What makes for news

jeff-smby Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)

I respectfully disagree with the Wine Curmudgeon’s views in this post that appeared recently:

No wonder figuring out wine prices is so confusing

Wine Curmudgeon


First, let me summarize the post.  Depending on who you read, wine prices are soaring (due to the supposedly short supply of California wines) or plummeting (due to oversupply of European grapes in general, and Spanish grapes in particular). Of course, they can’t both be right. So why this schizophrenic situation where wines prices are going up and down at the same time?

The Wine Curmudgeon offers three explanations. First, journalists have a limited world view, not being able to see past their immediate environs. So if your immediate environs is in shortage, then prices are going up, and vice versa.

Second, the crutch of “conventional wisdom”. Once an idea takes hold, it becomes accepted even though it lacks any real evidence to support it.

And third, if I understand him correctly, the wine world has changed so much in ways that people don’t understand.   The resulting confusion leads to prognostications that are wide of the mark.

I don’t know whether any of these three factors have any merit at all. But even if they do, I think they pale beside another factor. To paraphrase a writer (name long since forgotten) commenting on the Democratic primary season which ended with the triumph of Barack Obama, there are only two stories in a presidential race. Story one: candidate so and so is surging. Story two: candidate so and so is crashing and burning.

It only takes a second’s thought to realize the truth of that statement. After all, journalists aren’t in the business of providing balanced, reasoned articles. They are in the business of selling newspapers, TV advertising, or whatever. An article entitled, “Candidate so and so pretty much doing as well this week as last” isn’t going to sell a whole lot of newspapers.

The same holds true in the art world, the pork belly world, and, of course, the wine world. If you are going to write a story on where wine prices are going, then the answer is simple: they are either going up or they are going down, preferably way up or way down. Wines that will cost pretty much the same next year as they did this year? Not newsworthy. But suppose all the available information in fact indicates that wine prices will be stable? Who cares?

The same applies to pretty much any issue in the wine world (or any other world). In a particular wine region, it’s not much of a story to say the quality of wines from a region has plateaued. Not getting a whole lot better but not getting any worse. Again, who cares?

Unfortunately, when it comes to terroir, it’s hard to make the case that a region’s terrior is getting a whole lot better or worse. But, then again, with global warming may be even this will change.

If you listen to the evening news, it’s floods and drought, polar vortexes and heat waves, that get the headlines. “Continued mild weather”. Not very interesting. “Wine prices stable”. Ditto.

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