Blake Gray wrote a post about a month ago that still has me scratching my head. The post begins by praising the Washington Post’s Dave McIntyre for an article entitled “29 of America’s Favorite Cheap Wines, Ranked,” calling it “ outstanding service journalism for readers of a newspaper.”
All well and good. Some readers of the Washington Post might be interested in knowing what a wine expert says about their favorite brands. But then the lamentation begins:
Yet to most Americans, that is what “wine” means. “Wine” doesn’t mean a bottle made from grapes grown on calcareous soil with native yeast fermentation in concrete tanks. “Wine” means a widely available product they can pick up at the grocery store with a predictable flavor. Most people don’t want to hear about vintage variation. They want a shelf stable fruity beverage of about 13.5% alcohol that they can quaff without thinking about it.
This is quite true but I’m not quite sure why it matters. And by the end of the article he’s in full regalia, punch-a-wine-snob mode:
In an era where we’re all electronically in touch all the time, communication has in some ways become more difficult than ever. We’re all in silos now, mostly politically, but I believe that enophiles live in our own unfortunately small wine silo.
“A small wine silo?” Really? This is what I don’t get. Why are wine lovers and wine writers remiss if we don’t pay much attention to Apothic Red or Yellowtail? Quite honestly there is very little to say about most inexpensive supermarket wines. Some of them are fine for a weeknight dinner but they aren’t interesting or compelling. I used to review a budget wine every Friday until I got so bored I began to dread Thursday evenings spent trying to find something interesting to say about something not very interesting. It has nothing to do with being in a silo; it’s about needing interesting subject matter in order to write. If all someone wants is a “shelf-stable, fruity beverage” why on earth would they care what wine writers say. Are there people who make a living reviewing orange juice?
There are people who write about cheap wine and do it well; I have all respect in the world for them. I don’t see why people who prefer to write about better wines are worthy of criticism.
The fact of the matter is that there are just under 9000 wineries in the U.S. Yet the 8 largest companies sell 60% of the wine sold in the U.S. The top 30 accounted for 74% of wine sales in 2016. These mega-companies spend millions each year on marketing and PR. They don’t need us writing about them. Their customers will buy their wine regardless of what we write.
It’s the other 8000+ wineries, most of whom will never see their wines on a supermarket shelf, that need our attention. We don’t live in a silo. We exist in different industries only one of which needs a platoon of scribes to sing their praises.