I grew up on a horse ranch and vineyard in Northern California. My family has been farming the land since the late 1890s but only started selling wine in the mid 1990s. My father noticed that after our winery opened, the quality of wine he was gifted from friends went way up. While he was certainly grateful it always made us chuckle. My father likes wine. In my experience he likes cheap wine and expensive wine in roughly equal measure, if he can tell the difference at all. He is a fan.
My father also wasn’t the wine maker. That was my great uncle, George Cooper. After retiring he invested his time in wine making and developed a very discerning palate. When you are in the wine business you have to drink a lot of wine that isn’t ready yet and appreciate the potential it holds and how best to shape it. He was able to describe it in terms that were foreign to the layperson but mattered a great deal to its production. He was an expert.
Some of the most famous personalities in the wine industry are those who assess the quality of wine. One might argue they love wine the most for having dedicated themselves to the assessment of it. But I disagree. They may be more moved by good wine than most but they are also much more discerning than the average person when it comes to average wine. They are critics.
I remember when “Two Buck Chuck” took the world by storm. Charles Shaw (by then owned by Franzia) took advantage of a glut of cheap grapes being grown in the central valley and marketed a decent product at an outrageously good price. It took the world by fire. With a few notable exceptions, critics understandably didn’t rate the wine highly but it sold like hotcakes. That’s because fans of wine are much more likely to perform simpler cost/benefit analysis rather than simply evaluating things on an absolute basis.
Here is my main point: Critics like the average form of a thing less than the average person. Experts usually seek out different things than the average person. The rest of us are just some level of fan.
It is good to have access to both critics and experts and if we are lucky perhaps even a few critical experts. However it is also important not to bend your product entirely to fit the will of either because then you will have missed the market. We don’t want to produce a mediocre product but we also don’t want to produce a great but inaccessible product.