Will Wine Be Used as a Weapon Against the 1 Percent?
If I'm not mistaken, we are seeing the development of a strong cultural aversion to the now notorious "1 Percent". Put another way, there appears to me to be a strong and still developing cultural and political zeitgeist that includes diminished respect, and even distaste, for financial elite, their demonstrations of wealth, their political power and the issues they care about.
(Before someone mentions that I've used the term "zeitgeist" incorrectly by making observations of the present, rather than a past age, I know this already. Don't let my incorrect appropriation of this powerful word distract you.)
This movement to identify the uber wealthy as the enemy or indicative of cultural, political and economic trends distasteful to the larger middle class is I think likely to get stronger and more prominent during the upcoming presidential campaign. Clearly this view of the very wealthy will breed political movements and efforts. It will play a key part in national discussion of tax policy, campaign finance reform, and, more importantly, the nature of the middle class as this large sector of the citizenry is identified and defined in contrast to the sector of the citizenry that makes up the "1 Percent".
What plagues my thoughts is this question: What implications does this unfolding and developing national zeitgeist have for the wine industry?
In the first place, the wine industry has nothing to gain from the anti-One Percent mood. This is due to the simple fact that there are not enough thoughtful wine enthusiast of any demographic to combat the overwhelming view of Americans that wine is the beverage of the elite. Despite the proliferation of wine drinkers and wineries, wine remains a potent symbol of the wealthy, the rich, the elite and the pretentious.
What this adds up to is that wine could quite easily be deployed by cultural and economic activists as a symbol for the 1%, effectively linking wine to the economically dominant. That's not good for the wine industry.
In fact, wine has always been a symbol of the rich in America, and never linked with the middle class. Ask yourself the last time you saw a presidential candidate play up their appreciation of wine…..I'll wait….while you search your memory…….
……Nothing right? That's right. Now consider the connection between beer and spirits and the middle class.
Of course the most important question is the degree to which wine's association with the 1 Percent might lead to a backlash against wine sales. I think this kind of impact is more likely if the economy were to descend into full blown recession or even depression, than as a result of simple animosity toward those who are perceived as the drinkers of wine.
That said, I see the value in an industry-wide marketing campaign to link wine consumption to middle class pursuits as a hedge against guilt by association. I believe this identification of the 1-percent as the cultural, political and economic victors will be an animating idea for quite some time, and at least as long as the issue of income inequality is with us. That could be quite some time. There are very good reasons to take even small steps to try to insulate an industry from damage that might result from association with the top 1%.
My primary concern, however, is how wine might be used as a symbol in politics. Wine and wine drinking strikes as one of the more easily deployed and easiest to understand symbols in a campaign's toolbox. Put a glass of wine in a candidate's hand and it is extraordinarily easy to convey them as an out-of-touch elitist, and this is never a good albatross to have hung around one's neck.
Imagine for a moment the following scenario. A presidential, senatorial or congressional candidate is discovered to be a buyer of Harlan, Screaming Eagle, Lafite, d'Yquem, Grange and other very expensive wines. Imagine that it is discovered that they have spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on these wines over the past year. Imagine a photo of this same candidate emerges that has them holding a glass of red wine up to their nose and they are clearly contemplating its aroma.
I'm no political genius, but even I could deploy these images and information to effectively portray this poor candidate as out of touch with the 99%.
The wine industry and its marketers have a tendency to follow the money and show up where the money shows up. The reasons should be obvious. Wineries and wine marketers regularly tout the prices their wines have achieved at auctions, the very glamorous venues at which their wines have been poured, the VIPs that consume their wines and the hoity restaurants at which their wines are served. I believe they need to be careful in doing this.
If I'm correct in believing that a zeitgeist defined by calculated political and cultural disconnection between the 1% and 99% is developing steam, the wine industry could in various ways find itself a victim of it all.