Overcoming the intimidation factor, finding authenticity, good marketing and love.
Detailing Tenet #7 in our Ten Tenets of Reverse Wine Snobbery: Love Wine.
For many, myself included, there is a great intimidation factor involved in starting to learn about wine. What I've found; however, is that there really is no reason to be intimidated.
I started out knowing nothing about wine. This was also about the same time that the gene I inherited from my father that causes you to progressively lose the ability to pronounce foreign, uncommon, or even common words started to kick in. This is a tough combination for someone venturing into a wine world filled with hard to pronounce names and terms.
As I've stumbled my way through I've come to realize that the vast majority in the wine industry are really fantastic people. This is not to say that the stereotypical wine snobs aren't out there — they definitely are. Luckily they are just a tiny slice of the market and, as you would expect, their snobbiness is not limited to wine.
I've also come to realize the reason most people in the wine industry are indeed down-to-earth is because, unless you are a very large corporation or a distributor, there's not much money to be made. Ever heard the old joke, "How do you make a small fortune?" The answer: "You start with a large one and then open a winery."
Many small- to medium-size wineries (and some of the large ones) are struggling to survive. Musician Les Claypool said it best in an interview in the June 2014 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine:
"Myself and a couple pals said, 'We spend a lot of money on wine, let's make our own, it will be cheaper.' That proved to be one of the most ignorant things that has ever come out of my mouth."
Why would people work so hard at something just to barely stay in business? Because they love it.
The wine industry, on the other hand, sometimes makes this hard for the average consumer. Listen, I love wine and I want wine producers to succeed, but in today's world, it's not enough to simply make a good wine; you also need to know your target market and how to reach them. French wine is a great example. Everyone knows French wine is some of the best in the world. But French wine labels are simply the worst. Most of them look the same and all the names start with "Chateau". How in the world do you even remember which one you bought? If the French as a whole were ever able to get their marketing act together, watch out world.
A great example of when they do get it right is Beaujolais Nouveau and the huge event that this French region makes out of the new release each year. This is marketing at its best but let's be completely honest — the wine is horrid. Yet they sell an absolute boatload of it because they've turned it into an occasion that people want to be a part of. Just think what these same marketers could do with good wine!
When I visited the Rhone Valley in France a few years ago the wineries there were acutely aware of their deficiencies in this area. Many wineries are changing their ways as the younger generations take over the family business. And to be fair, when you sell all the wine you make anyway, why bother? Many regions in Northern Rhone, for example, only have so much space and all of it is already farmed. If there's no way to increase your supply, you'd love to be in the United States but the three-tier system makes it virtually impossible, and you sell out every vintage anyway — what's the point?
To be sure, it's easy to take marketing too far. The large wine corporations love to build wines based on a label or a catchy name. Most of these wines don't actually have a vineyard or even their own wineries. They simply buy bulk grapes and make the wine at the same place as dozens of other labels from the same company. I'm not saying this is necessarily bad; heck, I like some of these wines, but there is certainly something to be said for being authentic and I encourage you to do a little research and seek out wines from small- to medium-size wineries. It may not be easy, as you'll have the three-tier system working against you, but I think you'll find, just like I did, that there's a lot to love.
Find our complete Ten Tenets of Reverse Wine Snobbery in summary form here with links to each as they are detailed.