This is a good time to drink wine. We are amidst a new age of discovery. I’ve spent my adult life searching for a wine ideal and now, finally, I think the average American consumer is as well. To explain my point, let me start with my experiences.
Up until recently I was working for the largest wine and liquor wholesaler in the United States. Bored. Not with the industry but the status quo in the wine world. Since the turn of the century there was a shift in the market from the small family owned producer with interesting food driven varietals to a more everyday sipper. The average consumer turned their nose up from interesting terroir driven wines like Chablis to a more accessible malo-centric style of Chardonnay. Soft Cabernet Sauvignon is slowly creeping onto the wine by the glass lists as affordable options to the consumer. I can’t remember the last time I tasted a domestic (high priority) red blend that didn’t have Syrah or Petite Sirah in it to make it more subtle on the palate and soften the tannin. The American palate has been hijacked by the California bulk wine producers. However, something interesting is happening in the beverage industry and it more than likely can be attributed to a small independent film. No. It’s not Sideways.
A few years ago a young filmmaker from Cleveland, Ohio set out to make a film about the trials and tribulations of attaining one of the hardest achievements in the world. The film was “Somm”, and it was well received by the independent film boards and festivals. Ultimately, this movie created a ripple in the status quo. Spinoffs are being created and now the wine world is experiencing what the food world and the celebrity chef experienced in the mid 1990s. People are talking about the sommelier again, but more importantly, people are now working to get certifications through the Court of Master Sommeliers. This ripple effect is in turn creating a better bartender, server, beverage director, buyer and store owner. Creating a dynamic network of professionals that are in line to take the power back from the marketer and putting it back in the capable hands of its rightful owner. The average American.
Before you dismiss my rant as nonsense, let’s step back and take a look at the beer industry since the late 1990’s. A handful of major beer manufacturers dominated the industry until some clever marketing and grassroots efforts set forth by Samuel Adams changed the dynamic of the industry. They offered a better product than what was on the market and sought to make beer an inclusive and visceral experience. Now there are over 4000 breweries in the market that are gaining more than just regional success. This shift in the American palate will be easily duplicated in the wine industry.
The difference between the two beverages is more than ingredients and terroir. Wine is a social drink. It is best served between friends and family. This social aspect adds an additional component to the aesthetic value of the wine. Over the depletion of a bottle details pertaining to the wine or winery are often discussed. Much like the “farm to table” food movement the average consumer is now seeking small, generational, “salt of the Earth” types of wine producers. I know this because many big wine conglomerates are marketing some of their wine that way. Don’t be fooled.
Small, family owned, terroir-driven wineries are my obsession now. As my business partner and I build our portfolio we are finding that there are many wineries that fall into this category and offer a great history as well as a great product and price point. Our challenge is to find the absolute best product for you, the American consumer.
As always, remember to keep an open eye and an open mind.
-Daniel Christmann, CS aka “The Blue Collar Sommelier”