The seven habits of highly ineffective wine people

Wednesday, 13 March, 2013
Matt Kramer, Wine Spectator
Recently, I was in a conversation with a Burgundy wine producer whose wines I admire very much. I teased him about how reluctant Burgundians are to acknowledge somewhere on a wine label that a Bourgogne rouge is Pinot Noir (and possibly Gamay) and that a Bourgogne blanc is Chardonnay.
"Would it kill you to add this information somewhere on the label?" I asked.

"Actually, it would," he replied, in all seriousness. "It would be the death of French wine civilization."

For once in my life I was speechless. I mean, here we are in the 21st century, where communication is paramount, and you've got the equivalent of an aboriginal wine tribe still sending smoke signals.

What is it about wine that makes so many otherwise intelligent, interesting and ambitious people cling to habits and patterns that simply no longer work? To paraphrase from the best-selling business book, here are "The Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Wine People."

Habit 1: Insist that your customers learn your jargon. Now, here's an ineffective habit. You want someone to buy your product? Of course you do. So why, then, would you label the item in a manner that is utterly incomprehensible? French producers are masters of this. Even the French themselves can't understand what's on offer, as it's not just a matter of the literal language itself.

Take the Bourgogne rouge and blanc example cited above. Only recently have some producers, somewhere on their front or back label, begun to inform us of what a "Bourgogne" actually is. So that's progress.

But not so fast. Two new designations approved in 2012 are hardly clarion examples of label clarity. First, you’ve got “Côteaux Bourguignons.” And what is that, you ask? Good question. It replaces the delightfully oxymoronic Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire. Boy, that cleared things up, didn't it?

The other new designation is “Bourgogne Côte d'Or.” It's designed to augment mere "Bourgogne" with something that confines the geographical source to only the Côte d'Or and only to wines made exclusively from Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. But that information is presented somewhere on the label, right? Silly you.

Habit 2: Bottle your wines using closures that degrade your product. It's a pity that wine buyers can't sue wine producers for selling us defective products. Because that, apparently, is what it's going to take to get the wine business to stop using closures—meaning corks—that render a certain percentage of the wines literally defective.

Granted, the percentage of such wines seems to be declining. My colleague James Laube recently reported that "3.7 percent of the 3,269 cork-sealed wines from California that we tasted in the Wine Spectator office in 2012 were thought to be tainted by a bad cork."

He further noted, that while that percentage is the lowest he’s seen among California wines since Wine Spectator began tracking such info more than a decade ago (down from 3.8 percent in 2011 and a high of 9.5 percent in 2007), suggesting cork quality has improved, it also indicates that “there is still a problem.”

Bad habit, wouldn't you say?

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