You’ve all heard of Crowd Sourcing, the practice of obtaining feedback, ideas, services etcetera from the masses as opposed to sourcing the same from a select few. Some say quality is compromised while others say the Law of Averages can be seen at it’s best. With the Wine event at the Westin, Koregaon Park, Pune however, I think that’s a moot point and such an effort will definitely work well.
Speaking with Anjali Mehra, Assistant Director, Marketing & Communications for Starwood Hotels & Resorts, South Asia, I learnt the basic idea to be as much about promoting a culture of wine drinking as about bringing the work of Indian wineries to the fore. On a side note, the results of the tasting will also affect the contents of the wine menu of this property; the most favored wines as indicated by the tasting will land up on the property’s wine offerings for three months.
The question is, how did they do it.
I admit being fairly clueless when I entered the premises. I use ‘fairly’, because I knew it was about tasting wine, ‘clueless’ because I knew nothing else. On entering I was handed a brochure of sorts, with a slip of paper affixed with a clip. The slip asked the bearer to tick off two entries each, from every varietal listed. I ticked off Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Sparkling wine, Dessert Wine, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, and then dutifully plodded over to the gents a little further down, handing in my entry, against which I received a rather thick pack of tasting cards. Here’s how it worked.
Multiple wineries were participating, including Sula, Grover, Fratelli, Revielo, Zampa, Kiara, Turning Point, Vallone, Four Seasons, York and Nine Hills among others. Each of these wineries have multiple products based on different varieties of grape. The thick pack of tasting cards was therefore divided into sections for each varietal I had picked, the number of cards for each varietal depending on the number of participating products for that varietal. For example, I had seven Chenin Blanc tasting cards, as there were seven products, from multiple wineries, based on that varietal. In total, I had to therefore make my way through between 35 to 40 different wines, recording Bouquet, Taste and After taste for each product.
On one side of the area were counters for participating wineries, on the other side, the wines and in between, food counters. I’ll come back to the food in a bit. The wines were in generic bottles, with the brands indistinguishable, so no biases could be formed based on one’s existing opinion of the brand. Each counter had rows of glasses set out in columns, the number of columns indicating the number of products available for that varietal; Chenin Blanc for instance had seven columns as there were seven products to be tasted for that grape. Cheeses, breads and little bottles of water were available too.
The crowd comprised imbibers, beginners, enthusiasts and connoisseurs, each of whom had their own agenda. Some just drinking and jotting numbers, others giving the numbers and their experience careful thought and those with the training and/or knowledge obviously providing the highest qualities of input. My own ratings may have seen a decline in quality over time. I’ve never been good at spitting, even as a little boy, when it probably was a competitive sport. While tasting, I did try spitting, but decided to risk intoxication, after one particularly ineffective attempt resulted in a splash-back of mixed DNA. For those who’ve seen ‘The Spiderwick Chronicles’, I was this far away from gaining ‘The Sight’, had a Hobgoblin been among those who had tasted that varietal before me and were I not wearing spectacles.
Two breaks and nearly 40 types of wine later, I declared myself done and headed over to a grilled food counter. Yu Yu Din, who I had met recently after being introduced by the chap who really should have been here, Jaswinder, chose a platter of seafood from a very well stocked counter, much to my envy, while I went with pork and beef. The efforts of the Executive Chef Anurudh Khanna, in tracing great suppliers were evident from not only the quality of produce on the counter and during brunch earlier that day, but also from the rarely seen baby carrots and zucchini flowers available in quantity.
Back to crowd sourcing. The quality of crowd sourcing is really relative to the purpose it is intended for. Had the output of this exercise been intended for a purpose that was qualitative in nature, say, the identification of the finest wines amongst the lot, it couldn’t have been called a success. Since however it was meant to identify the wines that were the most liked, with the intention to share feedback with wineries and on the property’s menus, I’d say it was a tremendous success. I say so because the ‘best’ wine doesn’t necessarily have to be the most popular and the most popular not necessarily technically the ‘best’. We’re speaking commercial physics here, accomplishing the task at hand through first a quantitative and then a qualitative analysis, due to the relatively low numbers of people attending who really knew their wine. The group plans to repeat the exercise at other locations too, reflecting the results in the menus of the host property. The resultant menu will not only reflect the likes of ‘real’ people, it’ll also reflect quality and ultimately, make it easier for most of us to confidently order a bottle of wine with our meals.
I’m looking forward to seeing which wines land up on the menu of The Westin, Koregaon, Pune and believe you should too.