The second test Brochet conducted was even more damning. He took a middling Bordeaux and served it in two different bottles. One bottle was a fancy grand-cru. The other bottle was an ordinary vin du table. Despite the fact that they were actually being served the exact same wine, the experts gave the differently labeled bottles nearly opposite ratings. The grand cru was “agreeable, woody, complex, balanced and rounded,” while the vin du table was “weak, short, light, flat and faulty”. Forty experts said the wine with the fancy label was worth drinking, while only 12 said the cheap wine was.
The one thing that separates human beings from other mammals is our capacity for metaphor i.e. the capacity to tell stories. These forty-odd “wine experts” were telling themselves a wine story. The molecules in the bottle didn’t matter. What mattered was the narrative.
With hundreds and thousands of wine brands all telling the same story [“Our FAMILY has been making THIS kind of wine on THIS piece of LAND for THIS MANY generations yak ya yak…”] the only way we could get Stormhoek to rise above the clutter was to tell a different story altogether. Which in the end meant a rather unlikely cultural mash-up between a small South African vineyard and the US West Coast technology crowd, including Silicon Valley and Microsoft.
We’ve had some good results along the way, but the experiment is far from over yet…
[UPDATE] My Chicago friend, Vinny Warren left the following story in the comments below:
I worked in a bar in Ireland in my youth back in the 80s. There was a brewery sponsored inter-pub competition to see which bar could sell the most COLT 45 malt liquor which had just been introduced and was failing miserably. Malt Liquor in Ireland??
It was a very busy pub. So we switched the very popular Heineken taps over to the Colt 45 kegs towards closing time each night for a month.
We won the competition. The prize was a free trip to Spain.
And not a single punter ever complained about the taste of their Heineken!