Wine, the Original Social Media

Social networking sites such as Twitter and FaceBook are the rage for those plugged into online community experience – but wine was and remains the preferred social media experience for the unplugged, or at least the uncorked, set.

Prior to modern winery practices (and the public health code), making wine was a socially-driven endeavor in which people bared their soles and stomped grapes in barrels. Surely some order of social networking occurred in these cozy bacchanals, if not outright orgies. The DNA of hot tubs and the Jacuzzi can surely be traced to this common ancestor as well as, I suppose dozens of families of Mediterranean descent.

In this context, notions of “rubbing elbows,” “elbow grease” and “social lubrication” are merely iterations of an evolving network. Though each can stand on its own, as can, being social and networking, the notions are more effective when forged together, the way it’s understood that rubbing and lubrication benefit from a well-greased elbow.

I recently stumbled into a wine marketing conference due to the machinations of a publicist with a grudge to get as many media-butts in seats as possible, no matter how qualified. For a gratis pour of wine, I’ll be anyone’s ass. The marketers were concerned with acquainting the so-called X and Y Generations with their product by embracing viral videos, blogs, podcasts and social networking sites with such zeal that they used the unfortunate term “Wine 2.0.” What they failed to notice was that we’re already into wine – some of us since grade school. This, I attribute to Orson Welles.

In late 1970s, a furrow-browed Welles pitched Paul Masson jug wine in TV commercials, famously harrumphing “We shall sell no wine before it’s time.” I took him seriously. Albeit, Masson’s ad men weren’t attempting to foment early brand-loyalty with the single-digit set; wine had none of the ersatz sophistication promised by the candy cigarettes peddled by Big Tobacco. Even at age seven, I was sufficiently intrigued by this corpulent Anti-Claus to forge a mental bond between wine and my burgeoning sense of urbanity (a notion temporarily eclipsed, of course, by the advent of the juice box).

Welles’ would sell me no wine until it was time, which was about 14 years later when I was of age. However, at 16, given my penchant for blazers and newly infected with a British accent, which had spread through the high school drama club like mono, I was able to bamboozle the employees at the local liquor store. My misdemeanor of choice? Wine. Why, what else, Mr. Welles?

“Do you have ID?” a clerk would ask as my crime wave expanded beyond my small town.

“Me passport’s in me luggage, mate,” I’d brogue, then smile brightly as if to say “Now, let’s not mar this moment of international diplomacy then.”

It’s only now that I’ve realized that, as my gang’s designated-buyer, I was shaping their virgin palates. This could account for the enduring popularity of bottom-shelf product in my home town. In retrospect, I would have been more selective, but a $5 budget is to selectivity as adolescence is to discretion, which is why the legend of my Christ-like ability to turn their liquid assets into wine had spread. Within months, I was supplying most of my town’s class of ’90 with jugs of California plonk simply labeled “Red.”

Despite the fact that even the most technically advanced of my brood could barely operate the clasp of a girl’s bra, I purchased bottles with corks and never screw caps (I ran a classy operation). This necessitated mastery of such arcane instruments as the Ah So or the lethal-looking, android Jumping Jack otherwise known as a “winged” corkscrew, about which I’d lead impromptu seminars in shadows of American Alley before trundling off to some poetry reading or other.

I dare say that the girls huddled in the abandoned shack we called our “studios” were little impressed with the poetry we recited, hushed and humid over candlelight – male display behavior muddied by a midsummer night’s drunk. More to the point, the girls were there for the wine not the poets. Only after a couple of champion swigs by both parties could we even hope them to be the least bit susceptible to our charms, especially those in verse. But eventually, we networked.

After much meditation, I believe I’ve found the wine bar analog to MySpace: The next time you order a wine by the glass, ask your sommelier to acquaint you with the other patrons with whom you are sharing the bottle. Though it may result in a raised-eyebrow, it might also garner a friendly smile and if you’re lucky, some greasy elbows.