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On Wine, Roses and Real Housewives

Last weekend at a birthday party for my son’s friend, I got to talking with another mom about one of my guilty pleasures: Reality TV. It turns out that we share an appreciation (and a slight sense of embarrassment) for both The Bachelor and all of its different spin-offs as well as the Real Housewives of New Jersey. I’ll admit I’ve asked myself many times why I continue to get sucked into these shows, but I find them oddly compelling. And after a long day of work, mommy and life demands, reality TV is my “Calgon take me away” time.

But there’s also something more to it. As a wine educator and wine lover, I’m fascinated by the role that wine plays on these reality shows. While TV programs specifically about wine have historically underperformed (after all, there are only so many shots of someone walking through a vineyard and smelling a glass of wine you can show), those that feature wine as a supporting cast member have fared far better. And nowhere has this trend been clearer than in the world of reality television. Wine, for all intents and purposes, is the ultimate wingman.

The Bachelor series is probably the most prominent show to feature wine in such a starring role (although Bravo’s Real Housewives ladies are not far behind on the wine-loving scale). In addition to the regular toasts, dates to wineries and romantic wine dinners, the show has featured not one, but two men with strong wine connections: Andrew Firestone, formerly of Firestone Vineyards, and Ben Flajnik of Evolve Winery. Ben, the runner-up from Ashley Hebert’s season, has even been tapped as the show’s next bachelor. As you can imagine, it has done wonders for Evolve’s wine sales. Since the show seems to try hard to block labels and names of specific wineries (I’ve used my DVR rewind button to try to make out names on numerous occasions without too much success), I will be watching with (professional) interest to see how prominently Evolve is involved when The Bachelor premiers in January of 2012.

But The Bachelor is not alone in all of this. Other reality TV shows have also taken to prominently showcasing cast members enjoying wine. And one cast member - Ramona Singer of The Real Housewives of New York – has even gone so far as to launch her own wine label, a Pinot Grigio. I have also seen articles on the web discussing rumors that both LuAnn de Lesseps and Teresa Giudice have wine labels in the works. Given her propensity for flipping tables, Teresa might want to consider looking into shatterproof glass bottles for her wines!

What does this all mean for you and me? Well, for starters, I am not suggesting that just because people on these shows are drinking wine that you should too. Or that you need to buy a certain wine label just because someone is on a TV show. But what I do think is that the use of wine on these shows is doing for wine what the TV show Friends did for coffee. These shows suggest what wine educators have been trying to get across to consumers for years: Wine is a social drink that brings people together. Yes, it can be complicated and there are so many different aspects to the subject – some of us spend our whole lives studying it. But at its heart, wine is to be shared with your friends, maybe over dinner or maybe while watching your favorite reality TV show. You can get as deep into wine as you wish – but never forget that wine is enjoyable and something that can be a part of “real” life.

While many (ok, most) of these shows might not count as top quality educational programming, they do make for delicious entertainment. And just as with wine, it is that pleasure factor that is truly most important. And that’s something I’d give a rose (or drink a rosé) to.