Earlier this year I was perusing the event page for the Idaho Wine Commission (IWC) and an event caught my eye: the Annual Idaho Wine Industry Meeting. I reviewed the agenda, and to my delight saw that Mike Veseth was a scheduled keynote speaker. Mike is a noted wine economist who blogs at WineEconomist.com. I look up to him and he’s taught me a lot about the wine industry and wine blogging since I first began.
He’s kind of a big deal.
I sent an email inquiring whether I might attend the afternoon session, and my friends at IWC graciously allowed me to sit in on that day.
I arrived nervous and excited, which is how one feels when meeting a celebrity!
The afternoon started with a message from IWC Commissioner Gregg Alger (of Huston Vineyards), who gave a warm welcoming speech about support and inclusion. My takeaway was that Idaho’s relatively small winemaking community needs to collaborate more often and more efficiently for the state to gain traction in the industry.
Then Mike took the podium and began to deliver the keynote address.
But first, a little background.
An economics professor by trade, Mike had a wine-changing experience on his honeymoon (sounds familiar) when he began to discuss the wine economy with a famous winemaker, and thereafter he was inspired to begin studying global wine markets.
The speech I attended concentrated on sections of his book “Wine Wars: The Curse of the Blue Nun, the Miracle of Two Buck Chuck, and the Revenge of the Terroirists” I recommend it if you want to really sink your teeth into how the wine world markets operate, what the future could hold for them, and how winemaking and wine consumption may be forever changed as a result.
For those present at his address, Mike broke down his book according to the three topics listed in its title, then went on to share some lessons already learned by successful wine regions and how those lessons might apply to Idaho winemaking going forward.
Are you ready to learn what that long book title means? I’m going to give you some snippets!
The Curse of Blue Nun – Blue Nun was the first global mass market wine brand. Even as the quality declined, people kept drinking due to the powerful brand association Blue Nun had created.
The Miracle of Two Buck Chuck – why are people willing to buy wine for two or three dollars? Because it’s sold at Trader Joe’s, a trusted and credible source. Also, word of mouth has converted many, many Chuck drinkers.
Revenge of the Terroirists (ter-WAHR-ists)- those who challenge the above market trends. Establish a sense of place (terroir) which will lend authenticity and lead to respect. (Read my article on terroir here.)
To expand on these points in regard to Idaho, the foremost challenge is to gain and keep the respect of the wine industry as a whole. The five most respected wine regions in the world (listed below) have put a lot of effort into cultivating their businesses; Idaho can learn and grow from their examples.
Region 5) Napa Valley. Napa Valley may have proclaimed its own fame rather prematurely, but now it trails only Disneyland as America’s most-visited tourist destination. Its regional brand identity is known and well-regarded nationwide. (Idaho lesson: You are your brand).
Region 4) Tuscany. People drink it because ITALY. It’s not just the wine; it’s the food, culture, style, tourism, and romance all wrapped up in the name. (Idaho lesson: It’s not just wine).
Region 3) Burgundy. Legendary for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. These signature varietals create a perceptible sense of place for some people, resulting in intense consumer fan bases that tend to make repeated purchases over long periods of time. (Idaho lesson: It’s not just dirt or variety).
Region 2) Bordeaux. Made famous by getting itself ranked near the top of every wine list that mattered for years and years. (Idaho lesson – Everyone Loves a Winner)!
Region 1) Champagne. Image, baby, image. This is the power of celebrity. What do you call sparkling wine? Champagne. I still catch myself saying it even though I know better (Idaho lesson – Image isn’t everything).
Mike’s presentation was great; he mixed quippy storytelling with professorial enthusiasm, and communicated the topic of wine globalization effectively without losing the audience in his deep knowledge of the subject matter.
Following the address, I tweeted:
Okay, so this is the part where I nerded out a bit! I was very nervous about introducing myself and I’m sure it showed. I don’t remember much of what I said, but Mike seemed to take it well and he was good-natured concerning the celebrity status I had bestowed upon him.
Luckily for me, a bit later in the afternoon, I was able to collect myself and talk to him again more intelligibly.
Though I’m afraid I did ask to have my picture taken.
And of course, a big thank you to Mike Veseth! I’ll try to dial it back should our paths cross again.
PS. We also heard from Moya Shatz Dolsby (IWC Executive Director) regarding some exciting Idaho wine developments. I will share those in a separate post!