Wine and the Mob — Prepare Yourself

For a number of reasons, the very worst and most destructive elements of America’s now prominent Slash & Burn culture hasn’t, yet, impacted the wine industry or individuals in the wine industry. But this post is a warning that those reasons could easily melt away quickly and immediately under certain conditions. 

In an age where our chosen political tribes move further and further apart from one another, where debate becomes so polarized that any cross-talk between tribes can’t cross the divide, where our personal and political principles are clung to like elements of religious faith, where statements of principle are often expressed in the form of self-righteous indictments flung at individuals, where shaming and conviction of individuals without resort to due process is the norm, and where piling on is made simple and irresistible via the Internet and social media, every single person in the wine industry who covets or possesses a public brand better be prepared to ward off the impact of the slashing and burning that will, eventually, come wine’s way.

Let’s be clear as to what I’m talking about. In today’s Slash and Burn culture, a joke deemed insensitive by some, a slightly too harsh or too clever condemnation of certain political figures, the incorrect use of language, insufficiently harsh condemnation of a newly shamed person or any other public or uncovered private statement that strikes one of the now easily offended tribes as blasphemy can very quickly turn into a pile on. This turns into a digital mobbing. This turns into the demise of a brand—either your personal brand or your product brand. And this can all happen very, very quickly.

Two recent essays have described this culture perfectly and they are both very important reads for anyone who is a public figure or who uses social media to help market their products and services:

America’s New Religions — by Andrew Sullivan
Shame Storm — By Helen Andrews

I’ve been thinking about this phenomenon for quite some time, primarily because I want to be prepared if any Wark Communications clients find themselves in need of counsel or action due to being caught in a digital mobbing. I’ve been looking for some effective general rules that can be followed in the case of a client being publicly shamed or found to be insufficiently obsequious toward one or another tribe’s sacred cows.

Here are the rules I’ve come up with for avoiding you or your wine business being taken down or destroyed by the Slash & Burn culture:

  1. Find a cave
  2. Don’t leave it.
  3. Accept no visitors
  4. Be mute

This is only slightly facetious.

In truth, the first and most important strategy for avoiding the possibility of being mobbed and destroyed by partisans of any stripe is to carefully avoid making any public statements about politics, culture, religion, gender, or race. Your positions under these headings may be perfectly bland and seemingly inconsequential. It doesn’t matter. Restrain yourself.

As for what the strategy ought to be undertaken if, by chance, you are being attacked on social media channels for something you’ve said or done and if the mob starts to gather, the very best advice I can offer is to point you to a quote by publicist Ryan Holiday on what he would tell a client in such circumstances, as related in Andrew’s essay linked above:

“I would tell him to bend over and take it. And then I’d apologize. I’d tell him the whole system is broken and evil, and I’m sorry it’s attacking him. But there’s nothing that can be done.”

He’s right insofar as there is nothing that can be done to stop the damage once the mob piles on, whether the mob is from the left or the right. It’s entirely possible your long years of hard work and your reputation will be destroyed. Now, once you have little left, you can take action, particularly once the mob has moved on to another person. But that’s a different post.

The point is that if you value what you have or are building, it is critical in today’s culture that you avoid putting yourself in a situation that might lead to one group or another seeing you as a target of sufficient girth.

To-date, the wine industry has not been a target of digital mobbing. As I mentioned above, there are a number of reasons for this.  The primary reason the industry and its members have not been subjected to the consequences of a Slash and Burn culture is that there are few well-known personalities in the industry. Moreover, most people in the wine industry in the United States have very little to say about culture or politics in the course of doing their wine industry work. This means fewer opportunities for generating outrage or offense. However, this does not mean that the focus on the wine industry by the mob won’t emerge. In actuality, elements of this industry lend itself to scrutiny.

First, there are a number of “one-percenters” in the wine industry who put their wealth on display in very visible ways. Drive up and down the Napa Valley or the back roads of Sonoma County and look at the many ostentatious wineries. They attract attention.

Second, like other agricultural industries, wine is reliant on migrant workers and immigrants

Third, many of the most visible wine regions are ethnically monolithic.

Fourth, there is a genuine concern within the wine industry that there is gender inequality.

Fifth, the wine industry is based on alcohol, which is almost always an ingredient in bad behavior.

The mob has taken down some very bad people and it has demonized and destroyed others without regard to guilt. This is the consequence of a world in which information moves at velocities hitherto unfathomed. Businesses and brands seek out protection from harm in a variety of ways. Insurance is purchased. Warning signs are posted. Human Relations departments are created. Training is undertaken. All this is done in the name of protecting assets, brands, employees and customers from harm. It makes sense to give some thought as to how you ought to protect yourself from the harm that could come from the mob and the culture of slash and burn.


8 Responses

  1. Meg Murray - January 2, 2019

    Or you have your brand embrace your stance unapologetically (in my case a feminist and gender parity agenda) and allow people to vote with their wallets and either buy it or not. For every person (or troll) that has not been enthusiastic about NASTY WOMAN WINES I can show you 100 more that are and are not only excited but have become further ambassadors of my brand, the wine itself (it’s damn good) and it’s philanthropic goal to donate 20% of net profits to help get more women to the table in policy and leadership.

    Stay nasty-
    Meg Murray
    Nasty Woman & Founder

  2. Bill Tobey - January 3, 2019

    I refuse to give up my principles and faith because of fear of anything. Jesus Christ is Lord and to deny him is death!

  3. Tom Wark - January 3, 2019


    I’m almost sure I never suggested you relinquish your faith. But I’ll go back and reread.

  4. David Graves - January 3, 2019

    That cartoon is from May 1940, when Churchill became prime minister and right before the evacuation of British and French forces from encirclement by the German Army at Dunkirk. The caption is “All behind you Winston!”

  5. Ed Thralls - January 4, 2019

    Tom, recall the Martin Sargent situation (scandal?) with Murphy Goode’s A Really Goode Job? Could be a good early example of this…

  6. Paul Mabray - January 4, 2019

    Tom, the digital mob actually happens all the time on Twitter. I would actually not follow this advice. Depending on the mobbing (legit indiscretions or inappropriate statements aside), if the mobbing is about positions or opinions I say you still stand up and own your position. You may alienate some users but your integrity will be in tact and, if you are a brand, much more compelling than a milk toast response. That being said, if you are or were wrong. Own that too and apologize.

  7. Pat Neville - January 6, 2019

    Timely article. I think the hue and cry is already underway: With so many ‘wine writers’ in search of an angle, the wine industry is bound to live through interesting times going forward. Concepts such as organic, biodynamic and natural have already assumed a certain moral high ground in certain quarters and small / artisanal is regularly being contrasted with the corporate in ways that are blatently political. The genie is already outside the bottle, methinks.

  8. Dwight Albers - January 13, 2019

    Because of the huge wealth of information available today, the relative ease of sharing an opinion, and the highly polarized nature of our political climate, the destructive mob mentality has sadly become a reality. As with actors, musicians, athletes and the like, I watch or listen to be entertained and frankly I don’t want to hear their political opinions. Like the NFL bad boys, the 4 hours a week they strap on a uniform is not their personal bully pulpit and I take offense to the players who use it that way, of the teams and the league that have allowed that debacle to continue. Likewise in wine, I don’t really want to know the winemaker or the owner’s personal opinions on politics or religion. At the same time every person should have conviction and confidence articulating their values and holding true to them. I don’t spend my day pontificating what I believe in every venue, but I don’t hesitate to share and defend the same if I am asked.

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