Recently, I came across a comment on an Indian wine website that “India is desperately in need of a wine guru…who can generate a mass demographic of wine followers”. Being a subject close to my heart, it instantly agitated my wine senses, forcing my grey cells to go in a hyper mode trying to empathise with this, rather lofty, imagination. The last time someone managed to ‘generate a mass demographic of followers’ in India was probably M. K. Gandhi!
On a more serious note, I am sure the statement is not meant to be as forceful to place this imaginary figure on a revered altar but it does give us an opportunity to discuss why India will be better-off sans a wine guru and still be a thriving wine-loving society.
To start with, let me clarify that this discussion is confined to the meaning of ‘guru’ as portrayed in the larger world nowadays as someone of authority and mass-following and not the literal Indian meaning; that of a teacher.
Wine appreciation is a widely subjective as well as an individualistic matter. The mental perceptions and their physical counterparts (taste buds) respond in different ways in different people when it comes to wine enjoyment and hence vary immensely from person to person, one of the reasons which explains the existence of so many varieties in styles and types of wines. Now, being a ‘manipulator’ of all our actions, the human mind ultimately decides our preferences which in turn is instigated by many factors. One such influence can be an individual with a larger than life image and a clout so immense that it becomes ‘in-vogue’ and almost an obligation to try and relate to his/her ways to appreciate wines. No one embodies this cult-like status in the wine world more than the American wine critic Robert Parker Jr.
Parker is a wine guru in every sense of the word. Someone who wields the power to make or decimate a brand with a stroke of his pen. Someone whose 100 point rating system has almost become a benchmark for quality in the USA (and many other parts of the world). Someone who has singlehandedly created a national wine identity in the form of an ‘American Palate‘ for rich and powerful wines in response to the more, so-called elegant ‘British/European Palate‘. And most important of all, someone who manages to sway huge public opinion conforming with his thoughts. Not to mention the mind-boggling impact of his ratings and reviews on wine prices worldwide. On the other hand, to his detractors, Parker is a media-created hype who has mastered the art of feeding on the paranoia, cynicism, indecision, confusion and lack of knowledge of the wine consuming public. This lobby believes that his influence has more been a negative one.
Whatever the fact of the matter is, it is not hard to imagine the effect such a personality can have on a particular demographic of a society. It becomes more relevant from an Indian context as we are still a nascent wine culture and any such influence can only hijack a wine lover’s ability to think independently and follow personal instincts rather than becoming hostage of somebody else’s opinions and preferences.
The Indian wine community will be much better served by qualified wine ambassadors who will share their knowledge and passion for the subject without harbouring the desire to ultimately become ‘the Indian wine guru’. It is also in the interest of the country’s wine sector to promote a collective learning and development through credible means to ensure a consistent and healthy growth of the industry, instead of relying on one person to act as their torch-bearer.