Are Boomers, Millennials talking past each other?
Do you want to know what troubles me? I mean, something in my work that I think and worry about nearly every day? It’s the notion that, depending on our age and social peer group, we speak different languages when it comes to wine.
I’m a Baby Boomer, so the language that I use is pretty much the same as that of other Boomers. We inherited this language from our elders, people like Hugh Johnson and Michael Broadbent. It’s a fairly sophisticated version of English that doesn’t heavily rely on vernacular. We use words according to their classic definitions, and while there’s no universal, formal agreement on winetasting terminology, we march pretty much in lockstep when it comes to words like “cassis” or “buttered toast” or “black pepper.” We even have agreement for the most part on such hard to define terms as “elegant.” There’s a distinct lack of cleverness in Boomer wine writing; we don’t try to be funny or ironic, and there are few cultural references or puns. We keep it tight; it’s an academic style that’s been around for a long time.
Then we come to Millennials and Gen Xers. Even before the rise of wine blogs, it was becoming common to hear complaints that Boomer writing was stodgy. It wasn’t “hip” or “edgy,” it didn’t take into account the life experiences of people who were in grade school when Bill Clinton was being impeached, it didn’t know squat about modern music, and it wasn’t keeping up with street slang.
That was bad enough. Then came the wine blogs, and the criticism mounted. We not only wrote like dinosaurs, we were dinosaurs (or so the critics said). The young bloggers felt free to reinvent wine writing (and speaking, given the rise of YouTube) however creatively they wanted. Far from feeling a reverence for what had gone before, they seemed to take pride in tearing the past to shreds, replacing Boomer winespeak with something more akin to the lingo they actually use with each other.
The epitome of this change, in my opinion, was Gary Vaynerchuk and Wine Library TV. The fact that Gary’s winespeak was verbal, not written–coupled with Gary’s outsized personality–suddenly made the Boomer style of written precision and quiet control seem fusty and antiquated . Gary was to traditional winespeak as punk rock is to a string quartet. The bigger Gary got, the more I perceived new wine writers attempting to mimic him. If they couldn’t do it through video, because that was too technically complicated and expensive, then they did it in their writing. Just as Gary V. has that Jersey-New York loud, gesticulative, attitude thing going on, Gary’s impersonators write as though every other word is italicized, every other phrase in bold or CAPS.
What makes me worry is that what had been a consensual form of wine communication–the old British style–has now become an every man for himself cacophony. It’s the Babelization of wine writing. When everyone wrote more or less similarly, it was possible to have discussions that everyone could participate in. Information was mutually understood. That didn’t mean everyone agreed. We might differ over whether this or that Latour was ageworthy. But at least everyone was on the same playing field.
That’s by the wayside now. There’s no universal conversation about wine, only a series of parallel conversations with no lanes connecting them. There’s no more shared understanding, nor can there be, when we’re all divided into different camps based on age, self-identity, peer groups, or whatever. This has its good points, I admit; the “democratization” of wine writing is something I embraced shortly after I started blogging. What I didn’t then anticipate was that it would kaleidoscope the world of wine writing into an explosion of shards. Maybe out of this chaos will come something more beautiful and perfect than before. I can only hope.