Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Shift in 'Mentalité'

A Wine Lovers Cranium
Matt Kramer's article "Why Our Wine Era Really is Different" posted January 21, 2014  distinguishes between consumers' perception of today's fine wines, ie. higher tier wines, and the fine wines of previous decades. What has instigated Kramer's discussion is a friend's comment that today's wines are "all about marketing and scores and money".  I agree with the friend - at least at my purchasing level if not across all price ranges.

I believe I've gone through an attitude adjustment with respect to where I was with wines when starting on my tasting journey six decades ago and where I am today. For a background to this perspective I'll try to explain the shift in my world - as I see it, ie.  my '

There's a  popular American TV series called "American Greed". This series points out an idiosyncrasy, albeit to an extreme, in a segment of today's business culture. Simply put, there is a focus on personal profits rather than ethically driven value. I would say 'fair value' but 'fair' was driven out of my vocabulary in the 70's by a young marketing executive reminding me that 'fairness' went out in grade 3. That admonishment was one of many trigger points along my journey. I'd say today's business culture is based on, with apologies to Bob Marlie, "You can fool some of the people some of the time and most of the people all of the time'”.

Less extreme and closer to today's business culture are demonstrated in two TV series: Shark Tank (US) and Dragon's Den (Canada). These reality series bring today's culture to the surface. The format of each program has several successful hosts, ie. filthy rich, set up to review the fledgling business ventures of eager entrepreneurs. These wannabees often have invested their home and life savings and have come to realize they now need additional investment of both dollars and experience to take their passion, ie. business, to the next level. When the host panel doesn't perceive the proposal as having a positive future the unfortunate presenter is often soundly humiliated if not metaphorically trashed. On the other hand a positive reception, ie. an acceptable proposal, becomes an opportunity for a host to harvest a multiple growth future, eg. 50% ownership for a relatively small investment. Hey! It's entertainment!

And... with apologies to those who stay a straight line... a significant portion of today's wine world follows a similar ethic. Labels previously owned by craft wineries and dedicated winemakers finding they need capital for new equipment or experience to develop their brand, are turned into space on which opportunists can masquerade... disingenuous theatrics and glossies front for product quality. Even our monopolistic retailer saturates the weekly media with hyperbole often reducing inflated plonk prices to entice sidebar products. But I'm a captive audience so reducing prices encourages me to play their 'hide and seek' game.

But I stray too far... "Why is this moment ... so different?"  The article responds with "The answer lies in a gathering force that, although far from universal, is altering both how wine is made and how we drink (and think) about what we're offered. It's all about what historians call '
mentality'". The French word referred to is mentalité which, in the source context, applies to how groups isolated in some way share within their community thought processes, values and beliefs distinct from other groups.

This is followed by an explanation. What previously was a 'mechanistic view' by wine lovers, aka the fine wine consumer, based on the W5 of how, what, when, where and why of wine making: with vineyards, horticultural practices changing over generations to a mindset intent on analysing how a fine wine changes 'thinking' - about the moment in time when the liquid raises the taster's senses to an ephemeral level followed by his/her dissection of its mystical, transitory qualities. Mr. Kramer's '
mentality' is my 'tasting' put into today's context... 'tasting' as it has, at least for most dedicated wine lovers, evolved over personal travels throughout their history of vineological experiences. 

I have no interest in new "techno-tools of reverse osmosis, spinning cones and vacuum concentrators". What were yesteryear advances, including the shift to 'natural wines', was based on that days scientific discoveries and has now become a shift to '
mentality' - giving way to current day's question 'What can we try now based on our new tools and knowledge?'

Winemaking has two foci: one based on using innovative technologies to knit improvements into wine quality and production efficiencies and the second on profits or how to pull the marketing levers for higher margins. This latter focus when given over to inscrutable marketing
- when the push for Brand outflanks truth or fact - attempts to 'fool all of the people all of the time'.  For myself and other consumers of the lower tiers, our mentality needs an understanding of how 'marketing' meddles with wine and the difference between exuberance and reality. We need to do our own research. It's 'Buyer beware time'.

My opinion, Ww

More Matt Kramer articles:

More on Mentalité

More on the Brain

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