Monday, September 24, 2012

Rant: Instilling A Fire In Consumers

"I'd rather that wine writers tried to deepen people's love of wine,..."
(Reading Between The Wines, by Terry Theise, p.107)

Wine writers can easily provide sterile reviews of wines, maybe giving out a point score, letter grade or similar ranking. If a reader trusts your judgment, then they might select a wine based on your recommendation. The Wine Advocate is a prime example of that form of sterile reviewing, and they are successful in getting plenty of people to buy wine. There are wine blogs which do the same thing, providing  sterile reviews which seem to sell wine. I have been guilty of such at times as well.

Employees at a wine store can do something similar. They can tell customers how many points a wine scored, or they can recite a cold list of wine descriptors. That will certainly lead to some wine sales. But is it the best way to sell wine?

Something is missing in both of these situations: Passion. Your words may help to sell a wine, but you are not imbuing a passion for wine into a consumer. You are treating wine as a mere commodity, and making consumers treat it as one as well. You are not lighting a fire of excitement within consumers, not getting them to fall deeper in love with wine. And that is what is needed, getting more consumers not only to drink specific wines, but to get passionate about it, to embrace its diversity, beauty, and mystery.

Writers and wine store employees certainly have the right to continue as they have been doing, and there will always be an audience for their sterile reviews. But there is another way, which I believe is much more fulfilling. Why do you write about wine? Why do you work in a wine store? Is it only to sell wine? Or do you do it because you have a passion for wine? I suspect most people will answer that they possess that passion, that it is the primary motivation for their actions. But if that is true, then why don't you try to share your passion with others, rather than just try to sell wine?

It is not as easy to judge your readers' reactions to your writings, but you can see the proof if you work in a wine store. When you offer a wine recommendation with passion, rather than points, you see a clear difference in the eyes of the consumer. Their eyes take on the spark of passion that is found within your own. They are no longer buying just a commodity, but they have found an experience, an emotional connection which will last far longer than that bottle of wine. They get excited to buy wine, desirous of tasting different ones.

I recently rhapsodized about a Portuguese wine to a customer, and another customer, who was standing nearby heard me and just had to buy a bottle too. Though I was not speaking directly to her, my passion for the wine still ignited a spark within her. That is so much more satisfying than having a customer buy a bottle just because I tell them a wine scored 95 points from Robert Parker. Spreading that passion should drive us in our writing as well as if we work at a wine store.

Think back to your own wine mentors and friends. I bet those who most inspired you were those who shared their passion for wine with you. If all they did was provide you wine scores, I very much doubt they would have become significant inspirations for you. So infuse life into your writing and your words, and let your passion spark a wildfire in others.          


Todd - VT Wine Media said...

I have to agree with you, points are only a relative indicator, an dthere is no substitute for honest passion and interest when it comes to recommending wine. I'm seriously considering dropping my subscription to Wine Spectator after many years, because the articles are just not doing it for me any longer. There is something aloof about them that inhibits my desire to pore through the periodical as I once did. It also really bugs me that they always have pictures of the vineyard/winery dogs, but never have this important team member's name in the caption along with the owner and winemaker.
Glad you are enjoying your wine interface with the public at the shop. Wine bloggers benefit from such real world interactions, and I'm willing to bet their writing will benefit as well.

Jason Phelps said...

The question I always come back to in this subject area is what are the goals of the consumer who is looking to buy wine?

Passion flows from recognition of something beyond wine as a product (something you called me out on last week) and not just a sense of purpose that any one wine-needing moment might set out.

We can't expect everyday wine consumers to be as passionate about wine as super-consumers or wine-writers. Wine isn't as much of their life and day to day as it is for the others. It may be an after thought or just part of the "recipe" that they are creating where it will be served. Can we expect to inspire them in some cases, yes, but I just don't believe it sticks with them. There are too many higher priorities for them.

We even know that the opportunity to write about wine is so accessible via blogs that people with only some amount of passion for wine (and many perspectives on wine) get in the game and struggle to find a voice that does the experiences of finding wine justice.

Romanticizing wine is only one aspect to its existence, and not everybody involved in growing, production and consumption looks at it the same way. Passion has context and it won't be universal. So while I don't disagree with trying to imbue one's writing with passion, I just won't hang high hopes on how that alone will change anything on the part of everyday consumer or reader.


Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Todd:
Thanks for your comments. I dropped my subscription to WS last year for many of the same reasons. I have found Decanter magazine to generally be far more information and interesting.

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Jason:
Thanks for your comments. You have some valid points, and certainly not all consumers want or seek out a passionate wine writer or store employee. As I said in my post, there will always be an audience for more sterile reviews, consumers who want points or brief recs.

But, passion can and does spread. It may occur person by person, and not in great waves. But it does happen and is worth trying to spread. We can light a fire in wine consumers. It may not work all the time, but we can succeed. And I believe that is well worth the effort.