I love the adage, "If I ask you what time it is don't tell me how the watch works." And I confess that I am as guilty as any wine expert for launching into a lesson on history, geology and fermentation sciences when asked the simple question, "What would be a nice wine for my dinner tonight?"
This being said I think it is high time that the wine industry and our community of wine experts, educators, consultants and sommeliers take the point of this saying to heart. Some people are really curious and passionate about understanding minute details about wines: where they come from, how they are made, how made them and how to best describe their experience with fantastic descriptive details of flora, fauna, numerical ratings and god only knows what else. This is well and good if the person or people you are dealing with are on the same plane. The problem is that many people simply don't give a rat's butt about all of the details and trivia about wine. They just want something that tastes good without all of the hoopla and without the inference that they must become more "educated" before they can enjoy a nice glass of wine. And things have been getting worse as of late.
Over the past few decades the missive for many wine pundits has been to "educate consumers to appreciate better wines." Behind this noble effort is a misguided premise that "better" wine is dry, intense, high in alcohol and often emitting smells that can be likened to Carmen Miranda's head gear, cat's pee (seriously), old socks or wet dogs. The bottom-line for all of this a covert agenda of "let's get more consumers to spend more money on wines they may not like." I we turn the tables and have the wine industry become as passionate about understanding and embracing wine consumers as we are about learning and disseminating wine trivia.
My prediction for 2011 is that more and more wine authorities and educators will finally take up the practice of learning to listen to consumers and back off on the inappropriate assumption that all consumers want to be educated about wine. And ditto for the incorrect assumption that all consumers are always searching for new wine experiences. Many are, and the Year of the Wine Consumer is not about stifling wine education or suppressing the desire of many to constantly explore new wines. The Year of the Wine Consumer is more about finding out where a consumer want to go and then getting them to the products that will delight them without the unnecessary baggage of intimidation, arrogance and misassumptions about what they really like and want from a wine.
To make this prediction a reality two things need to happen. First, wine consumers need to have a stronger voice and take on a powerful posture that their personal preferences count. This means to demand from the wine people you encounter that they cater you're your needs, not the greater glory of Bacchus and the other false gods of wine.
Secondly, the wine community; educators, mavens, sommeliers, and experts, need to learn to listen for what consumers are really asking for. Would you like to be taken on a wild journey or stick to something close to home, warm and comfortable? We would become focused on asking, "What do I need to know about you?" so we can help custom tailor a wine selection that will rock your world. Our mission for the "Year of the Wine Consumer" is to get the attention focused on the consumers' wants and needs with the option to go for a ride still open and available to anyone who cares.
If you are a wine consumer and like the idea of the wine industry being of better service to you here is how you can help. My partner, Dr. Virginia Utermohlen MD, and I are conducting a survey in conjunction with the Consumer Wine Awards at Lodi and we want you to participate. It will probably take about 20 minutes as this is not silly cliché-riddled throwaway project. There is some serious science going on behind the scenes and we are really working hard to get people who are tired of the confusion, overwhelm and lack of personalized service when looking for help with your wine selections. Please take the 20 minutes and forward this piece on to anyone and everyone you know who enjoys wine but is tired of the ordeal and expense of trying to find wines that suit your personal preferences.
Help us make 2011 the Year of the Wine Consumer by going to www.consumerwineawards.com and selecting the link: Take the NEW 2011 Consumer Survey. And then send this along to every wine drinker you know so they can do the same. Let them know that the wine industry is finally ready to listen and that the new wine education mission is to learn how to be more of service and become better listeners.