Friday, January 22, 2010

Two Faces of Wine

One of my wine class "students" sent me the link to a fascinating article titled "French Wines Learn New World Marketing and Branding." It seems to suggest that the French concept of labeling wine according to "terroir" is facing imminent extinction. Yes, it is true that the French have been slow to adopt the use of cute animal labels, and that their wine exports have suffered accordingly. It is also worth noting that per-capita wine consumption in France has declined by 50% in the past ten years or so, as their younger generation copies ours by consuming more Coca Cola and McDonald's fries - and gaining more weight (France also has the toughest drunk-driving laws in the world). Welcome to globalization - as we US Americans become more internationally sophisticated (sushi/crudo, tapas, wine bars) Europe the rest of the world becomes more American brand obsessed (Coca Cola, Pepsi, McDonald's).

As France learns to capture more of the supermarket wine business (animal labels, smooth, homogenized flavors) a few winegrowers in the New World learn about terroir. The technical wine/terroir wine dichotomy is nothing new, though the divide has widened as technology has developed. Wine is simply following the path of any other consumer product. France has long had bulk wine in their supermarkets and fine terroir-driven wine in their
caviste wine shops. Maryland still doesn't allow wine to be sold in its supermarkets, but stores like CWC offer a clear alternative to stores like Beltway Fine Wine or Costco (oh, that's right, Costco and Sam's Club can't sell wine in Maryland either). You get the idea.

The current lousy economic situation notwithstanding, terroir wines have been around since the Romans (Falernum is a place, a terroir if you will) and they'll survive, even thrive, as more wine drinkers pop up in the most unexpected places around the world. China has barely started consuming wine but they're learning fast. And they're not drinking just the stuff with the cute animal labels - just ask Chateau Lafite where they're shipping most of their wine now.


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