Raising the bar behind us

wine bottles

There’s a human tendency which many of us fall prey to. It’s to do with how we got to where we are today. Putting it metaphorically, we got here by jumping over a bar (I’m thinking the high jump bar here, not the booze-dispensing type). Then we progress, and jump over the next bar, as our expertise improves.

But once we have jumped over the bar, we have this tendency to raise it a bit for those coming after us. We forget what it was (previously) like for us, and our expectations for those coming after us are concomitantly raised. This bar-raising makes it hard for others to learn and progress. You see this in companies where leaders are not prepared to deputise, even though they are overworked, because they don’t feel that junior staff members could do as good a job. They forget that they’d never have got to where they are now had it not been for someone else letting them learn and develop by taking on tasks that pushed them a little beyond their current expertise.

I remember a maths teacher at school. Now I was a bright kid, but I struggled with ‘A’ level Pure Maths (I was good at statistics) because he was a terrible teacher. It was because he was so smart (he had a PhD in maths) and the subject clearly came easily to him. He couldn’t put himself in the shoes of his pupils (and I was, in all likelihood, naturally an arts guy who’d ended up studying sciences), so he found it hard to reach us where we were.

This is so true for wine expertise. I remember back in the early 1990s, when I first started drinking wine in earnest. I had very trivial knowledge, but was hungry for more. I devoured any wine book I could lay my hands on, and went to consumer tastings. As an example, I remember being fascinated by a masterclass with Liz Robertson of Safeway (now defunct UK supermarket) demonstrating that it was best to go for the freshest, youngest wine in many cases, which was illustrated by tasting Safeway wines in the current and follow-on vintages. This was pretty trivial stuff, but to me as a wine newbie it was fascinating.

We’re often so quick to raise the bar, that we leave too many people behind us. I know quite a bit about wine, but for my consumer writing I’m always trying to put myself in the shoes of readers who aren’t as far along in the journey. Of course, not everyone wants to learn about wine: for many, it’s just a question of enjoying the stuff. But there’s a subset of folk who have a latent interest, which – given the right watering and nurturing – will blossom into a geeky habit. We need more wine geeks, because they are the curious folk who are prepared to spend a bit more, and who will be the customers that provide a market for brave winegrowers looking to make authentic wines of place – and who will buy the sorts of books that I like writing. But we need to reach down a bit and meet people where they are, and not expect them to jump over bars that are higher than we encountered at the same stage in our journey.

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