This openness is a pretty revolutionary aspect of orange wine’s popularity. As anyone who has worked in a bar or restaurant can attest, it can be extraordinarily difficult to get many customers to embrace the expertise of hired professionals who they suspect are upselling them at every turn. This is especially potent when it comes to wine, an industry shrouded in convoluted geo-specific classification systems, and, let’s be honest, generations of homegrown snobbery, Sideways-style cringe, and Eurocentrism.
A lot of people tune out or shut down during wine conversations, whether it’s a sales proposition or a casual chat. Talking about wine can alienate people who just want to drink something delicious without needing to recall how Sauvignon Blanc will be labeled “Sancerre” or “Pouilly-Fumé” depending on which part of France it comes from, or “Muskat-Silvaner” if it’s Austrian, or “Sauvignon Blanc” if it’s from the US—unless it’s made in that one corner of Napa where Sauvignon Blanc is called “Fumé Blanc.” Orange wine—with its easy moniker, eye-catching appearance, and diversity of expressions and price points—is a welcoming deviation from the strict, impenetrable nature of a lot of corners of wine culture.
Jahdé Marley, a Brooklyn-based wine and spirits educator, partially credits the hype around the wine on social media. “It really does pique curiosity,” she says. But she, too, thinks that orange wine has the potential to be a better gateway wine than previous trendy wines. “Not all orange wines are rip-your-face-off tannic, amphora-aged Georgian wines,” she says. “There’s also really pretty, floral orange wines, or tropical orange wines, or wines that have been macerated for so long that the bitterness starts to dissolve and dissipate. There’s so many things to talk about, and people are more open to receiving them, I think.”
Of course, when anything becomes widely popular, questions of quality control arise. For instance, when rosé surged, it introduced some drinkers to great rosé, but its ubiquity also meant that there was incentive for mediocre rosés to flood the market. Some winemakers with no expertise or particular interest in pink wines quickly made them simply because they knew they’d sell. “When the product becomes crap and we’re just drinking whatever because it looks a certain way, that’s not really the vibe,” says Grays.
That, too, is a way that orange wine may not go the way of rosé. Lauren Feldman, the co-owner of Valley Bar and Bottle Shop in Sonoma, California, believes the category has some built-in guardrails to withstand the whims of fashion and Instagrammability. Unlike rosé, which goes from harvest to bottle very quickly, some orange wines take years to make and age before they’re brought to chic bottle shops or dimly lit wine bars. “The people who have been making the super traditional ones have been doing it for generations and won’t be manipulated by market trends,” Feldman says.
In a worst-case scenario, where wine bars and shops could be flooded with clumsily made skin-contact wines with names like Orange You Glad It’s Happy Hour or Mommy Orangest, there’s still hope. Orange wine empowers its fans to ask questions and engage their palates, and they’ll be better able to recognize good wine where they see it, Marley says.
“As long as you have some people who want to make good wine, and folks that are willing to educate, and folks that are willing to keep the conversation and the dialogue open,” Marley says, “then it’s not like good wine is going away.”