Wine for the masses has a long history dating back to before the birth of the modern world when it serve as both a beverage with food, as a major medicinal cure all and many ceremonial purposes. The early evidence of humans turning grapes into wine dates to at least 7000 BC. If you hit the internet there is some pretty interesting stuff out there about all the assorted cultural traditions centered around wine emanating from the ancient and medieval world that span from the far east to europe. Many of those either focused on religious rites or just the common usage and pretty basic fermentation processes. Trust me the wine making practices and purity laws of the time pale by comparison to what we see today. I have to believe that given the inconsistency of the fermentation variables that some of it must have been pretty awful. I also assume that the commoners got what was left after the ruling class got done taking the best and most consistent for rituals and regal consumption.
Don’t get me wrong I am not slamming royalty or those who in the past 9000 years or so could afford really high quality wine. My point — I see a movement back to basics with many more really good wines being made available at prices most everyone can afford, if only for special occasions. Part of this is due to the production standards improving, in part due to greater world wide production but mostly I believe it to be improvements in the distribution chain. Wine Shops, Drugstore chains Grocery stores and even corner markets have broadedned their inventory a lot over just my lifetime. I even remember the days when you could only get wine in the State owned Liquor stores (I’m told some still have that problem), and believe me the variety was quite limited. For most of the Western World, those days are gone (thankfully).
The proliferation of “Wine Clubs”, “Wine Buying Groups” and the loosening of State Wine and Beer monopolies and distribution law make it possible now to get wine from many sources on the internet and have it shipped directly to your home or business. I frankly like the trend as it allow for a more open and competitive marketplace. It not only increases the supply in the market, it allows small producers to find buyers in a way that they never could before. With this loosening of the moral restrictions comes a greater appreciation of different types of wines and an increase in demand for varieties that we never knew about or had the opportunity to try.
Like all things in the modern world a lot of our consumption gets driven by advertising and brand awareness. This in turn produces more consumers who recognize a wine by name and reach for it and this crosses all sectors of the economic spectrum. My biggest concern centers around the vineyard owners and winemakers who in this type of market see the retail prices rise but no more, or in some cases even less, gets to the producers. I harken back to a comment I made the first time I came across a coffee cart in Seattle with this green astrological symbol for a logo — “ there is no #%@^ way I am paying $2.00 for a cup of coffee with warm milk in it” Well I’ve eaten my words many times over and long for the days when I could get that cup for $2.00. My point in all this; over time the Latte’ became a reality of life all over the world and and now people don’t even think about it. Today the coffee producers still struggle in the marketplace to get a fair price for their product and I remain skeptical that the same thing might occur in the world of wine.
Before I get bashed by the wine distributors and the production winemakers I am not saying that they are villains or even that they are the problem, the consumer will be just as much at fault in an open market economy where demand pushes prices up but supply excesses bring them down. As the wine industry grows and access continues to increase, both these factors will come into play and the wine business will likely go the way of coffee with pressure being applied by the weight of the industry on those at the bottom of the food chain.
I am a big fan of being able to buy stuff directly from the producer and really like the trends I see for sustainability in the food markets. It is not about the price, I do understand that I am paying more or at least as much for the food products I buy directly from producers. What makes a difference to me is in knowing that a bigger piece of the pie goes to the producer and almost as important being able to know the producers and getting more options to provide feedback to the marketplace. Can you even imagine going into a chain supermarket and making a comment with an expectation that it would get back to the grower, or even the packager? I suspect that the chain market doesn’t even know who they are, as many brands are now packaged in the same plants and just labeled differently. My point in all this is I see trends in the wine industry much like NakedWines.Com where the distance between my table and the grapegrower and winemaker gets a lot shorter. NakedWines.Com is by no means the only model as I find that individual small vineyards and winemaker have websites where I actually buy direct and even occasionally I get to speak with them on the phone when I want mixed cases or the like. This is my ideal wine world.
As a final note on access, I do love good wine, and in my home I like my good wine to be affordable. I do go to restaurants and drink wine at much higher prices (sometime outrageous). I do also stop by specialty wine stores on occasion and buy a unique bottle of wine that I really like or it is just that special (at least I think it is). Sometime is is not about price but about desire. Being a wine lover today lets you get more for your money everyday so that when you need (want) to spend a lot for a nice wine at dinner, or a great bottle for a special occasion, you can do so without guilt as you more than made up for it by getting your day to day good wines for less in a more direct market.