One of the stories making the rounds in the digital winesphere is about a recent segment on the Canadian radio show This is That. The segment featured two Canadian wine producers from the Okanagan Valley and the Niagara region. The host began by asking his guests what makes Canadian wine so good. From that point on, the two guests attacked and disparaged each other (and denounced innocent New Hampshire's wine industry in the process). The Sean Connery-esque Daniel Semple even quipped that the Okanagan pinot noir brought by the other guest "may have just been some garbage." At that point, physical violence ensued.
On Twitter, countless people commented in amazement on the story. It's on the Internet, so it must be true! The only problem? This Is That is a "current affairs program that doesn't just talk about the issues, it fabricates them." The whole thing was satirical take on the wine industry a la The Onion or The Daily Show's "Even Stepvhen" segment (Mr. Colbert, if you're reading, wine should have its own segment on The Late Show). Don't believe everything you see on Twitter.
But what made the episode so funny is that it is so close to reality. The wine trade is rife with egos and personalities that would rather fight a colleague than help him or her. Sadly, I know I could recreate this segment with real winemakers by just getting them into the same room.
Sure, the two Canadian wine regions get some press as this silly story gets retweeted, but I really think all winemakers should listen to it while reflecting on their own relationships with their competitors and the public. There is nothing wrong with honesty and constructive criticism, but denigration and defamation hurt everyone.
This fake interview can also be used to highlight the economic geography of competition in the wine industry. I love beer, but if I put on my winery accountant hat (also fake) I would rather a consumer drink wine than beer. A wine drinker is more likely to drink my winery's product than a non-wine drinker. As a Canadian winery accountant (I really am 25% Canadian), I would want to support other Canadian wineries because a consumer open to Canadian wine would perhaps be willing to buy my product.
Now, if you scale down to an individual region, say the Okanagan Valley, all other wines in the world are competing with you. Speaking badly of other local wines is about as stupid as casting aspersions on your own product. I don't want to buy product from a producer who publicly derides his or her colleagues; and I don't.
This idea of promoting the wine industry in general and acting as an ambassador of wine was best exemplified by the late Robert Mondavi. He tried to convince Americans to drink California wine at a time when French wine was by far a more popular choice. He then urged consumers to drink Napa Valley wines. Only after he promoted those larger regions (and his fellow colleagues' wines) did he try to sell his own product. I have more respect for a salesperson that tries to sell me a competitor's product rather than one of his own just because it would put money in his pocket.
We need more people like Robert Mondavi who can act as leaders and build up their colleagues rather than tear each other down. A little congeniality can go along way in the public eye. Can we all get along?