Sunday, January 13, 2013

Peer Pressure - why wine in the UK is nothing like skiing

Skiing on the cheap in Bulgaria

"Burning City" and "Dragon" - super new bargain skis from China*

It's that time of the year again. Time for millions of middle-class Brits to dig out their thermals and take to the slopes. Some, I'm sure, will be heading for the resorts of Bansko, Borovets or Pamporovo in Bulgaria. A few might be trying out their newly purchased pairs of cheap Burning City skis.

Most, however will be hauling their Rossignols back to the same French or Austrian resort they went to last year. Skiing in Chamonix, St Anton or Val d'Isère may be pricy, especially in straitened times like these, but, well... The skiing and apres-ski is better and it's where all our friends go...

And that, briefly, is why for the British middle class at least, skiing is nothing like wine. Because all those doctors, lawyers and sales managers who'd never dream of saving money by taking to the pistes in Pamporovo, very happily serve £7 bottles of Sauvignon and Rioja at dinner parties and laugh at the very idea of splashing out £15-20 on a moderate bottle of Burgundy.

One of the key secrets of Val d'Isère et al's enduring success in Britain can be defined by two words: peer pressure. 
While your friends share their experiences on Bellevarde and in Dick's Tea Bar, your peroration about Snejanka and Dak's Bar in Pamporovo tends to fall on uninterested ears. However attractively low the Bulgarian prices.

In many other countries, particularly the US, Australia and most of western Europe, wine is subject to pretty similar peer pressure to skiing here. People who may be happy to drink very moderate wine by themselves, midweek, dig deeper in their wallets for dinner parties, because that's what their friends all do. The Saturday night bottle is an occasional indulgence - like the annual trip to the Alps.

Quite how we introduce peer pressure to wine drinking in the UK is far from clear, but I'm pretty sure that education - the usual prescription - is not the answer, or certainly only a small part of it. The New York lawyer who arrives at your home bearing a bottle of $50 Washington State Merlot may know all about who made it and what makes it special; he's just as likely to have picked it up because of the 95-point sticker and the appropriateness of the price to the bottles he's expecting to see on your table 

Nike and Apple have exploited peer pressure brilliantly: just think of the mania to get the same new iPhone or iPad as one's friends and colleagues. I'm talking to a client about ways to apply some of those lessons to wine - and I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts...

*Please don't ask me where to buy Burning City or Dragon Skis - I found both on

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