Two of the most common reactions that I have had over the years to my having worked, and having a continuing love of wine, are to have people recoil slightly as if I am going to burst into flame and an almost total indifference flavoured with a conceit that says « I know more than you about wine, mister expert ». Believe me there is little middle ground when it comes to displays of awe and ignorance that wine engenders.
Those that wish to know more are a pleasure and are often quite insecure about their knowledge, much like my knowledge of housebuilding but I am led to believe that bricks and mortar are vital. People wishing to know more are those that I will always encourage to explore the endless possibilities available and to never bow to dogma but respecting a few immutable basics.
A greater challenge, and it is usually male, comes from those who believe that being male bestows upon them an innate understanding of all matters bacchanalian. They feel that although my facts on a particular wine may be accurate it still does not make me anything special. I have never thought I was but I knew that I did a good job.
Discourse of this type is driven by the idea that people in the wine industry don’t have real jobs and it is perfectly legitimate to challenge what is being said ; the same thoughts govern those who work in the hospitality industry, namely that they are doing it until something else comes along. It is upon such arguments that the knowledge I had built up was challenged by those who think of wine expertise as not being a profession.
Happily the culture of wine, for it is such, has spread far and wide. Yet within this new culture a new snobbery exists. In China for example, wine is used as means of flaunting new found wealth and a way of marking one out as being sophisticated. In the West there is great interest in wine but much of it is driven by a false elitism as the real value of enjoying wine and food is lost as wine is generally consumed without food. A real wine culture exists if food is included as one without the other leaves both unadorned.
Which brings me back to the male wine challenger. I always served food at my tastings which allowed people to have a before and after, to be more relaxed and to offer their opinions. The male challenger still felt the need to give his opinion generally based on being able to get far better for cheaper which is usually where I stopped listening. People such as this are uninterested in what wine gives us; sustenance, flavour, an aid to conversation etc.
I will certainly say that even among the ranks of wine professionals there are those who, much like the male challenger, there are many who take themselves too seriously. They are unable to deal with members of the public who approach them for advice with the replies to questions being full of jargon. Such occurrences may leave people with a poor impression and a potential wine-lover may be lost. However there are many great people working in the wine profession willing to help and it will be much easier if an open mind is kept and discussions are shared.