The wine world needs a Jon Stewart

March 16th, 2009

A through grilling. Jon Stewart takes Jim Cramer to task.

A thorough grilling.

Watching the unedited version of The Daily Show episode in which Jon Stewart interviews CNBC’s Jim Cramer, I was struck by how much of the finance-related terms in the discussion could be replaced with wine-related terminology. I was also impressed with Stewart and inspired by his staunch position on the responsibilities of journalists.

When I started, one of my founding principles was that I (and the website) should be a conduit of wine information. The thinking behind this approach is that the information offered should be complete, minimally redacted and true and an intelligent reader can see the obvious conclusions.

This philosophy drives my approach to reviewing wines. Since the website also includes interviews and feature articles, being a conduit at all times runs the risk of being a shill for the industry and its products without some truth testing of the information. This is a precarious scenario for all publications focused on consumer-oriented wine content.

I had made several attempts, in the past, at drawing a parallel between the events and trends leading up to the mortgage market (and subsequent economic) collapse and current trends in the world of wine. It’s not such a stretch of logic but we are dealing with two things of largely disparate scales and impacting fundamentally different aspects of society.

My analogies came down to drawing parallels between the two booming industries catering to the desires of convenience- and pleasure-seeking consumers who, in turn, laid out a lot of money for nonviable products endorsed by commentators validating the choices of the market while not questioning the practices of the purveyors, the integrity of the product, the choice of the consumers or its impact on the market.

What proved difficult to achieve, was making a clear and incontrovertible but palatable connection between the final dots: how the current trends in wine imperil wine culture and wine itself. To me, it is a matter of res ipsa loquitur, but that has never been enough for me in my approach to writing – I want to lay out my reasoning.

I think the way CNBC and Jim Cramer seemed to cheer on the “shenanigans” of the industry drew justifiable fire from Jon Stewart, but it also has a parallel in some current wine writing and wine assessment. Wine writers need to look at wine and the wine industry through more than the lens of an enthusiast seeking out the drink which is tastiest at first pour out of the bottle.

Jim Cramer, in his conversation with Stewart, points out that a commentator’s role is doubly challenging in that they must attract and maintain an audience. Often this means being entertaining while not insulting the audience. The latter is another tightrope act, since people don’t like their beliefs and preferences challenged or criticized.

With chatter from the Obama White House about the end of an era in which both industry and consumers are overextended, I can’t help but wonder if this is the final object lesson the wine world can draw from the financial meltdown: there is a price to pay for immediate gratification and short-sighted hedonism that many critics helped entrench in the psyche of the American wine consumer.

Steve Heimoff recently wrote about the concept of wine writers being “gatekeepers”. He references a wikipedia definition of the term that focuses around the “filtering” of information. This “gatekeeper” notion implies selecting what is and is not fit for public consumption. While I don’t think Steve intends this, I think the “gatekeeper” idea carries a connotation of restricting information. Selection and restriction of information are the pillars of Stewart’s gripe with CNBC.

So, I prefer the idea of a “conduit” because it means presenting the information in its raw form but interlaced with commentary and opposing points of view without being a mouthpiece for the industry or a producer. It’s not pedantic semantics. Words, after all, frame our thinking.

Steve has made the point to me that any time one writes about something, they endorse it. But I think he would agree that a wine commentator with any size audience has the responsibility of presenting correct and accurate information. A wine commentator should also see through and call nonsense when we see it. As Jon Stewart put it: we can’t be “dewy eyed innocents” who “just take their word at face value”.


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4 Responses to “The wine world needs a Jon Stewart”

  1. Posts about Jon Stewart as of March 16, 2009 » The Daily Parr Says:

    [...] about Jon Stewart as of March 16, 2009 The wine world needs a Jon Stewart – 03/16/2009 A through grilling.Watching the unedited version of The Daily Show [...]

  2. Dr. Horowitz Says:

    Every industry needs a smart and entertaining show that criticizes the mainstream media for the crap that it is!

    Thank goodness there isn’t 24-hour news in the wine world…

  3. Steve Heimoff Says:

    Hi Arthur, we’re gatekeepers by virtue of our jobs, you and me. And obviously I have striven for many years to present “correct and accurate information” so I don’t think that’s in question. I also think you would agree that I call out on “nonsense” when I see it. That’s one of the most fun things about blogging, isn’t it. Anyway, it was great seeing you at WOPN.

  4. Dylan Says:

    Today, the internet is an interesting game of anonymity and transparency colliding at the same time. A place once prided on its merits for hiding behind a fake handle has now turned into a forum where people share their real lives as openly as possible. I agree with the idea of a gatekeeper in the sense of acting as a filter. A blog should have a focus which people come to expect specific subject nature. If it too often goes the way of personal quips or non-related posts, then it is going away from what attracted readership in the first place. In the end, yes, all information should remain true and accurate.