I recently watched a keynote speech ‘On Authenticity in Wine’ (below) by Mike Bennie, freelance wine writer and Wine/Drinks Editor for delicious magazine, speaking at the Pinot 2013 conference in Wellington, New Zealand. It got me thinking…
There are no more gatekeepers. Traditional communication mediums have been broken up and divided into millions of different channels and streams, all flowing towards an ocean of noise that we call the media of the 21st Century.
Anyone can jump in and ‘join the conversation’ at any time they like, offering up their opinions and insights on pretty much anything in as few as 140 characters. Anyone can start a blog or website dedicated to this topic or that theme, open up a Twitter account or create a Bookface page and update anyone that cares about their subject, daily, hourly, even by the minute! And, with so many ideas and opinions being spread around the world, they travel so quick that they can easily morph into unchecked facts. So, does the authenticity of these billions of lines of communication become distorted or hollow?
This is, essentially, another wine blog. I call it a narrative, but this is just semantics, plain and simple. It is a narrative on ‘real wine’ – that is, sustainable winemaking, either through natural, organic, or biodynamic practices (my definitions can be found at the side of this page) – and it focuses exclusively on Australian and New Zealand winegrowers. I write from a perspective of personal interest and passion for the subject, grounded in my experiences in London, and before that a clothesline in any backyard throughout my time at university. I am a wine writer who considers myself free of the traditional means of communication in order to share ideas; one who is able to forge their own way within the world of wine and create their own identity within it.
But is that enough to be considered authentic? Am I automatically genuine and therefore considered worthwhile reading because of this?
Definitely not. But what if I was published in a magazine? Or had written a book? Or was on television? Would these traditional forms of media communication strengthen my authenticity?
Mike Bennie, speaking at Pinot 2013 posed the idea of ‘cyclical nepotism’ within the wine communications community – that is, that the ‘rigorous pursuit of expertise has been foregone to cut out a fast and furious niche’ in order to raise one’s profile and social media footprint. Bennie believes that while many are operating with ‘less critical context and have more interest in simple profile (boosting)’, these communicators are positive contributors to the wine community, as long as they are viewed outside the lens of social media metrics.
It doesn’t matter how many Twitter followers or Klout points you have: ‘chatter is chatter’.
If the messages that wine producers, journalists and critics are spreading is always something cobbled together from the pages of press releases, in order to appease marketers, obtain short-term profits, or hold the short attention span of today’s consumers, then the message these wine writers are peddling simply becomes mere recycled rhetoric; devoid of authenticity, soon to become the silver bullet that shoots you in the foot.
These days, people are much more savvy than traditional methods of communication give them credit for. They will actively seek out the information they want, rather than passively absorb the information that’s given to them. This is why niche websites, blogs and Twitter profiles appear within just about any subject you dare dream up. The traditional gatekeepers of the past are no longer as necessary as they once were, nor are they as relevant as they would have you believe – because the content lies elsewhere (usually for free), and, in my opinion… content is king.
If the content of your newspaper, magazine, television program, radio show, blog, website, Twitter account, or Bookface page is original, interesting, has character and is presented in a honest way, then authenticity will follow.
Much like respect, authenticity is not simply inherent, rather it has to be earned over a period of time, through a series of actions, which promote truth, honesty and character. It is not something that you can create stickers for or put on a label, it is not something that easily applies itself over a number of different logos or brands, and it is not something that is measured by Klout points or Twitter followers. Authenticity is born out over time, and measured by a genuine contribution to something. This is achieved through the content you provide to those who you are trying to communicate with.
With respect to wine, I think authenticity can be measured by a wine- grower’s intentions, and consequently their actions. Whether that be to produce the best wine possible, and that it’s something they believe in wholeheartedly, which is then displayed through their wine making actions – or whether they are in it just because there is money to be made.
In a video that accompanied the end of Mike Bennie’s speech, Michael Glover of Bannockburn Vineyard, Geelong, says: “someone who has access to 100 year old shiraz vines… if they look in the mirror and truly believe that what they’re doing is right, then I’m in interested, and I want to taste it; but we both know there are people out there making wines, who are doing it because that’s where the money is, it’s where the points are… that is not authentic”.
And we all know of wines on the bottle shop shelves that are there, first and foremost, to make a profit. They have little or no intention of communicating a story, or sense of place, and would rather be uniform creations, from vintage to vintage, supplying to the cheap ‘n’ cheerful, unquestioning marketplace.
To me, that is not authentic, because the label, or brand becomes the focus for the consumer, and what matters most – the content – is lacking.
Mike Bennie cites provenance as a guidepost that indicates truth, which is increasingly important for all new generation consumers: “provenance… is applicable for brand, land, to life work and to scholarly intent. It’s a place where you ground yourself… it is your baseline”. And it’s provenance which is most important when it comes to ‘real wine’ – because a ‘real wine’ defines itself by it’s terroir, it’s sense of place, an honest belonging to the earth from which it comes from. It’s interpretation, rather than manipulation and over time, as the vines get older and are allowed to express themselves, naturally, without the cloak of soaking chemical sprays, their unique provenance will be reflected as authenticity.
I see wine communicators in the same light. I know that if what I produce here, within this narrative, is something I am truly passionate about, something that I believe in whole-heartedly, and the content I create is king… well then, in time… authenticity will follow.
Thank you for reading!
D// – The Wine Idealist.
*I feel very privileged to say that I have been asked to participate as a wine judge at the Organic Wine Show, Sydney with Max Allen, author of The Future Makers and wine editor for The Australian newspaper. I am very grateful for the opportunity to be involved and can’t wait to smell, taste… and maybe spit! Winners will be announced at a dinner on Friday the 15th of February at Agape Restaurant and Bar – to book click here.
Video Courtesy of The Wine Guide