value wine: why we should never utter those words again

When was the last time you used the word value? I’m willing to bet it was recently, and in relation or response to something you felt was a really good deal.

Value has been appropriated by the retail sales industry to deliver a one-dimensional definition of something: value meals, value days, Value Village. In many of these cases, the intention behind using the word value is often to impart a message equating cheap, low-cost, or budget.

This is just one part of the definition of value (noun):

[mass noun] the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something: your support is of great value

the material or monetary worth of something

the worth of something compared to the price paid or asked for it

We’ve allowed ourselves to co-opt a word that means, by definition, an expression of high regard and twist it into something implying bargain basement. Taking it one step further, we have applied and encourage the use of this new interpretation to something as subjective as wine. This is not okay.

I like getting a good deal on consumer goods. Simultaneously, I don’t support paying $6 for a t-shirt made in a location with improper conditions for workers, nor will I pay hundreds of dollars below the true value of an electronics product made in the same conditions. I have fewer things that are pricey. These are choices I make, based on my definition of value.

in my book: good people doing good things = great value (like Orofino)

When tasked with a recent BC wine column for CBC Radio West on “value” wines, I cringed – then I took control of the message. Instead of using that bastardized definition to describe a few examples of under-$20 BC wines, I referred to them as punching above their weight. The intention: to not play the value-wine game.

We – writers – continue to play into the hands of advertisers who have conditioned audiences to read cheap when they see the word value. Some writers might argue that’s not their intention at all, and I believe them. A number of my writer friends dance along the value-wine line with a finesse I can’t muster. I applaud them for it.

I’m not sure how or at what point we accepted value as meaning cheap or less than a certain price point, but it needs to stop. We’re doing a disservice to so many beautiful produts that don’t fit into that construct, and to ourselves for excluding them from those parameters. Do people have real budgets for wine? Absolutely. Am I dismissing the $11 bottle? Not entirely. But an $11 bottle of wine doesn’t mean you’re receiving a better value over the $50 one.

I’d love to consume wine solely based on anticipated pleasure and situation, with little or no regard for dollar. That’s not the case, and I have a budget to follow – as do most of my friends. I can have this budget and also enjoy a wide variety of wines at different price points; holding to a budget and enjoying wines over a certain price point are not mutually exclusive. It might mean we buy fewer bottles in higher price points, but we needn’t exclude them because they’re not in the new contorted description of value.

If I enjoyed the wine in the moment or it wowed me beyond a set of expectations, that’s good value. So when I recommend wines to people, the list is all over the price map. It’s intentional. And yes, I realize that not everyone recognizes $25 as the price we should pay for an decent bottle of wine from British Columbia – but let’s face it, at the moment it kind of is.

I value the efforts the folks in our BC wine industry make, despite facing restrictions in getting their product to market here and beyond. We’re stuck, in some ways, with paying a certain dollar for nice wine made in our backyard. So what? I’ll still buy that magnificently delightful $39.90 Painted Rock Syrah, and grab a bottle of under $20 Koyle. Both over-deliver for their price points and I anticipate each will provide me with a good experience – albeit different ones.

Ultimately, the value of the wine you buy is in your hands because you’re the one having the experience. You make the decision if it’s of good value to you – not the person who wrote that ‘best value wines’ list.

~ Jeannette

writing naked: disclosing for your audience

Disclosure. It’s a vital component to building trust with an audience (that’s you) and not being a jerk-ass writer (potentially me). In an effort to not be a jerk-ass, I’ll disclose my biases and motivation(s) for writing this post.

  • I love the CBC. As a contract columnist, the CBC asks me to disclose any connection to, freebie from, or incentive by a winery. I like that.
  • I dislike advertorials. As a freelance writer I’m asked to pen all sorts of things – I (now) decline these. It’s a hard stand to take when the mortgage is due, but it’s where I planted my feet.
  • I don’t like to ask for free stuff. The result is that I’m invited to WAY fewer events/places/etc, but it means that when I write about something it’s because I genuinely want to.
  • Readers should have the straight goods. A writer/blogger/whatever that’s invited on a media trip (and is comped anything) should disclose it in her/his writing. Period.

Feel free to agree or disagree – but now you know where I stand before I get into the thick of things. This could be a messy one, so hang on.

I wanted to take a short trip with my fella; somewhere close by so we could maximize our Friday-to-Sunday time schedule. The goal: a weekend away, possibly playing double-duty as writing inspiration, and absolutely involving wine.

We were looking to stretch our dollars and a close acquaintance had once said “come stay with us if you’re ever in Chelan”. I contacted our new friend Katy and arranged an overnighter. Not wanting to outstay our welcome, I sought additional accommodation for a second night – but high season in a tourist destination meant spending significant coin. Damn. So I got in touch with the visitor’s centre and asked if any local accommodators could offer a discounted rate for “media”.

I rarely play the media card; I’d rather stay under the radar. But when it came to the only real away-time I’d have with my honey for the season, I caved. The nice people at Lake Chelan found a hotel willing to discount a one-night stay. While this was going on, I pitched a little something for online publication to legitimize the whole thing. My editor said yes, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

After dodging what I felt was a fraud-bullet, a writer colleague told me to get off my high-moral horse: I was providing a return benefit to the area – it wasn’t a handout – and other writers do this all the time. Ugh. Or as I’d tweet: #lesigh. I disclosed the freebies in the article where appropriate and when it didn’t sound like an infomercial.

What concerns me about I-give-you-something-and-you-give-us-something relationships between writers and those offering is a lack of disclosure on the part of the writer. It’s our responsibility to give it up. I disclose perks or gratis anything, yet I find it challenging to stay balanced on the narrow bridge between advertorial-ick and a glowing response to a well-hosted good time.

Do I feel my article stayed on course? Well, I didn’t omit the negative because I was given a few perks – we had a poor breakfast experience at a location I won’t name because if you know anything about me you know I don’t play that way. I felt encouraged to write positively about the area because we had a great visit.

Any good article or prose should leave the reader asking questions – if not about the content, then about what motivated the writer to tell that story. In an earlier post I mention how travel can often be on the dime of the writer seeking the experience, so I don’t begrudge anyone a complimentary anything. I’d love to take a sponsored trip and see how much that inner voice nags at me while I write. I’ll tell you all about it.

Meanwhile, I ask that the audience (that’s you) read with a critical eye – and I hope my fellow writers write nakedly. Perhaps not literally, because that could get weird.

~ Jeannette