conventional wisdomHippie punching has been one of the mainstream media’s favorite pastimes since, well, since there have been hippies. Now there is a  new subgenre of this tired work horse—hipster punching.

In an article entitled “The Perils of Wine Groupthink” Robert Joseph writing in Meininger’s Wine Business International seems to have lost his irony detector:

Despite many people’s belief to the contrary, the plural of anecdote is not data; it’s anecdata, a term that’s as helpfully meaningless as the kind of information it describes.

The fact that a vociferous group of people with hipster beards in New York restaurants are to be seen drinking natural wine does not indicate a fast-growing national trend for the style across the US.

When a specialist wine retailer says, “more and more of my customers are asking for wines with less alcohol” it does not mean that the average strength of the billions of bottles on supermarket shelves is visibly falling.

The tendency to extrapolate from one’s own personal observations – and more especially one’s own tastes and opinions – is widely recognised by statisticians and researchers, who’ve even given it a name: confirmation bias…. What has started out out as a partisan view now evolves into Groupthink. ‘What we believe and observe must be true of the wider population’.

It’s not at all clear how a belief that a trend which is clearly observable within one’s cohort might catch on with the wider population constitutes group think. Group think occurs when bad decisions are made because pressures to conform prevent the objective assessment of evidence. It’s hard to see how promoting unconventional wines or enclosures would count as groupthink since the aim is clearly to identity trends that currently fall outside the mainstream.

Apparently what Joseph would have trendsetters in the wine business do is look at aggregate data from supermarket purchases to find potential new trends. Good luck with that. By the time the trend is discovered it will be on its way out. That is the very definition of groupthink. Conventional wisdom isn’t always wrong but it is always conventional.

The underlying mistake that Joseph makes is failing to see that the wine business is actually two distinct industries. In the U.S., the top 30 wine companies account for 74% or all the wine sold. Those are the wines you find in the supermarket, essentially a homogeneous product differentiated by marketing and branding. That’s one kind of industry. By some estimates that leaves about 7500 wineries fighting over the rest. That’s a distinctly different industry. The wineries in this second industry won’t succeed by doing what the big guys do.  Why buy their wines if they’re identical to what I can get at the supermarket? Participants in this second industry succeed by selling to those “hipster beards” and others who exist on the long tail, the niches, or in other words, the anecdotes.

It’s Joseph who is guilty of groupthink by crediting only what has been normalized as real.