I think most people have a vision of who wine connoisseurs are: stuffy, over-educated, rich white folks that treat wine as though it’s something to be hoarded for those who really have a properly trained palate or those who can afford only the best. Sure, there still are those folks out there who see wine knowledge as a way to climb the social ladder, but you have to remember: wine is for everyone. In France and Italy, everyone drinks wine at home. They take their jugs out to their local vineyard and drink it pretty much from the barrel. It’s cheaper than bottled water in many restaurants in Europe.
Here is something that I have observed: There are far more people who drink quality wine than the stereotypes. Even in Napa, people watching, you will see just how far the culture is changing. When I visit wineries these days there are people from every walk of life. Bikers, housewives, teachers, mechanics, musicians, and of course movie stars. Millennials are embracing the wine culture and adding it to their lives far more than my peers did at that age. Most of my friends were interested in beer and cocktails at that time. (I was in the hospitality business and so wine was part of my daily life even back then.)
It is also important to remember who wine growers really are: farmers. They work the land and grow the grapes. They get up before the sun and their work isn’t done until the sun goes down. Most of those who I meet are down to earth people with an amazing work ethic and a love for the land and their wine creations. They don’t have the time or the inclination to be pretentious. Wine is all about passion.
One of the most interesting examples of this shift we found in wine culture was at Domain Chandon in Napa. We visited their tasting room on The Brit’s birthday and our wine host Antwan was more than a little bit of a surprise. Instead of looking like a white, overly educated middle-class, middle-aged man, or a highly polished car salesman type of person, we found ourselves being hosted by a late twenties man whose colorful speech and street clothes appearance seemed unusual in that setting. (Note: we were the first tasters of the day during the week and the tasting room was quiet. I have no idea if that is the way he regularly dresses for work, or if was doing back of house things that day and wasn’t dressed for the public. A Google search of images would suggest this was not his norm – see pic above.) Despite outward appearances that day and his very colorful language, he was very knowledgeable about the wine he was pouring and had a very outgoing personality. As we left our tasting, we discussed just how interesting it was to have such an unusual character pouring our wines. Would having someone who presents themselves like that make other guests feel more comfortable and bring wine to a wider range of guests? It’s an interesting thought.
Recently, I have become friendly with yet another surprise wine expert, Stacy Briscoe. She’s in her early thirties, very casual, and what I would consider a typical Millenial. Meeting her, you wouldn’t automatically imagine her to be a wine connoisseur. Yet, she’s a writer for the SF Chronicle wine section and her blog Briscoe Bites is extremely popular due to her imaginative wine tasting notes and cute personality.
But the inspiration for this article goes to Jason Sampson (Sampy) of Bogan’s Guide to Wine. This guy is the antithesis of what you would expect from a wine expert and blogger. He does video blogs about wine with his friends. He’s an Australian, and his videos feature soundtracks of heavy metal music. He and his guests mostly look like bikers, and not like snobby wine people.
The first time I watched one of his videos I was really taken aback, but here is the thing: The guy knows his stuff, and he’s genuinely entertaining. He breaks through our barriers of what we think about the wine world and who wine experts should be. I love that about him. He has a huge audience, so his message is getting out there to other people who may feel intimidated by the traditional wine expert. Good on ya “Sampy” for making wine fun and accessible to everyone.
My point is that you don’t have to be rich to enjoy wine. You don’t have to be middle class or a movie star. All you have to do is open a bottle, even if the bottle is Charles Shaw. Like music or a fine meal, wine is meant to be enjoyed and remembered…like the soundtrack of your life with some tracks being more favorite than others. (Even if that soundtrack is Heavy Metal – Right Sampy?)
The Brit comments: I am not sure that I would go as far as suggesting that it is ok to drink Charles Shaw.