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Is the Wine Writing World Out of Touch?

So where have all these wine bloggers and writers been living for the past 10 years? Under a rock?

Last week, a professor at Michigan State University named Philip Howard made the news by publishing an article with a semi-nifty interactive graphic, entitled Concentration in the U.S. Wine Industry.

The article has been tweeted, its graphics stolen and republished (usually with proper credit given to the professor), and dozens of articles have been written by bloggers and mainstream journalists about the "news" that about 50%marketshare.gif of the wine sold in America has been produced by just three large companies: E&J Gallo, Constellation, and The Wine Group. These articles range in tone from scandalized to awestruck, which prompts the question, if you write about wine and you didn't know this already, what do you imagine most of the people in America actually drink?

I've been frankly nonplussed at the reaction to this information, and somewhat dismayed at what seems to be its clear implication: namely that a lot of people writing about wine are quiet out of touch with the average wine drinker in America.

Of course, most people writing about wine aren't writing for the average wine drinker. You know, the one that buys most of their wines at the grocery store, or at chain restaurants where they eat out for dinner on occasion? These aren't the folks reading wine blogs, wine magazines, or even wine columns in newspapers.

But they are the people who keep the U.S. wine industry afloat, by buying the Arbor_Mist_Cranberry_Twist_White_Merlot_L.JPGvast majority of the wine sold in this country. The relatively more expensive stuff with hard to pronounce names that people like me drink represents only a tiny fraction of the wine consumed in this country.

Whenever I see it come across the news wires, I've been republishing the list of the top wines and wine brands consumed in restaurants around the country by volume. It's a sobering list, especially for someone who's used to paying more than $15 for a bottle of wine.

But that's what most of America is drinking, and it's all coming from these three massive conglomerates. And that should most definitely not be a surprise to anyone whose job or self-appointed role involves communicating about wine.

The failure to truly understand the nature of the U.S. wine industry for what it is: a massively industrial wine beverage market, is certainly understandable, but it is not excusable. No more so than for a politician who fails to recognize that the health care benefits and retirement plan that comes with his job in Washington bears no resemblance to what the average American can afford.

Now perhaps my fellow pundits were just taken by the neat zoomable graphics and nice diagrams that so succinctly captured this information. Perhaps the publishing of this article was just a good reminder of what people already knew, and so they felt the need to share it with their readers. But if this information really did come as a surprise, then I'd say my fellow writers need to spend a little more time in the wine aisle at the biggest supermarket they can find near them, or at the local liquor mart.

Stroll down to the section where you can find bottles of Arbor Mist, and take a bottle home for your pleasure tonight. And while you're spitting out that first mouthful into the sink, followed by the rest of the bottle, remember that for every bottle sold of your favorite small production, biodynamic, cool climate Pinot Noir made by two hipsters in a garage, there are 50,000 bottles of Cranberry Twist White Merlot consumed with pleasure in this country.

Keep writing about the good stuff for the people who care to read about it, but don't forget the big picture, folks.

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.