What Happened to the Moderates in Wine Country?
Today, Jeff Lefevere of Good Grape wrote an interesting post entitled, Where Does Elitism Come From in the Wine Industry? The push and pull of elitism and populism is one of the most difficult dichotomies that the wine industry faces. It manifests itself in every aspect of the business, from production to marketing/sales. I think that Jeff illuminates the opposing, incompatible forces on both sides of this debate quite well.
On the one hand, there are the populists, typified by the Olive Garden Restaurant. The Olive Garden’s management team recently won the Wine Enthusiast’s Person(s) of the Year Award for essentially popularizing mass produced wine to their consumers. There is reason to be skeptical that the populist movement that Olive Garden has initiated will eventually lead to higher end wine consumers. After all, a lot of people start with White Zinfandel and remain in that market demographic for a lifetime.
On the other hand, there are the elitists that make wine unapproachable to the masses. As Jeff points out, these are the Sommeliers and Wine Directors at fancy restaurants, and wealthy collectors. These individuals turn up their nose at anyone who cannot recite the temperature patterns in Bordeaux for any given year.
So where is the middle ground for the moderates; the wine lovers who look for good values but also appreciate excellence on special occasions? This sane group is under attack from both sides. Populists denounce them as snobs because they realize the difference between a drinkable wine and an outstanding one. Elitists scoff at them because they see value for what it is: a favorable relation between price and quality.
Polarization is one of those things that unfortunately go hand in hand with human society. It is easier to attack the opposing side of view than it is to pursue a reasonable reconciliation of views. Ultimately, both the populists and the elitists enjoy the ancient drink made from fermented grapes. But as the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.”