Thursday, September 4, 2014

Why mainstream media always wrongly assumes wine prices will go up

This story is so wrong.
A few days after the Napa earthquake, which I covered extensively for Wine Searcher, I was a guest on a southern California radio program. The host was mainly interested in how wine prices were going to go up.

I explained that Napa makes 4% of the wine in California, and only a part of Napa was affected. I estimated that of its 525 wineries, about 5% lost significant amounts of wine. And the wine they lost was from 2013, the largest vintage in California history. I've written all this before.

But the host kept pushing me to say consumers -- some consumers -- would pay more. What about fans of 2013 California wines? What about collectors?

I'm not alone in getting pushed to say that wine prices would rise after the quake. ABC News did a story. Men's Health did a story. The Washington Post did a story. These three got the story mostly correct.

But some didn't.


News 92FM in Houston wrote, "Prepare to spend a bit more next time you buy a bottle or order a glass of wine, predicting a rise in Houston wine prices of "at least a few bucks." By following #napaquake on Twitter for several days, I saw ignorance like this in many places. 

You'd think the media might have learned something after last year's foolishly covered world wine shortage story. That story came from a legitimate study claiming that the world would drink more bulk wine than it produces by the year 2020. This may be the case -- let's not go too deeply back into that meme -- but it's unlikely to affect the overall availability of wine in the first world for reasons that aren't hard to figure out. However, the TV news covered it like wine would soon become caviar, rationed only to the wealthy.

There are two reasons the mainstream media loves to jump to this conclusion, one positive, and one not. The positive one is that people think of wine as an artisanal, limited farm product, even when it's not. When they hear "wine," they don't think of Sutter Home's enormous oil tanker-like vats. They think of Napa farmers (and not immigrants, mind you) picking individual grapes and lovingly carrying them to a pristine crusher the size of a blender. They think their bottle of Wine Sisterhood was handmade by a woman named Joanne -- perhaps she also printed the label, licked the back and carefully applied it to the bottle -- while her cats played beneath her feet.

People just don't have a sense of how enormous and international the wine business is -- that if Napa Valley or Mendoza, Argentina or Barossa Valley, Australia fell into a giant sinkhole tomorrow, we would all be the poorer for it, but overall world wine prices would still not be much affected. Other places would sell us other wines.

That's not the nicest way to put it, and I hope my friends in those regions forgive me. We can all use a little more romance in our lives, and if people want to make Two Buck Chuck romantic, more power to them. But that's not the only reason people have the "prices will go up" reaction.

I don't know who "rottenrollin" is, but the comment he posted on the Breitbart story I showed above speaks for many in the mainstream media: "All those high fallutin elitists can afford it and more. Sock it to 'em." I worked in newspapers. That attitude is pervasive -- anybody who drinks wine is "elitist," and many mainstream media editors would like to see us punished. This was true even before journalism entered its awful downward spiral.

Some people write ignorant "wine prices will go up" posts because wine is precious to them and they fear its price will approach its value.

Other people write ignorant "wine prices will go up" stories because they hate wine lovers and want us to suffer.

To them, I dedicate the delicious glass of St├ęphane Aviron Beaujolais-Villages 2012 I have in front of me: fresh and delightful, with great acidity, berry flavors and savoriness. It comes from an area hit by hail, frost, labor unrest, bad marketing, Frenchness and who knows what other natural disasters. And it's still only $13 a bottle. Cheers, haters!

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.


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  2. Great post! Sadly, it describes the decline of journalism as we know it.

    My wife and I spent much of our careers in broadcast TV news. She was a director in Houston. I was in the technology end of things.

    There was a time when reporters would approach a story with an open mind, but that time has long past. Now they seek an angle to achieve a sensational headline. It's all part of the mad scramble for eyeballs.

    Unfortunately, the attempt to sustain a mass audience results in such poor product that it drives thinking people to the very things that the mass media is fighting, blogs such as this.

  3. Good points, Blake. But of course, it's been that way forever: when mainstream press gets ahold of a story, the tendency is to make illogical leaps based upon basic lack of information.

    But that's forgiveable, because anyone can write "prices-are-going-up" pieces forever and ever, because prices of less plentiful, high demand wines are always going up. The nuance is that the tide of global wine lake has also been on a relentless rise over the past 30 years. Wines have been getting ridiculously expensive and ridiculously cheaper at the same time.

    That is to say: when I started in the business in the late '70s, we could buy Bordeaux and Burgundy grand crus for less than $30; but ironically, there were very few choices of ultra-premium quality wines under $12 for us to buy and sell. Today, no one but the ultra-wealthy can buy grand crus, but choices of fantastic wine under $12 are endless. Funny world we live in...