Why Translate [Wine] Geek? Drawing parallels between wine and science

A recent course in wine marketing (part of the International Vintage Master) got my wine-science connection sparking again.  After spending a year thinking about nothing else, and then 7 months of zoomed-in wine studies, I had a bit of a breakthrough moment.  When the prof started talking about how to communicate with consumers, and the fact that they’re just bogged down in jargon and the technical detail that us wine-geeks are so apt to adopt, I had a light-bulb moment.

This is the connection.

Frankly, this disconnect is exactly what has always driven me batty about science too.  Within the community, be it of wine or of science, the members are so incredibly impassioned about their subject and want nothing more than to spread this passion like wildfire.  But what happens?  They open their mouth spew their vernacular and immediately are seen as geeks without proper social skills, for the plain and simple reason that the language doesn’t translate across this community boundary.  To understand wine geek you have to be a wine geek, and to understand the scientific lexicon  you have to be a well-indoctrinated nerd.

But this was always exactly my mission for science – how can we, as scientists, communicate effectively with those outside of our community, who would certainly also be interested in our musings, if only we could get the point across without becoming entangled in the jargon-laden argot of the trade.  The implications are critical given the ethical issues tied up in so many scientific questions these days (think stem cells, or this new drug in development made from resveratrol, the compound in red wine, thought to be able to help us live to up to 150 years… but who would have acces and what would determine this access? Not sure we’re ready to broach these questions yet, and not sure we’ll ever be ready to if the communication barrier between what’s really going on with the science and the public perception of it remains as formidable as it is now).

Perhaps the gravity of the situation is not quite the same, with wine sales on the line rather than lives, but the same issue presents itself in the wine world.  What other beverage has the exclusive power of wine, the power to embarrass for a poor choice, to bring great pride for choosing a wine that pleases your guests.  To make people avoid for fear of not knowing the correct terminology?  How can we expect to attract new consumers when we are in the process of scaring them off, just in the language that we use?  It is time for a new approach, just like for science.  We need to learn that communicating with those outside of the ‘inner circle’ is imperative to our success and that a different style of communication is called for.  We can’t use geek-speak to talk to real people.  And we know this.  Anyone who’s ever geeked-out on a friend, on any topic, knows that glazed-over look that befalls them within the first few seconds.  That will never work to sell a product to a non-believer.  We already have the geeks under our thumb, what we need to learn is how to talk to the rest of the world.
I don’t know which will come first, but perhaps those with an interest in communicating about their wine (for marketing purposes, primarily, but also to  convey its hugely important cultural affinities to the uninitiated) can learn from   the scientists who are learning how to communicate, and vice-versa.  We certainly live in a age where this seems like a feasible goal to shoot for – with our plethora of social and alternative media that allow seamless transmission of information between individuals of all different profiles.  Its time to talk, or chat, or tweet, but let’s let down the barriers.  Let’s talk to everyone.

DSC_0704(Terroir.  one of those wine buzz-words that’s so poorly explained and little understood.  How can we get the message across that its more than just dirt?)

2 thoughts on “Why Translate [Wine] Geek? Drawing parallels between wine and science

  1. You’ve put your finger on an important issue, Alissa. I am quite knowledgeable about science, so I know what it is to understand an arcane field. But am fairly ignorant about wine. I have had the velleity–I can’t truthfully say I have a burning desire–to become more knowledgeable about wine, but I don’t know where to start. Probably like many others, I’m not so keenly interested as to sign up for a multi-session class, and I recognize that there is too much to learn in a single session.

    I wonder if anyone has created a home “starter kit” for self-education. I imagine that the instructional material would be a book and/or DVD along with vials of different flavors. The vials could be diluted at home for the student to learn “This is what we mean by tasting of oak” or “This is apricots,” etc. Having the student learn to perceive them while diluted would be a first step, I think, to recognizing those flavors in wine.

    Obviously, Alissa, the world awaits your breakthrough approach to instruction.

  2. thanks eric for the comment! i think you’re definitely onto something here. i have seen something a bit like it here in france but at a completely inaccessible price, and i’m not sure how good the documentary support is.. have to check it out and give it some thought!

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