Today is a big day for our country. A President disliked (even despised) by many is passing control of the helm to one in whom some have placed unrealistic, messiah-like expectations. Nevertheless, the country, as a whole, seems hungry for a new direction and looks to brighter days ahead.
If the past eight years have given political pundits numerous “Bushisms” to mock and ruminate over (and provided fertile fodder for The Global Language Monitor), they have also seen the rise to prominence of some “winoisms”. The latter are a group of words and concepts which have found their way into common parlance despite the fact that they are simply incorrect usage of terminology.
I’m not thinking of common spelling gaffes like “current” instead of “currant” and “palette” in place of “palate”. The use of words like “varietal” in place of “variety” and “palate” in place of “personal preference” are habits of American wine culture and some wine writers and bloggers which are as pernicious as they are pervasive. These seem to speak to a disregard or disdain for a greater depth of understanding of the subject matter. Adherence to a flashcard understanding of wine makes for limited understanding and a subsequently stunted growth of our country’s wine culture.
Yes, there are other problems with our wine culture and wine industry. There are a core group of misguided and misinformed beliefs about wine which are symptomatic of a limited understanding of wine. There are also some problems with availability and distribution of wine which compromise a producer’s commercial reach and consumer choices. There are even issues of climate change, oversupply and the effect of the current economic turmoil on the wine industry. But, while some might argue otherwise, I believe that the resolution of the latter four issues will not make even a fraction of the contribution to the collective good of the culture (which, in essence, rests with wine lovers and consumers) that education of the consumer can make.
I have commented on the seeming perils to the wine industry inherent in educating the wine consumer base (here and here). However cynical the ideas in those two posts may seem, I believe them to be true. For my part, I truly hope to see anti-intellectualism stripped away from our wine culture. I just hope that wine producers will be prepared for it. It will be a gradual process and nobody will bother to put them on notice.
For those who think that I have a pedantic fixation on semantics and terminology, I offer the counterargument that language frames our thought processes. What we say and how we say it reveals what we know and how we think. In some circles, those things are also thought to indicate the polish on one’s character.
Think what you may about that last concept, but the devil really does reside in the details. Greatness and excellence in any pursuit are not achieved in giant leaps accompanied by resonant thunderclaps. Rather, they are gradual processes: the application of philosophy and a set of standards practiced every day in the forging of a legacy in little increments.
I come from a part of the world where a plumber may speak three languages besides their native tongue (one of those languages may even be Latin!). There, average high school grads have more exposure to calculus, organic chemistry and physics than most US college grads (not to mention being expected to get their minds around over 1,000 years of national history and a pretty complex language). So, I tend to think that a wine enthusiast (who, statistically, is likely to be more educated than the average bear) can get some basic terminology and concepts under their skull cap.
There is a culture of “good enough” in the USA. It works for selling sweaters, painting houses and building cars. It seems to be applied to other aspects of our society at times: I see it at various levels of the education system. It seems to have sufficed for our government for some time now. It also seems to be a core driving force in the production and selling a lot of marginally serviceable wine. If American wine is to be viewed as a top global contender, however, this attitude will have to be put out to pasture at all levels of our country’s wine culture.
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