There is no doubt that the Great British Public loves wine. After all, they’re regularly accused of abusing themselves with more than two glasses a night but it seems to be the one staple in life where the level of knowledge is at odds with the level of enthusiasm.
Take football. Any self-respecting footie fan is an instant expert on team formation and can calculate which clubw will come third in the league in five months time if a series of permutations greater than the selection of coffees in Starbucks plays out. This is because the average footie fan absorbs knowledge and foresight by osmosis through every match watched – it’s phenomenal how the number of hours spent watching Match of the Day directly correlates to your ability to manage Man U.
So why can’t the same be said for the average wine consumer? Surely the more wine they consume, the more knowledge is absorbed – the consequences being a sound understanding of the wine game and a thirst for more? Unfortunately not. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to stand behind a table for what feels like six months and pour wine into the proffered glasses of eager individuals who have paid good money for a ticket to drink their way around the world, then you will understand this.
It doesn’t help that sometimes these tastings are held at the end of a long working day. A day when we have already been standing for nine hours pouring wine into the proffered glasses of our keen and eager wine-trade brethren and have lost the will to live. A day when we have repeated ourselves and our brand story so often that even being asked out by George Clooney (if you’re a girl) would probably be met with a robotic “well, this has been handpicked by Chilean maidens from 150 year old extremely low yielding vines before being……blah blah”
But the round of consumer tastings does truly reinforce my opinion that we completely over-estimate the consumer. For several hours we have to answer questions like “So, what fruit goes into this wine?” Er………passion fruit? Mangos? Bananas? Or is it grapes? “Do you have a red Chardonnay? I much prefer those” or “ Does that NV after the word Champagne stand for Nevada?”
Or at the other end of the spectrum there is the odd one who thinks that their 40 years of being a chemist and concurrent 40 years of “wine drinking experience” means that they can argue with you for 20 minutes over the dodecadihydrosulphotetrachloride (I think he meant hydrogen sulphide) they think they can detect in the wine which therefore makes it faulty. “Do you know anything about wine??” he asked. Do you know anything about chemistry?
Or the one who is quite happy to announce that the wine you are politely and smilingly explaining to them is “absolutely disgusting, isn’t it?” Yes, we’ve carefully selected that wine from the thousands offered to us and then arranged to ship it half way around the world because it’s disgusting.
In which other industry would you find such a gaping void between the end user and the supplier? I’m fairly certain that the guy selling paper clips for a living cares as much about the product that keeps his monthly Sky Sports subscription going as the work-experience lad who is tasked with making sure the stationery cupboard is fully stocked.
As human beings we all started off the same – we were all born without the ability or desire to drink wine. We just wanted milk and then graduated to orange squash and then beer and then wine. We all started life on a level playing field but some of us get sucked into the trade and we are probably the ones at fault here.
Has the knowledge that we have gained over the years become a little dangerous? Has it removed us from the very people that are keeping us in a living? We’re probably at fault here from seeming aloof and patronising whilst singing the virtues of an outstanding 1990 Chablis, or from completely dumbing it down and encouraging everyone to drink a wine that is solely “good with fish”.
Ultimately, we’re all consumers – we just tend to refer to each other as “us and them” when wine is such a sociable, happy drink that we should all just be getting on and enjoying it. No red trousers, no rolling eyes, no telling a producer that their wine is a shocker.
I’m off to go and find a hearty red Sauvignon to go with my venison croquettes…..