Monday, March 17, 2008

Are you Drinking or Thinking?

I have read a number of posts recently concerning the link between the enjoyment of wine & "thinking", for example here and here.

I believe that really enjoying wine does require the consumer to exercise not only their senses, but also their imagination, and so has to involve "thinking" to some extent.

Unfortunately, most people already have "too much on their mind" and therefore filter out what they see as "unnecessary" or complex information.

Philosophers and Social Psychologists can debate the finer points of this and either disagree or provide more details, but, stated simply, I believe that the average person's ability to consciously understand and process information is limited, and for simplicity's sake, let's call this process their "mind".
Two people quoting point scores at each other is not a conversation, it is a game of Top Trumps
This is important for the wine business because if it is true, getting busy consumers to think about your wine or brand means competing not only with what is already "on their mind", but with every other product, brand and person trying to get in on the action too. This concept is called "Share of Mind" or "Mindshare".

But who cares?

Well, there are many related issues that this touches upon.

1. A recent study in the US by Constellation, apparently showed that a large number of US wine consumers were "overwhelmed" by the choice of brands available. In theory, if you convert them to consumers of your 'easy solution', then you've got a hit wine brand. Unfortunately, it isn't as easy as saying "here is a new wine to make your life easier", you have to get their attention before they'll hear the message. To get a share of mind from this audience, you have to fight VERY hard, and that means a lot of money in advertising. More on this topic soon, but it is also worth reading Dr. Debs' view first.

2. Why are point scores for wine reviews so popular? Well, a score summarises all those tiresome descriptions, positive feelings, negative complications, and vinous complexities into a neat comparison tool.

"87 is greater than 86, so that wine is better!"

Points help to avoid any need to research, compare and analyse, and summarise it all into something that allows for simple calculations. Why fight for a share of mind when you can supply them with a easy reference tool? Unfortunately, it does nothing for the Wine Conversation. Two people quoting point scores to each other is not a conversation, it is a game of Top Trumps.

I'm not really saying that scoring itself is a bad idea. When well used, points can play a positive role as additional bits of information, but generally speaking they are taken out of context and misused - somewhat like the 'dark side of the force'.

3. There are many discussions about wine culture around the world. Does the UK have a wine culture or just a drinking culture? Does the US have a wine culture? What is the European wine culture today? I'd suggest that the difference between a drinking culture and a wine (or beer) culture, is whether there is a conscious involvement in the choice of consumption.

The person who rolls up to the bar and orders "a lager", or " glass of house wine" (or even arguably those used to ordering well established "brands" like Pinot Grigio) are in the former. The choice figures only in their mind as an alternative path to inebriation and no more. However, even a cursory glance at a wine list, and a choice of a variety or region they have some association with, forms part of a wine culture, however shallow.

I could go on, but most of these points deserve a post in their own right.

Much of this was kicked off by the posts I mentioned above. For some of us, even "comfort wines" are wines that evoke feelings, memories or our imagination.

And this brings me to my final thought. The more we bother to THINK about wine, its history, its agricultural roots and its role in our culture, the less we are likely to abuse it as a mere alcoholic drink. If this helps to reduce the harm to individuals and society stuck in a drinking culture, then we are doing our job well.


Richard A. said...

I disagree with your statement that "... the average person's ability to consciously understand and process information is limited, .."

To me, it is not that ability that is limited but their desire. They are fully capable of understanding and processing info on wine, but they choose not to do so. They look for the easy way out instead, often "points." If they had the desire, they could take the time to understand.

Most people waste time in their lives, even the busiest of us. We could use that time to understand many different topics, if we also had the desire to do so. So, I think part of the problem is finding a way to motivate people to want to learn more about wine. This is something wine blogs can do, to attract people to learn about wine who might not otherwise have had the desire.

I do very much agree with your final point though, that the more one does think about wine, the less the chance that person will abuse it.

Robert McIntosh said...

Thanks Richard. I did struggle over that point for some time. I too believe that people are obviously capable of a lot more, but they have achieved a "balance" of effort and reward in their lives, and getting them to invest time/effort/thought into one thing usually means sacrificing it in another.

Just look at how much effort has been invested in the environmental message in the last years and still the vast majority of people have not changed their lifestyles.

Finding ways to comunicate with those who are already motivated, or making it as easy as possible for those considering it is important, but it will not change the attitudes of those unwilling to bother.

gopaz said...

First off, wonderful post Robert, as you've brought up a fantastic and thought provoking statement. However, I'm with Richard on this. A large part of my frustration with the majority of educational models is that they push for information without context learned by rote memory. This, to me, is a recipe for complete and total disaster!

To think about wine beyond "red" and "white" takes caring, which inevitably takes time. And how do you care for something? Well, you need a good dose of both passion and curiosity, two things that we don't nurture in wine. Instead, we take the dumbing-down approach, where we put a fish or chicken on a wine bottle, so that you don't have to think. We put points and scores so that you don't have to have an opinion. The marketers say that rose is better than red, so that you can order at the restaurant without stressing which "color" to try. In short, we fail our own society by providing them the perfect tools NOT to think. But they can...

This is why I am so passionate about educating both adults and children about wine, but this topic could extend to anything. We have created a fast food culture that wants their information fast and furious, and guess what, so do we! We bitch about the amount of information coming into our feedreaders, the number of tweets we must read and the bombardment of adverts and publicity ads that hit us daily. Hence, the issue, for me, comes down to empowering each and every one of us to:

1. be passionate about learning
2. take control of what we want to learn
3. filter out the rest
4. and remain open to changes in our learning patterns

Wine is no different than any other subject. But if we don't take an active stand in helping to educate both ourselves, and those around us, we're merely playing into the same game - allowing others to think for us!

So how do we do this? Personally, write and speak passionately and from your heart. Don't be afraid to be vulnerable and show your failures as those around you will learn with you and through you. And finally, don't shut people out. There is a learning opportunity around every corner if we're willing to be receptive.

Okay...I'll get off my soapbox now ;-)

Vitor said...

This is an important issue... i have allways the feeling that only a few people can make comments and give points to wines... I think that the important thing in tasting wines, is to pass to the others our emotions drinking it. Obviously there is no magical way to make people think more about wine and the culture around it. But the opinion makers have the duty to try to call people´s attention to the issue. But, what we see is only their opinions as experts, and althoug this can be important to some of us, it could be also unimportant to others who only want to drink their wines peacefully, and without other kind of thougts... So i believe that the way to get people to think more about th wine culture, is in first place to make a simple speech, without much complex words (often we see this in the taste notes...), and give to the readers another perspective on the people behind the wines, the stories that only a few know, etc...
As a blogger i think that is my obligation, and i try to allways keep that in mind...
An i thank you also for trying to pass this kind of thougts to everyone. Keep going please...