I thought that you’d want what I want. Sorry my dear…
Send in the Clowns. Stephen Sondheim
Over the years, I’ve been at a number of wine competition awards presentations and similar wine events in London at which the after-dinner speech was presented to a multinational audience by a famous sports personality. On every occasion, I found the speaker highly entertaining and amusing but often, looking around the room, I made a mental note never to invite him or her to speak at any similar event for which I happened to be responsible. Why not? Because a significant proportion of the guests were not ‘getting’ it. References to Botham or ‘Blowers’ by a legendary former England batsman went straight over their heads, either because they hailed from a country that doesn’t apply willow to leather, or because – even as Brits, Antipodeans or South Africans – they just happened not to be cricket fans. Rugby stars may have been a little more successful, at least with the French, but to my mind the same rules apply.
Usually, the decision to hire the rugby player, cricketer or snooker champion is made by a fan who secretly relishes the prospect of dining and being photographed next to one of their heroes. Most of the inviter’s friends share his enthusiasm and some will probably be jealous of not being on the invitation list. But, sports fans are tribal too. Cricket lovers often have little interest in basketball and, to judge by some of my keenest rugby-fan friends’ single-minded enthusiasm for the oval ball, their delight at being given a speech by a similarly eloquent soccer player would be a lot more limited.
My point is that people with a passion, whatever that may be, from bowls to ballet, are usually very bad at appreciating that others might not share it. And that of course, is where wine comes in. Wine lovers can’t imagine not being at least quite interested in wine. For them, Sideways was a ‘wine movie’ and, as a fair few wine-enthusiast commentators excitedly wrote when it first came out, the harbinger of a raft of similar works. But of course it wasn’t. Apart from the truly awful Bottle Shock and A Good Year, arguably Ridley Scott’s worst film, all we’ve had has been a few tiny-audience documentaries like Somm and Red Obsession.. Because of course Sideways wasn’t a wine movie. It was that old-fashioned thing: a road movie, like Easy Rider. It just happened to have been set in wine country. You could rewrite it tomorrow, substituting horses for wine and, with the right actors and director, make a similarly successful film that could also fill cinemas in Saudi Arabia.
I always ask the people who regret the absence of a regular wine programme on a TV station’s weekly schedule how they’d feel about a weekly cheese show? And one about coffee. And tea. And beer. And fish. In fact, very few TV stations anywhere as far as I know have ever attracted and retained a sizeable audience for a wine series and, apart from the Wine Spectator (which is, I’d argue, a lifestyle publication), there are no wide-circulation wine magazines. Given that lack of active interest, is it any wonder that hundreds of thousands of people have not found their way to great online efforts like Paso Robles Man? How would they get there? Presumably via a link on another non-wine-focused site or by typing keywords like Cabernet and Chardonnay into YouTube. And why should they do that any more than non cricket-fans would take the trouble to go looking for video clips of Botham or Hadlee?
None of this will make any sense to readers who love both wine and cricket (or rugby) and there will of course be plenty of those. But I’d just ask those people to think for a second of the subjects in which they have no interest – like opera, for example. The team that produced Paso Robles Man could create a brilliant funny clip on Verdi and Puccini, with lots of jokes about tenors and divas. But would you take the trouble to go and watch it?