(This is an entry for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge–theme: crisis.)
How do you act when someone treats you badly? Do you confront them? Do you shut them out of your life? Or do you continue your relationship with them because you have to?
As a female wine geek, these are the questions I ask myself regularly as I delve further and further into my studies.
Because you see, the wine industry is mostly men—some sensitive…and some less. Some are inclusive of women, but some say or do things so worrisome as to make me wonder if they have any female friends at all.
So I’m faced with a crisis that is twofold. First, when a famous man (winemaker, writer, etc.) says or does something disappointing, which of the above options do I take? Do I confront them? Do I stop reading them or drinking their wine? Or do I put my tail between my legs, pretend they didn’t say it, and continue to support them?
Second, do I call them on it? Wine writing wisdom is that you say as little negative as possible about anyone, so you don’t burn any bridges. Certainly that’s what I’ve done up to now.
But some of these men are so rude that they deserve to be publicly called out. I’ve hesitated up until now—partly because I never found the right moment, but more so because I’ve been afraid of making myself look bad. But I’d rather make myself look bad and take down some unprofessional men in the process. So below, I’m including some of the more egregious versions of ignorance I’ve come across in my studies.
McInerney is a major food and wine writer, also wine columnist for The Wall Street Journal. Here’s a bit from his collection of essays, A Hedonist in the Cellar.
“I once speculated that the grapes for a certain luxury Champagne were harvested individually, by vestal virgins (author italics), never suspecting that I would one day witness something close to this whimsical vision.” p. 70
He goes on to describe a scene of 90 Chilean women sorting grapes. I’m sure they enjoyed being creepily stared at by an American man who objectifies youth and purity in the opposite sex, so much to the point of incorporating it into a fantasy about Champagne. He opens another essay with a date he went on with a woman exactly half his age, while describing her intellect in unflattering terms. In his book, women are for looking at, not for talking to.
While not as famous as McInerney, once you’ve been exposed to Vaynerchuck, you know him. He made his name by starting a wine vlog ten or so years ago, the entirety of which can now be found online at Wine Libary TV.
Episodes featured him interviewing winemakers, tasting and analyzing bottles great and small, and always cracking jokes and spitting into a football helmet bucket. After merrily watching dozens of episodes, I came across one where Vaynerchuck said something really bad:
“This wine is like the pretty girl at an ugly high school.”
Need I say more? Wine Library, his retail shop, was also almost entirely men back then. I think I saw one female employee out of all the episodes.
Smith is a major winemaker in Washington State, in terms of both prestige and production. Wine Spectator did a feature on him a few months back, which included the delightful story of how he met his wife, which I will detail below.
Charles Smith met his wife because he pinched her ass. They were strangers at a professional meeting, and because her body looked like “two poodles fighting,” he couldn’t resist. He was in his forties at the time, and already had a successful wine brand. Luckily, she thought this was cute, and not offensive, and the rest is history.
As a woman who’s been in this situation before, I would not find this cute, especially from a man old enough to know better. And at a work meeting, at that. The hubris of this action made me angry, and I don’t think professional men should ever engage in sexual harassment.
My crisis in all these situations has been—how do I respond? With McInerney, I read the whole book, in horrified fascination of what he’d say next, and then never read another thing by him again. With Vaynerchuck, I stopped watching, and tried to contact him—but he’s very hard to reach. With Smith, I stopped drinking his wine, and also wrote a letter to the editor of Wine Spectator.
Perhaps as a man, you might not think these stories are so bad, or as a woman, you think I’m oversensitive. I think we’re so exposed to sexism in society that we normalize it. I think all of these stories are offensive. And worth publicly criticizing. When a man can ogle young women sorting grapes and keep his post at a major newspaper, it’s a problem.
The crisis is solved—I stop supporting the author/winemaker—at a cost. I never get to see what they do after that, even though it might be great. But I will never experience the greatness again because they are no longer credible to me. If they don’t take women seriously, then I don’t take them seriously. Luckily, we are in a Golden Age of wine culture, and when you stop drinking one wine there are thousands of others to choose from. Same thing with wine writers.
There are plenty of enlightened men and women in the industry that I can support. Because walking (and drinking) with you head held high is more important than any bottle or book, no matter how tasty or informative.