Hey Wine Industry—Let’s Try to Dial It Back a Few Notches

Maybe you have noticed. It’s getting a little tense out there.

Say what you will about the wine industry. It’s elitist! It’s systemically racist. It’s behind the curve technologically. It is regulated through archaic laws. One thing you must also say about the wine industry is that it is extraordinarily congenial.

Yet this congeniality specific to wine, be it due to the nature of the product or to the folks it attracts to the industry, is being stressed and stretched, sometimes to the breaking point.

It’s not hard to figure out why this is. Consider the stress that those in this industry are currently under. Like everyone, wine industry folks are dealing with the restrictions both self and government-imposed due to this COVID-19 pandemic. Its members are forced to cover our faces. Like everyone, we are in the midst of a fairly contentious election that everyone seems to have a very strong opinion about and no one appears shy about voicing it. The social upheaval from a sort of investigation into what race in American means that has engulfed the country since May has caused everyone to take notice of injustice, of seeming government incompetence, of burning cities and riots, of challenges to our view of how the world works or ought to work.

The wine industry itself is dealing with a particularly depressing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as our hospitality partners have been whacked as hard if not harder than any other industry as a result of pandemic-related restrictions and layoffs and business closings, resulting in turn in significant unemployment.

Then there are the Tariffs. These are non-physical but often equally destructive intrusions into the lives of those in the wine industry that has just added to the difficulties in the bottom line beyond the impact of the pandemic’s impact.

It’s no wonder that those of us who work in the industry have been taking it out on each other, particularly in an online, social-media realm. Negotiating online discussions with peers and colleagues have become much more difficult and much more stressful. The potential for online fights and disputes and name-calling and de-friending is heightened to a point that I’ve never seen before. I’m not immune. Today, upon mentioning online that masks aren’t that bad and that we can all be ourselves and still wear them I was accused of 1) being a loner that didn’t interact with people, 2) being in favor of child trafficking and 3) not being able to properly use my “D*ck”. My response was simple: “Fuck Off”. But that’s not who I am. Yet, there I was.

Social media is here to stay. It provides a unique and important new way for the wine industry to reach more people, sell more wine, promote brands, stay in touch with other industry members and convey all sorts of information that prior to its emergence simply could not be done as efficiently. But it is also a medium that lends itself to improper displays of arrogance, aggression, and stridency. This is all, I’m convinced, a result of the anonymity and lack of close proximity that social media allows in communications. I am positive that I would never have been accused of being an incompetent handler of my own d*ck nor a supporter of trafficking in children had the person making the accusation been next to me in a room full of other people. And I know I’m far less likely to let go with a “Fuck Off” when I’m in the presence of another person. Proximity! It’s important.

In the past, in this forum, I’ve questioned the notion that the wine industry is systemically racist. I’ve made the case that protectors of the three-tier system are self dealers. I’ve called out the champions of the natural wine movement for what I’ve believed are egregious claims. Almost always these and other kinds of posts of mine have been met here with calm, reasoned, passionate and deliberate comments, discussions and dialogues. However, I’ve also received very nasty and even threatening communications in response. But those have almost always been in the form of anonymous emails. This just underscores my belief that it is a lack of physical and individual proximity that creates the communicative hellscape that social media has become in so many instances.

The well-established and traditional congeniality of the wine industry really ought to serve as an example to all of us, no matter the setting. It should be easy enough to acknowledge the current level of added stress and communicate with one another without a descent into nastiness. What if we all practiced an attitude that allowed for the expression of our views without it leading to an expression of our nastiest inclinations? What if we conversed with one another and didn’t make unfounded assumptions about our colleagues and peers, let alone express them openly? What if we didn’t decide “Fuck Off” was the proper response to a slight? What if we all practiced a little civility…the kind of civility that makes the wine industry truly unique?

If, while traveling the backroads of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, you feel you are unable to respond in a civilized manner to other people’s opinions and thoughts, then don’t respond. If, upon posting your own thoughts on your social media channels yet don’t think you will be able to restrain yourself when someone responds to your post in a way that violates your principles, then don’t post. At the very least, attempt to ignore those who can’t seem to restrain themselves.

When I got my first job in the wine industry many years ago, I returned to the PR firm’s office after attending a sit-down trade tasting. I lamented to my boss that the guy sitting next to me was an overbearing, constantly chatting, ill-informed nincompoop who had no business being anywhere near that tasting. My boss responded, “Tom, you aren’t required to sit next to them or even talk to them.” Surely I’m not required to respond to an ass with a “Fuck Off”.

In addition to the wine industry’s unique congeniality, it is also an industry that has a tradition of talking and talking and talking and talking. Discussing everything from the composition of the particles in a plot of dirt to the meaning of blogging. In this industry, dialogue and discussion—in almost every case of a civil nature—appears to be part of the ecosystem. Despite the current tension that fills our online interactions, I’m nevertheless inclined to believe that many folks actually crave deeper, more civil, more enlightening discussions and dialogues. Socratic discussions founded on critical thinking, listening and questioning. I think this because at heart I believe the dialectic process of truth-finding works and I think we are in store for the rise of an antithesis to the course, mean, ugly online communications that seem to dominate today’s stressful environment.

If I’m right about this, the swing of the intellectual and communicative pendulum will be evident early on amongst the family of wine industry peers since it is this industry that does have such a strong tradition of congeniality.


Posted In: Culture and Wine


4 Responses

  1. Carl Giavanti - September 22, 2020

    Hi Tom, we’re all up against the same issues. I was recently astounded by the documentary “The Social Dilemma”. Highly recommended viewing for anyone/industry.

  2. Jeanne Savelle - September 23, 2020

    Carl, Thanks for mentioning The Social Dilemma. Eye-opening and enlightening. Let’s all be adults, be empathetic and open-minded and work to make connections more meaningful.

  3. Helene - September 23, 2020

    Useful advice, Tom. I may be the most ‘anti-publicity, private-obsessed’ person in the entire global wine industry, so please take these comments with that perspective in mind. I do not do anti-Social Media, a bit like I do not believe (any longer) in the Not-Very-Royal Mail.

    Word of advice even, and especially, for emails. Never, ever send an email without giving yourself a chance to reflect and reread, even if you think what you are sending is completely, totally factual. A technique that sort-of works, which I started useing back in the days of snail-mail, telex and fax. If I ever were to resort to Social Media, I would apply the same technique to that (and texts).

  4. Kenny Mullen - September 25, 2020

    Hey Tom
    First, I really appreciate the facts, views and opinions you share on your blog … Oh, did I say views and opinions??
    Sorry to hear that some people choose to vent their COVID-, political-, economic-, opinion-, et al- related venom on you for expressing your views. I’ve only been around the wine world for a little over ten years but would say that the people actually do the physical work and have been doing it a LONG time are generally some of the most humble, grateful and sharing people I’ve met. Those who claim to be “experts”, many deservedly, about anything wine-related can sometimes be appreciably less than “congenial” in my experience. Congenial to your face but maybe not a “truly defining characteristic” of many wine industry uppity ups.
    I also think the separation between looking at someone in the eyes and having a conversation about differing views or opinions is not the same as someone sending their views through an email or social media allowing some a perceived license to be an a-hole while flying below the radar … bottomline we can all be better versions of ourselves NO EXCEPTIONS!
    We probably ALL can be more tolerant and respectful of views that differ from our own but an occasional “fuck off” must be reserved for the most egregious statements and personal affronts IMO

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