The Plain Facts of Diversifying Wine Writing
Diversity and inclusion in the wine industry have been top of mind for some while now within the trade. And it seems appropriate that this topic has been frequently addressed by the industry’s communicators: media, writers, and reporters.
Let’s state for clarity the obvious: There is no downside to a diverse contingent within the communications side of the wine industry. If you need proof of this, think back to the time when blogs emerged on the scene and there was an explosion of new voices writing about wine in all its facets; voices we would never have heard from had the ease and lack of expense associated with the blogging platform not let in these new voices. The wine world became a better place for the trade and for consumers.
The emergence and profusion of the blogger didn’t change what was being written about (how could it?), but a certain new energy was sparked within wine writing, debate more easily ensued around topics that generally didn’t create debate and there was a certain “us vs them” character to the relationship between established wine writers and the bloggers. The new voices envigorated the realm of the wine communicator.
It seems likely that the same dynamic should result as the communications and media side of the wine industry answers the call to elevate the voices of people of color who traditionally have not pursued a communications and media career in the wine space. Their welcome into this side of the industry should lead to some invigoration.
What diversity in the wine writing and communications field won’t lead to, however, is a change in how communication happens, nor in the substance of the communication. The subject-matter will continue to be the farmer-alchemist collaboration of turning grapes into wine; the focus will be the diversity of grapes and terroir that produce nuance; the people and their approach to crafting wine will still draw interest from the writers; the processes of getting the bottle from the winery to consumer will still intrigue; the taste of the wine in its youth and its fragile old age will still be a central part of the stories told.
The point here is that if any of us are hoping for some new perspective or appreciation to emerge from the efforts to diversify the wine writing field that hadn’t occurred to previous generations of mainly white wine writers, there will certainly be disappointment. The color of skin and history of a people won’t matter. That northeast facing hillside vineyard is still going to struggle to get enough sun to ripen Cabernet Sauvignon and that will need to be explained by a writer of color in the same way it has been explained by writers for a century: photosynthesis.
Wine writers and communicators are many things: storytellers reporters, philosophers, critics. Their value and weight of authority depend almost entirely on whether they can successfully communicate about wine to a variety of audiences in an engaging and thoughtful manner. as to engender trust Jancis Robinson, the greatest living wine writer, owes nothing of her enormous success and remarkable work ethic to her pasty, English hue, or the turbulent history of her island people. Her success is due to her work, her abilities, and her talent.
It’s also true that the wine writing corps has traditionally been made up of an unusually intelligent and often highly educated group of people. Often they migrated to wine writing from other fields: the law, medicine, journalism. They have been folks who were suited for the job of wine writing due largely to possessing a similar curiosity about the complex and heightened devotion to hedonism. What the traditional wine writer was generally not, was a person motivated by riches. Ask any of them. I have every reason to believe that a future contingent of wine writers coming from more diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds will also possess this unique combination of attributes as important elements of their motivation and personality.
The point of today’s effort to explicitly elevate voices of people of color within the wine writing field must certainly act as an invitation and declaration that had not previously been explicitly issued: all are welcome, none are excluded, all should be subject to the competition for an audience.
No wine writer of color should expect to be published due to their color or due to the long-time lack of writers of color within wine. Tokenism can’t be anyone’s goal. They instead ought, and I think do, expect to be published, read and celebrate because they accomplished what good writers and communicators have accomplished in previous generations: they can tell a good story and tell it well. They expect merely to not be barred from the first step on a stairway to success on account of what they look like.
As the wine writing project diversifies and includes a range of humanity, I expect there will be nothing substantially new that can be uncovered and explained about a 20-year-old Napa Valley Chardonnay or a young Barolo due to the color or background of the writer contemplating these wines. Neither the black woman nor the white man brings anything unique to the table concerning these categories of wines that can be attributed to their color or gender.
However, an open door into the wine writing guild can and likely will invigorate the profession for the same reason the rise of new voices due to the emergence of the blogging platform sparked excitement in the industry — an open door leads to more voices and more voices lead to the possibility of more talent that might previously have never been exposed.