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Would You Watch a Winemaker Version of The Voice?

That's one reality-TV program I would stay tuned to

Posted: May 23, 2013 4:00pm ET

By Jennifer Fiedler

A disclaimer first: Reality TV is generally not my bag. But I happened to catch some of The Voice recently, and despite not being involved in the worlds of a cappella/musical theater/pop vocals (I can't sing to save my life), I have to admit that I found it super compelling. Then I started wondering what it would look like as a wine show.

For those of you not familiar with the set-up, the show enlists four real-life, pop-music superstars to listen to blind auditions from wannabe singers, choose a team of 12 from the pack, then go on through various and sundry sing-offs between the teams to crown a champion.

I was truly surprised by many things: that contestants are good singers, the superstar musicians are really into the game and, what seems to be the key, the stars must coach their players through the contest. This creates an interesting behind-the-scenes look as to what really makes a good entertainer and gets the stars invested in the contest. It's more than having just a good voice. It's a whole package: how the contestants are able to engage the crowd, choose the right songs for their range, learn how to play to their strengths.

The best part by far is watching the coaches during the blind auditions. They sit with their backs to the stage while the singers try and wow them with a song. The look on the coaches' faces as they hear that one note or moment in which they can envision stardom for the singer and then hit their buzzer to invite the contestant to their team is pretty amazing. It's not unlike watching someone get that "wow" moment when drinking truly great wine.

I got caught up in thinking: I would totally watch a show like this about the wine business, with real-life, superstar winemakers coaching fledgling wineries through the hoopla of making it in today's market. The coaches could taste wines blind, pick their teams, and go from there. It's not enough to simply have a good product anymore, so they would show all the sausage-making that gets a bottle on shelves these days: designing a label, visiting key retailers and restaurants, going to consumer-tasting events or building social-media strategies. In the vein of The Voice, the coaches would come from different arenas in the wine world: the super-premium category, the young indie winemaker, the foreign winemaker and the mass-market winemaker.

Reality TV and wine have a history, of course, between The Bachelor series that featured not one, but two winemakers, and The Real Housewives juggernaut, which allowed Bethenny Frankel to market her SkinnyGirl wines to great effect. Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates president Rick Tigner made an appearance on Undercover Boss.

And there's the PBS reality show, Crush (formerly The Winemakers), whose new season is due out this fall, billing itself as Top Chef meets The Apprentice, with would-be winemakers going through challenges to appease a panel and illustrate all the out-of-the-vineyard effort it takes to make—and sell—wine.

I am curious about Crush, because it sounds close to what I would like to see (disclosure: I missed the first season). But what I like so much about The Voice, over Top Chef and all its ilk, is that it's relentlessly positive. It's not about making anyone look stupid. The star coaches want their protégées to win, so there's no snark or power-trips from them—only coaching. The contestants don't have to compete in demeaning challenges: They just have to perform—and perform well. It's something I just haven't seen from other reality shows, and I think it would translate well to the wine (or food) side.

There are, of course, some very real challenges to a show about wine. For one, unless the audience can play along at home, watching someone else rate wine on television is pretty boring. (If only our country weren't a patchwork of inconsistent state laws on wine-shipping, maybe sample mini-bottles could be sent out in a kit so viewers could taste along during that portion.)

And do folks not in the wine business really care about what goes on behind the scenes with branding and the like? I'm going to guess the answer is: not so much. Still though, I'd like to think that the emphasis on discovery of and appreciation for talent shown on The Voice is something that could cross over.

What about you? Are there reality TV shows you seriously think would be a good template for wine? Survivor: Cellar Rats?

For more off-the-wall ideas, read my colleague Tim Fish's blog post, "A Surreal Wine World."

Alan Gavalya
Hampton VA USA —  May 24, 2013 10:05am ET
Interesting concept Jennifer.
I'm not sure a good template exists for such a show. The complexity of producing wine and getting it to market may be a bit much to fit into the package. Perhaps "So you want to be a Sommelier" would be a better fit from a consumers point of view.
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco —  May 25, 2013 12:08pm ET
Fun idea for us wine geeks, but I think you hit the key stumbling block with "unless the audience can play along at home, watching someone else rate wine on television is pretty boring." With The Voice we can all hear what the judges/coaches hear. With Top Chef we can see what the food looks like and, with good comments from the judges, imagine how it tastes, not quite so direct but plausible. With wine? No sensory connection to the product in the glass except what the judges/coaches say. Is the rest of the stuff enough? I wonder.

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