Archive - May, 2012

As my Riesling gently weeps

Wine glass and guitar

Ready for musical accompaniment

Riesling. It’s like the wine world in microcosm.

Wine experts love it but cannot understand why consumers don’t go gaga over it, but ultimately this is our fault.

Consumers have heard about it, and when it is poured in their glasses really do enjoy it, but feel confused by its many styles, provenances and the ways it is presented. However, it ends up with a depressingly familiar tale, with an elegantly circular argument:

1. Wine experts wax lyrical over the amazing complexities and variety (of Riesling) …

2. Consumers hear too many conflicting messages, get confused about the overall concept and cannot internalise the information, so ignore it …

3. Wine experts decide that their favourite grape is underappreciated and decide to promote it, so … [Go To 1.]

The BIG problem is that saying “Riesling is great” is that it is a bit like saying “Guitar music is great”. Of course there is great guitar music, no-one would disagree, but if I pick some at random am I going to get Rock, Classical, Jazz, Blues, Rock & Roll, Folk, Heavy Metal, …

When complexity in wine is bad

The wine industry ignores this complication because they have lived in the world of wine for so long that they (we) see the myriad of styles as a positive feature, but for regular consumers it is a complication, a confusion, and ultimately a negative feature.

It means that the wine world sees the success of Australian Rieslings as a sign that consumers are rediscovering the grape, but they are left wondering why Germany and Alsace are still not benefitting.

The point is that the buyers of “Rock Guitar” Aussie, lime-citrus, steely, dry, crisp Riesling are not at all interested in the “Jazz Guitar” Alsatian honey-and-nuts Riesling, nor the “Classical Guitar” of German floral, citrus, mineral and high acid Riesling.

They buy Australian Riesling because Australia Rocks! and “Australia” in many cases trumps “Riesling”.

I obviously exaggerate and oversimplify, there are many styles of wine in each of these regions, but consumers don’t know this detail, so most work from limited experience and “common knowledge” models.

Common knowledge tells you that Riesling is sweet, cloying and stuff that is best left to the 1970′s.

Common knowledge may very well be wrong.

Common knowledge is VERY hard to change.

Let’s face it, for Riesling (and Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and many more, if not most, varieties) “varietal labelling” is a misleading simplification anyway. It doesn’t say anything really useful, or relevant, about what the consumer will experience from this bottle.

You cannot convince an audience that is not listening. Until the message we send resonates with the ultimate consumer, it will continue to be ignored. Wine writers need to find a way to write about Jazz Guitar for Jazz lovers, not sell the instrument to all. It means we have to understand the consumer much better, and speak to them directly, not shout and hope to be heard.

Some varieties are guitars, let’s play accordingly.

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