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Jerry Lockspeiser: My mind is made up, please don't confuse me with the facts

Published:  25 November, 2016

September 11th 2001. Anyone out of childhood can remember what they were doing the day the Twin Towers were felled.

I was at the Wines of Argentina tasting making a renewed attempt to persuade the buyer from the Co-Op to list our very good value Torrontes. He had rejected it several times before because, "I don't like Torrontes". My best efforts to convince him with rational argument failed every time.

It didn't matter that the wine was made by our onsite Australian expert using the latest vinification techniques, or that it's taste bore no resemblance to the traditional frumpy, over cooked Torrontes of yesteryear. Nor that it had a great, consumer friendly label and gave him a terrific margin. I couldn't break through because he had decided he didn't like Torrontes.

Faced with the certainty that pursuing the same approach would elicit another rejection, I told him we had changed the blend by adding a good dollop of Chardonnay. Sure enough he pronounced the Torrontes-Chardonnay much more to his liking. Except of course we hadn't changed the blend, and it didn't contain any Chardonnay.

Owning up to the trick didn't get me banished as a supplier, nor produce a sale. But like the time in a Leeds restaurant when I was told a clearly corked bottle of Krug Champagne couldn't be corked because it was Krug, it did teach me that we interpret the world through our preconceptions. Faced with facts that challenge them, we are more likely to make the facts fit our pre-existing view than to change that view because of the facts.

Most of us surround ourselves with things that reinforce our existing world view and our self-image. We tend to read newspapers and follow media that support rather than challenge our views. To broaden understanding and experience, Guardian readers should get the Daily Telegraph or Mail every other day, and vice versa.

Information that is partial or down right wrong may form and reinforce our opinions. Apparently 62% of US adults get their information from social media. The algorithms used by Facebook and others are programmed to feed us more of what we like, even when it's fabricated and erroneous.

Hoax stories that the Pope had endorsed Donald Trump and that Hillary Clinton sold arms to IS were widely shared in the run up to the American election.We do not know the effect they had on how people voted, but we do know that a relatively small change in the key battleground states would have seen Clinton win more electoral college votes than Trump.

Closer to home, the 2010 scandal of Red Bicyclette Pinot Noir reinforced the argument that perception is more important than fact. Actually a blend of Merlot and Syrah, sufficient to supply 18 million bottles, the most surprising thing is not that the fraud was discovered but that so many people believed the wine was Pinot Noir because that is what it said on the label.

My own more modest experiments produce the same result. Offering guests a glass of Champagne but giving them Cremant De Bourgogne, or another good sparkler, usually elicits comments about how nice the "Champagne" is, not questions about its authenticity.

Where does this lead? That facts and how to interpret them are not important? A "post-truth" world where inconvenient points are dismissed in the blind desire to validate a pre-decided view is asking for trouble. At the same time, we need to recognise that pre-conception and emotion are two extraordinarily powerful drivers of decision making, as much when communicating about wine as in vying for political victory.

Perhaps we can find a way out of this by learning from the words of Bruce Springsteen. During an interview with the Observer he talked about what he hopes live audiences will get from his music. He expresses a fusion of reason and emotion that might be imagined in the best experiences with wine, and hopefully one day with politicians too.

" can change someone's life in three minutes with the right song.....You can bend the course of their development, what they think is important, of how vital and alive they feel.....I have built up the skills to be able to provide, under the right conditions.....hopefully an evening you'll remember when you go home.

"Not that you'll just remember it was a good concert, but you'll remember the possibilities the evening laid out in front of you, as far as where you could take your life, or how you are thinking about your friends, or your wife, or your girlfriend, or your best pal, or your job..... These are all things I believe that music can accommodate and can provide service in. That's what we try to deliver."