2021 marks the tenth anniversary of the publication of my first book about the business of wine, Wine Wars: the Curse of the Blue Nun, the Miracle of Two Buck Chuck, and the Revenge of the Terroirists.
Wine Wars was written to encourage readers to consider how market forces help shape what’s in our collective wine glass. The book received very positive reviews upon publication and it remains popular (and, people tell me, still relevant) today. Indeed, it still occasionally shows up on Amazon.com’s Top 100 Wine Book Best-Seller list. Amazing.
The Tables Turned
The story of Wine Wars begins many years ago when Sue and I were taking a short vacation break in Napa Valley, which I describe in the book’s first chapter. Our final tasting room stop on the final day of the trip made a lasting impression. The weary winemaker poured the usual tasting flight and I tried to ask intelligent questions. Then I let slip that I was an economics professor and suddenly the tables turned. The winemaker had many questions, very serious questions, and he wanted answers from me.
The investments he was making in vineyards and cellar would not begin to pay off for years. What was going to happen to the interest rates on his loans and to the economy and wine market? Wine economics to him wasn’t an abstract academic exercise. Economic factors conditioned the kind of wine he could make if the monetary stars aligned or what he would be forced to do if they did not. It was an unexpectedly intense experience that made me appreciate that economic analysis could make a useful contribution to the wine industry.
Globalization vs. Terroir
My first stab at writing about wine economics was a chapter called “Globalization vs Terroir” in my 2005 book Globaloney: Unravelling the Myths of Globalization (still available in the updated 2010 edition called Globaloney 2.0: The Crash of 2008 and the Future of Globalization).
I wrote Globaloney in reaction to the popular idea that globalization is a homogenizing one-size-fits-all phenomenon — think Coca-Cola-ization or McDonalds-ization. The book is a collection of case studies of how globalization has unfolded in different ways in different countries and industries.
By comparing globalization of basketball and soccer, fast food and slow food, second-hand clothes and fine wine, I tried to make the case that globalization reflects its terroir and that people sometimes have more ability than many acknowledge to shape it.
Globaloney gave me the opportunity to study the global wine industry and to travel to New Zealand to learn more about that country’s unlikely rise as a global wine powerhouse. Kiwi wine really is the “mouse that roared,” if you know what I mean.
Open Source Research
I wanted to learn more and my next step, which wouldn’t have been possible just a few years before, was to start this blog, The Wine Economist. I sensed that the best way to sharpen my thinking wouldn’t be to just attend academic conference and write journal articles. Using the web, I could try out ideas in a public space and get feedback from smart people around the world and in every corner of the global wine industry.
At about the same time I gratefully seized the opportunity to teach a university class on “The Idea of Wine” that traced wine from dirt to vine to cellar to market and all around the world. Nothing forces you to get your thoughts in order like the necessity of explaining them to others (in this case a diverse collection of very smart university seniors).
The result of this clear thinking attempt was Wine Wars. I enjoyed writing this book, but I wasn’t really sure if anyone would want to read it. So I was surprised and delighted when it found an enthusiastic audience. Wine business people tell me that it helps them connect the dots of what they do with the rest of the product chain. Wine students find that it fills in the business-side gaps in their preparation in an interesting way (a surprising number of Masters of Wine have cited it as a resource).
Wine consumers seem to like it too, since it adds a new dimension to their favorite beverage. Wine is good, but wine and a story — even an economic story — is better yet. It has been used as a text in a wide range of university classes including international business, international relations, and globalization studies.
Wine Wars has been followed by three more wine books. Since Wine Wars focused on the mainstream wine markets, for example, Extreme Wine (2013) explored the edges, where change often happens first.
Ten Years After
Money, Taste, and Wine (2015) asked the question “how does wine change when there is money involved?” and answered it in as many ways as I could find. Finally, Around the World in Eighty Wines (2017, paperback 2020) tries to understand the source of wine’s fascination by taking a Jules Verne-inspired wine-fueled adventure that mirrors our own “Wine Economist World Tour” wild ride traveling the world to speak at wine industry events.
Both Wine Wars and Around the World in Eighty Wines have been published in translation (Romanian and Russian respectively with a Portuguese edition of Eighty Wines pending). The blog and books have received many awards including best wine blog, best wine book, and best wine writing. Incredible that all this should evolve from that Napa tasting long ago.
A lot has changed in the economy and the wine world in these ten years. How has the argument I made in Wine Wars held up? Come back next week to find out.