A Schooling in Wine Writing And Gender
I’ve heard it said that where winemaking is concerned, women may have an advantage either because they may have a more acute palate or because they are more natural nurturers. I don’t know. It’s an intriguing and not altogether outlandish set of ideas.
However, I’m wondering if there is such a substantial difference between male wine writers and female wine writers that it is important that we read, listen to, or observe or both in order to get a full rendering of what it means to be a good writer?
This is what occurred to me as I read these two criticisms about a specific panel at the recent Wine Bloggers Conference
“First of all, I couldn’t help but notice the complete lack of diversity when assessing the panel members. Though the panel was moderated by an awesome woman, the actual panel consisted of just three older, white, men who are traditional print journalists…. Okay. But, they were speaking to an audience of wine bloggers. Many of whom were women. Many were younger. And several of whom were not Caucasian.”
MARY CRESSLER, Vindulge Blog
“Despite blogger participant diversity, the WBC seminars and keynote speakers continue to feature grand-fatherly white male traditional print writers as the only “true experts” to whom we should aspire.”
AMY CORRON POWER, Another Wine Blog
These are two fine writers and bloggers, but it is interesting to me that if I did not know they were women and if they did not hint at it, I would probably be unable to come to that conclusion by reading their writings on wine. But maybe that’s a problem with my own powers of perception.
So, I wonder what it is about maleness that makes them somewhat unsuited to offer observations about writing and blogging to women bloggers? Or maybe it’s a case of women having such a unique perspective from men that it is necessary to pair women with men on any panel that hopes to offer a complete or near complete perspective on the topic of writing and wine blogging.
Then there is this question: If you had a Caucasian woman, an Hispanic male, a black man and a woman of Chinese dissent, all from the same general economic class and all from Topeka Kansas on a panel to discuss the quality and character of the 2000 Chateau Haut Brion, would you get four unique perspectives because the four participants were a Caucasian woman, an Hispanic male, a black man and a woman from of Chinese descent?
Here’s an interesting experiment: Have these four wine writers each pen a review of the 2000 Chateau Haut Brion then everyone else try to guess which person wrote which review.
Or maybe the issue is one of fairness, simple fairness; proportionality if you will. If that’s the issue, then that I understand, even if I don’t agree. However, If proportionality is to be the goal, then it would make sense to not only take stock of the proportion of men to women in the audience before composing a panel at a wine bloggers conference, but also the proportion of gays to straights, and of the different ethnicities in the room. I think we’re going to need a bigger panel.
I suppose the two complaints noted above as well as from others could come down to some adult women in the audience being able to find more inspiration by looking at people on a panel who look somewhat similar to themselves. If this were the case I’d not hold it against them. I just don’t understand it. At past Wine Bloggers Conferences I’ve found tremendous inspiration by listening to and watching Lettie Teague and Jancis Robinson. And I’m a male.
Still, I come back to this question: Is there such a substantial difference between male wine writers and female wine writers that it is important that we read, listen to or observe both in order to get a full rendering of what it means to be a good writer?
I’m willing to be schooled on this question by considered thoughts and ideas. I’m willing to be convinced that as a male, I need to be exposed to male writers and male publicists in order to be properly inspired. I’m willing to be convinced that in order to be a better writer, I need to be exposed to insights that are unique to women and inaccessible to men.
Tom, thanks for taking this on. The panelists in question were a product of their times after all, as some of them started writing 40-50 years ago. Given the context of modern day “wine writers” conferences, their comments about quality writing and relationship integrity still rang true for me and I expect many others in the audience.
A good mind housed in any type of body in any race remains a good mind. It’s the same with talent. Not saying this is the case with your example, but it seems to me that focusing on the package first and the contents second–or not at all–might spell out some other agenda in play.
1. Political correctness
3. Looking for new voices rather than listening to my buddy Steve Heimoff again–or maybe just in addition to.
4. Who knows the answer to your question about 2000 Haut Brion until you run the experiment
5. What’s the harm in increasing the participation of folks who may be younger, female and from more diverse backgrounds but do not sound different from “old white men”, of which I am one.
Nothing wrong with old white men, of course. We have paid our dues. Some of us even have knowledge. And some of us know how to apply that knowledge. Listening to us does have its usefulness.
The thought experiment you mention above, while interesting, doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. (Though I do know a Filipina sommelier who, when she moved to the US, initially struggled with “blueberry/cherry/strawberry” as descriptors, given that these fruits weren’t standard fare back in Manila. She could sniff guava a mile away, however.) The issues are more subtle and pervasive. MW Liz Thach has research showing that men are drawn more to Parker scores than women are. Women tend to consume wine in more of a social context with friends. Women and men metabolize alcohol differently. Yale researcher Linda Bartoshuk has found that 35% of women, and 15% of men, are supertasters – so I think we can upgrade “not altogether outlandish ideas”, as you state above, to “pretty likely.” I’m guessing that none of the gentlemen on the panel could answer questions like “how do you handle interviewing a winemaker who’s trying to hit on you?” Many people in the wine service profession — somms, tasting room staff and the like — are going to assume very different things about a 28 year old female guest vs. a 48 year old male one, and will provide them with different experiences. I haven’t done scientific research on the matter, anecdotally women writers are less apt to use the extremely unhelpful “masculine/feminine” descriptors in their work. Sometimes these differences may not show up in the writing at all, sometimes they may have a subtle influence…and then there’s this. http://www.steveheimoff.com/index.php/2014/06/26/why-do-women-drink-more-wine-than-men/ One can’t help but feel that the takeway from Heimoff’s piece is “isn’t it a shame that more guys aren’t drinking wine” instead of, say, “how do we get even more women to drink wine?”
Thanks for including my comment. Though it was my initial observation that the panelists were older, white, men, my main frustration of the seminar (and the bulk of my post) was not with the demographic of the panelists, but their message to the audience.
I can’t prove that men and women write differently, but I know there are many ways to write successfully for print. I know this because I read a lot of print. Those three panelists, to me, represented only one way — an old-school journalistic way. There are multiple ways to reach an audience in this day and age (in print and online).
One of my main points was that the three turned their nose at the use of the word “perfect” to describe a wine. This past weekend (several days after I wrote my piece) I received the most recent issue of Wine & Food (print magazine) that had an article on rosé. The author of the piece (who happened to be a woman) described a wine as “Perfect for drinking on the front stoop.” (The article is on page 74 for quick reference)
Now, I would have loved if Ray Isle (a white man, and executive wine editor of F&W magazine) were on that panel (in addition to the other three panelists), giving a different perspective on print writing because I have a feeling he would have offered something different in the way of advice.
My issue is not as much with gender, or race, but with perspective and context. Though they were there representing print writers, I can think of several other print writers who could have offered something different, and perhaps inspiring, rather than the same feedback thing offered by the three panelists.
Now let’s talk about that 2000 Chateau Haut Brion. I’d be more than happy to review that representing the perspective of a half-Mexican/half-Caucasian woman 😉