Steve Charters, professor of champagne management at Reims,
France, says elitism in wine is a bad thing. Photo by Linda
Any wine, whatever its price, should be in balance and
have reasonably intense fruit, according to Prof Steve
He was in Dunedin recently to give a lecture on aesthetic
quality in wine at the Otago Polytechnic School of Art and
take master classes in champagne at the School of Hospitality
and in Central Otago.
Born and raised in the UK, he also considers himself
Australian, having lived and taught in Perth for 12 years,
and is now professor of champagne management at Reims
Management School in the Champagne region of France.
But even if a wine was balanced and had reasonably intense
fruit, it didn't mean you'd like it, because personal taste
came in as well, he said.
An expensive wine should have more than just balance and
intensity; it should also have interest and complexity,
something distinctive that couldn't be found anywhere else,
or something you didn't get elsewhere, he said.
Most wine drinkers are happy with wines that are balanced and
reasonably intense, but professionals and serious wine lovers
look for interest, complexity and distinctiveness.
Winemakers often think that if they can produce a good $15 or
$25 wine, they can make a better, more expensive one by
having more fruit and more intensity.
"They think, 'We want more flavour, so we'll reduce the
yields and we'll use more new oak so we'll have more intense
flavour and it'll be a better wine.' Actually, I think they
are taking the wrong lead.
They shouldn't be saying 'how do I make this more intense so
it's better', but 'how do I make it more interesting'," he
"I think interest comes not from more oak, which is what a
lot of people use to give interest, but from a wine that is
perhaps more representative of its place or the philosophy of
the person making it."
He believes critics who evaluate anything, whether art, wine
or food, must be able to separate their personal preferences
from understanding the quality of what they are evaluating.
"If people pay $27 and enjoy it, that's fine. If people pay
$8 and enjoy it, that's fine. I think elitism in wine is a
bad thing. There is a big danger because wine, like many
other aesthetic objects, is something that generates levels
of what we in marketing call involvement. A high-involved
person is really interested. A low-involved person may enjoy
it but they don't need to know about or read about it."
As an expert in wine and consumer behaviour, he believes
winemakers and food producers talk only to high-involved
consumers, so their idea of what consumers want is shaped
only by them.
Prof Charters is working with Dr Richard Mitchell, formerly
of the University of Otago and now of the Otago Polytechnic
School of Hospitality, on the relationship between food,
drink, people and place, and has been following the growth of
the Central Otago wine region, which he has visited several
He considers the region to be one of three main pinot
noir-producing regions in the world - the other two being
Burgundy, in France, and Oregon, in the US.
However, he feels there is too much new oak used in some of
the pinot noirs.
"I think there is an issue over oak and I think they need to
work on a sense of 'somewhereness' - but at this point, Steve
Charters the wine lover and Steve Charters the marketing
academic are moving apart.
"I would love to see more of the subregional differences
between, say, Cromwell and Gibbston Valley and Wanaka or
whatever. But as a marketing person, I say the world isn't
ready for that yet. The crucial thing is that the territorial
brand of Central Otago is supported and promoted by
everybody. Outside New Zealand, I think there will be people
who buy Central Otago pinot noir without really knowing which
brand they prefer."