The world of wine moves fast, like lightning fast. Everyday there is some new change, whether a winery change distributors in a state, a winery is acquired by some megacorporation, a new grape variety is proclaimed the hottest new thing in wine, or another laboring sot has gotten his/her Master Sommelier credentials. New changes in wine laws around the world, new ways to make wine, package wine, describe wine… the changes are unrelenting.
Which is precisely why I was bothered about a statement Jancis Robinson – one of the wine world’s pre-eminent voices – made about wine education. I learned of it through osmosis, reading Wine Enthusiast writer Steve Heimoff’s recent post, and it took me days for it all to sink in. Jancis Robinson is revered by most wine geeks as one of the most important wine writers and wine educators on the planet, so it struck me as odd that she basically came out to say that wine professors and enologists “share” their wealth of wine knowledge with the rest of the world, the less educated lot of us. Perhaps her intent was to get wine academia to open up more to consumers, making information more accessible, yet in reading the article, which appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, along with Steve Heimoff’s commentary, I was under the impression that aside from wine academics, the rest of us didn’t really know shit about wine.
Funny, I thought I had learned at least a little bit in the twenty-some years I’ve been at this, from working in restaurants to buying in retail.
I am not knocking Jancis, or anyone else for that matter. I think my days of beating up on wine writers of any stock are over. Everyone has a right to their perspective, and everyone has a viable outlook that can be helpful to consumers and wine professionals at any level. Yet as wine professionals, the crux of our job is to make sure that our knowledge of wine is tempered by our understanding that not everyone knows about wine. I like to think of wine as a journey, and everyone has to start somewhere. We all end up in the same place, so meeting customers in my store that just started drinking wine, or they like California wines, or Australian wines – none of that is wrong in any way, regardless of what some of the more pretentious and self-important wine folk purport. Just because someone drinks white zinfandel doesn’t make them a dolt. Hell, if it wasn’t for white zinfandel, the lot of us retailers probably woulnd’t be able to keep the damn lights on. It’s what finances the ability to bring in finer wines. Ask Beringer. Without their white zinfandel, I doubt very much they could afford to make so many amazing single-vineyard wines and reserve bottlings.
In the end, people learn more about wine in a variety of ways, whether it is academic, or by experience, which is at its very essence, the way we learn about the majority of things relevant to our lives. Experience is everything. We experience wine through parties, get-togethers, wine tastings, at restaurants, the neighbor’s house, hell, we even discover it at church (a shout out to all you crazy Catholics out there!). Why is it that it is said you should only drink either water or wine with your meals? Wine by design, is a life accompaniment. It is like the best piano player or guitarist with which a vocalist could hope to jam. It is the best supporting actor or actress in that incredible dramatic play or movie.
Maybe Jancis had good intentions when she wrote the article. Maybe all wine critics and wine writers have the purist ambition at heart. Regardless, the goal of all of us is to open up the world of wine to the masses, with whatever tools and skills we have at our disposal. Whether it is through words, gestures, videos, music, pictures, or experience, or even all the above, this is our mission statement, our manifesto. It is something I have yet to lose sight of, and will continue to hold in my mind and soul as the apex of my wine endeavors.
(Okay, I am off my soapbox again. We return you to your magnanimous weekend. Cheers!)