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06.04.2007

Bio-Organa-What? Perspective on The Modern Wine Drinker

I very nearly passed this over as a blog topic. I found it barely newsworthy, but Arthur, one of my regular readers pinged me about it the day after the story broke and I've been thinking about it off and on ever since. I've come to the conclusion that we all need the opportunity to occasionally regain perspective on the world of wine, and this recent news story provides just such an opportunity.

The story to which I refer was a little snippet from Decanter's news service which offered the results from a recent study of British wine drinkers (arguably some of the most wine savvy in the world) in whom there was a near total absence of understanding of what Biodynamic meant, and a supreme lack of interest in purchasing organic and fair trade wines.

Many of us wine lovers live in a world as foreign and bizarre to the normal wine consumer as the San Francisco Bay Area is to United States politics as a whole. It's simply a question of being in a completely separate universe. While I certainly don't assume all my readers live in that world with me, the reality is that most of you, even those of you who would consider yourselves wine amateurs know much more about wine than the "average" wine drinker in this country, and certainly, it seems, than the average UK wine drinker.

I recently spoke as part of a panel for an event put on by an organization called Wine 2.0, which consists of individuals and organizations who are trying to use the latest in technologies, many of which fall under the banner of a set of technical and social innovations collectively dubbed Web 2.0, to change the way that business is done in the wine world. The closing question to the panel I sat on was: "what do you think is the single largest opportunity in the wine business today?"

The results of this UK survey perfectly highlight my answer to that question, which I will paraphrase here for brevity.

The biggest opportunity in the wine world are the tens of millions of people who are responsible for making Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay and Beringer Vineyards White Zinfandel the most popular wines consumed in restaurants in America. They are also the people who have never tried Grenache, the people who think all Riesling is sweet, and yes, the people who have no idea what Biodynamic wine is and think that all organic wine tastes bad.

Let us not forget that these people, not just in America, but in the UK, and even in France (gasp ! did you know that 95% of the wine consumed in France is non-appellation designated table wine?), really represent the average wine drinker, and these people are the ones that drive the economic engine of the wine industry. These are the people who do not know enough (or cannot afford) to buy wine at anywhere other than a grocery store. These people are the ones that through no fault of their own are responsible for the economic crisis that the French wine industry faces, and the same ones that are responsible for creating the bug eyed monsters of the more elite wine world: the YellowTails and the Fred Franzias.

So I offer to you a challenge, one that I actively work on every time I get the chance. Do not proselytize, do not crusade, but do look for every opportunity represented by an inquisitive person, an open mind, and a budding young (or old) palate to open the doors of the wine world a little larger. There's plenty of room in here.

Comments (19)

Bertrand wrote:
06.05.07 at 2:22 AM

Hi Alder
A small correction : the wines consumed in France are 58% made of VQPRD wines, meaning AOC and VDQS wines, and the Table Wines make only 22,5% of the total. See this page with statistics on the french wine market.
http://www.mondadoripub.fr/content.asp?menu=2010004&page_id=539
Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater, the Table wines are not always that crap...You're right to point out that millions of consumers buy uninteresting wines but I'm confident that many of them will slowly but surely evolve and change. We are here for that purpose...

Erika wrote:
06.05.07 at 4:54 AM

That is why I love working in a wine shop that allows me to educate to the best of my knowledge on subjects such as organic wine, sulfites in wine, and why don't you carry 'White Zin'. We, unlike the grocery store or Cost Plus, take the time with each costomer to recommend the perfect Chilean or South African wine for every occasion. This is not a shameless plug, but just a mission statement of dedication to enlightenment in a dim world of Sutter Home drinkers.

Jack wrote:
06.05.07 at 8:20 AM

After just touring the British Isles, it's pretty sad what American wines are widely available; yep, the industrial/jug wines. Except for the biggest cities, all restaurant wine lists have 2-3 wines from all parts of the world: Chile, NZ, Argentina, USA, South Africa and Austrilia. The US wines are 1-2 cheap grocery store type wines and a zinfandel from a producer you've never heard of (and I'm sorry I didn't start writing them down). To say it was sad was an understatement.

In a country(ies) where it's hard to find organic milk or eggs, and where the organic produce looks tired rather than fresh, why would consumers seek out organic wines?

David C wrote:
06.05.07 at 8:52 AM

Amen, Alder. The sense I get is that there are a few pockets in the world where bio-organa-what is starting to be distinguished, but they get more numerous every day. As Jack points out, curiosity about "green" wine goes hand in hand with awareness of green or slow food. As that movement grows (slowly!) and people become more aware of what they put in their bodies, wine will come along with it. In the meanwhile, we cajole, we educate, we inspire, and most of all, we drink by example!

Carl wrote:
06.05.07 at 9:04 AM

It's interesting to note that here in France, organic produce has become popular and is gaining ground (so to speak) quickly. However, I have not seen any wine billing itself as such. Of course, most small vignobles would say that they are, and always have been, organic. When you grow grapes and make wine pretty much the way your great great great grandfather did, you're probably fairly organic I suppose.

I agree with Bertrand. There are worthwhile table wines in Europe which, compared to Sutter Home, are quite drinkable, (and cheaper to boot). I also agree with Jack. There are precious few California wines to be found in Europe. I've seen far more Aussie wines here than American.

To tell you the truth though, by far the biggest opportunity for elevating wine tastes and awareness is in the U.S. But it won't be easy folks. After all, it's the land of Budweiser, Gallo, Burger King, Paris Hilton, and American Idol. Obviously, high standards are not the norm. (Yeah OK, there is a version of American Idol in France too.)

Alder wrote:
06.05.07 at 9:40 AM

Bert,

I trust your data, but I swear that I read something that 90+ percent of wines consumed in France are non AOC. If you take out the VDQS wines does that make sense? I looked at the link you provided and don't see that fine of a breakdown.

And please don't take my comments as a condemnation of table wines. Some of the mass produced wines that I reference aren't that bad either, and wines like the infamous Two Buck Chuck are solely responsible for introducing whole segments of the US market to wine in the first place, so I actually hold them in some regard, if only for that.

Geoff Smith wrote:
06.05.07 at 11:24 AM

Carl,

Mas de Gourgonnier in Provence is one of many French estates promoting "agriculture biologique."

Geoff

Carl wrote:
06.05.07 at 12:33 PM

Geoff, thanks for the info. I looked at their website, which indeed features their agriculture biologuique. However, when I look at the picture of one of the bottles, I see nothing about it. Perhaps it's in very small type that I cannot make out, or maybe on the back label. Anyway, it doesn't seem to be prominent at all. That, combined with the ban on TV ads, and, from what I've seen, no in-store display ads, is going to make it difficult for the movement to gain a lot of traction. Still, just like environmentalism, humanitarianism, socialism, and many other isms, organicism should become quite popular in France.

Geoff Smith wrote:
06.05.07 at 1:36 PM

Carl,

Why you worried about whether it 'gains traction' or not? Just score a bottle and pop the cork!

Geoff

Carl wrote:
06.05.07 at 2:20 PM

Bonne idee! Tchin!

06.05.07 at 4:43 PM

Alder; the last sentence in paragraph six seems to say that these important people don't seem to know that all organic wine tastes bad. Is that what you meant?

tom merle wrote:
06.05.07 at 6:15 PM

Steve,

I don't get your reading. Alder is classifying among those who think in stereotypes consumers who believe that all organic wines taste bad, not that they don't know that such wines are "bad". You've turned around the meaning of the paragraph.

06.05.07 at 6:41 PM

If I turned it around, I apologize. The syntax was very confusing.

Jason Wax wrote:
06.05.07 at 7:08 PM

Carl,
I'm surprised he didn't chime in, but Bertrand had a great post back in February on his blog discussing wine shops in Paris that specialize in natural wine.
Here's the link: http://www.wineterroirs.com/2007/02/paris_cavistes.html

I was originally alerted to Bertrand's post via Jamie Goode's blog, and Jamie has written quite a bit about natural wines, most of which are French.
Here's the link:
http://www.wineanorak.com/blog/labels/natural%20wine.html

Alder wrote:
06.05.07 at 10:26 PM

Steve,

Oops. Missing a word there that would help. Thanks for pointing that out. Grammatically funky. But fixed now.

Carl wrote:
06.06.07 at 12:50 AM

Jason,

Excellent. Thanks for the heads up. Alas, I'm 400km from Paris. I see the City of Light twice a month from the TGV as I speed by on my way to and from the airport. I guess it's a little ironic that I live in, arguably, the greatest wine producing region in the world, but I'm a bit disconnected from the wine retailing business in France. I drive by the vineyards every day, but Bordeaux is one hour away, and at $8.00 a gallon for gas, I don't get there as often as I wish. Alors, tant pis. Next time I'm in Paris though, I will definitely look up one of those shops. Thanks.

ryan wrote:
06.06.07 at 3:27 AM

The truth is when I worked in my wine shop back in MN, the people who made me money did not know these terms or people:
Robert Parker
Wine Spectator
Bio-dynamic
malo-lactic
tannin
about any varietal other than Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot, and Zinfandel (most considered these to be brands not grapes)
residual sugar
appellation
and many more.

We're "geeks" who live in a bubble, and while we might shape some of the wine industries trends due to our voices, as Alder points out these are the people "who are responsible for making Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay and Beringer Vineyards White Zinfandel the most popular wines consumed in restaurants in America"

These are the people that make (most)retailers money.Lots of money.Oh and they currently don't give a crap about Direct shipping. They just want to stop at the store on the way home to buy a bottle of wine for dinner.

Wilf K. wrote:
06.06.07 at 9:28 PM

Alder, help is on the way with all this yellow "wine" A new yellow has come to town and sure to get some attention. Have a peek at my last post.

Jennifer wrote:
10.11.07 at 8:14 PM

I found your website while googling for an organic wine to send to some friends in England. We were supposed to vacation with them in Aquitaine this summer but couldn't make it. I'd like to send them an anniversary present that says how much we would've liked to be there, say 2 bottles of something organic and not too sweet. I know this is not a commercial site, but I'd appreciate suggestions.
Thanks!
j

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