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Marketing Gambit or True Belief?

By Charles Olken

You choose the topic. It does not matter much. Biodynamics. Natural wines. The downfall of the 100-point system. Restaurant wine lists. Robert Parker.

Each of those topics has brought out a “true believer” mentality that professes to know the truth. And generally, that truth begins and ends with someone’s/someones’ own vision of the world. Most of the strong beliefs on both sides of those topics are rooted not in real truth but in mysticism. Put some cow dung in the ground and harvest only when the moon is in the Seventh House and Jupiter aligns with Mars. Robert Parker has been the ruination of the wine industry. Robert Parker has been the biggest boone to the wine industry since Repeal.

It really does not matter which of those one looks at in detail to find folks at odds with each other—one side saying its way is better, its belief system is the right one and the other side saying “not so fast”. And neither side listening to each other. It got so silly the other day that a writer, an old white guy, accused other old white guys of being old white guys because they actually believed that a wider, less imperialistic approach to wine made more sense.

I could get you caught up in the specific argument, and probably I will one of these days, but it really does not matter what the topic is. The whole “my narrow way is better” argument is often as thin as its approach, and what sticks in my craw is that these true-believer philosophies have become marketing tools for the selling of wine. “How do we convince the world that biodynamic wines are better”? “How do we convince the world that natural wines are better”? “How do we convince the world that low alcohol wines are inherently better”?

Ask any seasoned observer of the wine scene and you will find true belief is ultimately turned into a marketing tool. And it is never really about a given wine—which is the only way to judge wine—but about “our” approach.

My counsel then is simple. Do not get taken in by slogans. Do not succumb to the easy judgments that Napa Cabs are all fat or are all great or are overpriced or are priced right because it is the market that allows them to be priced that way. Do not believe that wines are better when they get riper or better when they are picked with acidity and fresh, direct character.

Wine is wine, and the only way to judge it is not by process or by belief system or by marketing combines but by taste. It is what is in the glass that counts. Not what is on the label. It is just that simple. And you can take it from an old white guy who still judges wine that way and is not likely to change.


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