It’s accidental, actually. Someone I knew long ago went overseas to promote sake. But the sake promotion was happening through a wine outfit. One that had a few snooty and insulting people surrounding it. They started to tell me things that I knew weren’t true. And that’s always the worst, isn’t it? Isn’t it? When people start saying things to you, because they think you’ll believe anything. You know how I am about those bullshit games. “Yeah, tell me anything!” Well, you lose me.
So I get this e-mail from this silly guy, about how Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) in London, which pitches its certifications through local, US-side, trade associations like New York City’s International Wine Center, is actually an educational institution. Not a trade promotion one. I think of all these people during the Great Recession, who were out there, credentializing, because they had to show every effort to do something to land a job, (when in fact, the Republicans in our own government were causing crises to undermine what economists call “aggregate demand”.) Some credential appears on the scene. It gets a following. Then, you want a job, you better have that credential. So these credential sellers get their cash registers ringing. Because even after these sommelier hopefuls get the credential, there is maybe no job for them. Certified Public Accounting can work like that, too. (If you don’t have it, they want it. You have it, they don’t need it.) Certainly, lawyering works that way in contemporary times.
So, you know, I do my basic due diligence as a traditional (pre 2005!) blogger. I want to know more about this WSET. I already had heard of the International Wine Center in New York, from my college days when someone was into wine. It’s a business run by fellow Penn alum Mary Mulligan Ewing. It is not a nonprofit, and, from what I can tell, has basically been subsumed by Big Wine and Big Middleman. So what is this WSET?
Well, what I find out initially seems pretty innocuous. It is a trade promotion group started in 1969 (but they do this British thing to make it seem like its of longstanding importance, with the logo and all that.) The Beatles were 1964. You are 1969. Please.
The group, as I previously blogged, is headed up by Laura Jewell. Well, who is this woman? At the time, she was an executive within Tesco, the WalMart of Great Britain, responsible for securing wine deals for the consumer monolith. That made sense. Big Corporate uses a nonprofit to promote its business. But it isn’t named the Tesco Wine Education Trust. Tesco stays in the shadows, as all good overreaching corporations do. They send out affable lady to do the selling for them. (They always send a woman. “Ha ha ha! I am so affable. Please buy our product.”)
So this is what I thought.
Well, then comes a twist. A while later, there appears the Tesco Accounting Scandal. It appears the books of Tesco were cooked throughout 2014, and maybe 2013 or earlier. Since I teach accounting, and was doing it last fall, it was like, boom! Scandal of the week. So I encourage the students to read about how “restatements” nowadays can sometimes point to a situation of outright numbers manipulation. And it turns out that the head of Tesco’s booze division was asked not to come in for a while, along with about eight of his peers—while they sort it all out.
I blogged about this a bit, and I read other people’s blogs in the Wine Blogosphere. And you know what I learned? The people in the Vinosphere, or Vinocyberia, or whatever you want to call it, are all about the Next Event. Or about themselves. It is about “me”, or it is about “the next event”. Or both. I think 75% of them are deathly afraid of not being invited to the next event. It is a group of commentators that is afraid of pissing off anyone that will nix them from being invited to the next event. And in that atmosphere, they hold themselves out as objective commentators.
Nowadays, if I read a fellow blogger, I reach out by phone. No more of this in the shadows shit. One of them in Washington State is some big wine authority. They don’t return phone calls. I don’t hold my breath.
Back to WSET. Do you know what I learned? They are cranking out so many of these certifications and Masters of Wine-ses, that they have nowhere to go but into promoting Asian adult beverages like sake. Everywhere you turn, there is a glut of alcohol, of certifications, of advice, of commentary. Everyone is trying to suck at the teet. And the big players in the industry, which are the large wineries hosing it out by the millions of gallons, and the middlemen who make fortunes squeezing dry at both ends, are the ones calling the shots. Everything else are people’s indulgences. Side businesses. Good God, in some cases, livelihoods.
You know that when WSET is moving into sake, you are being told that there is nothing but oversupply in wine. Sake competes with wine—at least, it does in Japan, the home of sake, where wine sales have gone up while sake goes down. When people there drink wine, they don’t drink sake. I repeat: If they drink sake, they don’t drink wine. Hello! Isn’t that obvious? Why isn’t that obvious to the Vinosphere? The bloggers there don’t even have this on the radar, just like they casually ignore the Tesco scandal and how much of it relates to wine supplier discounting and the like. They are afraid of not getting invited to the next big event.
As someone who is a mere satellite of the Vinosphere, I don’t care if I am not getting invited to the next big event—I probably don’t have the time and space to go. I have no books on the topic to sell. I’m an observer.
It seems to me that:
The good ideas for promoting wine in the year 1982 have run their courses. But people still keep trying them.
Evidence of burn out and decline come from the idea of “expanding” a wine promotion group to promote Asian alcoholic beverages that now would compete with wine, as they do in Asia already.
These promotion groups have Big Corporations and Big Money behind them. It is the voice of somebody else that is being delivered to you, not some impartial nonprofit.
Small wineries, small sakeries, are the victims in all this “promotion”. When I get a chance, I will write about how the Japanese MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Farming) is throwing out money to promote Japanese trade, but they are trying to do it by planting mouthpieces within wine trade promotion groups. (This is similar to how the Japanese government gives to US think tanks, as an “investment”, in order to promote Japanese policy goals—-I mentioned this the other day.) Small wineries are being encouraged to support these promotion groups, when the clear fact is that no one is making an effort to enhance sales for the small breweries or wineries. All this money is simply financing an industry junket where people can create jobs for themselves, “promoting”.
The small wineries outside of Asia, and the small sakeries in Japan, are both being stiffed by this whole promotion enterprise. The people calling the shots are all connected to big industry. Hello Vinosphere! Please write more about this.