Is the wine world shutting you out?

Lose the mystery, keep the magic.


Can you imagine going to a restaurant and ordering food you’d never heard of, shelling out for a theatre ticket without having some idea of what the show was about, or choosing a dress you didn’t even like? Of course not. But that’s what happens when it comes to wine. Sadly, most people haven’t a clue what they’re buying; the price tag, an attractive label or a dodgy promotion usually sways the deal. Us Snoothers, by definition, know about wine – we even read about it – but if you ever have doubts about Joe or Josephine Public’s lack of wine knowledge, check out the guys drifting along the wine shelves in your local supermarket gazing aimlessly into a wall of wine. 
All aspects of the wine world must take the blame for making wine so inaccessible. If you ask a soccer fan about “4-4-2” he’ll explain this ‘team formation’ with gusto but if that same fan asks about wine, chances are he’ll walk away totally confused as the vinous door is slammed in his face amidst a torrent of impenetrable, members-only gobbledegook that has changed little in decades.
Criticism often falls at the door of the journalist but the newspaper, online, magazine, television and radio commissioning editors should also take a hit as they’re all too often satisfied with new scripts that are not a million miles from those written twenty years ago. The result is that wine is missing out on new consumers who start contemplating suicide at the mention of ‘terroir’, malolactic fermentation or yeast autolysis.
As a consequence, we’ve seen wine columns and newspapers reduced, and radio and television slots cut drastically over recent years (especially in my home, the UK). Sadly, this stark reality hasn’t made the wine world sit up and take notice. 
Whilst the wine world has hardly moved, other businesses have moved swiftly with the times. The fashion industry reinvents itself every year and goes out of its way every season to explain the latest lines, colours and cuts; all sold in great looking, customer-friendly shops. The result is that we all rush down to our nearest shopping centre to grab a piece of the latest style, cash in hand. Wine world, please note!
Even professions once seen as ‘establishment’ are now at the cutting edge. Lawyers, accountants and bankers realised long ago that they had to change to survive. With my corporate speaking hat on I regularly visit prestigious city offices from London to Sydney and I’m always impressed how these so called stuffy professions have wised up on in-house media, PR. and marketing to promote themselves and their image, ensuring that their clients keep rolling in and their fees grow even faster. There’s no equivalent of a five quid bottle of wine in their world.
Or maybe I’m being naïve. Maybe it’s all a cunning strategy. Confused customers won’t question wine quality; quality that’s been squeezed bigtime over the years by an average bottle price that’s still stuck around the eight dollar (£5.50) mark. When you consider that in the UK, each bottle carries roughly $2.82 (£2 ) of Government Duty and 20% Value Added Tax (VAT), not to mention ever increasing production costs, transport, labeling, the cork and bullish (often over 30 per cent) supermarket profits, it doesn’t take a genius to see that there’s not much left for the wine out of a fiver. It’s pennies, not pounds folks!
So, after this rant you can imagine how cock-a-hoop I was when I discovered that the advertising legend that is Sir John Hegarty stood up at the Wine and Spirit Trade Association conference in 2014 and tore strips off the wine world: “…the industry is fragmented, confusing and impenetrable”, he announced. Oouucchh and hurray. If you don’t know who Sir John is, he’s the man behind iconic adverts such as Levi 501’s launderette advert and Johnny Walker’s ‘keep walking’ campaign. So, he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to marketing. He also knows about wine - he has a vineyard in the Languedoc region in the south of France.
Sir John really climbed in, saying that he’d never seen such an industry with no brand leaders to shape a coherent message or one where 90% of its consumers do not fully understand quality. “The trouble…is that to the average consumer it’s a complete mystery”, he concluded. Hegarty’s answer to vitalizing the wine world? “Lose the mystery, keep the magic”. Bravo!
I’m trying Sir John….honest. Hosting wine events, I know it’s possible to see audiences enter with wine-fear trepidation and leave talking freely, openly and intelligently about wine. Okay, my Become a Wine Expert in 60 Minutes title maybe tongue in chee,  but it’s amazing how much you can learn in such a short time -- if as Sir John suggests, you keep it simple, lose the mystery, and polish the magic.
That said, I’ve been plugging away for years without scratching the surface. The wine world has hardly changed. But I’m still optimistic that one day somebody will change things. In the meantime I’ll just keep on truckin’. The next stops on my journey? Sydney, Brisbane, Edinburgh and London, with corkscrew in hand and Hegarty’s words ringing in my ear. 
John Downes, one of only 340 Masters of Wine in the world and is a speaker, television and radio broadcaster and writer on wine. Check out John’s website at Follow him on Twitter @JOHNDOWNESMW

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: Beckmesser
    1973690 16

    Certainly we've ordered food we'd never ehard of. The moment you visit a culture you've never been in, whether Italy, South Africa or China there are foods--often quite delicious--we'd never heard of. The same goes for wine. unless you keep exploring, you miss out on some of the world's best flavors

    Apr 08, 2016 at 10:34 AM

Add a Comment

Search Articles

Best Wine Deals

See More Deals

Snooth Media Network