It seems that every quarter we get predictions about the next big thing in the U.S. wine market. Like most predictions, these are almost always wrong and therefore actually have, at best, neutral value for the wine biz (it could be argued that since they’re almost always incorrect, they have negative value if decisions are made based on them; but since they also have some positive entertainment value, let’s call it a draw).
“Next Big Thing” wine predictions are also almost always predicated on two principles: 1) the idea that the wine buying public is scared of wine, and therefore needs some sort of guidance on what to purchase, and 2) these recommendations must come in the form of grape varieties.
Both are probably wrong, or at least are bad for the wine biz, as I will explain in a moment, and that means that the NBT predictions are missing what’s really going to be the Next Big Thing in wine (okay, so I am making a prediction here… but at least it’s not based on those principles above, okay?!?)…
First, let’s deconstruct the idea that wine’s NBT has to be about a grape variety. Making wine’s NBT about a grape is ultimately bad for the aspirational fine wine market, because when we talk about that NBT, we are almost invariably talking about the next grape that will be popular in the bargain price ranges and therefore doomed to eventually suck donkey bong.
The problem is this: once we tout a particular grape as a consistent, dependable bargain, in short order capitalism ensures that wines made form that grape are no longer a consistent, dependable bargain. Why? Capitalists get greedy, and that’s a predictable fact with quite a bit of Nobel-winning science behind it. In wine, that greed manifests as the overreach/overplanting/overproduction/overmarketing of said grape variety, and the result is that instead of having, say, a 20% chance of finding a dismal wine made form that grape at a low price point, you have more like a 70% chance. I’m looking at you, Shiraz, Moscato, and Merlot…! does anyone want to argue that situation as being good for the wine business (outside of a larger potential pool of sales in stealing customers from beer or some other category)? I’m not holding my breath for any takers on that one.
Next, we’re assuming that a) people don’t know anything about wine, b) cannot be bothered to learn about it, c) just want to enjoy a good glass for the most part, and d) therefore need to have simple variety-specific recommendations to follow to dumb it all down to a manageable level for purchases. The issue here is that only a-c above are true; d does not necessarily follow, and that will increasingly be the case because the Next Big Thing in wine is…
You don’t need a crutch like a certain grape variety being “cool” when it’s actually much cooler (from a utility standpoint) to get recommendations that are tailored to your individual tastes. This requires getting over the social stigma of somehow liking the “wrong” wine, which at its heart is marketing BS by parties who have a vested interest in you feeling like an uncultured dolt by picking the “wrong” wine (think some wine mags, some critics, etc.). Thankfully, the future trends of the wine industry seem to be moving in the opposite direction.
Think about it this way: we now live in the age of splintered wine recommendations, and you have more informed (and uninformed!) voices you could follow than ever before when it comes to recommendations. You also have apps like Delectable, which show you what a lot of those tastemakers are drinking and how they feel about it. On the other end of that same curve is the app Wine4.Me, which uses data and science to help you learn your own taste preferences, to the point of actually recommending specific wines based on them, sans expert recommendations and instead using proprietary algorithms.
To me, this is larely a running refrigerator thing, because we don’t notice personalization unless it’s not there, due to its current ubiquity. Seriously, just about everything is trying to personalize to you (for a profit motive on your data, of course), from Amazon buying recommendations based on what you buy, to Netflix and Hulu recommendations based on what you watch, to Google ads based on the terms for which you search… the only time we notice personalization is when some service fails to do it, in which case we get perturbed!
Now, given those trends, do you think the wine recommendation world will be more ivory tower in the future, or less?
Do you think there will be fewer options for helping you personalize your taste experiences, or more?
Do you think wine will be less like every other gustatory field (food/restaurant recommendations, for example), in which the ultimate value is placed on discovering and maximizing experiences that appeal most to your own tastes? Or do you think it will be more like that in the future?
Place your bets, folks. My money is on seeing these tech-enhanced personalization trends further develop, and with wine (eventually) catching up to the trends pushing the cutting (not bleeding anymore, just cutting) edge of many, many other “offline” activities.