Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Case of Questions with Mike Veseth, Wine Economist

Last year, prior to the annual Cyprus Wine Competition (my invitation was probably stolen by a stray cat), the Ministry of Agriculture's Viticultural Section organized a local wine industry conference with Mike Veseth, a professor emeritus of International Political Economy at the University of Puget Sound, as one of its guests of honour. Professor Veseth, who's an authority on the global wine economy and has written several books on vinous matters, spent several days on The Rock where he tasted our best, spoke to the winemakers and delivered plenty of insightful thoughts on the state of Cyprus' wine sector. Goes without saying, the blog reached out and here are his answers to our Case of Questions!

Why wine?

Mike Veseth (MV): My new book, Around the World in Eighty Wines: Exploring Wine One Country at a Time, was released in November 2017 and the central question is “Why wine?” Why has wine fascinated us for all these centuries? Why do winemakers go to such extremes to produce wine? Why has wine and the traditions that surround it endured? I think I have found the answer, but I don’t want to spoil my book’s ending. You’ll have to read Around the World in Eighty Wines to find out! 

How did you get started writing about wine and the wine business?

MV: I wrote about this in my 2011 book, Wine Wars: The Curse of the Blue Nun, the Miracle of Two Buck Chuck, and the Revenge of the Terroirists. We were visiting Napa Valley years ago and talking with a winemaker. When he learned I was an Economics Professor he became quite intense and asked many questions because what happened to the economy affected his ability to make and sell the best wines. He taught me that wine is a business as well as an art and a science and that the insights that economists may offer can be important. My 2005 book, Globaloney: Unraveling the Myths of Globalization, explored a number of case studies of how global markets evolve and adapt. One of the chapters examined the global wine market and there was so much interest that I decided to specialize in wine economics. 

Your blog is called The Wine Economist. What do you write about and who are your readers?

MV: Most professors write academic papers that are read by other professors and no one else. I decided that I wanted to reach a broader audience that includes wine industry and trade readers as well as academics and consumers, too. I started The Wine Economist as a way to work out my thoughts about wine market issues in public where I can get feedback from my global wine readership. It has been very successful both in terms of the ideas it has helped generate and in the public reception. The Wine Economist won the 2015 Gourmand International award for best wine blog. Who knew that so many people would want to read about wine business!

You have written four books on wine. What are they about?

MV: Wine Wars: The Curse of the Blue Nun, the Miracle of Two Buck Chuck, and the Revenge of the Terroirists (2011) examined wine market dynamics as the interaction of three strong forces: globalization, commodification, and “the revenge of the terroirists,” which is the thirst for authenticity in wine and in life more generally. Each of these forces has grown stronger since I wrote Wine Wars so this analysis remains relevant and continues to shape my thinking about wine. ExtremeWine: Searching the World for the Best, the Worst, the Outrageously Cheap, the Insanely Overpriced, and the Undiscovered (2013) tries to understand where wine is going by looking at the extremes of the market where change is most pronounced. Money, Taste, and Wine: It’s Complicated (2015) examined the many ways that money affects wine – what is produced and where, what we buy and even how good (or bad) the wine tastes to us. This book received the 2016 Gourmand International award for best wine writing.

Now, as I said earlier, Around the World in Eighty Wines has been recently released. Taking inspiration from Jules Verne’s famous novel, it circles the globe seeking great wines, great wine stories, and insights into why wine is such an enduring part of life. 

What brought you to Cyprus? 

MV: I was invited by the Cyprus Tourism Organization. Dr. Maria Socratous heard me speak at the First United Nations World Tourism Organization Wine Tourism conference in Tbilisi, Georgia last year and arranged for my wife Sue and I to visit Cyprus to learn about its wine and wine tourism possibilities. While in Paphos, I also spoke at a Cyprus wine industry conference. It was a great experience – I wish I could have visited before I finished Around the World in Eighty Wines because I tasted some wines that I could have included in my book. Next time!

What was your favourite wine-related moment during your visit to Cyprus?

MV: There were many fine moments, but the one I like best was a lunch with journalists, judges from the Cyprus Wine Competition, and members of the Kyriakides family at their fabulous Vouni Panayia Winery. Beautiful view, wonderful food that Mrs. Kyriakides prepared for us, great wine of course, and lively conversation. It was the complete wine experience and a great memory of our short visit to Cyprus.

Anyone up for lunch at Vouni Panayia? Next weekend work?

What do you foresee for Cyprus’s wine industry?

MV: I wrote about this question on The Wine Economist. Cyprus is making the same sort of transition today that New Zealand made in the 1980s and 1990s, when it began to focus intensely on rising quality and broader markets. This is the right strategy for today’s global market, so I am very optimistic about the future of Cypriot wine. 

What is Cyprus missing when it comes to wine?

MV: Cyprus has all the important elements needed to move up to the next level in the world of wine – stunning vineyards, talented winemakers, distinctive indigenous grape varieties.  I would like to see the domestic wine market develop a greater focus on quality Cypriot wines (as opposed to less expensive imports) and a rising international profile. This will take teamwork, which is something I talked about at the Cyprus wine industry conference in Paphos. I think everyone knows that this is an area that can be improved and I was glad to see so many people willing to help build a stronger Team Cyprus Wine to achieve these goals.

Should Cyprus focus on Commandaria or is dry wine a better route moving forward?

MV: Why does it have to be either/or? Commandaria tells the story of Cyprus’s great wine history, which will open doors. But the market for wines of this type is relatively small and highly competitive. The contemporary dry wines, especially Xynisteri, could appeal to a broader audience. They are both part of the story of Cypriot wine today. Why not feature them both and use them to tantalize consumers about the range of possibilities that Cyprus and its wines can offer?

What do you enjoy most about your work in the food & wine world?

MV: Our friends think it must be the great food and fine wine we are served, but the best part is that we get to meet such fascinating people! We met many wonderful people during our short stay in Cyprus.

What is your favorite wine? 

MV: People often ask about my favorite wine. While it is true that I am particularly fond of Pinot Noir and Riesling because of their almost infinite variations, it is more generally true that the wines I like best are the ones that tell a good story, especially if the story involves friends.

Of course, your favorite island (and Cyprus) wine? 

MV: There is a chapter in my 2013 book Extreme Wine called “Desert Island Wines.” What wine would you choose as your only beverage if you were going to be stranded on a desert island for several months? The chapter is inspired by the BBC Radio 4 program Desert Island Discs. We tasted many wonderful wines during our visit to Cyprus (and I was able to write about a few of them on The Wine Economist). All the wines would be welcome on a desert island, but I guess my desert island wine from Cyprus would have to be Commandaria. What a treat! 

You can reach Mike Veseth on his website, Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter. He penned the four blog posts on Cyprus wines listed below: