Knowing Wine and Your Learning Style

How much money would you spend for a day and ½ of quality time with a Master of Wine who breaks down the basics of what you need to know about tasting and the world of wine from France to Tasmania and everywhere in between?

Would you spend $200? $500? $1000? 

Well, for the low, low price of $49.95, this education can be yours by purchasing The Everyday Guide to Wine DVD series by Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, M.W.

Though, a better question might be: is anybody buying? More on this in a second.

Presented by The Great Courses, a well-regarded educational content company, the six DVD set is 12 hours long and includes 24 30-minute lectures by Simonetti-Bryan (and also includes 24 outfit changes for those keeping score at home).  The content is what you might expect – a kitchen sink approach.  Accompanied by a written transcript of the lectures along with a workbook that can be used in conjunction with either the book or the DVD’s, the overall package represents a nice value based on the knowledge shared by an expert—especially one with the comfortable presence of Simonetti-Bryan.   

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Still, The Everyday Guide to Wine is not without room for criticism.

Shot on video (instead of film) on a wood paneled set with hackneyed props and lighting reminiscent of 1980s VHS tapes of ill repute (the kind with Johnson’s and not of the “Hugh” variety), the production values are suitably unimpressive and distracting.  For a DVD product that was published this year, in a very contemporary societal wine environment that’s rich with patina, you might expect a more progressive feel (not to mention production values more accomplished than what you could find from the D.I.Y. video crowd on YouTube).  The overall vibe, classical music lecture introductions, graphics, talent direction and photographs all have a very dated and “stock” feel – and it’s a real a shame because the content written principally by Simonetti-Bryan deserves a much better treatment.

Just the same, she makes the best of the situation by providing a well-organized overview of the world of wine with enough information to provide a broad survey for the uninitiated while being able to span knowledge levels by providing an expert refresher for ardent lovers of the grape.

Speaking of spanning wine knowledge ranges, in the introduction, Simonetti-Bryan makes use of the Constellation “Gemone Project” consumer research (link initiates a research summary PDF download from Constellation) by referencing several classifications of drinkers who will find something of value in the DVD program.  She cites:

Satisfied Sippers

Overwhelmed

Enthusiast

Image Seeker

Savvy Shopper

The sixth classification from Constellation that was left out of The Everyday Guide to Wine is the, “Traditionalist” – a demographic archetype that skews older and for whom familiarity with brands is very important, a ponderous omission given the inclusion of the other five ...

I bring consumer archetypes up within the context of wine education and learning because I feel strongly about two specific items that seems oft neglected in acknowledging: 

1) The focus on wine demographic archtypes for marketing (and education) instead of addressing individual wine learning curves

2) The prevalence in the wine business of a so-called, “one to many” approach in education – as in, “Let’s go an inch deep and a mile wide and talk about the entire world of wine.”  This approach is stock-in-trade in virtually all wine education books and programs.

Well, I hate to be the “throw the baby out with the bathwater” guy, but the times are a-changing when it comes to how people learn about wine and now is as good of a time as any for different tactics of wine education to be developed.

First, to put this into framework for “why,” we have to understand learning styles.  According to academic research, there are four predominant learning styles:

Sociological – Group and peer learning

Auditory – learning by listening

Visual – Learning by visual and written information

Tactile – Learning by doing

Given that, a quick search to understand what type of learning Gen Y. is predisposed to lead me to numerous citations of sociological or social learning for the youngest generation of wine consumers.

Here’s the unfortunate thing – sociological or peer learning is not addressed in the current construct of wine education.  It may be in wine marketing, but definitely not education.  Isn’t it time then that the ways and means through which wine knowledge is given is done so in a way that conforms to the learner rather than the learner to the system?  Lest we risk the learner tuning out the system?

I think so.

The second thing to understand is that wine education that goes wide instead of deep assumes that the wine interested have the same interest level in wine across vastly different styles and countries.

Another mistake.

Following the A.I.D.A model (Attention – Interest – Desire – Action), once wine has somebody’s attention it is natural that they default to action with their predominant learning style, supplemented by their secondary learning styles.

What does this mean for wine as it relates to Gen. Y?  Peer influence is very important, yet it doesn’t account for knowledge development.  As we all know, there is a difference between merely socializing and drinking wine and knowing about wine.

So, what are the next steps to counter mere social and marketing in order to develop knowledge for the future of the wine business?

A 180-degree re-engineering is a good place to start.

The wine business and its publishers and educators must stop the focus on having to learn about wine by drinking in knowledge through the proverbial water hose.  Knowing a little bit about everything is a bad strategy (and intimidating, too).

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A new methodology is required. 

In my opinion, the focus beyond peer references should be on helping younger wine consumers understand their style preferences.

Virtually all self-identified wine interested people I talk with (that are also light on wine knowledge) have a favorite varietal, and they have mostly been introduced to it by somebody.  Yet, can it be assumed that they’ll ever go beyond wine stand-by status without understanding what style of wine they like and why?

Can and will they become “core” wine drinkers instead of “marginals?”

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Therefore, I think Mary Ewing-Mulligan was spot on with her Wine Style book and methodology published in 2005 (available used on Amazon from $2.88 – a steal), a book that pays philosophical homage to Josh Wesson’s Best Cellars system of defining wine STYLISTICALLY—fruity, fizzy and so forth.

Once a user has progressed from peer reference to understanding styles, they’re ready for understanding wine evaluation, the true benchmark from going from a drinker of wine to an appreciator of the grape.

Thereafter, the time for global exploration makes sense.

This isn’t revolutionary, nor is it original thought, but given the amount of time I spend learning about wine contrasted with conversations with the wine interested who are much further behind in their learning curve, I’m finding an entire young population of wine drinkers who are not interested in reading books, watching DVD’s or otherwise investing in education.  They’re interested in talking about, and socializing around wine, yes.  Yet, the rub is that regardless of whether anybody wants to admit it or not, the path to becoming a wine enthusiast is education, and, as I’ve pointed out, the wine business is failing their youngest students. 

In order for the wine business to keep these drinkers in the fold, engaged and developing systemwide, with a myriad of competition from spirits and craft beer, a new paradigm is going to have to come to the fore.  Focusing on style and temporarily forsaking knowledge about the global wine village makes as much sense to me as any.

Your thoughts?