It’s a Sunday night in January and we’re expecting a lot of snow. I’ve trekked over to my Grandma’s home to bum around, watch movies, and, of course, drink wine with my family. My Grandma is generous with her liquor cabinet, which is stocked with magnums of Cavit and Yellow Tail. And trust me, before the night is through, I will have had my fair share. But I always bring a bottle of something else to start out the night; as we all know, after a few glasses of something you like, the stuff you like a little less tends to go down a bit easier. I pull the bottle out of my bag, and that’s when the comments begin.
“Why do you always bring a bottle when you come here? You know there’s tons of wine in that cabinet.”
“Oh, you know,” I reply. “I just prefer to start by drinking something I like a little more
“Ugh,” is the inevitable response. “Such a snob.”
It’s something a lot of us in the wine industry have heard, and not just once, either. The big cities of America are crawling with wine-industry workers, from cellar rats all the way up to Master Sommeliers. Starting at a retail store, I worked my way up to a buyer position, then began freelance writing. Now I’m a full-time wine writer who teaches wine classes downtown. Just three weeks ago, after studying for a year and working my ass off in these various job roles, I passed my Certified Specialist of Wine exam. What I’d like to know is, why I am a “snob” for having an opinion about something that I interact with every single day for a living?
You don’t call your doctor a snob when she diagnoses you with an ailment. You don’t call your lawyer a snob when he is handling your divorce. And you certainly don’t call your pharmacist a snob when she selects a prescription for you. So why is it that anytime someone in the wine industry has the slightest comment or contribution about a wine-related conversation, they’re automatically deemed as a snob?
Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying there aren’t people within the industry who aren’t snobs. That would just be pure ignorance. Wine shop clerks, sommeliers, and writers abound who would turn their noses up and condemn you for your “inferior” wine choices. But doesn’t that exist in every industry? Doesn’t every professional field have some form of condescension their experts can use to look down on non-masters of the field and make them into bona fide snobs? Of course they do. So why is it only within the wine world that this term seems to be acceptable?
Maybe it’s because in America, people are intimidated by wine. Americans are scared of wine. In fact, I’d go as far to say we are petrified of the stuff. Whether it’s because we aren’t exposed to it in childhood (hello, Europe!) or because it’s hardly as affordable as it is in other countries, we just have less experience with the fermented juice.
But despite our lack of experience, we want to know more about wine. There’s something so fascinating about wine, the plethora of grape varietals and the chemical reactions that take place during a food and wine pairing, not to mention the science behind winemaking and the various wine-drinking cultures around. Wine is an attainable commodity that we all have within our daily reach, and that we want to know more about, yet somehow can’t wrap our heads around. So what happens? We become frustrated, because this everyday object that we love so much mystifies us, confuses us, and we just don’t fully get it.
That frustration all too easily turns into judgment. That’s how we allow ourselves to label wine professionals as snobs, or really anyone who’s taken the time to understand wine, dedicating their lives to studying the stuff, to working for it. You see, it becomes this you-know-something-that-I-don’t know scenario, where you have a coveted piece of information that puts those without that information at a disadvantage that they can’t handle. Rather than having an educational discussion on the topic, it instead becomes some irrational form of an elitist battle.
But the truth is, wine industry professionals are here to help. We want to demystify it, to use our expertise to serve you. It’s why we got into wine in the first place. In fact, even the most educated of wine experts still have a lot to learn, just like the budding consumer looking to get into the stuff.
Why not drop the “snob” label and focus on the many other labels we could spend our time discussing — starting with the one on the bottle in front of you.