Why Major Wine Media Refusing to Review Most States' Wines Is the Right Decision
It is possible today for nearly any type of wine media to ignore wine industries located anywhere in the United States outside of the West Coast and still be justly considered a legitimate vessel of wine news and commentary. It would upset nearly no one if a wine journal, website, publication, or newsletter published news and articles daily and never once mentioned the Nortons of Missouri, the Rieslings of Michigan, the Tempranillo of Texas, or the Marquette of Minnesota.
I know this because this is the state of things today and it has been the state of things for decades.
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The announcement that The Wine Enthusiast, a long-standing American wine publication, would no longer commit resources to review wines outside of California, Oregon, Washington, New York, or Virginia has rubbed some the wrong way. The decision has led to lamenting articles in those 45 states left out as well as the creation of memes dismissive of the Wine Enthusiast’s value.
The laments and memes are poses. Few wine publications and certainly not the most important, have paid any real attention to the wines outside the West Coast. The fact that the Wine Enthusiast decided to continue to keep an eye on Virginia and New York should be an occasion for celebration among the egalitarian winos and meme makers.
Who cares about the wines of these other states?
Note there is a question mark in the above sentence, not an exclamation point. I don’t mean to pose that question and use the “who cares” phrasing in a dismissive way. I mean to ask, who are the people who care about the wines of Missouri, Minnesota, Colorado, and Idaho?
It’s notable that in New Jersey, Connecticut, Arizona, and Michigan wines of California outsell the native bottlings by a huge margin. So while the locals might care about and support their local wines, they don’t practice a great deal of parochialism.
Why should wine publications care?
The obvious answer to this question is that a publication concerned with wine ought to care about all wine; ought to want to explore all things wine; ought to want to expose its reader/viewer/listenership to all things wine. But what ought to be just isn’t profitable.
While it is fashionable these days to look askance at wine media that have any economic connection to the products it covers in its pages or digits, industry funding of publications b way of advertising is an established and reputable way for a publication to raise revenue off its efforts.
Take a look at the back issues of Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Wine & Spirits Magazine, or any of the number of dead wine publications and search for full, half, quarter, or even eighth-page ads purchased by Texas wineries or the promotional board of New Jersey wineries. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MEDIA AND INDUSTRY
It’s true that wine regions, small and large, on the one hand, and wine media on the other, have a symbiotic relationship. The more a region’s wines are covered, reviewed, and explored in the pages and websites of wine publications, the greater interest that is bestowed upon that region by the publications’ readers. As more readers/consumers pay attention to a region, the more wine is sold and the more difficult it becomes for a wine publication to ignore that region. If you don’t believe this, consider the rise of Oregon wines beginning in the 1980s and 1990s and the snowballing effect of interest by both media and drinkers that has impacted Oregon wine sales.
That said, it’s not the wine media’s fault that interest in Texas and Missouri wine has remained largely confined to Texans and Missourians relative to West Coast wine regions. And it’s not a matter of the wines being produced by wineries in these non-West Coast wine regions being unattractive or of poor quality or boring that has relegated their fan base to being within driving distance of the wineries.
The fault lies with a whole host of actors: the wineries that don’t make concerted efforts to push into new markets; The wholesalers that no longer have an interest in marketing anything in the neighborhood of risky; Retailers unwilling to devote precious shelf space to a product with little marketing support and requires the extra labor of being hand sold; The wine media that is satisfied to run one story a year on most states’ winemaking efforts while reviewing 8 wines from two wineries during the same year; the state promotional boards and legislatures that don’t possess the foresight necessary to see their home state wines acting as advertising beacons for the wonderful virtues of the lands inside their borders; the consumers who risk enough already on new and unknown products added daily to the countless new and unknown products that asked for their attention yesterday.
Without question, it would be helpful to winemakers and industries in these “Other” regions to receive serious coverage from the Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, Vinous, Jeb Dunnick, Decanter, Wine Advocate, and other authoritative wine media and critics. But the past four decades of wine media practices should tell us that’s not going to happen. Moreover, it does little good to complain that these people and organizations aren’t compromising their businesses to satisfy what are a relatively small percentage of the wine drinker, a small percent of their readership, and the even smaller group of wine cognoscenti who think they should lest memes and indignation be untethered.
The irony is that there are more diverse voices writing about wine today than at any time in the history of wine writing. These wine regions outside the West Coast are getting coverage from a number of the new flock of voices. This kind of coverage is very important to the wineries, the consumers, and the trade. But it’s not the same as having hundreds of wines reviewed annually by the top publications and voices in the wine media.
While the top publications and voices in the wine media ought to be encouraged to draw all of our attention to the wines being made in Indiana, Illinois, and Idaho, they can’t be faulted for not covering the wines of these places and instead giving their readers what they want while protecting their profitability.
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Thanks for bringing this up, and excellent points! I recently saw a flash sale for an Idaho wine and my first thought was: Idaho?!? I had zero idea they made wine in Idaho, let alone wine worth selling nationwide. But if there's one thing I've learned lately with trying my first wines from Michigan, Virginia, and New York, is that the wine world is bigger than I ever realized. And I do hope local governments can realize that they're sitting on their own respective "wine countries", and assist their local wineries to build tasting rooms, become a part of wine tours, draw wine country maps, etc.
We're getting close to the point where someone could drive cross country, coast to coast, and never enter a State that didn't have an up-and-coming wine industry. Now THAT would be an wine tour for the books!