Comment: Demystifying wine

Hannah Crosbie wants to take the terror out of terroir (it just means the land grapes are grown on). Here, she explores the importance of making wine accessible to all.

Hannah Crosbie is a wine writer and the founder of London’s Dalston Wine Club.

In my late teens, I approached wine with fear. The trick was to mask its taste, to top it up with sugary lemonade and heaps of ice, and then knock it back as quickly as possible. A bottle was to get you drunk; sometimes enjoyed, but rarely understood. 

Good wine, on the other hand, was largely out of bounds and reserved for people with money. Like many people my age, I had an almost complete disconnect from the winemaker, the terroir and the wine itself. Looking into the industry from the outside, it’s obvious that the way we’re selling, marketing and drinking the stuff is totally exclusive and inaccessible. It starts with the way we talk about it: the average person doesn’t know what tannins are, what ‘en primeur’ means or where a claret is from; it seems counterproductive to market something using unknown concepts as the key selling points. It proves to me that most wine marketing is only trying to sell to those who are already in the club. 

So, how can we translate concepts such as these into a language everyone can understand? How can we help the uninitiated feel empowered to learn about wine in the first place? 

Increasingly, wine is an interest for many young people such as myself. Lockdowns also brought our drinking habits into focus. This, coupled with growing concern about what we’re putting into our bodies, has resulted in a spike in wine consumption among the young. The Silicon Valley Bank’s wine division reported that millennials consumed 20% of all wine sold in 2020, while a US survey for industry analyst Wine Business found that 50% of the same demographic increased their consumption of wine under lockdown. Virtual tastings, informative online bottle shops and increased social media interest allowed young people to engage with wine in a way they couldn’t before. The curiosity was always there, they just needed an excuse to explore it. 

Now, lots of exciting new businesses are starting out in the wine trade. In little more than a year, Carbo Wines, founded by three friends in Brighton, went from selling from the boot of a Peugeot to an online business that delivers across the UK. None of the founders have had formal wine training – for them, ‘good times’ are key to their offering. 

More: Wine clubs are having a moment

Brands that seek to ‘demystify wine’ have become an industry cliché, but it’s my belief that accessibility begins by communicating in a clear, compelling way. Independent Australia-based wine magazine Pipette is a good example: it has been instrumental in getting many young people into wine, finding the balance between expert journalism and an edgy, culture-focused style.

To learn about wine, you really need to drink an enormous amount – across regions, appellations, vintages, varieties – but unless your pockets are particularly well lined or you’re privy to trade tastings, those opportunities to critically sample just aren’t there. And when you do go to them, they can be intimidating places to a newcomer. So I decided to create a safe space free from the fear of not using the ‘right words’ and without a hefty price tag. Dalston Wine Club started in 2020 and its popularity only grew via Zoom under lockdown. Now that we’re on the other side, it’s amazing to be running the in-person clubs again and seeing so many young people come together – many of whom know nothing about wine. Not yet, anyway. 

Will the bubble burst? Some people in the industry think that wine’s mainstream appeal will crest in the next few years and fall back into its old habits. I disagree. The industry has never been so exciting or full of potential, and the floodgates are still opening.

This article was first published in Courier issue 43, October/November 2021. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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