Making wine isn’t easy. And nor is running wine competitions. I’d be very happy to see a winemaker or a wine competition organiser who can afford to eat great food, drink great wine and maybe even drive great cars – or give large amounts to charity. And the same applies to wine writers, unlikely as that may seem.
A hundred years ago – well maybe 20 – when I was still co-chair of the International Wine Challenge (IWC) the then buyer of the UK retail chain Thresher rounded on me, saying that the problem with the IWC was that it only existed as a means for the company organising it to make money. For a brief moment, I was taken aback because of course he was quite right. None of the people involved in that competition was offering their services on a pro bono basis. But nor was he. And nor was Thresher. The only difference between the wine stores he worked for and my wine competition was that his lot went bust and mine is still going. Stated simply, we – which includes my successors obviously – were better at running a wine competition profitably than his lot were at retailing wine.
I was reminded of this exchange today when the South African wine writer Tim James responded to the tweeted question ‘what’s the point of wine competitions?’ with ‘to make money for the organisers’. In a capitalist world, James is at least partly right. If they did not at least break even, none of the existing competitions would exist. But the same is true of surgeons, restaurateurs and publishers. And wineries.
The problem with the wine world is that it’s hard to make a living producing, and still less, writing about it. So there seems to be a quasi socialist notion that everything to do with wine should be done for nothing. It’s an appealing idea – to an idealist adolescent – but totally unrealistic. I suggest that Mr James asks the plumber who comes out to fix his boiler why he gets up every day. Or the vet who treats his cat. Yes they hopefully enjoy repairing leaks and making tabbies feel better, but I’d be surprised if paying the bills was entirely absent from their thoughts.