Don’t believe me?
Maybe it is just me but “cult” has never meant that a wine is particularly expensive. Sure they might come with a pretty hefty price tag but more importantly they were hard to find. It didn’t matter what shop you were in, restaurant you were dining at or who’s cellar you were gazing into; there was always a pretty good chance that these wines weren’t available. If they were, then the appropriate price tag applied.
Now, the word cult has a few definitions to pull from according to the almighty Google:
- A system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.
- A relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.
- A misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing.
If I had to put my finger on it the cult wine phenomenon stands solidly at #3. At the time that the word cult starting being applied to the wine world there were a handful of producers that were making wines that were “worth investing in.” They were scarce, they definitely commanded a particular price and, oh yes… the whole 100pt rating thing came into play.
Y’all know my stance on ratings at this point, if not just read this, so I am going to stay out of that can of worms for now.
Some have decided to play with the cult phenomenon a bit (Ghost Horse for example). I actually went back and checked out some of the original hype that started popping up circa 2008, which is still available for viewing, and each page of comments is as delicious as the next.
Long story short the word “cult” barely applies in any sense yet it is still used on a regular basis.
A very good friend of mine gave me some new insight into this issue earlier this year, although it took me three months to piece it all together and start formulating this post. It was something to the tune of the following statement:
Every producer is doing it slightly differently from, what could be considered, a special piece of land that no on else in the world is utilizing in that way. When you are selling a wine you have to let people know that it is something special, because it is. There is literally no one else doing what you are doing with the vineyards, much less the varieties, that you are working with.
He was and still is right. Not just about MTGA or his own wine making endeavors but about every producer in the world. “Cult” is irrelevant. It literally means nothing in this industry because #1 none of the definitions even make sense when applying them to a wine and #2 if it does it is a relative term at best. In the grand scheme of things a wine company that makes 1,000,000 cases of wine per year can make a “limited” release “cult-esque” wine that is a couple thousand cases in production (and many do). Relatively speaking that is a small production but when you dial it down to someone like me who makes barely 200 cases each year that couple thousand case “limited production” seems enormous.
Regardless of production size, everyone is doing something special or unique or different from everybody else. If the word cult really applies it would apply to everyone, making in the standard or average. That is all well and good but average is boring. I don’t want to be average, I don’t want to make, much less drink average wine. I want the good stuff. I want the great stuff.
Does that mean I pay 3-5 figures for a bottle of wine? That depends on whether or not I think that bottle of wine is worth it to me and if I can afford it. If it is and I can I buy it. That said anything that is over one figure right now is out of my budget (damn you new cycling hobby and all your accessories!!!!).
I have two words that embody everything that I want a wine to be whether I am making it or drinking it and that is “handcraft” or “craft” for those of you that prefer one syllable. Why? Because these two words can apply to this industry in a meaningful way. They imply that a person who created a particular item or product has some sort of knowledge or expertise. That time, effort, energy, blood, sweat and tears went into that product (maybe literally, hopefully figuratively in some cases). These hand crafted items aren’t something that you slap a rating on to tell people how good it is while arbitrarily attaching a BS word and high price tag.
These items and products don’t work by anyone else’s 100-point cult standard. They have their own standard which is as follows:
Never good enough.
Which is why many handcrafted products are special, why they command attention but do not chase it, why you’ve never heard of some of the best product this world has to offer in any number of industries. They are also why you have had some of the best consumer experiences you have every had in your life.
So, are cult wines dead? As far as I am concerned, you betcha. Luckily enough, and probably for the best, you have some really REALLY solid craft wine projects to choose from.