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Losing the plot

?????

It seems so obvious from the outside. Winemakers and wineries in a region should cooperate to promote the region and give consumers a clear idea of what that region offers to encourage them to give their wines a try. Yet in practice, when you delve into any region or country, what you see are arguments, divisions and recriminations.

It is something I saw a glimpse of recently during a trip to the beautiful region of the Langhe in Piemonte (thanks to Berry Bros & Rudd), but I stress that this was only the latest example of something I see everywhere.

The conversation started as “How can we (all) make people more aware of the Nebbiolo grape” … but quickly turned into a discussion about who should or should not be included, how “there’s really nothing else in the world like nebbiolo, and everyone should realise this”, and about the classification of vineyards.

Italy is already famous for its complex regional boundaries and multi-layered wine classifications. So how is it that wineries can possibly rationalise “making things easier/clearer for the consumer” by creating further sub-divisions of wine regions and new DOC’s?

I felt the odd one out when I implored the wineries to spend time finding what they have in COMMON that is unique instead of worrying about local matters, but how to explain this view?

Wine and Movies

Winemakers, their wines and their wineries are all great characters. On their own, each one is different, has its own background, personality and role to play in this world. Yet, individually, they are walking biographies, of interest only to the already devoted fans. They lack a context & excitement. They lack a narrative.

To quote an interesting article by Caro Clarke:

“Plot is what happens. Narrative is what the reader sees and hears of what happens – and how he sees and hears it.”

Movies NEED great characters, but they also need a narrative, a story that affects not just what we learn, but HOW we understand what it is all about. There has to be something that brings these characters together, gives them a way to express themselves, makes them interact, highlights their brilliance … and their flaws.

  • Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) needs Los Angeles, computers, satellites, guns and terrorist threats to make sense as a character, otherwise he might just be a moody, aggressive law-enforcement officer with a sadistic streak and a knack of being in the wrong place at the wrong time
  • King George VI (Colin Firth) needs the pageantry and social norms of British Royalty and threat of war of 1930′s London to make us care about his fight with a speech impediment, otherwise he’d just be an unfortunate toff who wouldn’t make much money as an after-dinner speaker

Ultimately, there has to be something that engages the viewer and consumer and keeps them in their seats. THIS is what the region should be providing. But just like every movie needs its actors to play the parts, it also needs directors, screen writers and camera operators (and many more skilled folks, including Best Grips, whatever they are). A great movie only emerges when all of these people, and their skills, come together.

The same is true for wines. There are great wine makers, great wineries and amazing wines, but they make a much greater impact when they are put into a context that consumers care about and understand. EVERYONE needs to play their part in promoting the region, and the individuals involved need to learn to think of the overall effort as well as their own objectives.

Consumers are looking for ways to understand wine, so let’s give them the stories they need to convince them to bother paying attention, and then spend their hard-earned money on our wines.

In response to this, Vrazon is planning on running workshops for wineries and regional bodies to help them develop this concept for their own situation. Look out for announcements for dates and locations in 2011 and 2012 but we hope to have one up and running in conjunction with the 2011 European Wine Bloggers’ Conference

Let’s hope that in future we can tell more interesting, unique stories that make sense of the great wine characters that do exist out there.

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