Let's uncover the great stories behind wine

on 14 February, 2014

Indulge me for a moment. So, our private plane touched down at the luxurious estate of one of Argentina’s richest families. That night, while their team of chefs prepared a sumptuous supper, I was invited to take my pick from a cellar stacked full of first growths and deluxe Champagnes.

Valiantly, graciously, selflessly – I agreed.

We ate, drank and became very merry indeed. Now it just so happens that my hosts owned a winery (what are the chances?), so naturally we tasted their wines too. The question is, do you trust my opinion of them?

I’d like to think I’m conscientious enough to pre- empt undue bias, and I’d say the same for most in our profession, perhaps slightly naively. Yet there’s no doubt I gave these wines much more attention than I would have done at a large generic tasting. Similarly, winemakers who visit your shop to personally taste with the staff are far more memorable than those standing behind yet another table at a big trade fair, checking their phone and scoffing a limp ham sandwich.

It raises an interesting conflict. Experiencing the context first hand is a vital part of wine’s appeal. Without the people, the places and the private planes (did I mention the private plane?), wine becomes like any other commodity.

However, the stories that permeate most widely often come from producers with the fattest marketing budgets – and therein lies the problem. It’s well known that Dom Pérignon invented Champagne, Cloudy Bay is the most exclusive Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and Yquem is always the best Sauternes. It doesn’t even matter that these stories aren’t true – they clearly work. Nor is it coincidental, incidentally, that these three brands are owned by the same corporation.

To a certain extent, social media provides a means of countering this, with certain producers successfully telling their stories directly to their audience.

Mirabeau is a Provençal winery which has done this very well recently. And all of us in the business have a responsibility to find the stories that deserve to be told – not just those that can afford to be.

Unfortunately, too many winemakers tend to tell the same story. We’ve got unique terroir. We put quality first. And let me guess: you’re really passionate about wine? Look, no offence to your terroir – I’m sure it’s lovely – but so is everyone else’s. Tell us something we don’t know.

Back in Argentina, the patriarch recounted fables passed down through generations as we tasted a rare selection of old Argentinian reds. The following morning, we toured the pampas estate and witnessed the eye-popping art of artificially inseminating cattle.

Stories like these are unforgettable. They’re far more evocative than scores and tasting notes – and anyway, taste is entirely subjective. So our job is to find, scrutinize and tell the best stories. To make wine memorable.

I’ll never forget the flight on that private plane. Nor the expressions on those cows’ faces.

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