Archive for: September, 2021

The Ethos of This Blog

I’ve been working my way through emails and social media DMs in response to my last two posts wondering about what the wine industry’s response to Texas’s abortion ban will be and frustrations over how wax can diminish the enjoyment of what is otherwise a remarkably delicious wine.

While there has certainly been some great support and insights learned from some of the conversations that these posts have sparked, there has also been some strangely emotional backlash from folks who didn’t take kindly to those posts as well.

message in a bottle

Photo by Peer Kyle. Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0

I know that is par for the course in having a public blog and social media presence. And, yes, I know that being a woman with an opinion on the internet only ups that ante.

But I wrote these posts with the goal of encouraging conversations and moving them forward. So to the extent that they’ve moved some folks to email or message, berating me for harming wine regions, hurting brands and damaging small businesses, is a success of sorts. They’re at least thinking about the topic and talking about it–even if a few capslocks, obscenities and ad hominems get tossed in.

While I’ll remain steadfastly skeptical that I truly have the influence to really harm or damage anything, I’d like to make one thing clear.

I’m not here to sell your wine.

I don’t make a dime from this blog but then that’s never been my goal. There are plenty of consultants, marketers, PR firms and influencers who will gladly take wineries’s money to help them sell more wine. Please, seek them out as I’m sure they have a lot to offer.

The only thing that I’ve ever had to offer is just sincere and frank feedback. From my perspective as a consumer with how I shop for wine and spend my money through my experiences working in the retail trenches listening to customers and trying to share the stories of wineries big and small, it’s all there. Good, bad, ugly but honest.

That’s all I’ve ever promised with this blog and that’s all I’m ever going to give.

So if you don’t like the feedback, that’s fine.

If you don’t want to hear that your packaging decisions are turning off customers, that’s fine.

If you don’t want to hear that some consumers care about issues like sustainability, diversity, equity and politics or that those things can influence their buying decisions, that’s fine.

But that’s not going to change what I write or how I’m going to write.

I’m not paid to parrot any lines.

And while I do what I do out of a sincere love for this industry, I’m not going to let myself be beholden to it. Sure, having access and opportunities to attend tastings, winemaker visits and press tours are nice but I won’t be led by fear of biting the hand that feeds me. Because this doesn’t feed me. At all.

What feeds me is having a voice and being able to speak truth to what I see. There are so many consumers who encounter the same things I encounter and think many of the same thoughts but won’t say a word. And why should they? They’re not being paid to help wineries sell wine either. There’s little reason for consumers to ever speak up and give feedback because they can just walk away and move on to the next bottle.

And there’s always another bottle.

That is the one message that I want to reverberate through everything I write. There are so many wines to discover, so many wineries and wine regions to visit. The choices that consumers have is boundless and extend far beyond the category of just wine.

Producers should never take any sale for granted. There is nothing they’re entitled to even if they make great wine. The history of the wine business is littered with stories of talented winemakers making marvelous wines from fabulous terroirs that still failed. Those stories all have their nuances and particular reasons but many simply come back to the fact that consumers have choices. And, sometimes, they choose to drink something else.

For the wineries that read this blog, all I have to say is this. Somewhere, someone is making a choice about whether or not to buy your wine. Hopefully they, and many more, choose to do so.

But there are going to be some that decide against it for various reasons. So how about not shooting the messenger for highlighting those reasons?

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Waxsplaining – Let’s make enjoying wine harder!

Last night I attempted to enjoy a bottle of wine at dinner with my wife.

Wax capsule

I eventually succeeded and the wine, a super cool bottle of Old Vine Colombard from stellar South African producer Ian Naudé, was delicious. Lovely peach and citrus notes with a creamy, textured mouthful, lively acidity and a long stony finish. It went exquisitely well with the complex flavors of the Indian dishes we had.

Fabulous wine. But the only spoiler and what will keep me from buying this wine again was how much of an ordeal it was to open the damn bottle.

Because of blasted wax!

Now we know the old trick. The same one you see repeated in the 10 million plus results for Googling “how to open waxed wine bottle” and countless YouTube videos. So like I’ve done many times before with many other wax sealed bottles, I took out my old trusty waiter’s friend corkscrew to screw straight through the wax.

The worm went fine into the cork but the problem came when I tried to use the hinge to pull it out. The teeth of the hinge kept slipping and failing to get a good grip on the lip. And when we did get something of a grip, it was tough getting sufficient leverage to get the cork (apparently a dense agglomerate as an MW informed me) through the wax. Both my wife and I made several attempts, trying with both hinges from different angles, as evidence by the skid marks.

And despite the worries expressed in tweets like the reply to Angela, this wasn’t our first rodeo and my MIT-trained wife is most assuredly aware of Archimedes.

However it wasn’t Archimedes trying to screw us out of enjoying a good bottle of wine.

We eventually overcame our nemesis by chipping away at the top of the wax. Then that same trusty waiter’s friend which has served us well in battles against plastic corks and other bottles was able to relieve the cork of its post so we could finally enjoy the spoils of our victory. Only after 10 minutes and while our food was getting cold.

But, hey, as Master of Wine Greg Sherwood (whose fascinating review of this wine actually prompted me to seek it out) noted, no pain, no gain.

But, really, why in the world does enjoying wine have to be painful?

Why do we expect consumers to tolerate this? Why are we asking them to spend time fussing around, hoping they have the right corkscrew? While as a wine geek, I’ve got drawers full of them, how many different corkscrews do we think regular consumers have? Are we really expecting them to go through several trying to open just one bottle?

Or port tongs?

Now, yes, there is the well-known somm trick of warming up the wax first with warm water. I certainly could have done that.

Though, seriously, WHY are we expecting consumers to want to do this?

Why are we asking this of them? Why are we putting extra tolls or “effort taxes” on our product that we’re expecting consumers to happily pay? And then come back for more?

And what makes this even more bizarre is that the oft-used defense of wax’s eye-catching presentation had no role in this scenario. While I suppose I could have looked more closely at the photo in Sherwood’s review, I didn’t know this bottle was sealed with wax. I bought it online, sight unseen like I do with now the vast majority of my wine purchases. The packaging had zero influence on my decision to buy. Instead it was…

A.) An intriguing review by an expert.
B.) A producer with a stellar reputation who I have been wanting to try.
C.) A super cool story of an old vine vineyard with a variety that I’ve never had a quality example of before.

Those were the factors that made the sale. Not the packaging. Having a wax capsule did nothing to help this producer sell his wine to me. But I’ll tell you, it is certainly going to make future sales harder.

Simply because wax makes enjoying the wine harder.

With all the wonderful, interesting and exciting wines out there, why do I need to fuss with the frustration of wax? And I’m certainly not the only consumer having these thoughts. But take a look at my Twitter thread from last night and see how many folks in the industry respond. Especially this lovely example of “Waxsplaining.”

You see, apparently any consumer’s frustration with dealing with wax capsules is merely just a testament to their lack of knowledge. Yes, that’s the answer. It’s not the packaging’s fault. It’s just that the consumers are too stupid to be worthy enough to enjoy it!

Good grief!

Please, wine producers. Step back and think about this.

Think about what you are asking consumers. Think about what “effort tax” (and apparently “intelligence test”) you’re asking consumers to pay just to have the privilege of enjoying your wine.

Do you really want to make consumers struggle and wonder if it’s worth it before they even have that first sip? Do you really want doubt and regretting their purchase to be swirling around their thoughts while they are pouring that first glass?

We haven’t even gotten into issues of accessibility with how difficult wax capsules are for consumers with arthritis and other issues. Think of the needless barrier that the decision to use wax creates for those consumers. And for what? What really is being gained here?

Do you think that any minuscule help that using wax may have had in getting you that initial sale will be worth what future sales those negative experiences end up costing you?

Because what value is making a kick-ass wine, if consumers have to fight with pain in the ass packaging just to enjoy it?

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Should the Wine Industry Boycott Texas?

How should the wine industry respond to Texas’s new abortion ban?

Source: Wikimedia Commons from User: AnonMoos based on image by Darwinek. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

Should consumers and buyers avoid purchasing Texas wine? Should tourists thinking about visiting cross it off their list? (Considering the state’s COVID situation that might be wise for a multitude of reasons.)

What about the wineries across the globe, from California to Australia and Europe, long attracted to Texas’s sizable and growing market of wine drinkers? Should they tell their wholesalers or importers to stop knocking on the door of Texas’s numerous steakhouses?

How about the sommeliers and other industry wonks who descend every year (pandemic permitting) to the TEXSOM conference and wine awards? With the next conference coming up soon in November, their various social media channels have so far been quiet about the storm brewing in their backyard.

And for those of us in the wine media, there could be a lot of personal dilemmas if next year’s Wine Media Conference, ran by Zephyr Conferences, ends up being in Texas Hill Country. Same with the upcoming Slow Wine tour.

What should the wine industry do? More importantly, what are you going to do?

These aren’t easy questions.

Because for all but the most polarized among us, there aren’t easy answers. You can’t say simply “Oh I’m Pro-Life so I’m going to support Texas” or “I’m Pro-Choice so boycott.” Just as people’s own views on abortion and choice are often nuanced, so too are the many factors at play in how the wine industry should respond to Texas’s abortion ban.

While clearly stating his stance, Dennis Lapuyade of Artisanswiss help push this conversation forward with a recent tweet.

In the thread that follows, there are a lot of good points made by others about the value of boycotts in general and the merits of “punishing” people for the actions of state representatives that they may not even support or voted for. Whether you agree or disagree, those are points worth discussing.

Can you dismiss boycotts as ineffective or “performative outrage?”

Rugby badge protest

An Anti-Springbok (rugby) Tour protest badge from 1981. Source: Auckland War Memorial Museum. Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0

For every history-making example of the Montgomery bus boycotts and actions against apartheid, there are dozen more Chick-fil-A, SoulCycle, Keurig, Nike and Pepsi boycotts that went nowhere.

However, at the heart of every call to boycott, regardless of the cause, is a fundamental desire of people to want to do something. To find some way to get their voices heard. It is in our nature to chafe at feeling powerless and so the call to simply act, and not stand on the sidelines, resonates deeply.

The wine industry is not immune to those impulses and, if anything, the experiences of the past months, years and decades have only enhanced their resonance.

From Black Lives Matter to economic equity and the climate crisis, that chafing against accepting powerlessness will only grow stronger. That urge to speak out and be heard will only echo louder. So despite how uncomfortable these conversations may be, we have to have them. We have to participate. We have to acknowledge the voices speaking, engage them and listen.

But for the pro-boycott crowd, there is a crux in the harm that small businesses could see.

This is particularly sharp during a time when many restaurants and wineries are still trying to recover from the COVID crisis. Everyone wants to support small businesses but how do we juggle all these good intentions?

Sure, you can try to avoid compounding the injuries to the “innocent” by interrogating every Texas winery, restaurant, tour operator and hospitality venue you do business with about their personal politics and stance on abortion. But who wants to actually do that?

For as uncomfortable as the questions about the wine industry boycotting Texas may be, the prospects of sitting down with people to have a sincere and productive conversation about abortion and politics are beyond pale. These are conversations that few want to have with answers that likely even fewer, on either side of the issue, want to hear.

That’s because it’s hard to talk about this without losing the nuances.

The nuances that shape our perspectives and keep us from being robotic or polarized. The very nuances that make us human.

It is the saddest irony that a topic about human life and choice encourages so many to choose to look past the humanity of each other.

Still, that doesn’t mean we can give up. Do nothing. Stay silent. Reality and the world around us won’t let us sit on the sideline and hope that “the messy stuff” will pass.

As an industry, we need to have these conversations about what’s going on in Texas and how each and every one of us is going to respond to it. Folks will plant their flags and have their reasons. Others will support or oppose those reasons.

I just hope that in all of this we don’t overlook and neglect those nuances.

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