Decanter magazine's biennial list of the 50 most powerful people in the wine business took a lot of criticism. As one wine type told me after reading the rankings: "Who are these people?" Lewis Perdue, the editor of Wine Industry Insight, wrote that the list "was based not so much on power, clout, or the ability to move markets, but on a snobbish gaze at a small self-indulgent world that is increasingly irrelevant to the vast majority of the globe’s wine drinkers."
It is an odd list. The usual suspects are there -- Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson, Gary V. -- as well as a host of European and Asian names who matter to Decanter's Bordeaux-centric audience. But there are a lot of names missing. Purdue emphasized the absence of the men who run three of the leading cheap wine companies in the U.S. and sell hundreds of millions of dollars of wine, Fred Franzia of Two Buck Chuck, Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home and David Kent of The Wine Group. Also missing: Eric Asimov of the New York Times and Jon Bonne of the San Francisco Chronicle, who have moved more than few markets in their time.
Yet Decanter somehow found room in all that rarefied air for what it called the "amateur wine blogger" at No. 16. "As social media continues its relentless online spread, everyone is now a critic," the magazine said. Why that is and what it means, after the jump:
This is probably an English thing. The English -- and Decanter is a very English magazine -- view amateurs differently than Americans do. We see amateurs as the next step before turning professional; the English have traditionally seen it as a life-long calling reserved for gentlemen. The village squire or the lord of the manor needs something to do with his time and his inherited money, so he becomes the world's leading butterfly expert (or whatever) without any real formal training. Which, come to think of it, sounds a lot like the people who leave comments on the Decanter website.
Mike Veseth at the Wine Economist made another important point in this regard. Maybe it's not the amateur wine bloggers who matter, he wrote, but the people who rate wines and contribute to sites like CellarTracker (and CellarTracker founder Eric LeVine did make the list, which no doubt surprised the hell out him). You can even take that reasoning one step further, and include every consumer who writes about wine on Twitter and Facebook as an amateur blogger.
Which is almost certainly not what Decanter meant. Democracy only goes so far, after all. You can't have a list where the guy who runs Lafitte-Rothschild is more important than Robert Parker and also mean that someone buying a $10 bottle of wine at a grocery store is part of the 16th most powerful group in the wine business. Though, actually, you can make a point they should be.