Only 5 per cent of people are exposed to fine wines in the Russia’s capital, and I mean fine wines, It’s much less in the regions, where people don’t tell their whites from reds. So, say I, why should we even bother the general common sweet Lambrusco drinkers with the 100-points wine ratings? At the current stage of our wine culture development Russian consumer needs a clear understanding which wines are drinkable and which are NOT. As simple as that. I don’t want to be dismissive of the guys who do care about wine. Let them watch their Parker points. But if we want this country to consume more at large scales and throw vodka away — we have to be as simple and clear as possible delivering our ideas and wine knowledge. “Moskva ne srazu stroilas” — says the famous Russian proverb which translates into English as “Moscow hasn’t been built at once”. Step by step is the right way.
It’s not an easy task to make this scoring system introduced in the country. Since unlike the US, in Russia there’s no one who could currently call himself a nation-famous wine critic or the person people will look at and trust. There are not even vodka tasters despite the fact vodka is the drink number one in the country. Nobody seem to care. Brands and money rule the Russian alcohol market, this including the wine business. The best possible system agents are, of course, famous media-people and celebrities. I see the famous Russian talk show host Ivan Urgant very fit for this task — young, fast-moving, with great sense of humour, he generates a lot of following both online and offline. Who is going to pay Mr.Urgant for this? We don’t have money, you know. So the only way to make it work is to make Ivan the supporter of this system ideologically. Right.
Then, let’s fantasise and try to comprehend what a decently established two point system could be and what it could lead to. Let’s start from scratch and define what these two points should be called. Let’s say they should be called something very clear for a general not-so-clever consumer who understands simple words and definitions. Let’s call it “Shit-NoShit”, for example (could be Good-NO-Good too). Trust me, although it sounds a bit rude and not suitable to use with subject as romantic and complex as wine, it is sending a very clear message about the quality. Because at this point of wine culture development with huge amounts if cheap sweet bulk on the shelves we have to make sure the nation rejects to drink the worst stuff out there. Which makes probably 80% of wine sales in the country, it’s my suspicion.
So what would this system really bring to a general wine consumer who is standing before the supermarket shelf and tries to figure out — what to buy? Well. It’s easy to comprehend. It’s only two points, for God’s sake! It’s clear to realise the quality. It sound marginal and close to those who would normally go for canned beer, Burn or vodka. This system also implies that the No-Shit wine is a good drink for a man, while wine is mostly feminine drink in Russia. It’s dlya dam — meaning it’s “for the ladies”. A No-Shit wine is bound to attract the Russian gentlemen and bring it to the level where it’s not shameful to share it with friends saying “Look, bros, this wine ain’t shit!”. Psychology, uh?
The common perception of wine as something hard to approach will soon disappear with such a system. People will start from telling bad wine from good in its lowest price point. The most curious will go further, the rest will stay with what they got.
I still remember making a small “wine tasting” in the village about 300 km far from Moscow for people who normally would drink vodka and beer. Simple regional folks. I brought a wine of $10 Primitivo from the Puglian producer Conti Zecca. And put it on the table with men and women who, let’s say, were common Russians. One of them seemed to be especially curious about tasting this wine, his hand was 3 times bigger than mine and was my best target audience. There were no wine glasses — so I poured the red into a stakan — a common vessel to drink everything — from vodka to Russian sour milk (kefir). The 300 ml glass was full. He drank it as we normally do vodka — in one big effort. He looked at me, he was thinking and experiencing something new, his eyes changing and focusing on me. He looked then at everybody else and made his statement: “F#ck me running, this would go well just before sleep!”. His name was Nikolay, Kolyan as his mates called him. Imagine, there are thousands Kolyans in this country.
So what does this example show? Well, for me it indicates even the drunkards may be curious guys capable of appreciating fine wines (and it definitely was a fine wine!). I even think that for him this 2 point system wouldn’t be enough quite soon after he starts to taste different wines — if he can afford it.
Russian soul is sometimes hard to understand. They say it’s mysterious — and we say that too. Well, let it be, but don’t disregard the natural curiosity behind it. The amount of people who can afford traveling around the world in this country is ridiculously small. Which partly explains low wine consumption and vodka drinking. Still, there are ways to make them travel virtually, without leaving the country. Through wine.
It won’t be hard to convince some old lady from the neighbourhood that red wine is great for her health. That it can bring back the missing husband or predict the future of her daughter. Not with the current PR technologies and also taking into account that red wine is good for health if enjoyed in moderation. Let’s make it clear — it’s the government function to make the nation live better and healthier. And since they don’t really care about this function, only people who care about wine can change this. We could actually be the driving force behind the major change in the country — the change from beer / vodka drinking to enjoying wine!
The target audience for embedding the new 2-point rating system and its driving force will be the opinion leaders from the local communities and influencers including:
- older gossip ladies, who know what’s happening in every flat of every multi-flat soviet building;
- house maintenance workers and their fellows capable of spreading the word fast;
- general practitioners in soviet-style hospitals (mostly older ladies too);
- low-rank police force working in the streets (militsionery)
- others of this kind
Of course, the hardest thing of the whole concept would be convincing retailers to use the system on the wines that are in their stores. In fact putting a “Shit” neckhanger on a bottle of wine will probably lead to, uh, misunderstanding from the importer side. This will happen unless the government supports this kind of labelling which is even less probably. The one thing that is really possible to be done is a wide range of wine enthusiasts supporting the idea and going out there unofficially and working with the crowds. Making sure people start telling what wines are better and why. A 2-point system has its future for it can easily be modified to suit the tasks of the current period. Say I, let Russian people drink more good wines and let them discard the shitty plonk!