To begin with an apology is not a good place to start. The theme of this post is borrowed. I was listening to a podcast of the Splendid Table, a yummy food program on American Public Media, hosted by Lynne Rossetto-Kasper, who regularly features special guests. A couple of months ago one of her regulars, Matt Kramer, was on the show. Matt is a wine expert. (Expert is a terribly abused word, but in this case it is applicable.) He’s always amusing and informative, offering down to earth tips on wine. In this interview he started the conversation with how the price of wine no longer corresponds to the quality of what’s in the bottle. Outstanding wines can be had for well under $20, even down in the $10 range. The real kicker came when he made the claim that there are only two kinds of wines being made today : wines of fear or wines of conviction.
Most of the big producers scramble to dominate shelf space and to sell more wine. They use market research, tasting panels, etc. in an effort to follow trends in fear of losing market share. They steer their products towards what people say they want, always chasing the fickle taste buds of an imaginary average consumer. One of the shortcomings of this strategy is the lag time. Vineyards need years before they produce, wines take months to vinify and age, bottling and distribution additional weeks. These makers are never really with it. They never make waves, never take chances or lead the pack. There’s no creativity in this kind of behind-the-curve, fear driven game plan.
His idea struck a chord with me. The Fear & Conviction premise can be applied to most everything. You see it everyday. There are thousands of varieties of apples—supermarkets only sell the same half dozen all year long. Everywhere you look you see product lines being reduced to a small selection of the most popular items. Then all the major players begin to copycat each other, all vying to get in on the latest fad. Uniformity and conformity reign, despite the apparent proliferation of choices. It’s obvious, the job of big corporations is to be mediocre. It’s efficient. And you know what happens when the goal is to please all the people, all the time.
Smaller wineries focus on making something special, something unique. They don’t make wine for the middle of the road, they make wine to satisfy their own taste buds. They put conviction in a bottle. This holds true for many small businesses, local shops and restaurants.
Think about it the next time you shop at a chain store. Think about it the next time you reach for that apple from another continent. Why not walk past the fast food franchise salt and fat fest, instead get lunch at a one and only, mom and pop joint that features regional specialties with a taste you can’t get anywhere else. Think about it the next time you’re traveling. The next time you’re tempted to blindly go along with the crowd, stop.
Conviction is a two-way street. Stand up, break away from the pack, open your eyes to the possibilities that shine beyond the lackluster, plain-vanilla, what’s hot and soon to be what’s not.
To end with an apology is worse than starting with one. I admit it, I am a convict. I am guilty of never having created an image with the hope that someone would “like” it, nor build the Parallel Audio Project to get anyone to “follow” it. My approach is to carefully examine options, evaluate possibilities, and challenge common conventions. The hell with the rules. Convict me.