Much of my childhood was spent squeezed between my brother and sister in the back seat of the family car. As is true of most kids, a great and painful boredom would descend about ten minutes into a 4-hour drive, so we came up with a lot of inane ways to pass the time. One of my more bizarre boredom-relief techniques, used only once, was counting all the telephone poles between suburban Chicago and Crown Point, Indiana. I was not a popular family member that day.
By comparison, Slug-Bug Hunting seems a highly intellectual exercise. The rules were simple - the first to see one of the (then) rare and funky-looking Volkswagen Beetles got to slug the shoulder of the other players. In the early days of our family road trips, the car was sufficiently rare to provide our fellow passengers with long moments of silence while participants searched the horizon, eager to be the first to spot the next VW Beetle. But over time the car's expanding popularity resulted in less time between slugs, and in some pretty sore shoulders, which then begat arguments and other forms of back-seat chaos ("don't make me stop this car!") Spotting a slug bug was no longer unique. And it was no longer fun.
If families still take road trips in these days of $3.50/gallon gasoline, I suspect bored backseat riders might play a similar spotting game with the Prius. At least, they may have until recently - today you can't drive a mile of California highway without spotting a dozen or two. I recently mentioned this apparent proliferation to an early Prius buyer and he sadly said "Yeah I stopped waiving at other Prius drivers over six months ago, and now I don't wave even if it's the same color".
Such changes surely mark the matriculation of the Prius from cult to mainstream status. The end of an era. Inevitably, this development disappoints the early adopters. The progression seems to go something like this:
- Early adopter discover an ugly duckling's redeeming qualities.
- They speak about the ugly duckling with evangelical enthusiasm to anyone who will listen. Real and virtual clubs and communities form, an exclusive forum open only to like-minded evangelists so they can exchange inside information, thus becoming even more evangelical.
- Gradually, the mass market begins to understand what the evangelists are excited about.
- Suddenly the ugly duckling blooms into the most popular kid in the class. It becomes the Homecoming King/Queen.
- The ugly duckling forgets its old friends from the early days as it adapts to please the broader market.
Pinot Noir, The Beautiful Swan, nee Ugly Duckling...
The same thing is happening to Pinot Noir. Despite being the grape behind the greatest wines in the world, Pinot Noir used to be difficult to like, disappointing far more often than it thrilled. As such, it had a small but avid group of evangelists. And yes, they had their own groups, clubs and meetings to exchange valued information.
Things are different today, with Pinot Noir becoming the fastest-growing wine in the market and proudly claiming more wine festivals than any other single variety. Its popularity has grown faster than supply and (taking a moment to recall the lessons of economics 101) prices have cooperated according to traditional theory.
Early Pinot adopters feel betrayed, and can be overheard uttering such curmudgeonly things as "It used to be much more difficult to love Pinot, back when I got started, in the old days. Back then, you really had to love a bottle of good pinot to be a fan, not like today's fair-weather fans."
I must admit to a small amount of guilt here. I've helped to popularize the fictional character and the talented screenwriter who single-handedly tipped Pinot from its precarious point of semi-popularity into full-fledged wine star. Miles, a character in the movie Sideways, did more for Pinot sales than the combined marketing efforts of all the world's pinot producers.
And SidewaysWineClub.com has done its fair share to beautify this formerly ugly duckling (speaking of duckling, you really should try our best-selling Pinot, pictured above, with this simple duck confit salad from Emeril!) Still, I bemoan the rising prices this newfound popularity has brought to my favorite Pinots. At least I can take solace in knowing that I am evangelizing for the good side - life is simply better with Pinot, and Pinot is simply better with good food, and wine and food are better with good friends.
"Seek not the favor of the multitude, it is seldom got by honest means. But seek the testimony of few, and count not the voices but weigh them"
Immanuel Kant, German Philosopher 1724-1804