There’s wine, and talk about wine, and then there’s The Wine Conversation. The Wine Conversation is concerned with where the boundaries are, the tension between tradition and newness, how to assess value, who is to be trusted, what is to be loved, how to be of help.

The Wine Conversation is macro. My love for wine began micro, as I worked selling it at a retail shop. My heart soon went high and my mind wide, but I still do that retail work, and I wonder, increasingly, what role a wine shop can play in the larger discussion. My questions grow because I tend to overthink things, but also because of where the culture generally is moving. So what follows here is about me, and it’s about wine, but it’s also some brief notes about the future of physical stores, virtual dialogue, horizontal media, personal branding and the changing faces of guidance, service, marketing and consumer psychology.

The Wine Conversation used to be driven by a small handful of influential critics. Now it is not quite driven, more accurately we could say continually fractured and reconstituted, by multiple handfuls of influential Internet-powered personalities. Many of these are sommeliers at important restaurants. That alone is notable: an Ivory Tower model employing intellectuals who enjoy no regular direct interactions with lay wine drinkers is withering, overcome by the immediacy of real-time feeds from professionals who interact all day and night with those drinkers.

Sommeliers are in the full flush of a moment, ignited by the Food Network, prominent documentaries and the restaurant revolution of the past decade. Beverage program-director tastemakers with access to deep cellars or rare allocations post photos of their prizes on Instagram and Delectable, with “awesome juice” and sometimes “2 bottles left” appended as a comment. Their prestige rises, people come to the restaurant and narratives develop to anoint the best wines. This is marketing, it’s great, it’s what should happen.

The trend has all sorts of tangential effects, though. One is the rising significance of rarity and obscurity. If the important people are all clamoring for your limited attention, neither lengthy discussion nor wide availability helps their cause. Time needs to be running out and supplies need to be scarce.

It used to be a service for a wine critic to espouse the unique value of a widely available $17 rosso from a distinguished Brunello producer. But if you search online for mention of that rosso, most of the top hits, most easily findable, are just for the Brunello. Magazines may still intend to be comprehensive, but the micro-slice mode of social media leans naturally away from completeness and toward mere awesomeness.

Our era ever more aggressively rewards winners. The humble, second-level “midweek” wines, no matter how much they offer, seem like also-rans rather than companions. Where does this leave retail? There are wine shops that sell rare, obscure and pricey wines, but the most useful retailers emphasize and embrace the everyday. In which there is not much glamour.

The most valuable effort a retail shop can make is to find, and lavishly praise, and consistently sell, that midpriced Rosso di Montalcino, Turkish blend, old-vine carignan from the Minervois, Naoussa xinomavro, Saumur chenin or Aconcagua pinot noir – the ones that “over-deliver.” A self-righteous side of me wants there to be a James Beard award for that effort, but there never will. The notice, and the money, goes to the glam shot.

Price does crazy things to our heads. Under $13, I find too many wines made with corners cut but whose simple, easily accessible profiles overshadow similarly priced (or maybe a couple of bucks more expensive) wines of much greater complexity, subtlety and potential. Often, the simpler wine tastes better at first, before growing tiresome and/or turning the meal it accompanies resentful. It’s difficult to convey the distinction in a retail environment that’s separate from the drinking and dining experience.

It doesn’t help that a $3 difference in retail is gaping, while in a restaurant it’s invisible. Spending at a restaurant functions like vacation spending, where the currency is foreign and multicolored and barely real. In that context, money matters less psychologically, and so does value. You’re paying for “the experience.” But that allows restaurants to get away with head-hurting profit margins that leave actual value far behind.

Hold off on the angry letters. I am aware that running a restaurant is incredibly difficult, that you’re lucky to break even on food costs, that a client pays for glassware, staff education, advice, storage and all the rest. I’d fail miserably at running a restaurant, and if you take those jobs seriously, I salute you.

After far too many experiences with uninformed servers, misleading or even grossly incorrect wine listings, over-warm reds, over-cold whites, clunky glasses, “cooked” wines that were not stored correctly but aren’t flawed enough to return, I recoil at mark-ups above 300 percent.

A wine that wholesales for $10 sells for $13 or $14 in my area. That same wine sells for $25 to $35 (or sometimes $45) at many restaurants, with what seems like utterly arbitrary attention paid to the factors that might justify the difference.

Could a retail shop that spent resources on consistent staff education and gentle, attentive storage – both of which have direct benefits to the customer – get away with charging 150 or 160 percent instead of 130 percent? Doubtful, because it’s so easy for a wine consumer to compare the sticker price at Store A to that at Store B, not to mention wine-searcher.com or Amazon.

At some point soon, you will be able to Prime-order a bottle of wine and have the drone delivery set it on your kitchen table, or in your climate-controlled cellar, the next day (or hour). Retail wine shops will have to get very creative to compete with this, by showing that they are educational institutions masquerading as private businesses.

The person in the store can tell you, over multiple purchases, why your preferences have more to do with soil type than grape varietal, or why your headaches are likely caused by the additives in industrially produced wines rather than the sulfites you read somewhere are poisonous. An online algorithm could do that too, I suppose, though by leaving the actual you out of the conversation in order to spit out a quick answer, it will succeed in keeping you ignorant and dependent.

A great restaurant wine experience is respectful, exciting, opening. But in the end it exists to serve you, not set you free. A great retail wine experience has more potential for liberation, by pushing you to develop your own palate, to take responsibility for your own taste and understanding. Both situations, at their best, cultivate trust, empathy, connection. My deepest hope is that neither gets crushed by the increasing lures of social-media-enabled personality cults, ego, apps that ignore you, and self-selected echo-chamber news feeds. And drones.

Here’s a small sign that we’ve got good chances. Dustin Wilson is one of America’s most recognized and well-respected sommeliers. He was magnetic in the movie “Somm,” and has developed and directed the wine program at several prestigious restaurants, including New York’s Eleven Madison Park, widely regarded to have one of the best wine lists and wine service programs in the world. (Late at night, when I’m past deadline, I take a break to read the EMP wine list online, the way someone else might resort to porn.)

Wilson now also makes wine himself, with Santa Barbara County’s Vallin winery, which he owns.

His next move? He’ll be opening a retail shop in New York City. Maybe the midweeker wine moment is upon us.

Joe Appel is the wine buyer at Rosemont Market. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]