People outside the wine trade routinely accuse it of being old-fashioned and inward-looking. We are viewed as being bad at communicating with the general public, unnecessarily convoluted and averse to dynamic change.
To a certain extent this is true, although there are some valid explanations. One is that wine is by its very nature a complicated and fragmented product which can't be simplified easily. Another more cynical reason might be that there's a vested interest in keeping fine wine elitist in order to uphold high prices.
Regardless, the point remains that outsiders who want to enter the wine trade are often confounded by our apparent inability to modernise and be open-minded - especially where technology is involved.
Over the last few years, I've spoken to several app / website developers who love wine, have an idea for an app but have little or no experience in the wine industry. Most recently, this resulted in a conversation which emphasised how awkward the wine trade can appear to be. The 'outsiders' had made some assumptions about the size of their potential audience, and the willingness of producers to get involved, which appeared unrealistic to me as a wine insider.
For example, where they imagined a majority audience of people who are interested in wine, I was more pessimistic about how many wine drinkers are actually prepared to do anything about what may just be a passing interest. Loads of people say they are interested in wine; but it is such a complicated subject that very few actually pursue that interest.
Or at least, that's the widely held belief of many of us within the trade. However, is that really correct - or have we become blind to the possibility of any alternative?
What can't we see?
In the above podcast, documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis discusses the phenomenon of 'what we can't see' - whereby groups of like-minded people become oblivious to any view which opposes their own. This is exacerbated by social media, in which we all tend to follow the sort of content that we already agree with - known as 'positive reinforcement'. Not only does this result in such groups having diminished understanding of any alternative to their own realities, it also increases the polarisation between opposing views.
Curtis cites Brexit and Trump as two good examples of how liberal, left-wing people have scant understanding of how things appear to anyone who would have voted in favour of those two options. The disbelief and dismay they feel shows how they were unable to see an alternative reality right before their eyes.
In which case, perhaps there is an alternative reality for the wine trade, one in which we are more open-minded and progressive about reaching an audience we otherwise assume is not that interested. Or are the differences between the outsiders and insiders of wine now so entrenched that it is impossible for us to ever see any alternative?
I'd like to think the wine trade is open-minded but realistic about its audience - but questioning those assumptions might just open up the sorts of new realities we need.