On Self-Actualizing Wine Interest, Purple Pages, the Kindle Fire and Gutenberg

While it has been cited that we’re living in a “Golden Age” of wine writing, what is interesting to me these days is NOT the subject of wine writing.

My interest is in a broader understanding of the consumption of the wine writer’s output – self-identified wine interest by consumers who are seeking out wine information.  This is a seismic shift more important than the vagaries of who writes what, where, when and for how much.

Something much bigger and amorphous is at work.

It used to be that people self-identified by their job or some other affiliation that produced recognition from others, a status-marker of sorts—“I work for IBM, I have two kids and we’re Protestant.”

However, nowadays, people, principally online (which is moving center stage in our life), are self-identifying by their personal interests which, often times, diverges greatly from their profession and their family situation.

Look at Twitter profiles or a body of status updates from somebody on Facebook.  People are no longer duotone and defined by work and family. They’re multi-layered and complex and defined by their interests.  The modern day self-description goes something like this: “Passionate about wine and travel.  I build furniture, follow the San Francisco Giants, and work in a non-profit by day.  I also volunteer to ensure clean water for sub-Saharan Africans.  Dad to two wonderful kids”

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In diamond-cutting terms, it’s more Peruzzi than table cut and it seems we’re all on a journey to be the most interesting man person in the world.

This kaleidoscopic advancement in sense-of-self is a very important development because, on an individual level, we tend to project externally how we see ourselves in the mirror.  By stating publicly online that we’re a wine enthusiast, a foodie, a jazz lover, who does dog rescue and loves college football with a fascination for all things digital, it’s like writing down a goal.  A goal written down means something to most people and people are likely to actuate their activities around it, even if aspirationally.

This is a very subtle point and I hope I’m conveying it faithfully:  Societally, we’re changing how we view ourselves, we are stating how we view ourselves and consequently we’re more likely to pursue knowledge around those interests because we’ve put it out there.

In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we’re all self-actualizing.

So, when it comes to wine writing, while I’m very happy for Alder Yarrow’s assignment in writing a monthly column for Jancis Robinson’s Purple Pages, I also tend to look at it within a much broader context because there will be more Alder Yarrow Horatio Alger-like stories in the years to come.

More to the point however, and within a bigger picture, what Alder writes now and in the future on his own site or at Jancis’ site is likely going to be viewed by an increasingly larger audience who, based on the aforementioned self-actualization, have become more inclined to seek a wide-range of information that supports a myriad of personal interests, including wine.

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This online growth in information-seeking is, indeed, a very good thing particularly for the wine business who is caught up in a focus on Gen. Y, when the more important point is that there is a mass of people of all ages who have increasingly ready access to information online that allows them to easily pierce the veil of wine.  And, the implications for that for shouldn’t be understated because the view of the wine world is likely to be altered to be much more inclusive of all types of viewpoints – think the streets of New York instead of Pottery Barn.

The Kindle Fire tablet by Amazon.com may represent the next step in this evolution, driving the potentiality of mass on-the-move content delivery. No, it’s not as important as the printing press or any other God Complex hyperbole that is assigned to Steve Jobs, but it’s an important step forward nonetheless.

Where laptop computers are functional machines designed to execute work, and tablets (like the iPad) are a lightweight, portable device that act as a multi-functional hybrid between a smartphone and a laptop, here comes the Kindle Fire which is a device designed almost exclusively for content consumption, all kinds of content – blogs, digital magazines, digital books, videos, music, etc.

The Kindle Fire, to me, is a device that enhances the trend we’re seeing in the increased complexity of how we define ourselves because here’s a device that lets users pursue content around their interests anytime, anywhere and it’s reasonably affordable at $199, at least half the cost of other tablets on the market.

For example purposes, let’s say I have an interest in German Riesling, but I don’t really want to buy another paper-based book because I already have a stack of 14 books at my bedside that I haven’t read (or, perhaps, I don’t buy that many books, period).  Likewise, it isn’t convenient for me to read a book on my laptop because, well, that’s not really a form factor that works for me because I’m already hunched over my laptop for 12 hours a day.  In addition, I don’t want to print out a 150 page pdf because that’s paper I have to carry around.  Previously, with all of the aforementioned caveats, I would have let a deep dive into knowing more about German Riesling be a fleeting thought—an opportunity that would lay fallow.

Ah, but the Kindle Fire will let me consume this German Riesling content in a nice, portable, convenient, lightweight manner that is designed to do expressly that.  I’m now looking forward to pouring through Terry Theise’s 2011 German Riesling catalog and reading part II of Mosel Fine Wines 2010 vintage report.

All of this distills down to an essential takeaway:  When Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press with movable type, the tangible output was the ability to have ready access to print books.  However, the bigger impact was the spread of knowledge which led to the Renaissance period which inalterably changed the culture of the world.

That’s where I think we’re at now, particularly with wine and the spread of information.  The conversation can be about who is writing and where they come from, but the conversation with far greater impact is what the end game is for this mass adoption of personal nuance lived out loud.

In simpler terms, the wine writer, like Descartes in the Renaissance era, had a great, lasting influence, but the Renaissance period was much bigger than Descartes.

The key for the wine business in this seismic shift in wine affiliation and the pursuit of information thereof is to decide whether they want to support the status quo and perpetuate business as usual or open themselves to all kinds of thought.

Wine writers already are and so are the consumers seeking out this information.