The Moralist and the Wine Blogger


moralistwinebloggerTHEM: Does it ever bother you that what you do for a living is pretty inconsequential?

ME: What do you mean?

Public relations for wine. Promoting the drinking of wine and blogging about wine.

Inconsequential? My clients don’t think so. Some of my Fermentation readers don’t think what I write is inconsequential.

I don’t mean you don’t accomplish anything. Of course you do. It’s just that the consequences of selling wine and wine blogging don’t really play an important role in anyone’s lives. It doesn’t help people. People’s lives aren’t bettered and they don’t really flourish more because you write press releases and go on about wine ratings or wine laws or natural wine.

You mean there’s no moral or ethical element to what I do for a living.

That’s right.

Don’t I get points for the fact that the totality of my life includes not only press releases and comments on wine ratings, but also attempts to be a good person who does occasionally bring joy and happiness to others and that this reflects a certain amount of empathy?

Yes, you get points. But think about how much time you spend doing the morally neutral stuff versus the morally positive stuff.

I’ve never thought about that too deeply.

Most people don’t. And that’s why most people live lives like you, in which the vast amount of your time is spent in pursuit of unimportant consequences.

If I closed down Wark Communications and stopped blogging and spent that time working in a hospice for the dying or as a psychologist helping people cope or as a doctor healing people, would I accrue more points.

That’s exactly what I’m getting at, Tom. That is worthy use of your time. Let me put it more bluntly: If you are not working to improve the well being of others then you are missing the opportunity to live a good life and wasting the most precious commodity we all possess—a life lived in close proximity to other conscious, living beings.

But suppose I tell you that with my blogging about wine, some people read me and express a certain amount of gratitude for the enlightenment and entertainment they get from my efforts? Isn’t this something beyond “morally neutral”? Isn’t that being the source of pleasure something of value?

Not compared to the kind of pleasure you could be delivering with more fundamentally valuable efforts?

How about this: wine is one of those things that bring sensual, intellectual and social pleasure to human beings and being one to promote its consumption is aiding others in enjoying these values?

You are rationalizing, Tom.

You mean to say I’m being selfish.

Yes. And in the extreme.

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25 Responses

  1. Josh - May 1, 2013

    Why does it have to be either/or?

  2. Tracy Cervellone CWE - May 1, 2013

    Suffice it to say that: Wine, and Wine education/enjoyment combines Geography, History, Horticulture, Geology, Culture, Art, Science, Biology, Religion, Philosophy, Law, Ethics, Health, Medicine, Entomology, Evolution, Exploration, Ethnology, Archaeology, Sales, Marketing, Commerce, Politics…and a few other worthless topics. Shame on us! Tom Wark RULES, along with Jefford, Jancis, Johnson, and a few other selfish hacks.

  3. Larry Chandler - May 1, 2013

    This argument has no merit at all, yet it’s been said over and over. “You shouldn’t spend money on the arts, when there are homeless people who need shelter”. “You shouldn’t take a vacation when people are going hungry.” “Schools should only teach subjects that can benefit students in the job market.” Civilization consists of many parts, and that includes helping people to simply enjoy their lives. People do benefit in many ways from a society that values pleasure. We don’t all need to be Mother Theresa.

  4. Carl Giavanti - May 1, 2013

    Tom, do you also play both sides in chess? Please don’t stop what you are doing!

  5. Richard Auffrey - May 1, 2013

    First, on a philosophical basis, I would attack the definitions and foundations of “Them.” Whose definition of a “good life” is being used? The history of philosophy contains many different definitions of such and this person doesn’t have a monopoly on the “right” or “only” definition. In addition, is their morality agent centered or action centered? That choice will greatly change how one views these matters.

    Second, on a more practical basis, the moralist is ignoring a multitude of effects of the promotion and blogging of wine. By supporting the wine industry, one is helping to keep a significant number of people employed, all across the world. The billions of dollars transacted in the wine industry affect our world positively in many ways. As many of the ills of the world are due to economic problems, and the promoting the wine industry helps the economy, then it surely is a moral good.

    The wine topics that may be addressed are wide and can be significant in other ways. For example, sustainability is a vital issue due to the threats to our environment. By raising the visibility of that topic, we can hope to help combat environmental problems, such as climate change. That is another moral good.

    There are physical health benefits from wine as well as psychological ones. Promoting the health of others is another moral good.

    And I could go on.

  6. Tom Wark - May 1, 2013

    It was clearly an action-centered morality, but what was not clear to me was where they derived their warrant the notion that certain careers are more moral than others. I don’t think it was a biblical or religious warrant.

    You express a sort of consequentialist approach in noting that there are human-based benefits to selling wine and writing. The real question to me is does an action (or career) detract from the well being of my fellow man. The case could and often is made that the promotion of alcohol for any reason does indeed harm the well being of my fellow citizens. But the current moralist wasn’t making that case.

  7. Mark McKenna, Winemaker, Andis Wines - May 1, 2013

    We have the privilege of working with a thing that brings joy, relief, romance, and laughter to millions of people everyday!! For many folks a great glass of wine is a highlight of their day, a respite from the cares of the world, and a moment to reconnect with loved ones. Curing cancer it may not be, but, a life that facilitates a myriad of small blessings I think is one perfectly well lived. Cheers!

  8. Tom Wark - May 1, 2013

    Wow….very nicely and succinctly put, Mark.

  9. Charlie Olken - May 1, 2013

    I am having trouble believing that you actually had this conversation. It sounds more like a morality play than reality.

    I began to wonder if the punch line was going to be: Wark abandons wine and goes in search of children who need shoes, food, desks to sit at in Africa, clean water to drink in Bangladesh, education in Afghanistan.

    We all can probably do more than we do. We can’t all do everything. Not to worry. Whenever you actually do have a deep religious conversion, there will still be room in the abbey for youl.

  10. Alan Goldfarb - May 1, 2013

    Tom My Friend: Just stop it. Stop beating yourself up (I say that to myself everyday). You’ve become one of us (and you know what I mean). We (I) need you. Keep on keepin’ on.

  11. Tom Wark - May 1, 2013

    Though, paraphrasing, it was actual conversation. Though you may find it hard to believe, the other conversationalist was a non-drinker.

  12. Sue Whitaker - May 1, 2013

    Tom, when you go out into the world to pursue a more noble cause, I will take over Fermentation for you so it’s legacy can continue! @Mark McKenna…nicely put.

  13. Daryl - May 1, 2013

    There is no need to justify one’s life to someone who has decided that they are the judge of what pursuits are “worthy” of being pursued. They are already self-servingly lost.

  14. Charlie Olken - May 1, 2013

    Non-drinker? The words: zealout and ascetic came to mind. Self-absorbed might also apply.

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  17. Stephen Ballard - May 2, 2013


    Is this a genuine conversation? What, perchance, does the Moralist do for a living? I bet he/she shops here:

  18. Wine Grape Grower - May 2, 2013

    Tom, I have told you this in person a few years ago. You are doing God’s Work–and I am serious. Nothing makes me madder than reading your blog about people trying to put our industry out of business. Your work on behalf of the industry to promote wine, expose corrupt practices and to open new markets for wine commerce means a lot to everyday working people like me and my family. What people do not know is–there is a lot of blood, sweat and tears that goes into a mostly entrepreneurial venture. There is tremendous risk, financial, market, weather–even physical risk. We need people like you. Many of us are dependent on your work (Disclosure: I am not a client nor are any of my wineries I sell to)—without it–we maybe out of business. I wish there were more people like you. You set an example. So on behalf of my family and the many people who work the vineyards and the wineries–Thank You!

  19. Ken Bernsohn - May 4, 2013

    The argument has several fallacies. First, “important to whom.” the shutting down of contract control towers by the U.S. government is important if you own a private plane. If you don’t, you don’t care. We each decide what’s important to us. Second, what does an individual owe societ. Some people feel it’s a lot, others just a little, still others nothing at all. I If you believe in free will, you also believe in free won’t. It’s an individual decision, and you can’t decide for someone else what their values should be.

  20. Ken Bernsohn - May 4, 2013

    The argument has several fallacies. First, “important to whom.” the shutting down of contract control towers by the U.S. government is important if you own a private plane. If you don’t, you don’t care. We each decide what’s important to us. Second, what does an individual owe societ. Some people feel it’s a lot, others just a little, still others nothing at all. I If you believe in free will, you also believe in free won’t. It’s an individual decision, and you can’t decide for someone else what their values should be. Third, if a person decides to work to benefit their family, friends, people they know rather than an abstract society, who says someone else should judge them, or who the judge should be?
    Not a fqllacy, but an irritation, the people who decide to judge others morals tend to be thsoe who denigrate books which are enjoyable to read, actors who give others pleasures as though pleasure was evil. (Insert your own insult for these people here.)

  21. Bob Henry - May 4, 2013


    I am a graduate of Santa Clara University — a Jesuit institution that teaches its students about their moral role in society.

    During my undergraduate years, the president of the university Father Terry (who coincidentally was a student of winemaker-turned-professor Joe Heitz at Fresno State) concurrently served as the winemaker at Novitiate Winery in the Santa Cruz mountains.

    Making and marketing Novitiate wines served a societal “good”: it funded the training of “novices” to become Jesuit priests; it provided a well made and affordably priced wine used in the Catholic mass by parishes across the country; and it employed countless individuals.

    No one has to “explain,” let me “defend” working in commerce.

    We no longer live in a “hunter-gatherer society” where we are by necessity self-sufficient. No longer live in an agrarian society where through one-to-one personal selling we barter goods and services with our neighbors.

    We live in a global economy characterized by one-to-many impersonal selling through middlemen forging channels of distribution.

    And the efficiencies realized by the “economies of scale” have raised the household incomes of billions of individuals, improved their health, and extended their longevity.

    We are the beneficiaries of the great fortunes amassed by some of the wealthiest in our society — through nonprofit foundation aid programs, schools, libraries, and arts institutions.

    And going forward we will continue to benefit through such efforts as The Giving Pledge. [Backgrounder:

    As a marketer who has worked in both the “for-profit” world and the nonprofit world, I know firsthand that a vigorous private economy is essential to achieving our larger societal goals: employment opportunities, quality education, disease-free health for all.

    Should those in the for-profit world feel so compelled to engage in more “consequential” work, then let me suggest pro bono volunteer work supplemented by in-kind giving, corporate donations and personal tithing.

    And dedicate your “active” and healthy retirement years to volunteer work in your local community.

    ~~ Bob

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  23. 1WineDude - May 7, 2013

    What Mark said!

    I’ve struggled with this internal debate with every job I’ve ever had. In the wine sphere, I occasionally receive emails or messages from people who tell me that I have, in some small way, made their lives better.

    That *NEVER* happened when I worked in Corporate America.

    Just sayin’ that there’s more to this than the Them argument would at first lead one to believe.

  24. Jim Conaway - May 8, 2013

    Another great piece, though the sanctimoniousness of Them is annoying. Anything pleasurable and enlightening pursued with passion – including wine – elevates the human spirit generally and can’t be quantified. And wine is as good a measure of human enterprise as most.

  25. JohnLopresti - May 13, 2013

    It’s rare now that I have a sip of good wine, though we are surrounded by increasingly more well made offerings of tions. Tom W puts worthwhile efforts into bringing the excellence from under the cork into the glass, on occasion. The essence is the people with whom we share wine, as a beginning; and Tom W’s work helps to connect us via the portal of well made wines. Keep expending your efforts in that regard, Tom. It serves us all.

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