Fintan Kerr: Wine needs more informal promotion

By , 25 April 2024



Leo’s Wine Bar, Bree Street, Cape Town.

The world seems set against the wine trade at the moment. From the prohibitive “forces of good” looking to limit alcohol consumption world-wide, to the inevitable continuation of global warming, to a younger generation seemingly moving away from alcohol altogether, wine is taking hits on all fronts. Needless to say, if you´re involved in our amazing industry, you want to see it succeed, whether you be in the trade itself or not. How our ailing fortunes might be changed is a subject of some debate that ultimately seems to come down to two trains of thought: accessibility vs education. These are not mutually exclusive but do ultimately come down to two very different approaches.

I find myself leaning towards education. Making wine accessible is a wonderful idea, in theory. In practice, instead of the classic, inevitable race to the bottom we instead get a race to the bottom where everyone is cutting corners and proclaiming them as victories. Like it or not we live in a world where the vast majority of entry level wine is purchased, predominantly, through supermarkets and other large retail outlets. The only victories to be had here are won by the producers large enough to exist in these locations in the first place, and especially by those large enough to benefit from economies of scale. Converting someone to drinking cheap wine instead of cheap beer is not, in my eyes, the goal. Having involved customers who buy better wine and are naturally curious, is, especially as they become passive ambassadors for those wines and the industry as a whole.

You can argue, rightly, that wine makes itself complicated. It does. It is also inherently complicated, which is something that still seems to confound people. To put it simply, the act of drinking wine isn´t complicated in the slightest but knowing what you´re drinking is. Unfortunately, this is really a big part of what makes wine special – it´s individuality and variety, so you can´t easily take one without the other. Many have tried to simplify this and failed; there´s simply no way to put all the relevant information into a neat box that anyone can pick up. If you want dedicated customers, they need to move beyond the first element of just drinking wine as an alcoholic drink and at least catch a glimpse of the rest.

The most straightforward form of wine education is one of the most common in the trade, and also the most circumstantial, which is why the wine world is filled with a certain type of guy. If you´re fortunate enough to be born into a well-off family who drink wine, chances are, you´re going to have access to a lot of good wine from a young age and support in terms of finances and information on what it´s all about. This accounts for about half the people I meet who work in the wine trade itself and a lot of the more involved customers; if you have money, knowledge and a natural curiosity for wine, you are keeping the world of fine wine afloat; thank you! I mean that sincerely.

Since the world of wine noticed that its guardians were almost exclusively middle-aged men with posh accents, there have been efforts to mainstream education and diversify. Introducing, the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET); the world’s premiere franchised wine education body and by far the number one provider of wine courses (the SA programme provider being The International Wine Education Centre). There is also the CMS, Wine Scholar Guild and others, but the WSET is in a league of its own (and not trying to reinvent itself after endless scandals). Running from Levels 1-4 in an ascending order of difficulty and commitment to complete, the WSET has become the standard bearer for trade qualifications and also, more importantly, those wishing to learn about wine. Having completed all these levels and taught several hundred students in my past time as a WSET Educator, I can say that the demand for people to learn about wine for fun far outstrips those who feel they need it for a career progression. It sets an excellent base of knowledge, particularly at levels 3 and 4, on which to build.

However, most wine education isn´t a formal task and it’s a big ask to expect customers to invest time and money in an expensive course. In fact, the vast majority of wine education happens far more informally, through writing, documentaries, wine tastings and events. My own induction into the world of wine came through a tasting in a wine shop in Barcelona… had I never moved to that particular street, at that particular time, would I be working with wine today? I will never know.

For all the straw man arguments about wine being intimidating, for all the “Wine for dummies” and “Simplifying wine” articles out there, I believe the world is largely full of intelligent, resourceful people who have yet to be snared by it. When they are, their natural curiosity and desire to learn often takes them the rest of the way; it’s only that first spark that needs to be ignited.

Ultimately, helping that comes down to all of us, professionals and non-professionals alike, those who create content, organise tastings and events, as well as those who throw dinner parties and open the good bottles for friends and family. We’re all dying to bore each other to tears talking about the stuff, so make the most of it and introduce someone new to good wine – the real stuff. It doesn´t have to be expensive, flashy or rare, but it should be something you really like. The same is true on a professional level: when time and finances permit, do events and write articles that you actually believe in. Let the passion flow and be honest about the things you really like, the things you spend your own money on. It might just ignite that spark of interest in someone, which, as it turns out, is all that’s really needed.

  • Fintan Kerr, DipWSET, lives in Barcelona and is a wine writer, educator and founder of Wine Cuentista (Cuentista is Spanish for “storyteller”.) Follow him on Twitter: @Wine_Cuentista


6 comment(s)

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    Fred Schwartz | 7 May 2024

    Great post, Fintan. I have worked in wine marketing for the last 20 years and have yet to see anyone successfully “position” wine. By that I mean, what do we want young and/or new consumers to associate with wine? More specifically, how do we position wine against beer and spirits? What is wine for? There are both functional and emotional answers, both no one seems to have landed on the one true, compelling idea. If beer owns “refreshment” and “male bonding” and spirits own “adventure” and “mischief” — I just made this up but you catch my drift — what’s left for wine? Answer that with one word and put some legit media dollars behind it and then we might have something to talk about.

      Fintan Kerr | 9 May 2024

      Thank you Fred! Yes, you´re onto something here. Worse still, wine has a tendency to try and copy beer which simply doesn´t work. I don´t know if there is a single, centralised message but this fragmented approach certainly doesn´t work.

    Sam Venter | 27 April 2024

    Great article. I agree – education, formal or informal, a preferable route to igniting the spark of interest, rather than the potential dumbing-down of “accessibility “. In 10 years of writing about wine, sparked by interest but not much technical knowledge, my education has been all informal – attending tastings, events like Cape Wine, interviews and tastings with winemakers, visiting farms, following more experienced wine writers, bloggers etc. Some of it a privilege that “ordinary” wine lovers don’t get, but that I try to share in my writing. The proof for me of the power of informal education, is that through sharing what I learn with my children over the years, now in their early 20s they appreciate good wine and want to learn more.

      Fintan Kerr | 28 April 2024

      Thanks Sam! This has been my experience as well. I only wish my parents had cared about wine, but my son will certainly have a few options when he´s old enough to start tasting for the first time.

    Greg Sherwood | 27 April 2024

    I always tell new consumers… you don’t need to know anything about wine other than what you like and what you don’t like. Simple. However, even getting to that basic starting point requires a certain amount of tasting and / or drinking. If people start shunning wine under the wider umbrella of alcohol, this is a big problem. As you will know from living in Spain, the secret to their cultures’ deep love of wine is because they look at wine as “Alimentaria” or more like food… not as an alcoholic beverage. Food is part of everyones healthy, balanced lifestyle obviously, and in my opinion, so should moderate consumption of quality, artisanal wine. Once the spark is ignited, then education is certainly a very handy tool to take them to the next level of engagement.

      Fintan Kerr | 28 April 2024

      Yes, that´s pretty much my point. Education is a great tool for expanding knowledge but it´s a fairly poor ignition point for interest in the first place. The problem is, and you´ll have seen me have this argument endlessly on Twitter, a lot of people advocate for accessibility in the form of cheaper, tackier wine and marketing projects surrounding them. I´ve yet to see any information that suggests this makes anyone better off other than the supermarkets selling the wine! Thus, I continue to rage against the machine.

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