I just wanna have fun.

This time last year? I was dying.

This year? Massive improvement. Not dying. Broadly being industrious.

Much on the cards for 2016. But simply? Great people. Great wine.

And possibly a few rants…

If nothing else we need to be a better nation.

We need to be a better industry. Those icons we fete as they pass away? Take on their lessons. We have had, and do have, some brilliant minds. Let’s use them.

Let’s listen to our consumers, not force a point.

Let’s be better at explaining what we do. Showcase the weird, the quirky in a more comprehensible manner.

Let’s be happier. Brighter. More… bold wine.

Be accessible.

Pride need never get in the way of our marketing.

Pride is why we are here.

I adore my wines. That adoration is my catch-cry. Not always. But those would not buy anyway. Pride. Faith.

These are my wines.

It is vintage. It is our sleepless, never-ending, somewhat-mad time of year. And we’re still all here when we can be to talk about our wines with you.

We’re here. Taking a chance on you.

Take a chance on us.

Charming

So, in general, the wine industry is pretty well behaved. We play nice at events, are polite about others’ wines and enter into discussion only when appropriate. So, when we are not in front of the buying public, and generally in a calm tone allowing for interaction and discussion.

Until the other night. When a winemaker who did not know me, nor the wines I was representing, became aggressive.

He interrupted a conversation, stabbed his fingers at me demanding I look at the wine in his glass and agree with him that it was faulty.

I refused. I suggested that if he did not enjoy the wine, that was absolutely fine. We all have different taste buds and requirements of our wines but his voice and approach got louder.

There were other consumers around. People who were enjoying the wines I was pouring.

I refused to engage and ended up abandoning my post at the bar with a short statement to the effect that we could argue until the end of time but this was not the place and we were unlikely to come to an agreement anyway.

He doesn’t know me. I don’t expect him to know me. I, however, know him.

And a copy of this will be sent to him.

I found his behaviour to be boorish and unnecessary, impolite and demeaning. To behave this way in front of others? Highly disrespectful.

I expect no response. His approach and demeanour was dismissive and aggressive.

The great thing about wine is its diversity. This guy? Poster child for a different kind of winemaking. Which has its place.

But not in my world.

Grow up, little man.

A punter walks into a bar….

So. Recent months have seen a number of people contact me asking about ordering wines.

Seems simple, right?

On a Facebook group, the point was made that the punter should try something new,  or different, or outside of their comfort zone when they go to a bar with a good wine list. Much in the same way that one orders from the menu food that we generally do not make at home, a good wine list is an opportunities to branch out.

And I completely get the pride a venue takes in their wine list.  It takes time,  inspiration, money. And that deserves a certain respect.

And yet. Yet I have wine-aware friends and family asking me continuously how to avoid the feral wines (to their palates) on the wine list. Sure. Some of them are more likely to just accede to a suggestion rather than voicing a preference. They are terrified of being “wrong”. Or looked down upon. They just want a wine they *want* to drink.

This is where a number of consumers find themselves today. And it is the industry which creates confusion rather than clarity – something we have accomplished admirably. We tie our industry and our products up in knots. We use a very specific language much of the time which draws a line between those in the know and those just looking for a glass of wine they might enjoy. We make it a mystery where we are trying to make it a discovery.

Case in point: friend goes into a bar. Looks at list. Bar person spruiks for a wine which my friend is fairly sure is not their thing. Bar person has not met my friend before. Bar person knows nothing of why the friend is there, how their taste buds skew, whether or not they plan on ordering food. Bar person didn’t even ask whether they might prefer white, pink, or red. Sweet or dry. Full or lean.

Bar person wanted to show off,  and all they showed was a fatal lack of comprehension of the service industry.

Serving someone a drink has very much to do with the drinker’s tastes.  And very little to do with the preference of the bar person.

Good sommeliers understand this. Good sommeliers also understand that their role is about providing a great experience for the diner.  Full stop. Whether they want the same wine style they drink at home, or are willing to be taken on a journey. A good sommelier will find a way to enliven the experience and slowly open the diner’s mind and maybe tempt them with a half step to the left of the usual selection next time.

A good sommelier does not push. They tempt. They entice. They enhance the experience where suitable. They understand when someone just wants a safe choice, and to not diminish that choice.

Unfortunately, we have a lot of people working in hospitality with some experience, but often not necessarily the tools and experience of a good somm. A distinct preference for a wine does not necessarily make for a good fit for your customer. A venue which is entirely bound up in their own preference is missing one of the key bits of hospitality. That of actual ‘hospitality’.

The wine industry is often guilty of the same thing to a certain extent. Being too focused on the sales pitch to ask where the punter fits is a common error. Everyone brings something to their wine selection. Past experiences. Personal preference. Earlier tipples. Unless we ask, how are we to adequately take to this into account when guiding choices?

And unless we take this into account, we are not suitably working toward the best exposure of our wines.

Simple.

When serving at events and tastings, my first question is what the punter would choose to purchase. Given their choice. This is a starting point. It’s not rocket science but understanding from where a customer comes is the key to building a relationship and not wasting people’s time. Let’s be honest – a scattergun approach might graze its target but it is rarely a bull’s eye.

Same goes in a bar. I’m certainly all for taking the path less travelled, but it is probably fair to say that I am also in the minority. And yes. I want this minority to gain ground. I’m just not entirely sure about how we are going about doing it.

Pushing wines onto a customer is not the same as listening to them and educating them. It annoys people. It makes them less likely to take that step to the left next time. It does not help any of us. Except for the more commercial end of the game.  Making it harder to select and enjoy wines only drives people to the predictable choice.  Because most people want to know what they are getting. A degree of predictability is about delivering security to the buyer. They know that what they have ordered will tick the boxes.

I would rather that everyone tried new things. That they handed over the keys to their palates and let us take them on an adventure. That they were open to their minds being expanded.

But.  They are not our palates. We as the wine trade, the vendors, the somms, the bartenders do not get to dictate the preferences of another’s palate. They do not belong to us. What we can do is listen. Take on board what the customer tells us. Believe them. And use this information to either deliver what they want exactly, or to best provide a viable, engaging alternative. This is our role.

Never to denigrate. Always to listen. Engage. Build a bridge from where they are to where our wines might reside. Make it fun, rather than a hard lesson learned.

Why do we make it so damn hard to enjoy wines? No freaking clue. We build walls of words and language. We as an industry struggle to define our own terminology consistently. We write tasting notes embedded with the science and zero connection. We say we engage because we do events and talk to the people. But look around. The people are bemused.

Wine can be a journey. An outstanding, vibrant, engaging journey. Except the guidebook appears to be written in a foreign language and the translator is banging on about technique and tools rather than addressing the journey in the glass.

My favourite customer back in the day came to the restaurant four or five times a week. He had the same thing. A half dozen natural, fish of the day grilled, sauce on the side. A couple of glasses of Cloudy Bay sauv. He didn’t want anything else. And it was our job to deliver that.

Occasionally he hosted larger tables. And then he asked me as the somm to recommend wines his guests would appreciate. Not him. His guests. He was a consummate entertainer, and it was purely about ensuring his guests had a great time.

Simple really. There are probably a few people who could learn a trick or two. It’s not about us. What is about us is getting it made and in the bottle.  Spruiking/marketing/selling is about translating our wine into a voice. Once we are there, it is all about the consumer palate.

Ramblings. Because it is that time of year.

So. An interesting year.

I have worked with some outstanding people, and learned some difficult lessons. I’ve eaten a little too well, drunk even better, and made some outstanding new friends.

I also came a wee bit too close to dying – twice – due to my silly body and some inept medical professionals. My ankle is due to be sliced into again in coming months. And I worked harder than I ever might have anticipated at the gym. Because: balance.

The wine people have been wonderful, as always. Supportive, fascinating, and inquisitive.

The hospo trade have been generous, and accommodating. Mostly. Except for the ones who are not. A sale is definitely NOT a sale until it’s been paid. And I will be a thorn in the side of those who try to take advantage.

I wonder, still, how we can improve our wine world. Make wine easier, accessible, less of a club and more of a free pass to fun. We need to address our wines to the wider society and be clear about varieties, styles and our voices. Open the gates and invite the world in rather than drowning our industry in words (and yes, I am well aware of the irony) and confusing our consumers. A back-to-basics approach with us simply finding out what people like and selling it to them. Take them on a journey, sure, but let them enjoy the sights (tastes) rather than just listen to a tour guide.

We need to find a way to find the fun again. Enable people to enjoy the diversity without drowning them in lingo.

But it is the end of 2015. And vintage 2016 looms large for many of us.

I’m going to be kinder to myself, and possibly less grumpy as a result.  I promise to buy fewer shoes and to contribute more to society. I’m not making wine in 2016, but I am laying the plans to be back in the winery in 2017, making the wines I like to drink.

I’m going to meet more people, and join random clubs. I’m going to say yes way more often. I’m going to complain less and fix things more. I’m just going to be me. If anyone wants to join in at any point, go nuts.

Hello 2016. You will be what I make of you and that will be awesome.

If you make it look easy.

So, the tweet was something to the effect of:

If you make it look easy, people might believe you.

I can’t recall who it was, so my apology for lack of attribution.

How about we apply this to the wine game? So rather than speaking in our own very industry-specific language, and creating a caste of wine afficionados who are so very involved that they (we) create a line between where we are at, and where everyone else might be.

It is not really our fault. Per se. It’s just that the industry lends itself to a vast terminology which is not really familiar to the broader population. And then we created tiers of reviewers and shows designed to translate the wines for the public.

How about we remove a little mystery? Make it easy. Remove the impediments, the hurdles, and open up the game?

I do get that we use much of this terminology purely to create a point of difference. To not sound like every other shiraz. But once everyone starts embellishing their descriptions, it can kinda start becoming nonsense for the sheer sake of nonsense. Rather than helping to sell, it clouds the choice.

As the somewhat baffled Chris Taylor asked me earlier this year: “We just want to buy good wine. Why do wineries make it so difficult?”

Is it possible that by trying to inform the public, and to give each wine the best chance to shine, we are actually making it more difficult? People order or buy something which will deliver what they want. Our job is to make the wines accessible, and memorable.

So. Are we really doing that? Or are we just making it more problematic for people to identify what it is they might actually like?

I generally start by asking people what they might choose to drink, in general. This is a great reference point on which to build the story. Because if you show someone fourteen wines in a row, what are they going to remember? Not much, usually. But if they have a familiar point of reference, the next step is that much closer. Often? The more you show? The less the peoples buy.

But our points of contact with buyers and drinkers are minimal. Perhaps this is where this shift in style is starting to have an effect. The wines which are purely about drink-ability. The “smashable” wines. The ones which don’t need terminology to explain them. The buyer/drinker/smasher does not need to remember that it was partial barrel ferment in one year old Slovakian oak, with fruit harvested at exactly three am to retain the exact purity of fruit the winemaker desired. They just drink and enjoy. As should we all, really. Rather than being tied up in detail.

It’s true, though. I can completely adore a wine without knowing its detail. And I am more than happy with that. Maybe punters will be too.

There appears to have been a resurgence in the whole “wine-with-names” concept. It removes the need to define the wines to within an inch of their lives, yet allows them to retain an identity of sorts.

Filed along with the wine-with-names concept is the achingly-cool-label concept. Labels are brilliant. They guide a decision. Faith in a Brand X Sauv Blanc often leads to faith in every other wine from Brand X. And the achingly-cool-labels obviously render the drinkers at least a smidgeon of cool.

And, apparently, it helps with whole concept of ‘making it easy’. It does, however, make the job of a winery that much more complex. Each winery is undoubtedly proud of the varieties and styles they have created, and like a new parent, are keen to show off and explain every.little.detail.

If there is one thing that hours/weeks/years working in cellar doors, at wine events or even in restaurants and liquor retail can remind us, it is that more often than not: the consumers just want a beverage. At a price. Which they enjoy drinking. Sure. Some want to find the new cult wine or least known variety or most esoteric production-method. But most? Most, funnily enough, just want a drink. A drink they’ll enjoy. Often with food. At a price. Do narrow it down. Provide the best options and listen .

Everything else we pop in to defining our wines is more about what we want to convey rather than what people want to hear. So maybe we need to look at our message. And what the purpose of the message might be.

Because selling wine is one thing. And it does not often intersect with educating about wine. Maybe it should. But, again, purpose. The vast majority of the public just want a pithy little reason to buy Wine A over Wine B. It needs to fit a purpose.

So if you are spending months working out your message, maybe ask one of your everyday customers what it is about your wines they remember. Be memorable. Be simple. Become the brand/label/identity they trust.

You do not need an essay. Make it easy. Easy to remember. Easy to repeat. Easy to pick up again and again.

It’s not their job to know every last miniscule detail about this wine. All they need to know is whether they like it.

Simple.

So why do we make it so hard for people?

And are you easy to reach?

Secrets I promised to keep.

So. An organisation dedicated to helping people with an eating disorder is being disbanded due to a lack of funding. Nothing new here. Nothing to see. Move along.

Except that bit where perfectly normal human beings are damaged by societal “norms”.

Oh. Apparently it’s a choice. People choose to be so debilitated by their self-perception that they choose to starve themselves. Or to purge. I’m not sure if you have ever done either of those things, but neither of them are fun. At all. Ever.

They do, however, deliver a sense of control to the sufferers. Where life is so terrifying, and confusing and just not comprehensible, the ability to control one thing takes on inestimable value.

Did you know that there are websites teaching people – usually kids – how to become bulimic or anorexic? How to use the damage to garner attention and then to indicate that this attention many not be enough so how to get more and more and more….?

An unprecedented percentage of kids have tried one or another if these methods to become something else. To control. To manage something.

Has your child tried it? Your niece or nephew? Your god-child? Who knows? Because of all the prevalent, disturbing and unbelievably damaging ills our health system faces, this is the one we’d rather not face.

It seems likes something a person chooses and so it must be their fault.

Sure. Blame someone for getting chicken pox too.

No-one chooses this. NO-ONE.

EDASA in SA is closing due to lack of funding. The government is not coming to the party. And they have run out of the publicly donated funds. So the people suffering something so incomprehensible to those outside the sphere of ailing influence are now lacking support.

I’m not preaching here because I’m a card-carrying member or a do-gooder. I’ve seen yet another side to this insidious disease. A corruption of societal demands and a mental requirement, eating disorders are suffered equally by all levels of society. Wanting to be perfect, plus finding a way to forge that perfection can be addictive. Despite the damage it can achieve.

And there are ever new ways of accomplishing this perverse disfunction. I’m a type one diabetic. There are ways to manipulate this disorder to add an extra level to the whole horror of the eating disorder. None of them fun. All of them potentially fatal.

This can affect anyone. The smart. The industrious. The outwardly happy. The fiendishly sad. The everyday normal. And every facet in between. Mothers. Fathers. Children. Sisters. Brothers. Friends. Enemies. People.

And the society that has been the only bastion in SA is closing due to a lack of funding. It has never been government-funded. Just an organisation offering assistance.

And it is closing. Anyone want to tell me why?

https://m.facebook.com/edasa0/photos/a.206924706132699.1073741830.178878778937292/516129825212184/?type=3

I’ve been an ear to these people in my past. They are just like you and me. Only desperately sad and struggling. It is not vanity. Never vanity, although it may have elements of wanting to be other. It is deeper and darker and more terrifying than what we generally see. It blinds. It incapacitates. It destroys families and lives. They are brilliant, outstanding people. With something they need to control. They are awesome humans, – who, like the best, are often flawed. They need help.

And who amongst us has not needed a hand at some time?

I have no vested interest here. I’m not a sufferer. Just someone who started out by giving someone a hug one day and found a universe of pain I’d never imagined. That’s all. And the failure to react here to something which is so ignored and so rampant is terrifying to me. I remember the day someone taught a group of us how to throw up a meal and conceal the evidence. How that made us better humans. I will never forget that day. And how I survived relatively unscathed. And how it messed with that group of normal, intelligent girls. It not something anyone wants. Ever.

Show me the money

If I told you your favourite restaurant/bar/hotel was in the habit of not paying bills, would you stop going there?

Wineries in particular are pretty generous with their payment terms. But those who don’t pay or who draw it out damage the winery, the staff, the potential for the quality of next year’s vintage. It’s simple: buy the wine. Pay for the wine.

I have a list. As does any decent wine rep. A blacklist. I don’t dine in these places. I don’t send them custom. I don’t go to events organised by others showcasing these venues.

It’s a small thing. It likely won’t hurt them that I don’t go there. But there are basics: it is not a sale until you get paid.  Not being paid hurts wineries, and affects reps. It damages relationships and simply disappoints.

Venues I frequent? Are good. Good people who pay bills. I don’t care about the media profile or popularity, the ones who can pay for media events but not pay their bills.

There is a line. Not paying bills, never intending to pay bills? Borders on fraudulent behaviour. If only I could publish a list. But I cannot. Legally.

I support good venues. I balk at bringing honour into the equation but here it is: do you really want to support a venue which screws suppliers? Or one which supports suppliers, pays their bills and understands that not paying is not even option.

If you knew a venue was deliberately screwing their suppliers, would you continue to give them YOUR custom?