What Savvy Wine Consumers Should Know

Is wine becoming too industrial?


Wine is not becoming too industrial. However, to explore this concept one must first understand what the word industrial means. Industrial means “of an industry”. In that sense all wine is inherently industrial because it is part of the wider wine industry. The question of if wine is becoming too industrial is then what should be explored in depth. The point of view of the consumer must be considered because different consumers will have differing opinions relative to others depending on what part of the industry they are examining based on where they stand in relation to it.

What does a product that has become too industrial look like? Cross comparisons could be drawn from the fashion industry. At the very high end clothing is not too industrial. In fact, one could claim that it is quite artisanal with designers drawing inspiration from the world around them and translating those inspirations onto the fabric and models which serve as their canvas. In comparison, the mass marketed clothing must look quite industrial to those at the bespoke merchants because the same shirts, pants, or dresses are churned out like printed pages in large foreign factories to appeal to the value end of the market’s dependence on inexpensive wears. Those consumers who look for value in their clothing may see the high end as elitist and snobby while the people purchasing at the top see themselves as lovers of high fashion. The wine industry can be seen in the exact same manner.
Can a wine which is made at a value price point truly be too industrial when it is the very industry’s consumers which demand that it should be made in such a way in the name of a low price? Can the consumers of exclusive, high end wines really judge for others, who are not able to access the same quality of wines on a frequent basis, if those wines which are made at a value price point are too industrial for their own consumers?  

Henry Ford, upon starting to sell the Model-T famously said “You can have any color as long as it’s black.” When a product becomes too industrial, generally the consumer’s choice becomes highly limited. The quality becomes similar and the variation of styles is reduced. Paper towels are a great example of an industry which is too industrial. The limitation of choice to color, length of sheet, or pattern of quilting is the maximum extent which consumers must choose between. This is quite far from the case with wines even at the value end. In fact, there exists so many choices in wine that many consumers feel overwhelmed. If you think about a supermarket shelf where this is normally a problem, it does not even include all the possible options available to consumers across the price points of the wine industry, but is focused wine brands that can be found in a fairly wide distribution. Because of the limited shelf space of retailers and consolidated distribution channels event the number of choices which seem daunting to many wine consumers only represents a very limited number of offerings from the wider wine industry. This vast number of choices allows consumers to grow and evolve within the category over time without leaving the industry as a whole.  

However, when point of view is taken into account it is quite easy to understand when a consumer of fine wine, who is accustomed to small bottle production with hands-on care and love, looks at a $5.00 bottle and thinks, “How simple. How commercial.” The art has been squeezed out of this bottle and replaced with ISO level detailed specifications analyzing every last detail from the g/L of sugar, the amount of color absorbance at 430 nanometer wavelengths, to the percent change in conductivity when cream of tartar is introduced to cold wine to test cold stability. At this level the question of “Does this wine represent the terroir of the land and the vintage?” is replaced by “Is this quality and style consistent with the last 10 blends even though these are completely different base wines that are being used?”  From this perspective, to that consumer, wine has become too industrial. These consumers will likely seek out winemakers which are using minimal intervention techniques and wines that speak to their locations clearly and consistently.

From the point of view of the value consumer, it is likely that the thought of “Is this wine too industrial?” has never crossed their mind. Wine is a beverage, part of a meal or celebration with friends. It is likely that the excitement of enjoying the moment replaces any thought of how the wine was made. Only if the wine did not live up to their expectation, would it be examined more closely. The value winemaker’s job is to allow the wine to blend seamlessly with the experience, whatever that may be. If this causes wines to be seen as too industrial then so be it.

Therefore, the idea that wine is becoming too industrial depends highly on a person’s perspective on the industry however, overall today’s wine consumers have a wider array of choices spanning price, quality, style, origin, and value than nearly any other industry. This is not hallmark of a product that is too industrial but the sign of a thriving industry which has almost limitless choices and options for consumers to explore.  

Do you think wine is too industrial? Sound off in the comments.

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  • I'm all in favor of wine at a reasonable price for the ordinary consumer budget. However, one thing that people mean by "too industrial" is that wine may contain a great many additives. Given that a bottle of wine rarely if ever indicates this fact, consumers have reason to wonder is in that bottle -- particularly when it doesn't come from a small, traditional winery that prides itself on making wine without the use of additives.

    Sep 15, 2016 at 3:39 PM

  • Given the dizzying proliferation of small wineries in this country, the industry is probably less "industrial" than ever.

    Sep 15, 2016 at 5:39 PM

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