Under the Influence - Harpers Wine & Spirit

POSTED ON 06/03/2009

GLOUCESTER. Edmund, how now! what news?
EDMUND. So please your lordship, none.
King Lear, Act 1, Scene II.

What news, Gloucester?What news, Gloucester?

We wine writers are familiar with the editor’s ‘have a great holiday’ refrain as we’re about to embark on a long-haul economy flight or the heartfelt ‘don’t get too pissed’ as we trudge off to spit out 100 wines from Aldi or Asda. In the light of the all too frequent perception of the wine writer’s job as a permanent holiday, the loss of Joanna Simon’s wine column on the Sunday Times is a worrying sign of a failure of editorial imagination and comprehension.

The question of whether wine critics influence wine drinkers’ choices was the topic of a recent Wine Intelligence Briefing. The survey showed that ‘29 per cent of regular wine drinkers in the UK are influenced by wine writers when making wine buying choices, or, almost 8 million people who are making their purchase decisions based in part on what they read in wine columns, see on television or find out about on the internet’ (my italics). Measured in terms of our effectiveness as a wine sales force, our influence would leave little room for the Johnsons or Jeffords of this world.

It’s encouraging in some ways to see that wine has started to penetrate the visual medium of television, but while TV can do a good job of popularising wine, programmes like Château Monty and the Beeb’s recent three-parter are exceptions to a depressingly limited perspective. The wine industry dog wagging the wine journalist tail might well lead newspaper editors to conclude that the job of a wine critic is to sell wine, and there are plenty in the wine trade who wouldn’t disagree.

No doubt there are consumers too who put the Saturday shopping list ahead of information, education or entertainment. Maybe they’re not after news, independent comment and objective assessment or to be pointed in the direction of independent specialist retailers. Perhaps they don’t want a helping hand with making their own judgments or analysis of the issues of the day. With one more wine column going under, increasingly it looks like they won’t be getting it.

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