Guest Post: Blue Collar Wine, Lesson One

By Damien Wilson, PhD, Hamel Family Chair in Wine Business at Sonoma State University

Spier? Then Botabox… SkinnyGirl… And, yes: Moscato! I’d found wine diva heaven. On hearing about Cathy Huyghe’s adventure into the joy that consumers found in wine, I knew that the era of oratory vinogurgitation was on the wane. Finally, someone influential taking the opportunity to communicate with people who actually drink wine for the enjoyment of it. As a born-again lover of wine, on reading Cathy’s adventure into wine democracy, I recalled the best lesson I ever learned about the wine consumer:

As a 23-year old, I was just another wine business student with more ego than brains. All I ever wanted to explore were the hedonic heights of wine connoisseurship. Any suggestion that a wine be made in batches larger than a Burgundian barrel was to commit oeno-sacrilige. The whole idea of a ‘reliable wine brand’ went against my evangelical vinous hedonism.

But that all changed when I realised the pain that my vino-hedonism caused the people I held dearest…

My wine business mentor is Professor Larry Lockshin. All those years ago, he had just received his PhD. He wasn’t Professor Lockshin. To the wine business student, he was just Larry… . And in this era, Larry suffered the indignity of just being a university professor. For a wine business student, Larry was just another guy preaching from a text-book. He obviously knew nothing about the wine sector. What I knew as a sommelier at a classy restaurant was far more important than what Larry was preaching about wine consumers.

What the… ? Did he just say that ‘Jacob’s Creek’ was an iconic wine brand?

Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Ohhhh, Larry. “Who’d drink Jacob’s Creek!!!”

Larry shot back without blinking an eye: “It’s that sort of attitude that will kill the progress of the wine sector.”

The room went silent.

What the…. ? I was stunned. How could he say that? Jacob’s Creek was as close to ubiquitous as a wine brand got. Seriously? He was obviously deluded.

By the end of that week, I had forgotten about Larry’s mistaken advice. Nice try, professor. I know better… As the weekend arrived, I was preparing for a barbecue at a friend’s house for watching the football. I carefully went through my wine collection, and was cautious to select a wine that was obscure enough to be impressive to my sport nut friends, and yet known well enough to ensure they recognised how good my taste in wine was…. I was very clever like that…

I arrived at the barbecue, brandishing my wine like a badge. The host made all the necessary noises about how good the wine must be, and how everyone is looking forward to drinking it. <high-5.. Go me!> By the mid-point of the match, I’d all but consumed my wine. Surprisingly, a bag-in-box next to my almost-empty bottle was being guzzled by the others like it was the greatest wine ever invented… Didn’t they know that box wine is crap…

My host asked who needed a drink?

With many attendees being watered by this bag-in-box wine, I piped up that I wouldn’t mind being refreshed. I saw the blood drain from my host’s face… He told me that they only had ‘crap’ wine left to drink. Perhaps I’d prefer beer?

My lingering memory of this experience was the feeling that I was left out. Twelve months earlier, I’d have been just as happy to have brought the box wine. But suddenly, my friends became silent at the mere mention that I drink the same wine as them… What had I become in their eyes? I began to realise the challenge that the wine sector was facing.

“Mate, any wine you offer me is a wine I get to share with my mates.”

I remembered Larry’s words. And remembered that wine is made to be enjoyed.

So, I no longer yearn for the greatest-ever vinous experience. Sure, I’m as happy as the next wine junkie to attend a masterclass on 1982 Salon, but if you give me a glass of Mateus, [yellowtail], moscato or Apothic as a host, I’ll be a happy guest, and simply honoured to enjoy it with you.

May ever the blue-collar wine lover be.