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Information Darwinism

Save for political campaigns, has there ever been a time when appealing to the common denominator was a good strategy? 

I don’t think so.  Yet, that’s what the wine world does, particularly those primarily responsible for wine education – columnists and writers.  They go after the “Joe Average” baseline, for the most part.

If you were to start a new job, chances are your training would be slight, your learning curve would be long, and you may only have one-half of the skills you need to truly be successful.

You would experience periodic bouts of frustration as co-workers make adjustments to help you, but never quite go to the extent of bending over backwards. 

Nope, the train doesn’t stop for anyone.  Welcome to the deep end of the pool where you either sink or swim. 

This Darwinism seems to be the case for most things in life, not just corporate warfare; either you get it done, or you don’t, but there isn’t much coddling in our dog-eat-dog ecosystem.

I have been thinking about this hard-line approach to managing learning curves and gaining a level of competency especially in contrast to wine.

Wine is soft and fuzzy.  Wine content in most traditional print media outlets (and too many online outlets) caters to the common denominator.  It’s safe.  It’s boring.  It’s all mostly the same.

If you head to the bookstore at least 75% of the books will be on the order of “Wine 101.”



I dread the 4th of July and Thanksgiving because, well, there are only so many times you can read the same BBQ / Zinfandel and Turkey / Pinot Noir article before induced somnambulism.

I recently took on a monthly assignment writing a wine column for a local lifestyle magazine.  I live in a suburb of Indianapolis.  The county I live in happens to be one of the more wealthy counties in the country – household income far exceeds the natural average, we were rated the best place to raise a family in the country by Forbes magazine last year, crime is low, housing is affordable and the schools are good.  It’s a veritable Shangri-la if being landlocked in the Midwest doesn’t upset your constitution.

My point in bringing this up is that, by the numbers, the demographics of the area where I live is heavily predisposed to wine consumption.

Yet, the charter for this wine column, in the words of the Publisher, is to:

… write to the casual wine drinker. Someone similar to me. I drink wine semi-regularly. I know reds from whites, I can kinda, sorta differentiate varietals, but not too well. I know what “dry” means. But if you poured a glass from a $150 bottle and another from a good $30 bottle, I’m not sure I could tell them apart. So, assume your audience has some basic wine knowledge, but little else. 

When I received the editorial positioning I wanted to scream from the rooftops – “There are a million and one pieces of this kind of content and it doesn’t contribute to the education of wine drinker!”

Why doesn’t it?

Simply, we are, in this day and age, the most educated population in the history of mankind.  We are infinitely smarter than our generational predecessors by a country mile.

At our fingertips, we have information resources available to us that are truly astounding.  Yet, within this mountain of information we lack two fundamental aspects:

1) Context

2) Motivation

So, instead of explaining why wine matters by placing it in a situational, societal, or historical context that resonates with somebody so they can manage their learning curve, the wine world mostly presents the same basic information over and over again hoping that somebody will be motivated to seek out more advanced forms of information.

Yet, without placing wine in context, you often don’t get to the motivation part, which is why you have Publishers who, “kinda, sorta” can differentiate varietals, “but not too well” yet recognize that having a wine column is a good idea.

You see, in my worldview, there are entirely too many people who “kinda, sorta” like wine, but know nothing about it. In surfing or skateboarding terms, these people would be “poseurs.” However, instead of us talking about the poseurs, we grapple with and try to overcome being categorized as “elitist” or “snobs.”

Ahem, they’re winning in this “turn the tables” trick.

The wine world, those entrusted with the care, feeding and development of our ecosystem enable this passive participation by presenting spoon fed information that does nothing to add to the rich tapestry of wine nor incents somebody to seek deeper information.

In my estimation, instead of talking slowly and broadly to people to be inclusive, the wine world needs to ratchet up the information presentation and assume a baseline of knowledge – an assumption that forces somebody to manage their learning curve.

Or, in other words, like most other areas of our life, it’s sink or swim time – like Darwinism said, “Survival of the fittest.”


Posted in, Free Run: Field Notes From a Wine Life. Permalink | Comments (6) |


On 08/03, tom merle wrote:

You place entirely too much emphasis on education and even more narrowly information.  For the hobbyist, the Wondrous World of Wine offers all sorts of fascinating data. The pursuit of this kind of knowledge is definitely elitist in the descriptive sense of the word. 

But for those in the middle of the bell curve, the experience of wine drinking has very little to do with cerebral activity.  Rather it is a sensuous activity where engaging the brain is irrelevant, not unlike the experience of enjoying music.  I don’t need to know how a sonata is crafted to appreciate Bach. And that’s the key word “appreciate” not “educate”.

Your assignment can encourage the casual consumer to consider the merits of other varieties and to attend events where they can do so.  And it can flesh out the human element of winemaking—always interesting. The model here, I think, would be the husband and wife team at the Wall Street Journal who manage to weave some grape growing background and wine characteristics into interesting stories.

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On 09/02, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

This Darwinism seems to be the case for most things in life, not just corporate warfare; either you get it done,yeaaah it’s great post you have..thanks for the space.
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