The world of wine can be a snobby landscape. For the sake of full discloser, I think I’m a bit of a snob, but I’m working on it. From the vineyards, to the wineries, and into the tasting rooms, we find snobbery at every turn. Even wine advertising depicts beautiful people drinking wine in exotic places with other beautiful people. Why not people sitting around the table with friends and family, eating good food, (including the kids) or folks sitting in the family room watching a football game? The truth is wine can be enjoyed everyday in everyday situations.
Wine snobbery may be a systemic problem that has to do with the nature of wine itself. Wine is so diverse and tastes differ so much from person to person, that we can start to think that our evaluation is superior.
They say wine is made in the vineyard and I couldn’t agree more, but if you can’t even get good grapes in the top vineyards unless you have a PhD in wine, then someone doesn’t understand that at least a little bit of the winemaking process is an art learned through experience. For example, at one point, I inquired about getting grapes from a top vineyard in Walla Walla. I got the phone number of the owner and called. It was a short conversation because she insisted that I send her a resumé. A resumé? Are you kidding? I have a degree in education, but you need a degree in enology to make good wine? I’m not saying it wouldn’t help, but people have been making wine way before we had schools that now teach it. I have followed many great winemakers and most have said they didn’t learn to make good wine until they started work in a winery. So we find snobbery in all sectors of the wine industry.
Then there are the celebrity winemakers, and the media that make them, who would want you to think that it is their special alchemy that makes them great. No, it is their outstanding ability to brand themselves that makes them great. This usually requires an unusual background story, an American story, if you will. Like the wild wild west, they were rebels who didn’t follow tradition, and forged their way to the top. High drama, exceptional marketing prowess, and a little bit of luck. The wine press love these folks because it paints a picture that is glamorous and interesting. We love it, even if it defies reality. It’s just wine, folks. If it’s good, then who cares who made it. But we all do, because it is the story we crave, even if the wine is only decent. But it is a form of snobbery. Wine snobbery is the attitude that only a select few can learn the code to good winemaking and tasting.
That brings me to the most damaging place where snobbery is found: the tasting room. Granted, wine stimulates conversation. It’s fun to talk about wine-it’s nuances and subtleties. Personal tastes are always fascinating to share with one another. But have you noticed that many tasting rooms are somewhat formal? They usually have a bar where everyone is within ear-shot of each other. This creates an audience for the tasting room associate, but more importantly, for the wine snob customer who wants to school everyone on the fine points of wine. Most wine tasters get used to this, but even the best of us are sometimes impressed, and little bit intimidated, by their amazing palettes. Forget it. I’m here to tell you the best palettes don’t flaunt their knowledge because they know that it doesn’t help the cause, it just makes people feel inadequate. We have a bar in our tasting room but we don’t use it too much for tasting, especially when we are busy. Wineries need to rethink how they do wine tasting. I know of one winery in Southern Oregon that takes each tasting party into a separate area that is more informal where someone walks you through the tasting and answers any questions about the wine. True wine professionals should protect their customers from snobbery and it starts with them. I believe we are educators first and second, salesmen and marketers.