In Other Words, The Wine Biz Is Pretty F*cked Up (Thoughts On The Closure Of IPOB)

The wine media world has been tripping over itself to cover the recently-announced ceasing of operations by In Pursuit of Balance (IPOB), an organization of producers that held tastings of wines that fit what the organizers and their tasting panel deemed to be New World wines of particularly elegant expression. In other words, wines that were generally less fruit-bomb, and more high-acid/low-booze.

So much is being said about IPOB’s closure and what that means for the cold culture war of U.S. wine styles that, for me, we’ve lost sight of the most profound implication of that battle: its complete uselessness draws an ugly, unforgiving, damn-that’s-bright-’cause-it’s-last-call-at-the-bar  illumination on just how very fucked up the wine business is right now.

For some of us who have been watching and covering IPOB since its inception, their organized tastings were a bit of fresh air; after all, why not expose wine consumers and media-types to a style of wine that is impeccably made, but offers an alternative to the high-octane, fruit-at-all-costs style of U.S. wine that has, by any reasonable account, dominated vinous press coverage for nearly three decades?

Apparently, the wine business is, in fact, so fucked up that, despite the fact that over thirty-five billion bottles of wine are released into the market every year, any style that doesn’t match up to that which has been primarily lauded in mainstream wine press is viewed as “wrong…”

Think about that for a minute.

We’re at a point where wine writers are compelled to write nearly 1600 words about the implications of IPOB’s closure on the California wine style war, and yet the idea that such a war is the equivalent of a frivolously embarrassing territorial pissing contest between entrenched media personalities hardly gets even a passing mention.

This is, in no way, the fault of the IPOB organizers. They’re not wrong in their manifesto and desire to have these wine styles see their fair share of media coverage and recognition. And what’s more, they recognize how dumb it is that such a conversation is even necessary. To wit, here’s what one of the organizers, Raj Parr, had to say about that topic (quoted from the articles linked above):

“We want everyone to have a voice in the winemaking world, regardless of their style or palate preferences… Not that I’m afraid of controversy and afraid of argument, but no one needs it. We don’t need this constant bickering.”

And there it is. That, right there, encapsulates what’s so odd about the fine wine biz. Largely speaking, there is enough room for everyone, and yet position-jockeying and ego in the wine media is apparently so entrenched that tiny portions of the fine wine marketplace are seen as threats that must be mocked, debated, or ignored out of existence.

It has long been my experience that wine producers, generally, would rather relinquish their own power of connecting with wine consumers to the media, watch as that media makes the epic, consumer-detrimental mistake of confusing personal style preference with intrinsic quality imperative, and then hypocritically bitch and moan about the fact that the media got it all wrong.

The entire need for the media conversation around IPOB, and the timbre of the details of that conversation, in my opinion points to a systemic problem with the importance attributed to media in the fine wine sphere.

Parr is right; we don’t need the bickering.

Not only that, the quasi-religious debates that surround hot-button fine wine topics such as natural wines, Biodynamic farming, and winemaking styles does nothing – I cannot emphasize this enough, NOTHING – for fine wine consumers except to further alienate them (much to the delight, I am sure, of producers of coffee, tea, beer, and spirits, who are all more than happy to steal those wine consumers away).

I love the U.S. wine business; in fact, I love it so much that I am sickeningly embarrassed by its behavior, which is now reflective of the worst of our country’s political landscape.

I’m calling bullshit. Please, wine world peeps, learn how to debate. You can start by actually putting your consumers – rather than yourselves – first.


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