Communication

By Lim Hwee Peng, CSW, FWS
20th Jan 2012

When I chanced upon a Cosplay (costume play) event, about a year ago, I was fascinated by it. The concept of Cosplay allows common people to live out their imagination of being a hero or villain made famous by some comic series or epic movies.

Of all the Cosplay characters on exhibition, one group that enthralled me most was the diverse characters from Star Wars.

Star Wars is an American epic space opera film series created by George Lucas. Since the first film released in 1977, it quickly became a worldwide pop culture phenomenon, and a mega success from the 70s through to the millennia. It is thus understandable that many Star Wars fans grew up with its various characters, and became keenly acquainted with each of them.

I remembered fondly how R2D2, Chewbacca, and Jar Jar Binks, despite speaking an alien language, were able to communicate effectively and assisted the Jedi warriors in their conquest and adventures.

Interestingly, that fascinating aspect drove home a major issue that the wine world is grappling with – communication, specifically with consumers.

(Prior to elaborating on this sharing, perhaps it is vital to set out the parameters – the heart of the issues that we will be contemplating on is confined to communicating the nuances of fine and premium wines. Commercially-focused wines that attract buyers through one singular factor – affordable pricing, are not included in our deliberation.)

Wine lovers, such as I, have lived and breathed in the ‘wine world’ so effortlessly, we sometimes forgotten that there is a ‘real world’, where its inhabitants live with different considerations and priorities, and more importantly, they are highly unlikely to comprehend the wine world lingo.

For decades, we assumed that information offered by the wine world will help consumers to make an informed purchase decision (since wines are produced by wineries). Yet, many a time, those information and intention became the very obstacles that prevented the appropriate growth in wine appreciation.

Such scenario is similar to R2D2 and Chewbacca, in their own vernacular, trying frantically to reach out to the real world, unsurprisingly, with little success.

As wine professionals, we constantly strived to get familiar with the wine world (i.e. history, culture, region, wine styles, vintage differences, etc), for the primary purpose of carrying out our professional role well, which include cultivating and grooming the market to be informed consumers.

Yet, these days, it is downright disheartening to see that markets are still grappling with fundamental challenges, such as familiarizing with various types of grape varietals, pronunciation of wine names, etc, issues that should have been resolved at least a decade ago.

It also did not help that gatekeepers of the wine world – such as wine journalists, wine buyers, sommeliers, wine sales, wine merchants, who should understand both wine and real world lingo (much like Han Solo does in communicating with both earthlings and aliens in Star Wars), unfortunately, did not live up to their role of an effective communicator, performing less credibly than the Jedi warrior.

(Incidentally, I am also guilty of that misdeed, and hopefully my efforts in drinkgoodwines.com will mitigate some of my past ‘crime’).

To make matters worse, some segments of the wine world, in desperation, tried to bridge that gap through dumbing down the intrinsic cultural and traditional values of wines (since there were arguments that most wines should be treated like a commercial beverage similar to soft drinks, etc).

Generally, many wine industry watchers recognized that to ensure a competent level of wine appreciation and optimum growth in emerging markets (such as the Asia continent, where wine is a new phenomenon), the gap in the wine and real world needs to close up sooner than later; or it will risk being taken over by the mercenary approach of the ‘dark side’.

I would like to proffer some areas where pressing attention is needed:

1) Of the myriad information that the wine world deemed important for consumers, which of those information are truly important to consumers?

2) Such as, do we need to communicate the complex layers and details of wine laws to consumers (not to mention the names and requirement of wine laws in all wine producing countries and regions)?

3) If it is necessary, how should we do that so as to achieve a resounding outcome?

4) Do we have to describe/ communicate the complexity of wines in the current structure/ format (History, Geography, Soil, etc) before an individual can truly appreciate the fine quality of wines, or can it be revised or re-established so that consumers will not visualise wine communication as Jar Jar Binks talk?

5) Do we have to describe/ communicate the quality of wines in the same exact manner as traditional Europeans and Western world do? And can it really be much more effective trying to describe them in local languages? Is language really the key issue at work, or the context in wine appreciation, association with local lifestyle, rapport with consumers, application of wine enjoyment, etc that are more essential??

6) How do we ensure the cultural values of wines are being retained and appreciated, yet able to reach out to modern day consumers and their lifestyle needs?

At best, those queries raised were just the tip of the iceberg; and whether we are looking at those issues from a new or classic wine’s perspective, they are hard questions that we, responsible members of the wine community, have to ponder on.

Truth to be told, I do not think there are clear, concise and immediate solutions that can resolve those obstacles the wine world is facing.

Perhaps we might need an enlightening Yoda to provide us the direction; but judging from the limited numbers of Jedi warriors, who could fathom the wisdom of the wise Jedi Master, we might be better off considering taking the bulls by the horn, and tediously work out various resolutions.

To the conscientious members of the wine community, ‘may the force be with us!’

<WINES>

Chateau Monbousquet 2004, St Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France

This St Emilion Chateau was acquired in 1993 by Parisian supermarket owner Gérard Perse, who also owned Château Pavie, Château Pavie-Decesse and Château La Clusière. Under the new ownership, the estate and wine have enjoyed a renewed vigour in both its quality and positioning.

Its improvement in quality was also noted and was duly promoted to a Grand Cru Classe status in the 2006 St Emilion Classification. Unfortunately, as many wine industry watchers would have noted, Château Monbousquet was one of the estates who had their promotion retracted following the Classification controversy; and after much twist and turn, it was, together with the other newly promoted estates, recognised as a St Emilion Grand Cru Classe.

In its stylistic expression, this wine exhibited more contemporary nuances (offering mocha, coffee, and vanillin note, with pronounced blackberry aroma dominating its front bouquet), yet, I also find this wine interestingly balanced in its flavours profile (initial burst of charm and its elegance emerges after some aeration in a fine decanter).

This classic blend of 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon offers a rich and fleshy structure with good balanced of freshness, fruit intensity and smooth tannins.

Not only Monbousquet is widely accepted as a high quality wine; this St Emilion estate also made a distinctive effort in communicating effectively with the market through its newly-designed wine label.

Labeling has been and still is one of those challenges that confused consumers through complex (but well-intentioned) details, especially those from the classic wine producing regions.

Cleverly, Monbousquet’s front and back labels spelt out the essential information (in a succinct manner), yet updated its appearance with a modern-looking bottle shape (a heavily sloping shoulder, rather than a gentle sloping design found in traditional Clarets).

Its back label also listed the cepage details for each varietal in the blend, providing adequate impression of the wine flavours.

This wine is a clear example of a wine estate that aims to retain its traditional and historical values, yet, strives to reach out effectively to the market through simple and direct labeling.

This wine is suitable for:

Fine Western cuisine

Fine Chinese cuisine

Business socializing occasions

Price per bottle: SGD$197

Available at: My Humble House restaurant, Esplanade, Singapore

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