jamie goode's wine blog: Is educating people to drink better elitist?

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Is educating people to drink better elitist?

At the Flavour Extraction symposium I blogged on earlier, one of the points I raised was that the role of the communicator in making 'real' food and drink accessible to people is critical. Most people don't eat and drink well. Certainly, when it comes to wine, most people drink inexpensive branded wines. And even when they trade up, they usually buy uninteresting commercial wines when for the same price they could get something much more interesting.

Communicators are needed to tell people about the world of flavour. Someone needs to get the message out, making high-end food and drink products of real interest accessible to people who aren't going to find them in their supermarket shop.

But then I checked myself. Was I being elitist, thinking that people need to be educated about wine (and food) when they are perfectly happy with what they already have? [Even if what they already have is crap.]

Randolph Hodgson of Neal's Yard made a great point, though. In fact, it's elitist to think that people shouldn't be told about great, authentic food and wine. We're deciding that most people aren't ready for, or aren't able to appreciate, real flavours. There's something wrong about this attitude, but unfortunately many of the gatekeepers (the editors of consumer publications) feel this way.


At 1:52 AM, Blogger Edward said...


It's like so many things. Should people read better books, watch better films, go to the opera and theatre etc etc.

I suspect the majority will mostly be happy with the mainstream and accessible, just as there will always be a market for the better and more difficult.

I guess the question is can the market be expanded. I suspect this is a cultural issue, but even within nations where there is culture for food and wine and music and art, the interested remain a minority.

At 6:04 AM, Anonymous Robert said...

It seems odd that the "gatekeepers" would all lean the same way...Are you sure they are not just thinking about where the advertising money is going to come from? A: a few global industrial product marketing machines or B: hundreds of tiny businesses who don't want to or can't play that game.

At 8:20 AM, Anonymous Alex Lake said...

It's an interesting question. Even the way in which it's phrased is interesting - i.e. do you think "people need to be" educated (push) or is it that you're so enthusiastic that you'll tell anyone who cares to listen (pull).

Even the term "elitist" is interesting - there's an implication that it's a negative quality.

I agree with the cheeseman, that it's patronising to consider telling the world and then not to because "they're not worth it".

These gatekeepers are an interesting part of the equation, but mass media tends to be very conservative and sheeplike (and driven by advertising, much of which is lowest-common-denominator). Not being beholden to such people in the way that you professionals might be, I can ignore them and will just continue to enthuse about things I like to those who can be bothered to listen....

At 10:35 AM, Blogger erminio said...

IS it possible that big brand with strong and expensive marketing can distroy the beauty of diversity in wines and food!?
I think that communicate loudly is becoming now more than ever a mission.

At 11:01 AM, Blogger Owen Edwards said...

I echo comments about going where the advertising money is...a magazine editor or a TV producer may enjoy obscure Oregonian Pinots and fine Mosel Kabinetts, but when Constellation offer a hefty sum for advertising plus access for a feature, who's to say no?

At 11:08 AM, Blogger James Nicholls said...


I think you did a good job of tackling this kind of question in the Wine and Philosophy book you contributed to a couple of years ago.

I see Roger Scruton has just put a book out on wine and philosophy, too. I'm sure he'll have his own take on the role of elitism in wine appreciation.

My view: it's only elitist if you assume people who choose not to be interested in wine are categorically less cultured or virtuous than yourself.

At 3:15 PM, Blogger Chris Townend said...

If people are happy with their lot then who am I, or indeed any of us, to comment or pass judgement. I would much rather help one person who is interesting in expanding their wine tasting and understanding rather than berating a group regarding their own lifestyle choices.

I sometime find myself defending MY choices with regard to the wine I drink. Simple things can help: explaining that the actual value of the wine in a 5.00 bottle is about 35p helps contextualise the relationship between price and quality. Also by suggesting people TASTE rather than just DRINK a wine has been known to stimulate a real interest which, if encouraged, can run and run.

Someone once told me that when life gets too hectic try tread lightly and feel the ground below your feet. Tasting rather than consuming has similar restorative powers.

At 5:28 PM, Blogger Owen Edwards said...

James Nicholls, by that definition, I'm a little bit of en elitist ;)

At 6:31 PM, Anonymous Arthur said...

I agree with Hodgson.
There are so many assumptions and misconceptions people have about what they put in their mouths.

Somewhat tangential, but this article illustrates how big a challenge it can really be to educate people about what they eat and drink:


At 8:20 PM, Anonymous David Rossi said...

Great topic. Of course we should educate people on wines. Moreover we need to put an end to the latest efforts to dumb down the topic. Wine has been an easy target for those that say it is snobby and wine writers and marketers need to make it more "accessable". That's just horsepucky! All topics: food, wine, travel, science, stereos, plumbing have their buzzwords and jargon and that's ok. It is usually very useful in talking about the subject.

When was the last time someone said the guy at Home Depot was a snob because he used a bunch of jargon to explain the difference in screen doors? They just assume he is very knowlegable and that there is a lot to know about screen doors. When a wine expert talks then it is just snobbery.

I say hooray for those that try to share their knowlege of wine and try to do it in a way that is really embracing and not just to show off.

At 10:18 PM, Anonymous Simon T said...

I would have to say no, but then what is the definition of 'better' and to what extent does seeking out 'better' matter when most people are either on hard times or working their knackers off (as businesses have streamlined their workforce) to enable them to sit down and enjoy a glass of wine to relax with, enjoy with food, company etc.
The readers of this blog are probably trade linked to wine and so not representative of the market. I personally work for a wine business and do you know what, whilst I ceaselessly share the finer ends of our portfolio with friends and family, once you get past a certain quality point (say 7-10 'retail' benchmark wines)they all fall into the ubiquitous 'lovely' category as the liquid passes the lips.
Also, 'better' is dependant on your need state.. Sausages and Mash on a Thursday and a bottle of 4-5 wine can be great.
Finally, from recent travels to Spain/France I would concur that we have a lot in common with our European cousins - most people in these countries drink lots of cheap wine and occasionally better wine when they gather round the family table for celebrations, it's just that maybe we only do the 'family table' thing at Christmas.
There you go Jamie, better wine is for life, not just for Christmas !

At 2:56 AM, Anonymous Chuck said...

The friends I drink wine with come in three varieties:

1. People who have no interest in learning about finer wines. On 4 or 5 occasions I have tried to excite a couple who are good friends of ours with very nice bottles of wine at dinner. They are good-natured about it, and one even has a very perceptive palate (the wife). But they are always at least as excited to open up their $5 bottle of grocery wine after the second course, touting it as "really good"!

2. People who have no palate. My mother and father both love wine, and I have shared lovely bottles with them as well. Their reaction to a nice 1er cru burgundy? "Tastes like red wine."

3. People who fall into neither category #1 or #2. This is by far the smallest group.

In short, it seems to me that you can waste a lot of breath and a lot of good wine trying to "educate people". You need to find out if they will be good "students" first!


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