ‘establishment’ are at the cutting edge. Lawyers, accountants and bankers realised long ago that they had to change to survive. Now, (with my corporate wine entertainment hat on), during my visits to their prestigious City offices I’m impressed how these so called stuffy professions have wised up on in-house media, PR. and marketing to promote themselves and their image, ensuring that their clients keep rolling in and their fees grow even faster. There’s no equivalent of a four quid bottle of wine in their world !
Down at street level, even the most commonly used ‘wine talk’ is goobledegook to most punters. Doing a wine show with T.V. presenter Adrian Chiles I mentioned gooseberries as I sipped a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, “gooseberry is the classic, but to my mind, entirely useless reference point. Of all the tosh talked by you wine writers, it’s this gooseberry business that gets on my wick the most. Who knows exactly what a gooseberry tastes like ? I haven’t had one in my mouth for years and I don’t know anyone who has”, he pointed out. It taught me a lesson that when we dig out the same old flowery adjectives, maybe we’re the only person in the room who understands them!
Criticism often falls at the door of the journalist but the newspaper, magazine, television and radio commissioning editors should also take a hit as they’re all too often satisfied with new scripts that are not a million miles from those written 20 years ago. The result is that we’re missing out on the all important young new consumer who starts contemplating suicide at the mention of ‘terroir’ and malolactic fermentation.
Or maybe I’m being naïve. Maybe it’s all a cunning wine trade strategy. Keeping most customers totally confused means less questioning of wine quality ; quality that’s being squeezed bigtime by an average bottle price that sticks around the £ 5.00 odd mark regardless of rising costs and the year on year rise in duty. Don’t start me off!
But there are beacons of light in the stormy wine lake. Majestic’s positive recent financial results owe much to their friendly staff and customer friendly shops. Giving simple grape/region/taste advice wearing jeans and a smile goes a long way to breaking down wine barriers. OK., I’ve heard them talking willy nilly about gooseberries, acidity, terroir and the like but they must be doing something right – Majestic’s average bottle price is £ 6.50, not £ 5.00! ‘Rest of wine trade please note!
I’m on a mission to make wine simple and keep plugging away to help Joe and Josephine get the same exciting buzz from wine that I do. I’m constantly banging my head against the brick wall of wine but I’m convinced that the wine code will eventually be cracked; knowing that ‘J & J’ want to know more about wine drives me on even more. Doodling one afternoon I made a long list of things that the wine trade should sort out. Sadly, about half way down the list I realised that most businesses would have sorted out the list years ago.
Is there anybody out there?