As I begin to read Doug Shafer's A Vineyard in Napa, a motto he attributes to his father, John, and founder of the renowned Shafer Vineyards made me think of the current debate about the state of wine criticism. "A good wine seldom mentioned is soon forgotten." To me, this maxim speaks volumes to me about how both we as writers/critics and consumers talk about wine.
Thirty years ago (when I was still in diapers), there was very little critical and popular press talk about wine in the United States, that I can remember. One man changed that and we as a nation have come a long way in the past three decades. Wine is slowly becoming a part of our popular culture. Hell, with the risk of sounding like a press release for a certain winery, a popular television show, Cougar Town, has made wine a central theme during its Prime Time slot. Ok, maybe Cougar Town isn't exactly "popular," but it is on television and stars Courtney Cox. How many wineries wouldn't love to see her drinking their wine?
But more than a show that was canceled and then picked up by TBS, wine conversation is at an all time high. Granted, I don't have the numbers (I'm too lazy, and underpaid, to do any research for a five-paragraph blog post) to back up that claim. Anecdotally, just look to Facebook, Twitter and all the damn Pinterest images and Someecards that talk about wine. Social media is playing an continually increasing role in how wine is discussed in this country (and not counting the 85+ comments on Paul Mabray's Facebook post). I don't remember Reader's Digest having much in the way of wine content...
Now when we discuss the traditional wine media outlets, what is getting the most traction? Is it what they're saying about wine? No. Antonio Galloni's departure from the Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator's tasting methods and Steve Heimoff's (seriously, name one other Wine Enthusiast editor... I can't) hypocritical disregard for social media (he may be single-handedly keeping his employer somewhat relevant) are the main topics. Are their wine reviews the biggest story? No. Sure, people are in a bit of a tizzy about the absence of Galloni's Sonoma reviews for his former publication, but that's not the same thing as discussing actual reviews.
Yet, every day I peruse Twitter and Facebook and read countless recommendations/reviews on a wide variety of wines. More people today are talking about the wines they are drinking. The industry might not be completely different than it was before Facebook and Twitter, but it is changing. Good wines are getting mentioned by more people more often than they ever have in history. Good wines that get mentioned by one or two critics may soon be forgotten. Good wines mentioned by thousands people are going to sell. And as I stated in that long Facebook thread, I've bought wine from no fewer than half a dozen wineries solely because of Social Media. It may not be a lot, but that is concrete evidence of the power of Social Media.