A Sip of Wine, A Mean Email, A Bad PR Move—An Ugly Tale
Wine PR Pro Tip: If a well-known and respected wine critic sends you a private message to express their disgust at the quality of your wine that they drank at a restaurant, don’t inform the world of the critic’s opinion.
I don’t think I need to explain why promoting a private message of disgust with your product is a bad idea. Let’s just say it’s counterproductive where sales and reputation are concerned.
This is surely the advice I would have given Ms. Jess Mavromatis, winemaker at New Zealand’s Ekleipsis, after she received a private message from well-known critic and wine judge Jim Harre. Apparently, Harre had ordered a glass of the Ekleipsis “nouveau” Pinot Noir off the list at Moiety Restaurant. As the story goes, Harre found it undrinkable, told the waiter about it, and the wine was replaced with something else. Still, Mr. Harre felt the need to reach out to Mavromatis and express his thoughts on the wine. They were….direct:
“Hi, I tried your wine at Moiety Restaurant this evening, the worst Pinot Noir I’ve tried in years. Give up. The wine I tried was disgusting. As an international wine judge who lives in Waipara, you should be ashamed of yourself — get a new hobby.”
Crass? Yes. Mean? Yes. But, one thing it was not was a public review published anywhere but on the winemaker’s phone.
This should have been the end of it, but somehow the story of the personal message from Harre got out to Emma Dangerfield who wrote about the incident for New Zealand’s STUFF journal and to the New Zealand Herald, where another story on the incident was written up. Since these write-ups, the incident has spread, even motivating an 80-comment threat at Reddit.
There is an intellectual and mental process that goes on in one’s head before they decide to announce to the world that a wine critic wrote you a private email telling you your wine is shit. The decision could be based on the desire to provoke sympathy. Or the decision could be based on simply being angry about the email and wanting to do a bit more than writing back to Harre and telling him to “fuck off”. In the end, however, it appears that the calculation to make public this private and mean email revolved around the determination that the bad press for one’s wine would be outweighed by the pleasure that would be had in successfully embarrassing Mr. Harre.
This is a bad calculation.
Mr. Harre is respected by far more people than are the Ekleipsis wines of Ms. Mavromatis. It’s highly unlikely that Mr. Harre is going to experience too much embarrassment. In fact, it will be notable to many that Mr. Harre did not publicize his views of these wines. No doubt he could have found a public outlet to admonish the winemaker. Moreover, he could have taken to Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to let his feelings be known. He did none of these things—to his credit. What’s going to happen here with the move to publicize his private note is that hundreds of thousands of people will know that a respected wine critic thinks Ms. Mavromatis’ wines are shit.
However—and here’s where things get interesting—what if the desire in publicizing the private note was not simply to embarrass Mr. Harre, but to somehow damage his reputation and his career. But how could you do that? Here’s how:
“Mavromatis says it [the note] offered no constructive criticism and that it reeked of an ‘incredibly condescending, patronising and misogynistic’ tone.
Mavromatis—New Zealand Herald
“But he was angry at Harre’s ‘old white, privileged and entitled’ behaviour, after he told Gasson he had judged wine all over the world.”
Moiety Restaurant owner, Sam Gasson—STUFF
“Misogynistic”. “Old white privileged and entitled”.
Yes, what if we can portray Mr. Harre as a sexist and racist old white man bent on exerting his unearned privilege upon an unsuspecting young woman?
Of course, there is nothing misogynistic or racist about Mr. Harre’s note to Ms. Mavromatis. Again, was it crass and mean? Sure. But nothing more. If the restaurant owner, Mr. Gasson and Ms. Mavromatis wanted to strike back, I suppose that’s what they did by exposing Mr. Harre’s mean streak. But more than that, they went for the jugular by attempting to cast him as some sort of racist and sexist. While Mr. Harre may have been mean in his private email, Ms. Mavromatis and Mr. Gasson acted immorally by accusing Mr. Harre of being motivated by sexism and racism. They should publicly apologize. But they won’t.
There is a happy ending to this story. Foodstuffs, which owns the New World Wine Awards where Mr. Harre has been a judge since 2008, was made aware of the private note. Here is there response:
“We are aware of the personal feedback provided by Jim to Ekleipsis Wines. Jim is a respected wine judge who is deeply passionate about consumers enjoying good examples of different styles of good quality wine, and in this instance, as a customer, he felt the product fell short. Jim has worked with us for many years and will continue to do so.”
Antoinette Laird—head of corporate affairs and CSR
This is a case not merely of very bad and poorly thought out media relations on the part of Ms. Mavromatis. It is an example of letting one’s emotions override one’s best interests. While Ms. Mavromatis may not have deserved such a harsh note, it’s equally true that Mr. Harre did not deserve to be falsely accused of being a sexist and a bigot. Of course, no one does. It also brings to mind whether the terms “misogynist”, “white”, and “privileged” have become the newest replacement words for “mean”. I fear they have.