Sorting table carnage, not unlike wine buying
David J. Duman’s postulation in the Huffington Post that hipster wine buyers need to commit to purchasing larger amounts of single wines, rather than flitting about the market like humming birds, is a decent point, but in the end, a little misdirected.
The problems with his assertions are twofold. Firstly, he’s not admitting the reality that from both a dollar-amount and a by-volume standpoint, wine nerds do not purchase the bulk of wine moving through the market at any given time. This falls to the average consumer. Secondly, while, yes, everyone does have to get paid in the end, by advocating nerds buy more (of a few) wines, he’s simply shifting the burden of ownership in wine, possibly leading to oversupply and market volatility.
To be clear I am without a doubt one of the people he describes in the piece. For me, since I work in the industry and even casual wine drinking is a professional education of sorts, it’s necessary that I’m learning something new from every bottle I purchase. That being said, there are definitely inexpensive, nerdy bottles of wine which I’ve bought a fair amount of in my time. On the general, I for one need to be drinking as widely as possible to advance my own career. I don’t have the luxury of enough money to buy a lot of the wines I’m madly in love with as well as constantly exploring new bottles. This is to say nothing of a place to properly store them.
I’m not going to hazard figures on the market-size disparity between the nerd-expert-industry community and what’s sold to the everyday lay consumer. I think it’s fair to assert that the lay wine-drinking community is both a) much larger b) much better capitalized. No one in wine is making a ton of money, unless you’re LVMH, or some similar entity. Here are a few examples that (hopefully) will help to prove my point.
A dear, dear friend of mine drinks a bottle of wine very regularly (2-4 times a week), but, nearly without fail, despite my ardent urgings, it’s Sauvignon Blanc, usually at $10-$12 a bottle retail. Now, you, me, and every other wine professional on the planet could rattle off 10 other styles of wine which she’d probably also enjoy. We also know that if she spent $3-$7 dollars more, she’d generally be drinking a lot better. She’s generally a curious person, and one of the most adventurous eaters I know, but when it comes to wine, she knows what she likes and she sticks to it, except when she can afford to go to a nerd-drinker bastion like Lou, which has totally won her affections. Generally though, there are too many details to keep track of for her. In an even more extreme example, I have a friend who’s wildly unadventurous with her eating and exclusively drinks Pinot Noir. She can’t really be convinced to order anything else.
Let’s say that for even one of those bottles or glasses that my homegirl’s drink every week, they instead picked up Gamay from the Ardeche instead of that Pinot, or Txacoli from the Pais Vasco instead of Sauvignon Blanc. Take that and multiply it across all the people you know who are stubborn adherents to one sort of wine, and then we’d be selling a lot more nerd-bait wine. Moreover, we’d be selling a lot less bullshit wine. And don’t even get me started on the iBankers and lawyers at steakhouses across America purchasing bottles of triple-digit cult Cabernet and Shiraz…
We, as enthusiasts, need to infect people with our enthusiasm for wine. That will be the true remedy for a world’s oversupply of boring, untrue drek. So many in the wine nerd community view people like my friends as lost causes: boring wine drinkers with boring taste. This is the bullshit hipsterism that infects today’s wine nerd community. Don’t get me wrong. Not everyone in our little corner of the world is like that, but there are a lot of people who are.
Those of us who are lucky (yes, I said lucky) enough to work in consumer-direct outlets like wine bars, restaurants, and responsible retailers are the front line of this fight. I think we, more than anyone, can change the course of wine drinking in America. You’re all nerds. Just go out there and sell what you like. Sometimes it simply requires you to get inventive; if I had a dime for every glass of 2000 Lopez De Heredia Gravonia I sold to a die-hard Cali Chardonnay drinker, I would have at least $100.
Now, to address supporting importers and growers by buying lots of a singular wine let’s take the example of Pierre Overnoy. Pierre, along with his son-in-law Emmanuel Houillon makes some of the most sensational, sought-after hipster nerdy wines. His black-waxed, extended-skin-contact Savignin is practically the holy grail of hipster wine. It’s nearly impossible to find this wine (or any of his wines), let alone buy them. The allocations are so small. I’ve only had his Chardonnay, Poulsard, and regular Savignin. They are all phenomenal. The wines are not painfully expensive, but pricey for nerd wine.
Pierre (who’s in his 90s, I think) and Emmanuel could make more, but the appellation of Arbois, and the even tinier town of Pupillin, which all these wines come from, can only produce so much wine by law. I’m saying all of this to prove that me buying more of it wouldn’t make it any more available.
We can also take the example of Elizbeta Foradori’s recent release of amphora-aged Teroldego from Fruili. While the wines are impressive, the style is brand-new for her, very tannic, and I have no idea how it would perform in the cellar. Not to mention it was bottled almost exclusively in magnum. I’m not in the habit of buying too much wine that I won’t be able to drink for another 25 years. I could use the example of Dunn’s Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon (just to prove I’m not totally against cult-y new-world red) as well. Widely acclaimed to be a 25-year plus wine, most nerds who’ve had it say the mid-80s vintages are just becoming drinkable now. Am I supposed to front-load cases of this stuff so that I can drink well nearly three decades from now at the cost of enjoying drinking other things now? The same might be said, by all reports, of Portuguese Baga…
Surely, Mr. Dunn and Ms. Foradori should continue to make wine and someone should export-import it. I simply don’t understand why it’s my obligation to crucify my wine budget for the sake of supporting them. Again, this is why we need to advocate to the average consumer, not to the nerd. Out with the point scores! If we split the burden to other people who have the wherewithal to buy large quantities and cellar it responsibly, or who simply love the wine to death and are willing to pay a premium to pick up and love 2 or 3 bottles (most likely like us).
Moreover, I do see a danger in all of us rushing out to stores now and picking up tons of a few select, cherished wines and then realizing 3 or 4 vintages down the road that there’s way too much of it in our cellars for our liking. In the meantime, our beloved producer has raised his production, but his nerdy buyers have over-consumed. Then he (or she) is sitting on more wine than they can sell, which continues the cycle Mr. Duman is advocating against.
As I mentioned in my post two weeks ago, a rising tide lifts all boats, and so we as an enthusiastic expert community shouldn’t feel an obligation to buy a lot of a few wines; we should feel the need to advocate for the wines we love. Hopefully, our passion will inspire other less-zealous people to buy, thus ensuring the availability of the wines we love for years to come.
All that being said, David, I do have a case of Frantz Saumon Romorantin winging it’s way to me, as well as half-cases of Souhaut Gamay and Syrah. I concede that sometimes a lot of a good thing is just a good thing.