Reframing The Vinous Mindset

While preparing for an event recently I was giving some thought to the various mindsets I encounter daily in the wine industry, and what makes them tic. I come from a background of working in various different roles – from retail, to sommelier, to wholesale, to wine production (including label design etc) as well as importing and exporting. I guess that gives me a fairly holistic view of things, coupled with the fact I’m an empath and try and see and appreciate peoples point of view.

You could well argue that the only mindset we should think about is the final user – the customer – and what they expect and want from a wine, however for the purpose of this blog I’m referring to people within the wine industry.

Let’s think about the following mindsets of a retailer/merchant, a sommelier, and a winemaker.

Retailers: Rightfully so, the retailer tends to focus on value, saleability and presentation. Value is pretty simple, does it punch above its weight? Is it better then its similarly priced competitors. Saleability is a bit harder to quantify – For me this is a mix a presentation, medals, scores, and whether or not that wine is overly discounted online or in the trade. Presentation is also a hard one for wineries to get right, what gels with one retailer will jar the next. Retailers are at the coal face in our industry and for better or worse can be the hardest to please.

Sommeliers: The somm is interested in the story behind a wine, as well as what’s in the glass. Forget medals and scores, its about the winemakers clout, the viticultural practices, the winemaking ethos, or the winemakers dogs name. As sommeliers we need a story to tell. “This is a Chardonnay and tastes of stonefruit and oak” doesn’t cut it.

Winemakers: After working around wine production for a decade, it’s easy to see why winemakers can be bemused when we take them in the trade. Wine can be seen quite agriculturally to an extent – the quality of the fruit coupled with a few winemaking decisions along the way, all while working to a desired cost of goods, to make the best wine possible. Simple?

To confuse things more we have two more industry icons to add to the list (I have worked as neither, so this is speculative) – the wine critic and the wine judge. Wine critics I see as sitting somewhere between retailer & sommelier. As most do not taste blind, they are reviewing a wine through a lens (either intentionally or not) of pedigree, value, consistency, and quality. Unfortunately these days ‘trends’ are also a big part of the critics playbook with some celebrating descriptors such as ‘turbulent’, ‘apple cider vinegar’ and so on. On the flipside, the wine judge tastes blind with what I see as closer to a winemaker mentality (many judges are in fact winemakers) assessing concentration, balance and complexity.

Both the critic and wine judge face scrutiny in our industry from all the above mentioned players, however are an important and integral part in wineries ability to sell their wines (particularly in export markets) and educating consumers who do not have the ability to taste wines en masse.

“Remember that all things are only opinion and that it is in your power to think as you please” Marcus Aurelius