Some discussion on twitter at the moment about whether terroir is relevant to consumers. It’s all a bit daft really, because no one has defined who these consumers are, and everyone is talking as if there is just a single wine market.
To understand the wine market, the first rule is that you have to segment. Some people are really interested in wine, want to discuss it, are ‘category experts’ and are prepared to spend a lot of money on good bottles.
Other people enjoy good wine, will spend quite a bit of money, but don’t want to discuss the wine or learn about it. They just like enjoying it.
Others want a wine that tastes OK at a keen price. They won’t spend more. They won’t change their shopping habits to find better wines. They won’t even read back labels; let alone learn about wine.
Others don’t yet drink wine, but are potential consumers who need to be won to the category.
I’m sure you could segment more accurately and deeply. But this simple theoretical segmentation makes it clear that to consider the wine market as a whole will lead to a lot of confusion. For some consumers, terroir is clearly irrelevant. It’s a nonsense. Indeed, this group represents the majority of wine consumers.
But because of this, to dismiss terroir as a concept is absolutely nuts, because there’s a segment of the market for whom terroir matters a great deal. And to berate the wine industry for talking about terroir on this basis is just unfair.
I’ve heard criticism of late that we wine writers are talking to ourselves. We aren’t. We are talking to category experts. Yes, they may represent just a small part of the wine market. But they are the consumers of wine media. To suggest that all wine writers should begin to write for the non-involved consumers who just want something tasty and cheap to drink assumes that they want to read about wine. They don’t.
I do think that there should be consumer friendly wine writing, if by ‘consumer’ we are talking about non-involved consumers. Sadly, there isn’t a great deal of a market for this writing. I do my bit, with my Sunday Express column. But when it comes to my website, I’m writing for category experts because they are the people reading.
Those of us who write for high-end category experts shouldn’t feel the need to apologise. My website stats show that I’m not just talking to myself or other wine writers. Wine needs words, as Hugh Johnson says.
It’s actually quite elitist to assume that ‘consumers’ aren’t interested in learning about wine, and concepts such as terroir. Once I was a newbie in the wine category, and the high-end wine discussion on the internet helped draw me in. Because wine is interesting, and in large part this is because of complicated, consumer-unfriendly concepts such as terroir. Champions of the ‘consumer’ can sometimes forget this.