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Feb 21, 2017

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Young Heads, Old Shoulders
by Staff
Magazine Issue: AUS/NZ Issue One
Chewing the fat with the old school.

Gary Crittenden, Dromana Estate, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

Gary's a pretty passionate bloke when it comes to wine, having been making, marketing and exporting it for 20 odd years. Sympathetic to the needs of new and younger wine drinkers, he's keen to prune back the prickly myths about wine and help to make it accessible to all. After all, it is "just a palatable beverage". We gave Gary a call to see what he had to say about Wine X, the old school wine drinkers, the new school crew and what needs to be done to fix the gap.

"Wine X is a vehicle that allows me to address a sadly neglected segment of the market. A group of people who in my perception feel alienated from the mainstream appreciation because of the pomposity and pretension that goes with it - all the swirling, sniffing and spitting - it's not part of the way they want to live their life. I think the wine industry has to respect that and demystify and demythologise wine appreciation instead of making it elite. It has to say wine is something that's available for everyone.

"I mean really, wine is just a palatable beverage, it's lovely and it's interesting, but it doesn't need to be surrounded in myth and hype. It just needs to be talked about in a less pretentious way.

"I just don't think the wine industry are aware there's a group of people out there who aren't being spoken to. They probably imagine their marketing efforts get to everyone, but they don't and that's why I think the marketing people in the wine industry should be obliged to read the speech that US Wine X publisher Darryl Roberts gave in Oregon a couple of years ago. It's illuminating. It very acutely hones in on the fact that mainstream wine companies just don't understand that there is this group.

"My personal view is that it comes from a degree of complacency, they think if it ain't broken don't fix it. You know, they're happy with what's happening. And I'm not happy with what's happening.

"There's a gap here, a whole group of consumers that are missing out now but if they're not participating now in the years that are formative they will never participate so that when they flow into their middle age wine won't be part of their lifestyle or culture. You know, who's going to take up the flack? We really desperately need to have a continuum of marketing efforts. "I need to be able to talk to the people who currently are not being spoken to. Up until now, there hasn't been a way of talking to generation Xers."

Up till now exactly.

Peter Lehmann, Peter Lehmann Wine Barossa Valley, South Australia

For those who don't know, Peter Lehmann is kinda like the Jedi of the wine world. Simply, this comes from being one of the originals in the Barossa, having collected the Jimmy Watson trophy more than once, maintaining a huge capacity winery, having a solid presence in top restaurants and most importantly, making bloody good wine. We had a chat with Peter and his wife Margaret about working in with the new breed.

"Wine should be as natural as breathing. Good food is always assisted with good wine and bad food certainly needs it. And I think it's the proliferation of these wonderful, not hugely expensive, happy bistros and cafes with the chalk boards of wine by the glass has been of huge importance. Going to a restaurant is not this very formal dining experience - they are fewer and fewer. People now just suddenly say lets pop out for a pizza or some pasta or some Thai or whatever. It's so often a spur of the moment thing instead of being a planned thing compared to even 10 years ago.

"We've developed a whole range of exciting labels, which we've moved away from very traditional wine style presentation so these are wines that grace any table at any level and have fun and lift.

"Our staff at our cellar door are fully trained and take young people very seriously because we believe that if they have a good experience when they're starting on this trail then this is something they'll remember all their lives. When we see younger people coming in to the cellar door we don't recoil in horror - we're delighted to see an interest in wine and are very happy to spend that extra time when people are taking those first steps on the road to being competent about wine.

"You can take the absurdity and mystique and ritual out of wine and say 'look wine tastes delicious and taken in moderation its enhances a social occasion'. I think that people have seen wine as a rather elitist thing ... it may have been a class thing. I see it as much more of a classless thing. It's really whether you enjoy those flavours and want to live this style of life. I mean, do you want to stay in a murky pub or do you want to sit at a terrific table on a footpath watching the world go by having a nice yummy plate of tucker with a lively fresh semillon or a happy riesling or a wonderful shiraz. There are so many different flavours. And it all goes together - it's all natural.

"I'm very happy when people say that a wine tastes delicious and I'll say its yummy isn't it. It's about as complicated as that. But you do want people to appreciate the subtleties and nuances and gradually they will but without carrying on like porkchops."

Campbell Mattinson draws the curtains and shows us a view of wine in the Gen Xers' world

Laura. I was talking to Laura. She'd just got a new job and she was telling me about it: "Don't know if it's exactly what I want to do but I'm going to do it for 12 months, then I'm going to try to get a transfer to the Seattle office and hopefully then bum around in Europe for a while and then I think I'm going to come home and set up an e-commerce business."

"What about Dylan?" I said. I mean, I had to ask.

"Oh," she paused. "We'll work something out."

There, right there, was generation X. Plans that are fluid yet exhaustive. The belief that it's all out there and it's all that we want! And one of the things we want, increasingly, sometimes embarrassingly, is wine.

And not just any kind of wine. We want wine that doesn't treat us like a dick. That isn't a stuffed shirt in a bottle. That welcomes us in. That doesn't look at us and say: "Now listen here whipper-snapper. Why don't you go away and come back in twenty years!"

Back to Laura. "You know what this guy said to me last night? You won't believe it. We were sitting at that new bar with the rows and rows of Chesterfields and the cigars and stuff, right. It was a hoot. Then this guy says (and I swear he was a dead ringer for Ray Martin), 'Whatya drinking Champagne for? Champagne's for toffs. Maybe for toasts. But not for drinking'."

It turns out this (older) guy had a law for everything. You had to drink red wine with red meat. White wine with white meat. Fermented carrot juice with vegetables (actually, he probably didn't say that. That sounds like Laura spinning it a bit). He reckoned you absolutely should never drink sparkling wine on a Tuesday night, unless your divorce settlement had just come through. He even believed (and apparently he lowered his voice and leaned closer at this point) that you shouldn't ever drink chardonnay unless it had been "getting down and dirty and doing it French-style in an oak barrel for at least 12 months".

Basically, this goddamn sleazebag (woops, my emphasis) reckoned he could tell Laura what to do, which he'd never have presumed if he'd known Laura as long as I have and hence would know that she not only holds the Australian record for number of bottles placed out for recycling by an independent person on a single collection day (1312, but details are still too hazy to be confirmed); but that she also holds the record for the number of deliberate kicks to a bloke's knackers in a 10 second burst (19). And if you think I wasn't sitting with my legs crossed as we talked, you're nuts.

Anyway. So after Laura told this (older) guy to take his (older) views and enjoy them down at the retirement village which I'm sure you've already put a deposit on (blushing, visibly shaken, he departs) she then approached the bar and took a look at what wine they had on offer. She'd show him.

But there were pink-frosted bottles that looked like a pash-session in the back of a car gone wrong. Dark serious-looking bottles that looked mysterious to the point of frightening (and had price tags to match). Tall bottles and fat bottles, plastic-wrapped bottles and bottles that looked so weird that "I was sure if I touched it, it would make synthesiser noises like at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

All over the shop, in other words. "I really do need to learn more about wine," she ended up saying to me. "It's just that it seems like such a closed club," she sighed.

Which of course it so often is - but it doesn't have to be. We can drink what we like, with whatever or whomever we like, no matter what the time of day or week or whether the moon's in Taurus or not (well, maybe not in Taurus). We are generation X. The world is ours. To be enjoyed. To be experienced. Without rules. Now.

And part of all that is good wine. As for the bloke at the cigar bar - we might just leave him to his cardigan.

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