Chances are pretty high that, if you’re reading this (and you’re reading this), you are a wine geek.
And by “wine geek,” I mean that you are atop the U.S. wine consumer pyramid (that’s if you’re living in the U.S., of course – those of you outside the U.S. are just gonna have to play along on this one). As in, the tippy, tippy, holy-crap-it’s-a-looooong-way-down-from-here, tippy-top of the pyramid.
And it doesn’t even matter if you consider yourself an avid oenophile or not – simply by virtue of treating wine with any semblance of importance in your life, you’ve firmly entrenched yourself in wine-geek-out territory, at least when compared with the general consumer-going public in America.
And don’t worry about it…. because it’s okay.
In fact, I’m going to explain why that’s not only okay, but that you ought to revel in the fact that you are in the upper echelon of the wine-buying U.S. public. In fact, I’m going to explain why it’s downright awesome. After a bit of exposition, of course. C’mon, you think I’m gonna let this thing go under 1300 words? Are you nuts?
It all came to me after day one of the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference, during a steamy, 8-billion degree, 5000% humidity evening in downtown Charlottesville (I might have exaggerated that last bit), in which a bleary-eyed (due to travel-, conference-, weather-, and wine-induced-fatigue) yours truly took part in an off-premise “fireside chat” on the topic of Wine & Tech, which eventually turned about as heated as the sweltering northern Virginia night.
The event was organized by wine industry think-tank group Vintank and Crushd (the team behind a newly-released iPhone wine-journaling app). Thankfully (since most of us were already melting through our clothing) there was no actual fire was lit at the host venue (Orzo Kitchen & Wine Bar), and to assist (as if we needed it) getting our tongues wagging and opinions flowing, there were several interesting Rioja wines being poured courtesy of Vibrant Rioja (I can now attest personally to the tastiness of a well-chilled 2010 Marques de Caceres dry white Rioja on a stiflingly sultry Virginia Summer evening, by the way)…
In this mini-event/side-show, I was a member of a panel that included Paul Mabray (Vintank’s Chief Strategic Officer), Anthony Schiller (Co-Founder of Crushd), Pia Mara Finkell (of CRT/Tanaka, who works PR on the PR side of Vibrant Rioja and was one of the members of the Millennials & Wine panel that I moderated at this year’s WBC). Our discussion was moderated by direct-shipping crusader and veteran wine blogger Tom Wark (of Fermentation & Wark Communications), to whom I owe a bleated thank-you for mentioning me recently in his wine media equation (though I personally think that my numeric equivalent in that lineup is probably a fraction… with a denominator that has a lot of zeros…).
Things got heated when we talked specifics about Crushd. It’s not that Crushd isn’t a nifty app – it is, and if I owned an iPhone I would have already downloaded the thing and used it during the “speed-dating” wine tasting format to which we are subjected during the Wine Bloggers Conferences. The secret sauce of Crushd is that it has a sophisticated way of quickly and accurately determining where you can find and purchase any given wine that you find in its system as users journal and recommend what they’ve recently tasted. I’ve little doubt that functionality will find avid users in the already-crowded wine mobile app space. Mobile wine apps like that are incredibly useful to us geeks… but transformative for non-geeks? Probably not; in fact, mobile apps seem most transformative for those making wine (and growing grapes) rather than for those consuming it.
What got the intellectual-debate-temperature rising was how Anthony (who I should note is a very intelligent guy who has helped put together a very well-designed app) pitched Crushd, namely as a means of elevating the average consumer from not-even-very-casual wine drinker to budding oenophile. Pretty much no one agreed with that, including me, because (in my logic, at least), that task isn’t even possible.
Paul Mabray underscored this with a few stats which in summary boiled down to this: there are generally three categories of wine consumers, the Uber Oenophile, the Aspiring Oenophile, and the Causal Wine Drinker, generally increasing in number from 250K to 62 million as you head down the pyramid (see inset pic – click to embiggen!).
Most U.S. consumers (obviously) fall into the Casual Wine Drinker category – and they don’t give a sh*t about wine, and many of them never will. No app is going to change that. In fact, nothing is going to change that.
Why not? Because wine geekism isn’t for everybody, just like needlepoint geekism isn’t for everybody. This is not to say that wine or needlepoint cannot be enjoyed by just about anyone (though I’d caution trying to enjoy them at the same time, I suppose – no drunk needlepointing, people!) – they most certainly can. It’s just to say that some people will never care about wine appreciation passionately, just as some will not geek out over needlepoint. In the pyramid of wine consumers, a tiny group of hardcore geeks sits at the top, a slightly larger core of people who care enough to possibly take a photo or a wine, and/or journal it somehow (usually in relation to a shared experience in which the wine was enjoyed) sit in the middle, and then there’s everybody else – and that everybody else is a huge number of people, but not necessarily a big potential market.
You’re outnumbered at the bottom of the pyramid by about 250 to 1, hombre!
Personally, I don’t really care about actively trying to convert people who don’t yet give a toss about wine. I’d rather help grease the skids for those entering the tippy-top of the pyramid, the potential wine geeks, to help speed up their journey of appreciation and get them moving towards their own personal moments of wine enjoyment enlightenment. I think apps like Crushd can help in the same way, but they cannot create a market that just isn’t there. And while that means a smaller market of like-minded geeks, it’s okay because we’re a prolific bunch. We’re the kind of people who blog, stick hundreds of tasting notes into CellarTracker, and hold tasting parties.
The way I see it, chances are very high that the people who don’t care about wine now will never care about it that deeply – some might, and will, but most probably won’t. Trying to swim against that tide by “converting” non-wine-lovers into wine geeks is a waste of my time – and, more importantly, a waste of theirs. When and if they decide they are into wine, I’m hoping they will come to me and I can add some value to their lives. Until then, I remain happily trying to add value to the lives of the already hopelessly-converted wine geeks drinking the “oh-my-GAWD-is-that-a-Pinot-Noir-icewine-I-have-to-try-that!” kool-aid. Awwwww yeeeeeaahhh!!!!
Here’s why – If you’re already a geek at the top of the pyramid, then ascending even higher doesn’t seem so bad, so far, or quite as difficult than it might appear from the very bottom of that climb, now does it?
You’re already most of the way there, my friend – why not just keep going? Momentum is on your side, and the homework of delving deeper into the wine tasting and learning “geek forest” sure is fun, and amazing, after all!