In all the discourse, chatter, ranting, and analysis that has followed the release of “The Howard Report,” I believe that something very, very, very important has gone missing in the conversation.
Depending on your feelings for and/or about Post-Industrial, Digitally-Globalized & Centralized Corporate Capitalism, you’ll either find the report to be a snooze’s worth of Duh!, or a ghastly shock.
What seems to unify the responses however, is an unnerving presumption of division.
What is this all about?
The Howard Report is a study called “Concentration in the U.S. Wine Industry,” and it comes to us from a team at Michigan State University led by Associate Professor Philip H. Howard. The gist of the results are this, that “just three firms … account for more than half of the wine sales in the United States.”
Now, while some of the responses to these results have been fundamentally analytic in nature, and primarily focused on issues related to questions of choice in the marketplace (for an excellent example of this approach, see wineeconomist.com), the vast majority of commentary seems to run more along the lines of seeing the results as a bit of a cautionary tale.
Alder Yarrow summed things up rather neatly on a recent post at his very fine wine blog “Vinography.” The post was titled “Is The Wine Writing World Out Of Touch?” and it concludes with the following line, “Keep writing about the good stuff for the people who care to read about it, but don’t forget the big picture, folks.”
Which is a very good mission statement of a kind, and his premise ” that a lot of people writing about wine are quite out of touch with the average wine drinker in America” is likely not inaccurate.
But with all due respect to both WineEconomist and Vinography, my focus is elsewhere.
What concerns me is this, that the fundamental focus driving almost all the post-report chatter seems to be trained on divisions; everything seems predicated on the notion that there is somehow a divide between one kind of wine drinker and another. If I may presume our Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello to be a somewhat rarefied offering, then perhaps one could say, everything seems predicated on the notion that there is somehow a divide between the Arbor Misters and the Monte Bellos.
But I suggest that to focus on the divisions is to miss something truly vital, in fact fundamental, about wine, and why we drink it.
Why not look instead for that which UNITES the Arbor Misters and the Monte Bellos, as opposed to what purportedly divides them?
Because if you do, what you’ll find is the very most important thing of all about wine.
This, THIS, is what wine is all about.
And it is exactly THIS that unites us all, because at the end of the day, this is what we ALL go to wine for, this is why we include wine in what we do. It is the experience that counts.
The couple that sits down to share a bottle of Arbor Mist together is seeking no less a degree of romance than is the couple that opens and shares a 20-year-old Cabernet from a well-stocked Napa-centric cellar. The holiday host that serves Arbor Mist to guests alongside their home-cooked dishes offers no less a degree of hospitality than does the host who brings up something rare and collectible from their vaults. The brown-bag encased bottle of Arbor Mist covertly circulating through the downtown cooperative art gallery reception delivers no less a degree of conviviality that does the winemaker-signed winery-only auction item decanted with panache by the artist to inaugurate the uptown gallery reception. The Arbor Mist poured before hitting play on the DVD player for a weekend night of One Step Beyond reruns in pajamas contains no less a degree of magic than does the wedding-year library wine tasted 30-years down the road, at the vows renewal ceremony.
The point being, we include wine in our rituals because wine is our liquid of ritual, and when we select a wine, we are making a gesture in pursuit of experience.
And we ALL do this, with EVERY wine.
So for wine writers, yes, do keep writing about the good stuff. But remember that “the good stuff” is not the wine itself, but the theater of experience in which wine plays a part.
And as for the drinkers of wine, remember that we’re all in this together, and we’re all seeking the same thing.
A beautiful experience.
Trumpets and violins I can hear in the distance
I think they’re calling our names
Maybe now you can’t hear them, but you will
If you just take hold of my hand
Oh, but are you experienced?
Have you ever been experienced?
Not necessarily stoned, but beautiful…
–Jimi Hendrix, Are You Experienced?
To read the original “Howard Report” please click here: