Friday, May 06, 2005

"Wine Spectator" - preaching to the choir?

I believe one should have goals in life, it keeps one focused, realistic and motivated. With that in mind, I ask "What are the goals of Wine Spectator?"

(It might be cynical, but I would have to say that the goal of WS is to sell copies and thus advertising. It seems almost ancillary that wine is the publications theme. It is a lifestyle magazine, nominally wine themed. Oh, but let’s go on with the exercise....)

Is it to educate? Perhaps, but their level of writing is only geared toward those with a graduate- level understanding of wine. They are certainly not interested in "remedial" students or those just starting out.

Is it to expand wine's sphere of influence in the beverage world? Hardly. WS appeals to elitist views of wine and those who can afford its pricy annual subscription. Hell, just look at the non-wine advertisers and its pretty clear where the demographics fall (Tiffany, Cartier, Hummer, personal aircraft, etc). Further, look at the large number of high-priced inaccessible wines (as in less than 500 cases) that they review.

Visit the "Forum" on the website and you can see topics like " Who sees their cellar as stellar vs. 90% of restaurant lists" and "Did you get your allocation of (overpriced Napa wine) yet?" and "Chateau Fortia Chat du Pape - Who's got this scored properly?"

Is it to promote the beverage as a vibrant part of one's life, that, enjoyed in moderation, can bring years of joy, health, and good meals? Perhaps, but that's not what I get when I read it.

When I read WS (usually if I'm on the can as I find that's the only time I'm a "captive audience" desperate enough to crack the pages open) I can't help but wonder if the magazine isn't missing a huge opportunity to broaden wine's appeal. I'm not suggesting they "dumb down" their reviews to the lowest common denominator (pairing wines with Taco Bell), but an attempt to make wine less elitist seems like it would be a beneficial thing for the magazine's own circulation!

Let me explain another way, can you imagine "Golf" or "Outdoors" or "Sunset" or "Shape" etc. actually trying not to promote their industry? Picture "Golf" magazine actively snubbing young hackers at the local pitch and putt.....those people make up the future of hard-core retired daily golfers with the disposable income that drives the industry (and the pro tours too!). To my mind, WS is doing just that by ignoring the vast majority of wine consumers.

Perhaps they feel that they can't compete for the younger, hipper audience since Wine X mag has that locked up. Perhaps they feel that occasional articles on basic concepts would lose regular readers. Perhaps they think there is less to write about when covering broad-market wines and concepts. Perhaps they don't think that drinkers of "everyday" wines will bother to read/buy WS.

Whatever the reason, it seems a shame that the standard-bearer for wine publications (whether we like it or not) is neglecting an opportunity to reach out and educate the "huddled masses" of the wine world. Today's drinker of [yellow tail] is tomorrow's buyer of Silver Oak, they just need a chance to learn and expand their knowledge and appreciation. . . . .


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