“Let Them Eat Cake!” – a phrase probably never uttered by Queen Marie Antoinette, but powerfully attributed to her just the same. Tradition holds that the Queen spoke these words to her aide when she was informed that the peasants were upset, because they had no bread.
It has been more than fifteen years since my first, formative, trip to Europe. Everything important that I have done in the wine business since then has been informed by the stuff I began to realize then. For the past decade or so, business has brought me back regularly. I am fortunate to have this opportunity, because these visits reinforce for me what I want to achieve with our own business in America.
I have learned that Europeans have an expectation that they can drink decent wine over a meal, and it doesn’t need to cost a fortune. I have also learned that people who grew up drinking wine tend to drink what they like, and fashion be damned. If they like sweet, they drink sweet. If they like pink, they drink pink. Whether wealthy or of modest means, this basic expectation seems to persist throughout Spain, France and Italy.
And this brings me to an interesting cultural paradox. In my experience, the romantic wine idea is irresistible to young and idealistic people. There is something about the idyll of folks returning to the land, creating something primal, that exerts an irresistible tug on certain souls. And these people have brought remarkable vitality to our industry, both as consumers and as arbiters of taste.
And yet the somewhat zealous demand that the idyllic farmers and winemakers live up to a certain purity ideal endanger another cherished value: that decent wine should also be affordable and accessible for most people.
The Great Recession may be a memory for some people, but my travels around the country have taught me that for most wine consumers the heady days of 2007 and earlier have yet to return. Maybe our homes aren’t under quite as much water, but five lost years are still telling on us.
We at Nexus just have no interest in creating wines that wine experts and wealthy consumers can appreciate, but that the rest of us cannot afford. We want to bring artisan, delicious wines to the marketplace at prices that allow the people we know and love to enjoy them every day. Mostly, we want to bring wine to market that consumers will love, irrespective of the latest fashion.
Let us not elevate a certain vision of farming, winemaking and marketing “as it should be,” over the economic and cultural reality of most wine consumers!
And above all, let us not impose our vision of what wine should taste like (one of my young salespeople is a self-described ‘acid freak’) over what different consumers may desire.
Many European consumers mix their red wine with still water and their Riesling with sparkling water. Many European wines are traditionally sweet, and sometimes they are sweet and effervescent. But there isn’t anyone looking down their noses at European consumers for drinking their wine as they like it. Rather, the European wine industry is comprised of thousands of small BUSINESS people, each trying to make a good living by delivering to consumers the type of wine that they want.
Please! Let us not say to consumers who can’t spend $20 on a bottle, or who don’t understand complicated wine labels, or who prefer a “fruity” wine: “Let them eat cake”. Because if the Reign of Terror taught us nothing else, it should at least instruct us that when we blithely suggest that the common people should just eat cake, they surely will. And look where that got Marie Antoinette.