Yesterday, a piece by Michael Fridjhon was posted which neatly summed up what I’ve been tripping over for a few years now. He described two distinct faces of our wine industry, and touched on the problem of very little wine media being in play.
Upon reading this last night, I dumped my planned topic for today (sorry, Christian) because I want to add my ZAR0.02 here too. There’s a missing middle in the industry, on both the wine and media sides.
Firstly, the plight of the missing middle tier in wine has always bothered me. Despite clear signs (both locally and internationally) that the mid-range tier of our wine production will most likely be the key to global success, these wines go largely unnoticed. Fridjhon notes them as wines that would not be of interest to Winemag.co.za readers – which is accurate. The geekier the wino, the more inclined they are to seek out the newest, most hipsteriest and unusual wines they can find. They’re attracted to the wines that make out the top tip of the pyramid: craft (small in volume, high in accolades). They are repelled by the broad base of the pyramid: bulk (large volume, zero accolade). And the simply have no interest in the rather massive middle chunk. That middle chunk is what links the money-spinning bottom rung to the reputation-building top one, which could ultimately unify and balance our market as a whole.
Similarly, wine media in South Africa has also taken on a pyramid shape. At the top you have a narrow tip, made up of few individuals who are the established wine writers and critics of the local scene. The stalwarts of traditional wine writing. The handful that still get their names on hardcopy print, even.
At the bottom, we have the group that I absolutely love to hate: the bleggers. The online advertorials. Lately, it’s packaged as “native advertising”. The bottom-feeders that will do anything for a freebie and will happily rave about a bag of raisins in return for the “exposure” – and the free bag of raisins. Despite the vast majority of them not really being classifiable as writers, they do fall under the “media” umbrella by sheer virtue of having managed to cobbled together a blogsite and set up a Twitter account without falling over and hurting themselves.
And in the middle you have a mix of people who care about wine, have opinions that hold real value and embark on projects that strive to inform the broader wine-drinking public on a level that relates to them, without pandering to the PR machine. They represent the connection between the excessively knowledgeable wine geeks at the top and the flood of pointless, press-release-reposting, content-churners at the bottom.
In both pyramids, we need to build up the missing middle.
The top of each pyramid will remain largely unchanged. They will continue to be leaders in their fields, respected and recognized. The potential growth is in the middle – by bolstering the middle, there can be a knock-on effect, pulling some of the bottom, up. In the wine pyramid, this could mean cherry picking high quality bulk wine and moving them over into packaged form. In media, it could mean taking fresh new talent from the bottom of the pool and cultivating them into a new generation of wine writer – ones who might be perfectly capable of a spot of wine geekery, but knows how to keep it real and relevant.
In both pyramids, those who add little to no value will eventually slip off the bottom. And nobody will miss them.
- Marthélize Tredoux is the co-owner and editor at Incogvino. By day, she helps SA wineries sell their wine in the USA. She won the Veritas Young Wine Writers Competition in 2013.