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Disconnected from reality: How the wine world thrives on hyperbole, assumption, and exaggeration

Napa Valley wine

If it’s expensive, then it must make me a better person.

Most of us will never drink pricey Napa Valley wine, but that doesn’t stop us from assuming that expensive wine is the only kind that matters

Two recent postings in the cyber-ether show how disconnected the wine world is from reality: First, a comment on the blog last week asking how California could have a record grape harvest this year given the Napa Valley wine fires in 2017. Second, an article on Wine-Searcher.com declaring: “The simple truth is that if you don’t have Napa on your label people just aren’t that into you, and winemakers would be forgiven for throwing their hand in and becoming whiskey makers instead.”

The fact everyone is overlooking here? Napa Valley wine accounts for less than five percent of California’s production.

This is not to denigrate Napa’s product, which is some of the best in the world. Rather, it’s to note how hyperbole, assumption, and exaggeration continue to power the U.S. wine business. Most wine drinkers in this country will probably never taste a Napa Valley wine. First, Napa prices are two and three times the national average, so cost eliminates all but the most devoted. Second, the majority of the grocery store Great Wall of Wine, where as much as three-quarters of wine is sold in some states, is not from Napa. So we couldn’t buy it even if we wanted to.

But there are wine drinkers, and then there are wine drinkers.

That’s because, as the two Napa items demonstrate, only expensive wine matters. This has always been a problem, and explains how I got started doing this. But it has become more prevalent given premiumization. I did a tasting several years ago where a 40-something man refused to drink anything that didn’t cost at least $20 because he knew it was awful. And how did he know that? Because the Winestream Media told him anything cheaper than $20 was awful, saving him the trouble of tasting it himself.

Second is the idea that people who drink expensive wine are somehow better than the rest of us. You can see this in the comments on the blog’s Barefoot posts. This attitude baffles me. I vote, I pay my taxes, I’m nice to my dog. Why does my choice of wine speak to my quality as a human being? What difference can it possibly make to someone else that I don’t drink the same wine they drink?

Those are also two reasons why cheap wine quality has fallen so far since the end of the recession. What’s the point of making decent wine for someone who doesn’t deserve it? After all, as the Wine-Searcher article said, none of the wines we drink matter. Hence, the increasing difficulty in finding quality and value for less than $15.

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