11 Things You Need to Know Now About Wine Criticism and the Wine Industry
Is technology, the emergence of the Millennial wine drinker and changing attitudes toward wine fundamentally altering the world of wine criticism and wine buying in such a way that we are seeing a wholesale change in the way we understand, buy and appreciate wine?
This would be the topic at hand in a number of articles issued of late by some very astute writers and observers of the American wine industry. If I am to believe many of them, this is exactly what is happening. Below are examples of this recent splurge of words on the topic, with one dissenter thrown in for good measure.
The Wine World is Changing and Some Wine Writers Are losing It (influence, that is) Colorado Wine Press
Want to Know the Future of Wine Writing? Look at the Present SteveHeimoff.com
Wine Criticism Faces a Shifting Future Jon Bonne, SF Chronicle
Gary Vaynerchuk and Joe Roberts on the Wine Media Revolution 1Winedude.com (listen at 20 minutes into the video)
How Wine Criticism is Changing David White, Palate Press
How could most of these very smart folks have either gotten it wrong, misinterpreted the industry, missed the obvious or over emphasized the trivial?
Much of what has recently been written is a reaction to the moves at Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate: Parker’s pull back from reviews, the installation of a new California critic, the sale of the Wine Advocate and the California critic’s resignation. Such moves at a high-profile wine publication spurs thinkers to think about what it all means. Combine this natural tendency with the sea change in publishing where business models have been up-ended by technological changes, as well as with the recognition that a damn big group of consumers (Millennials) has been identified and you have occasion for considering where the waves are taking the wine commentary and wine consuming industries.
But back to how they have it all wrong.
There are some points to be made about wine criticism, wine journalism, wine consumers and technology that need to be made and need to be explored. And they are important points if you are in the industry. To make this short (something I often have trouble doing), I’m just going to try to respond to much of what I’m reading of late with what I think are obvious points.
1. The Wine Critic is here to stay and will be the primary guide for serious wine buyers because they serve a critical purpose: People want and need to know how to spend their wine dollars amidst a sea of wine…just like they have for the past 30 years.
2. Ratings (including the 100 point type) are here to stay and will be the primary way wine critics communicate their recommendations because they serve a critical purpose: Serious wine lovers need an efficient way to compare wines they may want to spend their wine dollars on.
3. Social Media has done very little to change the way the wine industry communicates with their customers, despite opinion to the contrary.
4. The impact of Millennials on the wine industry has been minimal, at best.
5. Millennial wine buying behavior isn’t much different from prior generations and we can expect them to grow up into wine consumers that look a great deal like their predecessors.
6. Genuine “authority” within the wine writing/wine commentary community is earned, not launched. You can see that authority best on display in the usual places: Wine Magazines, established wine newsletters, daily newspapers.
7. A wine rated highly on the 100 point scale by a genuine wine authority still gets a boost in sales and sometimes becomes highly allocated, no matter what folks are saying about the 100 point rating system.
8. The total time and effort it takes to attract enough friends and followers to a wine business’ social media outlets may not be worth it.
9. The idea that wine lovers of today prefer to read stories to ratings and reviews by those that communicate about wine is probably true, however it was equally true 25 years ago, making this conclusion underwhelming.
10. Despite the rise of social media and new platforms, it’s notable that today the most substantial online conversations about wine still occur on the wine chat boards (eRobertParker, Wine Berserkers, etc), which was exactly the case 20 years ago.
11. It isn’t true that younger wine drinkers are turning away from critics and looking to friends. It’s true that younger wine drinkers, just like beginning and younger wine drinkers of the past, haven’t the disposable income to care what critics of higher priced wines have to say. But their income will increase. Then watch what happens.