March 20 2011
A bullet dodged doesn’t mean a kill shot isn’t in the clip and that’s my fear with HR1161.
With this week’s introduction of House Resolution 1161(HR1161), the horse has left the barn a second time, and the issue at hand is not just the potential loss of rights related to the sale and purchase of wines from wineries and retailers from outside of the state of your residence; it’s also the fact that not enough wine consumers care.
From a wine industry perspective, aside from facing the very real frontal assault on shipping rights, more propitiously, the industry may realize the deficiencies they face amongst the ranks of their consumers. The deficiency is a lack of sensory understanding and palate training, a wholly different, but controllable factor separate from the vagaries of lobbyist influenced three-tier protectionism.
But, it doesn’t have to be this way.
When you consider the increasing number of consumers that are drinking wine (U.S. per capita consumption grew for the 17th straight year in 2010), and recent Wine Market Council research that indicated one in five US adults over the age of 21 are “core” wine drinkers (drinking wine at least once a week and accounting for over 90% of wine consumed), understanding the sensory characteristics in wine while developing your palate, in my opinion, is not only a critical need, but also the lone separating point in between those that are “wine-inclined” and those that are harder-bitten “wine enthusiasts” in the same “core” category.
Frankly, the domestic wine business needs to convert many of the “wine-inclined” into more of the “enthusiasts,” a fact that is often overlooked because of the rosy growth over the last two decades. Here’s why: Wine enthusiasts are likely to pursue their interest in matters of the grape by conscientiously developing their palates, acquiring knowledge, staying abreast of issues, and, most importantly, seeking out unique, small wines that aren’t available in their grocery store aisle, teasing out characteristics of the wine that makes it special to them while advocating for its availability in the process.
The “wine-inclined,” on the other hand, are likely to enjoy wine as a preferred quaff over other beverage choices or for lifestyle reasons, not delving into the minutia.
While there is nothing wrong with being simply, “wine-inclined” the ramifications are more dangerous for the industry writ large: The more you know, the more you care. In order to “know,” it’s helpful to analyze wine with a deeper sense of what you’re drinking. Yet, sensory understanding and training your palate takes effort; effort that nobody has made easy for wine consumers leaving a wide swath of drinkers who swill the stuff, but don’t necessarily understand or care about the issues associated with it like HR1161 and niggling details about backdooring consumers to protect the interests of wholesalers.
No, the “wine-inclined” find enough of what they need at their grocery store, big box retail, or their local wine and liquor store.
Given that there are approximately 230 million adults in the US and simple math indicates that 46 million are (or should be) core wine drinkers, the wine consumer advocacy site Free the Grapes! has but 13,000 fans on Facebook. Sad, but true and one can only suspect that relatively few of these 46M “core” wine drinkers would feel the impingement of reduced access to wine that HR1161 represents.
While this is great for the large wine companies and the distributors they work with, it’s bad for the small wineries and the small cadre of enthusiasts who seek out the interesting beyond their state borders—the same people that intuit and appreciate the sensory aspects of said wine.
Solutions do exist to the sensory training issue, however. Le Nez du Vin, roughly translated to, “The nose of wine” is the French olfactory-based palate training tool that contains 54 vials of commonly found aromas in wine. On the market for over 30 years, it continues to be one of the most valuable wine education tools available…that nobody buys. At $400, I’ve never met a single person that owns one or has even used one. Because of the delta in between Le Nez du Vin’s dollar cost and perceived intrinsic value, there continues to be a significant market need for somebody to develop an inexpensive, easy, scent-based way to make palate training easier.
All this is interesting context for an upstart technology company based in Silicon Valley called Scent Sciences.
Launched to market in January of this year, Scent Sciences has an aroma generating product called ScentScape™ that works with their software and strives to add an extra dimension of scent to in-home gaming, entertainment and other consumer markets. A small tabletop product, it plugs into your computer or anywhere there is a USB port, bringing to life, “Smell-o-vision” something that has long been a cultural reference point on cooking shows, as-in, “Boy, I wish you could smell this.”
Imagine watching a movie with a birthday party scene and having the wafting scent of birthday cake and ice cream hit you, creating a multi-dimensional immersive experience. Or, if you’re playing a video game that has a battle scene, imagine smelling the stench of burnt rubber, gunpowder and smoke. You get the idea. And, more importantly, the technology is aimed squarely at a mass consumer audience ($69.99) and runs from a PC with the ability for consumers to customize scents to their own video editing as well as a software developer’s kit for third-parties to customize and enhance. Scent Sciences’ web site indicates that applications for Facebook, YouTube and other online experiences are in the pipeline making a scent-laden media experience in your home a not too distant reality.
This immediately smacks me as a tremendous opportunity for the wine business. Instead of smelling a forest whilst watching Avatar, I want to smell forest floor and mushroom and violets and beet juice while reading about Pinot Noir. I want to smell mint and dust while fine tuning my Rutherford Cabernet chops.
I suspect many others would, as well, if it were easier and cheaper to do so. Hopefully, ScentScape™ has a wine drinker on staff and understands the market potential. Or, ideally, a wine industry insider with some programming skills can run with the software developer’s kit, helping convert millions of the “wine-inclined” into enthusiasts with easy to use education.
In the meantime, we struggle. The industry struggles with mounting enough support to fight off threats while a small band of passionate wine enthusiasts look over their shoulder for infantry support.
In a society that always wants to blame somebody else for their self-interested motives, the wine business and, by extension, its consumers, need to look in the mirror and blame their own benign neglect in not nurturing a deeper concern for the sensory evaluation of wine, as well – the umbilical tie to deeper pursuit of the grape.
In regards to HR1161, I’m not saying that vested wine parties will get what they deserve, but we may sleep in the bed that has already been made, the scent of clean cotton not included.