We live in a commercial world. Even the most sacred things are often mired in a bog of commerce. The only thing truly sacred in this society is commerce itself.
I think my first experience with the cold facts of our consumerist society was on a childhood trip to a Christian book store with my mom, which was a pretty regular destination for my family when I was growing up. My brother and I would mercilessly assault my poor mother with a holy list of “I wants”, ranging from the set of toy spiritual armor (you gotta have it if you want to do war with the devil), to the newest DC Talk album (we were, after all, Jesus Freaks.) Blinded by my righteous avarice, I never really grasped the extent of my descent into consumerism until I was confronted by an item so brazen in its consumerism, that even my greedy little 12 year old brain was shocked into the realization that commerce has touched every facet of our existence. I saw, there on the shelf of the Good News Bookstore, a little pink piggy bank with the words, “Jesus Saves” painted on the side.
Since having my innocence so rudely stolen by a porcelain pig, I have engaged in a number of unsuccessful crusades against consumerism, each time having convinced myself that I had found a corner of the world that was free of the influence of the almighty dollar, and each time I was confronted by evidence to the contrary. For my foray into the world of punk rock, I was rewarded with the knowledge that Malcom McLaren had assembled the Sex Pistols as a manufactured band of “anarchists”. And don’t even get me started on the very existence of Blink 182. By the time I developed my love of wine, I had pretty well been stripped of all of my anarchist tendencies. Which is good, because the wine world is, ultimately, all about commerce.
I know that this sounds like I’m railing against the commercial aspects of the wine industry, but the truth is that I have grown to accept that the wine industry is just that, an industry. The wine world is this unique place where art and a consumer product mix. It has been so thoroughly infused with romance over the centuries, that it is hard for many to view it as the business that it is, but hidden beneath the romance is the fact that people derive their livelihood from the production of this delicious fermented juice. So why is it that we begrudge them making a buck from their efforts?
On several occasions I have heard fellow wine wonks rail against some of the more wantonly commercial products, such as sweet reds and chocolate wines. While I agree with the sentiment that these are loathsome products that I would never choose to drink, I don’t hold it against the wineries that choose to produce them. Why should I judge them for finding a way to actually make money in the wine business during a time that finds profitability to be more challenging than ever? In fact, I would much prefer these kinds of blatant cash-grabs to the more cynical, critic palate-matching approach to fine wine making that many wineries have been recently engaged in.
I also don’t want to give the impression that I don’t believe there are a lot of winemakers who are into crafting wines in a more artisanal way. I personally know several who are very serious about maintaining an intense level of integrity in their wines. William Allen of Two Shephards Winery (whom I will be writing more about soon) comes to mind. Based in Sonoma, he has purposefully sought out vineyards and made winemaking choices with the goal of creating more subtle and complex wines that have a more refined, dare I say “Old World”, character, rather than the more typical New Worldliness of many California wines. For producers like William, winemaking is a passion project. Although I’m sure William aims to be profitable in his endeavor, he only wants to make wine that fits his vision and standards.
While I will always prefer to see wineries making wines of character and integrity, I also understand (quite keenly, in fact) the necessity of making something that can pay the bills. As much as it pains the part of me that is still clinging to those Black Flag anthems, the truth is that I would gladly write the next “Call Me Maybe” if it meant that I would be set for life, so it’s pretty hypocritical to cast dispersions on a winery that manufactures one of these mass market crowd pleasers. I could, however, be persuaded on the need for legislation requiring their tasting rooms be forced to play Blink 182 on a continuous loop as penance. Just saying.