George Taber, who does this wine writing stuff about as well as anyone, and Ron Saikowski, a top Texas wine blogger, sent the Wine Curmudgeon an email: "What is your perception of your influence in people selecting wines based on your recommendations?"
The email is part of a study about whether consumers pay attention to what people like me write. It's a subject that comes up a lot among those of us who do it; sometimes, writing for the Internet seems like sending a message in a bottle. Even if anyone finds the bottle, you have no idea whether they paid any attention to the message. Or, as my pal Alfonso Cevola put it the other day, "I have tilted at windmills for years."
I'll try not to do too much navel gazing here. After all, if I feel unappreciated, I can always find something else to do. But whether anyone reads me is part of a larger and much more important issue -- can the wine business get out of the niche that has strangled it for the past 25 years? Is the Internet the key to a future that isn't about scores, cult wines and buying labels to impress people? Can it be used to teach Americans to drink what they like, to educate them about wine and how it works, and give them a sense of how much fun wine is? I think so, and that's what I told George and Ron. More, after the jump:
Not very, actually. The U.S. remains a very minor wine drinking country. We drink, on average, about 9 liters per person per year, or about 1 bottle per person per month. The French and Italians drink almost six times that, and even the beer-focused Germans drink three times more than we do. We're even pikers compared to other New World wine countries -- Australians and New Zealanders drink about 2 1/2 times more than we do.
The difference, of course, is that we approach wine differently here. We scare the hell out of anyone who wants to start drinking it. Just one example: Americans view boxed wine as barely fit for human consumption, while almost half of Australia's wine is sold in boxes.
Which is where the Internet, and people like me, come in. I have no idea what sort of influence I have. I don't say that out of false modesty; I really don't know. My blog numbers have increased 26 percent this year, and I know that I am among the alawine.com top 100. But how that translates into influence is anyone's guess. I doubt very seriously that the vast majority of us wield as much influence as the most ordinary newspaper movie or restaurant critic. The only person who really matters is Robert Parker, and he only matters to a small part of the marketplace. The average price of a bottle of wine in the U.S. is $6, but when is the last time anyone (save for freaks like me) reviewed a $6 wine?
But that doesn't mean that we can't be influential. The key is understanding that the next couple of generations of wine drinkers don't want to be told what to drink, but want to be educated so they can make their own decisions. We don't need a print-centric Winestream Media running stories about wines that will win friends and influence bosses. We need a cyber-friendly wine world that will show consumers that wine is nothing more complicated than sports or fashion -- and just as interesting.
Which is why what I do is not about influencing people, but about educating them. Read me, and even if you disagree with everything I say, I'll teach you enough to make your own decision. I write about wine because I like wine, I like to write, and I believe in wine. Wine is fun, and I want to share that fun with anyone who wants to learn.
I've told this story before, but it bears repeating. My students at the Cordon Bleu in Dallas were shocked when I told them that I drank wine every day. There's a great job of wine education -- people who want to be chefs don't understand wine. Is it any wonder that Americans drink as much wine as Macedonians, a county where the per capita gross domestic product is 10 times less?