Why Wine Lovers Are Not an Elite

wine elitistTom Wark’s post “Time to Embrace the Elitist Character of the Wine Drinker” makes several crucial points that I wholeheartedly endorse:

I want to suggest that attempting to “democratize” for the majority of folks that don’t prefer or don’t drink wine won’t do anything to increase wine’s appeal, nor enhance the prospects of wine-related services that trade on the notion that “wine is too stuffy, too elitist and too snobby”.

We’ve certainly heard too much of how wine has to be “de-mystified.” Take the mystery out of wine and you lose what makes wine attractive to most of the people who buy premium wines.

It just might be that wine is a beverage that will only attract frequent drinkers who for one reason or another are willing to think more about what they drink than most folks. It might be that the wine industry may need to settle for having a market share less than beer and spirits. If this is so, then the marketers in the wine industry should perhaps be thinking more about how to speak to and communicate with this kind of drinker, rather than trying to convince those that appear not to care about wine that their lifestyle really can accommodate it. Maybe it can’t.

“Word up!” as the hip-hop generation says.

Wine lovers love tracking wine’s endless variations whether the source of those differences is the vineyard, the region, the varietal, the winemaker’s style, or cultural differences. And Tom is absolutely right that recognizing and tracing those variations is an intellectual task. If you’re really just interested in an alcohol delivery system or some rollicking good cheer, wine may suffice but it won’t compel—there are cheaper alternatives that get you there. There is a market for that sort of consumer and that sort of wine but, as Tom notes, they don’t support the vast majority of wineries in the U.S.

But it seems to me a mistake to think of these genuine wine lovers as an elite.

Wine appreciation does not require special tasting acuity. It does require experience but that comes from tasting wine and paying attention to what you’re tasting. Anyone with ordinary concentration skills can do that. Tracking the variations of which wine is capable is an intellectual pursuit but it doesn’t require any sort of special intelligence or ability. Anyone with an average intellect, memory, and reading ability can appreciate what wine has to offer if they put the work into it.

Although the famous names in wine royalty cost a fortune to procure, most of what you’re paying for is reputation and supply limitations. Once you gain a bit of knowledge, you can find fascinating bottles for under $50 from all over the world. The cost of a good wine to study each week is well under the cost of a concert, restaurant meal, or sporting event. Wine is no longer the playground of the wealthy. Anyone with a middle class income can play.

In fact, the only thing uncommon about wine lovers is their love of wine. That is a love that is not widely shared. People have other interests. But that doesn’t make wine lovers an elite—we’re just peculiar.

(And don’t give me examples of wine snobbery. There are snobs everywhere; they aren’t unique to wine.)

But alas I think there is a bit of irony in Tom’s use of the word “elitist” in his title. He closes with this:

Finally, it’s worth reiterating that those who characterize wine as “snobby” or “elitist” are in fact the enemies of both wine and wine consumers.

It’s never charitable to attribute blatant, self-referential contradictions to good writers, and he is a good writer. As the essayist George Saunders wrote: “Irony is just honesty with the volume cranked up.”

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