Posts Filed Under commentary
During the past couple of weeks or so, an online kerfuffle ensued after wine writer and author Jamie Goode posted an eye-opening article on his blog detailing the massive size of some of the wine worlds largest industrial-size producers. They are, interestingly (and in a sort-of-capitalism-run-amok fail), all owned by one company: Gallo.
Goode’s take on the situation in more on the informational side, but the online reactions were mostly pitchforks-and-torches negative, with the ire planted squarely in the “Big = Bad!” mindset.
My friend Fred Swan penned a cogent, even-handed, level-headed piece in response to the online outcry, in which he extols the virtues of industrial-scale wines in consumer terms:
“Aficionados of “fine wine” may find …affordable, high-volume, big-brand bottlings too bold, too sweet, too simple, or not varietally representative. The wines aren’t made for those people. They’re made for specific, but very large. audiences, are made with intention, and made after considerable research and development by highly-trained people.”
My response today, on the other hand, will be neither level-headed nor even-handed, though hopefully it will be cogent enough for the detractors of industrial-scale wine to understand that they are acting like morons when they lash out against high-volume, low-cost wines as having no place in a modern wine market. The truth is that those high-volume, low-cost wines make up the majority of the fine wine market, and without them the high-end market would likely be in severe economic dire straights…
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In the words of Iron Man, “I’ve missed that giddy optimism.”
In this case, the Steve Rogers yang to my Tony Stark ying is Emetry CEO Paul Mabray. I’ve been fortunate enough to call Paul a friend for several years running, and not just because I dig on his penchant for Star Wars-related references in his slide decks; Paul is wicked smart, and we have long shared the view that wine is well into its most competitive market in the entire history of the product (for a real noodle-baker, just consider how long we’ve had that product…!).
Mabray delivered a speech at the recent MUST – Fermenting Ideas Wine Summit in Portugal, in which he discussed the “future-proofing” of wine marketing in general. You can access the whole-shebang of Paul’s slide deck, and/or rely on the very good write-up summary of Maybray’s speech over at The Buyer. I found both to be essential reading for wine marketing/branding/producing types. When discussing the write-up with Paul on Facebook, he remarked to me that “the message is starting to resonate. Now for the next phase, action.”
And that’s where the giddy optimism quote comes in, because this is one of the rare instances where Paul and I happen to disagree…
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Ok, folks, calm down please.
I knew that I was stirring the pot a bit with my recent commentary regarding what is often referred to as the Natural Wine Movement, but I didn’t expect quite so many personal responses.
Quite a few of you pinged me out of concern that I’d finally succumbed to my consternation and became an old fart (nope – I think that ship has sailed, maybe with the exception of the “old” part); or offering long, thoughtful treatises on why I was wrong in my conclusion that the term “natural wine” is all but meaningless and therefore more of a bane of confusion for consumers than a helpful tag upon which they could hang their hat in terms of better understanding wine in general. Still others worried that I was doing nothing more than bitching about the terminology (guilty!); and then there was the hate mail… because apparently if I have a beef with the term “natural wine,” it means that I hate all things having to do with the movement (uhm… just… NO).
Allow me to offer a more cojent explanation on my position:
I. DO. NOT. HATE. NATURAL. WINES.
I have had many wines that may or may not fit into the Natural Wine camp that I have dearly loved, and many that I thought smelled and/or tasted like rancid donkey ass. I have nothing against making wines in a minimally interventionist style.
The problem is that there is no one who can tell you, me, or anyone else whether or not a wine is “natural.” As I argued at length, the term is simply too vague, and it’s passed time for us in the wine biz to try to rectify that, for the sake of curious consumers everywhere.
Let’s look at the situation another way:
You. Don’t. Have. A. Movement. When. You. Cannot. Define. The. Movement.
Without at least a semblance of an agreed definition/aim/goal, you don’t really have a movement at all; you have vague shared hopes. I’m NOT saying that those hopes don’t have merit (they do), or that they are wrong (they’re probably not). But I am saying that we can’t have our wine cake and eat it, too. “Natural Wine” needs a new moniker, clearer leadership, and better guidelines beyond the pornography definition of “I know when I see it” (or, in this case, smell it).
I have taken to avoiding use of the term “natural wine.” This has nothing to do with wines largely considered to be natural wines, some of which have beguiled me (though most too often are a disappointing combination of everything I don’t want in a wine married with a distinct lack of what I do want in a wine), and everything to do with the fact that I have to type things like “largely considered to be natural wines” every time that I bring up the topic.
This is because, despite now having garnered more mainstream publicity and hipster cachet than at any previous point in recent memory, natural wine producers, purveyors, and proponents have yet to define what in the f*ck a “natural wine” actually is.
Somehow, despite having a marketing designation that implies tanker-loads of douchebaggy superiority, natural wine has managed to get a foothold into the door to a wider fine wine audience, but its serious lack of definition is feeling like the dog caught the car and now has no idea what to do with it….
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