First, let me say that I normally love NPR. In fact, I consider not having an opportunity to listen to NPR news during the morning commute as the thing that I miss the most about having a traditional 9-to-5 job. But when NPR runs a story titled “Fancy Names Can Fool Wine Geeks Into Paying More For A Bottle,” I cringe.
NPR’s story quotes Christopher Tracy, Channing Daughters Winery’s talented winemaker (for more on Tracy and his wines, check out the coverage of my 2009 trip to LI wine country), but only as a setup for introducing “difficult for Americans to pronounce” grape varieties like Blaufrankisch, and en route to covering the results of a marketing study performed earlier this year by Antonia Mantonakis, a wine researcher at Brock University in Ontario. As reported by NPR:
"Participants not only reported liking the taste of the wine better if it was associated with a difficult to pronounce winery name. But they also reported about a $2 increase in willingness to pay," Mantonakis says.
What’s more, apparently the more that test subjects knew about wine (or at least told Mantonakis they knew about it), “the more easily they got duped into thinking difficult wine names equaled pricier wines.” In other words, we expect Fat Bastard to be inexpensive, but not Le Bastard Surpoids.
I love NPR, but I hate this kind of reporting. I hate it because while there might indeed be meat on the bones in Mantonakis’s study for marketers to explore, the media angle instead is to jump on the all-wine-pros-are-douchebags bandwagon, and throw on non-pro wine geeks as well.
So you know what? Screw NPR for doing that. Screw them, because we wine geeks are not the problem; if a few of us thought fancy names equated to higher prices, than so what? Shouldn’t we be excited that the wines were actually less expensive than we thought? We need more people being excited about wine and getting all hot-and-bothered over those fancy names, not less. The media implication in NPR’s coverage that those wines are somehow bad or cheap and therefore shouldn’t be on the radar of wine geeks is itself insulting to the producers, regions, and wines involved (let alone to the people). And I won’t even get started on the “what constitutes ‘wine geek’ from this study?” arguments.
If you think I’m over-reacting, I invite you to watch coverage of Mantonakis’ experiment and then listen to the NPR coverage that followed, both embedded below after the jump, and then tell me if you think I got it wrong. In the meantime, I’ll go back to my temporary NPR boycott…