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04.09.2006

What's Wrong With America?

tv_show.jpgSo I'm sitting in our rented apartment in Buenos Aires, waiting for Ruth to come back from an afternoon's shopping, so we can go out and consume massive quantities of beef and red wine for the fourth glorious night in a row. Don't feel like reading, so I turn on the TV and what should I find but a show called Vinos de Altura, which as far as I can tell is primarily wine and tangentially about food. How cool is that? OK. So we've got those kind of shows too, but it gets better.

Now they're interviewing the winemaker of Finca Bonita, Luis Asmet, about the details of the harvest. They're also interviewing a frikking lab technician, Anibal Monjes, about the chemical analysis of the wine and then about the olives that the winery also grows for making olive oil.

I'm far from fluent in Spanish, but I speak enough to know that this is not some wine country lifestyle show that has a ready-for-her-close-up cute hostess who just loves wine tasting and the wind in her hair, this is a show about the DETAILS of winemaking. These people are talking about PH levels and finer points of the sorting table and destemming. They're discussing the relationship between the weather during the growing season and the flavors of the wine. This is the real deal.

Why is it that America doesn't have a show like this? How is it that we must settle for stuff that rarely rises above the level of barely digestible fluff? And yes I've seen at least one episode of every spot they've got on the Fine Living Network and the Food Network.

This darn thing is even sponsored by the tourism board of Cafayete, Argentina where the winery is. How clever.

C'mon Napa, Sonoma, Columbia River Valley, Long Island, Santa Barbara, Oregon, why don't you pony up a little cash and get us a show on any network that will take us? As if Riedel wouldn't fall all over itself to be the official tasting glass of the damn thing.

I'll tell you what's wrong with America. There's a chasm between the people who read the glossy wine magazines and the people out there who are sheepishly but passionately ordering a bottle of White Zinfandel with their pizza in Des Moines. People would love to learn more about wine if they could only have a chance to do it without the intimidation and occasional pretension of the major wine rags and without the soft-focus Martha Stewart version of the wine country.

INSTRUCTIONS FOR READERS:

Print this page and mail it to every TV executive you know with the following note:

"I don't know this crackpot, but he might be onto something..."

Comments (19)

Terry Hughes wrote:
04.09.06 at 8:18 AM

This is about as good a diagnosis of "what's wrong with America", wine-wise, as I've seen. Great post!

I envy you all that Pampas-fed beef...clog those arteries, hombre!

Jeff wrote:
04.09.06 at 12:45 PM

Great article. I was especially intrigued by the mention of beef and red wine for the 4th night! How did you happen to come to know Buenos Aires? Any tips for an interested fellow traveller? Thanks, Jeff

Martijn Samsom wrote:
04.09.06 at 3:03 PM

Good post. There used to be a program on PBS a number of years ago called the Beer Hunter. A great show about brewers, breweries and beer. Maybe you can pitch a similar idea...the Wine Hunter or something like it. A show about wine making and the people behind the wine. Speaking of Argentina, I had a wonderful time there a few years ago. I too fell in love with the beef and superb Malbec wines.

Peter Conway wrote:
04.09.06 at 7:11 PM

Great, great idea. So needed. I'm talking to a producer friend and let's see what happens.

Jack wrote:
04.09.06 at 8:09 PM

Yeah, yeah, I'm thinking a cute, perky blonde Master Sommelier interviewing the same Photogenic Female "Winemaker" almost every week. They talk about how wonderful every wine from the Ranch of a Dead Celebrity is, along with numerous close-ups on the beautiful new Family wine labels. Amazingly, these wines all pair perfectly with all categories of food except french fries and turkey vultures.

Then, an impromptu visit to the natural caves of the area where wines are perfectly cellared for generations, er, I mean five minutes.

Finally a stop at the Gonzo Family Wines tasting room in Healdsburg where they repeatedly mention that they are discounting Wine Club membership 20% to all viewers who call the 800 number this evening.

After a commercial for a winery with a colorful leaf and a second with a cute, cuddly animal devouring wine from a can, there's a preview of next week's episode where we learn how striking architecture makes the wines taste better at Opus One. Tastes include Opus Minus Three, their Chateau d'Yquem-like dessert wine along with a round-up of delicious industrial wines found in every convenience store in the country.

This screams Food Network!

Wino Bob wrote:
04.10.06 at 4:59 AM

It is simple numbers for the TV industry.
There is not enough of an audience to make it financially viable to have a show so in depth. Their revenue is derived from the larger mass of casual wine drinkers that would tune out if it were to technical.

Jathan wrote:
04.10.06 at 9:19 AM

It's coming.

Wino Bob is right, this wouldn't appeal to a mass T.V. viewing audience in the U.S. so the numbers don't make sense.

However, thanks to the internet and things like the ipod video, distribution is right at our fingertips. Now it's just up to some talented kid with the same vision and drive to execute.

I have a feeling it's really close.

Mariëlla wrote:
04.11.06 at 3:28 AM

And it's the same in Europe too. No decent, informative shows on TV on wine (at least not in Holland). Not even a good, general-consumer oriented printed magazine (in Dutch at least). That's the reason I'm a blogger!

Francisco wrote:
04.11.06 at 5:45 PM

Right on! Yes! I agree with the last comment with the fact that this is certainly the best summing up of the sad, sorry treatment wine programming gets in America. I am a native Argentine and I must preface my comment with the fact that Argentina is not paradise and the point of my comment isn't to sneer, bur rather observe this phenomenon alongside you.

Nobody could have better expressed the wine culture rift better than you. I don't understand why mainstream society views the enjoyment of wine through one of two lenses: 1) a pretentious hobby for golf buddies (expensive labels with 97 point ratings!) or 2) Some pretentious social habit for 50's style "well-cultured" housewives that as you hilariously observed, enjoy their wine coolers and grilled hot dogs.

I am no sociologist, but I don't think it's a longshot to see that the way wine enjoyment is perceived may also share some parallels with other perceptions typical of parochial, cold-war attitudes. It's funny, but in my country, if I tell the butcher that I hold a graduate degree, he asks in which field; when asked the same in a similar situation here, my answer merits a reticent stare that creeps me out, as if my degree was "unpatriotic" or something of the sort. But anyway, in terms of wine, I can definitely tell you that in Argentina, one of those candy cane wine shows that are made "safe" and pre-stripped of any possible information and culture would be called a lack of respect towards the public...lack of respect to the public, can you imagine? Although Argentina is far from ideal, for some reason, being qualified in something and talking about what matters is actually respected and preferred. There has to be some way to address this here and at least try to break down this huge wall...I'm sick of getting stared at with one of those "you're some hippie, elitist communist" look when I have to decline a glass of Yellow Tail.

Let's get wine programming like this for the US, because there's no valid reason why we don't deserve it over here.

Capt. Bill wrote:
04.12.06 at 11:17 AM

There are some shows about wine on the Fine Living Network (FLN) - Pairings with Andrea (Immer) isn't a bad show, just no one watches. http://www.fineliving.com/fine/pairings_with_andrea/

Alder wrote:
04.12.06 at 1:28 PM

Thanks Capt. Bill,

I've seen segments of Andrea's show, and while I'm a fan of her work, these shows don't quite fit what I would have in mind.

Tracy Wallace wrote:
04.12.06 at 9:12 PM

I would love a show like the one you saw but, at this time I don't think it would hold the attention of the masses. I teach a wine career class at San Diego State University and your jaw would drop to see how many 40 and 50 year olds have never had a wine outside of California Cabernet yet want to open up a wine bar or retail shop.

Maybe one day...I hope, I hope.

Alder wrote:
04.12.06 at 9:22 PM

Tracy,

Thanks for your comments. With regards to the masses, which both you and other commenters mention, I really don't think a show needs to appeal to the masses. I think the problem right now is that the only wine shows on TV are PRECISELY geared to the masses. These are the same people who want to see a Food Network show on making your own quick fudge truffles using cool whip, Hersheys syrup, and two other prepackaged ingredients. I have nothing against this in principle, but I do stridently maintain that there is an audience out there, perhaps small, but certainly statistically and economically significant, that would allow a TV network to profitably produce an intelligent wine show that aimed higher.

Tracy Wallace wrote:
04.12.06 at 9:46 PM

Maybe your editor at GuildedFork.com would be interested in creating a podcast with this higher aim.

Malcolm wrote:
04.13.06 at 2:35 AM

I think a wine show that did not appeal to "the masses" could do rather well.

In these days of market segmentation the raw numbers of viewers are not so important as the type of viewer - in my experience of working at tastings here in London most wine lovers are pretty well heeled individuals.

ABC1 viewers are the just the target audience that TV executives want to reach. And as one of your other readers pointed out companies such as Riedel would fall over each other to get involved in a quality programme that actually talked about wine.

Set against that on satellite here there is a wine channel - three series repeated endlessly - which got the dubious distinction of having the lowest audience figures in the UK (in fact so low that it frequently did not register at all on their scale, and so got a zero score!)

J. Kelly wrote:
04.17.06 at 12:44 PM

What's wrong with the American attitude toward wine? Where do I start? I could rant on this topic for hours.

The bottom line is that everything here in America these days is about bread and circuses. Where even news is viewed as entertainment, it would never occur to a TV executive to produce a show about wine that is primarily informative. Even if such a show were to pop up, I fear it would fail because the media-comsumming public has been conditioned to react only to celebrity and drama.

So here's my pitch for the perfect wine show: scour the country for America's Next Top Winemaker! A group of wannabes are selected to live at a Napa Valley winery for a harvest and produce a wine. The have to source the grapes and direct all the work. We get to peek at their lives while they get wet and dirty and struggle with their lack of Spanish, and then interact after work -- drinking, eating, having sex, sleeping, getting on each others' nerves, revealing their deepest fears and shortcomings. Someone will have to deal with the death of a loved one, someone else will be trying to overcome alcoholism, and someone else will be deeply religious.

All the while they will be watched over by a panel of celebrities and experts. If any of the participants picks too early, alienates the grower, blows a lab test, hooks up for a pumpover to the wrong tank, sucks in a tank, etc. the judges will make them pack up and leave. Those that survive the process and complete their wine will have to design a label, package their product and present a marketing campaign to the judges. And the final kicker is -- the judges will pick America's Next Top Winemaker without ever tasting the wines.

Think this will sell?

Jathan wrote:
04.17.06 at 12:47 PM

I told you it was close.....

http://winexpression.com/2006/04/17/winexpression-episode-1/

I had this idea about three years ago, around the time I started my blog, and I always figured I would use the blog as a means of distribution. I finally followed through on my wine show idea, and uploaded it to my site today. I'm excited about it, and relieved that it's finally done.

It takes a ton of work to produce a show, and it still isn't perfect in my eyes, but it does capture what I personally wanted to see in a wine show.

Andrea Immer's show is nice, but I get frustrated with it's "simplified" approach. "It's easy... So simple...."
I guess my show is the exact opposite. Wine is an amazingly complex beverage that takes an enormous amount of time to really appreciate and understand, and I think a wine show should help people understand that. That was my goal anyway, I don't know if my first attempt got that point through, but that was the vision.

Alder wrote:
04.17.06 at 2:52 PM

John,

Thanks for the comments. Actually a show like this has already been produced, and it's either shooting right now or has finished and will air soon. My understanding is that it's very much as you described. Might sell, but my understanding is that it's gonna be fairly lowbrow....

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