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Dumbing down of wine labels and wine?

by David on September 18, 2006

I’ve been (casually) following the discussion on regarding new-world vs. old world, and something Trish said in New World vs. Old World Part Deux caught my attention. She was troubled by her own observation: “People want at-a-glance labels, suggested pairings, critters, playful names and specified grapes. They don’t want micro-appellations, regular-size appellations or any appellation, for that matter. They want wine. Just wine. So many people don’t really care where it comes from or about the traditions and geography behind it.”

I think it depends upon the consumer. Representing a high-end producer here in the Napa Valley, I find that our customers care very much where the grapes came from, want to understand viticultural practices and are fascinated to know what part of Europe the variety hails from so they can draw the comparison.

The folks who want and need simplified labels are entry level consumers and I don’t blame them. This is a complicated subject, even for those of us who like to think we know something about it – just think of the first time you tried to decipher the label on a German wine or a bottle of Burgundy! Maybe it’s not such a bad thing to simplify the label and make it kind of fun by way of using critter labels or whimsical names for wines under $15.00 or so.

My opinion has always been that all roads lead to Napa Valley Cabernet (my own personal bias – you could just as well say all roads lead to fine Bordeaux). I’ve heard people make fun of White Zin drinkers, but not me. I say “Go for it!” I figure they’ll get bored eventually and maybe try a glass of Pinot Grigio and begin to move on.

Recently, I hosted a delightful young couple from Scottsdale who said they didn’t know much about wine, and yet they’re interested enough to have watched all 2 hours of Mondovino (oy!). We spent probably a good 10 minutes talking about the threat of winemaking becoming globalized and wine character homogenized. We came to the conclusion that while there’s some evidence of it in the low end, and there are even fine wine producers who care more about getting a 96 from Parker or the Wine Spectator than they do about producing a style that’s uniquely their own, there will always be small, artisan producers who try to capture that wonderful and mysterious sense of place.

And the really encouraging thing is to read about the Millenials, who are characterized as a generation that wants to know where its food and wine comes from and doesn’t mind spending a bit more for quality. That can only be good for the future of small producers with high standards and fortunately, while we may not produce much volume, we proliferate all over the world.

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