The Non-Existent Problem of Gatekeeping Around Wine

Who doesn’t love Tik Tok?

Just visualizing the slow movement of a second hand across a clock face brings a swell of delight to our hearts. Now add lipsyncing into the mix or short vids of dogs sleeping with cats and you can understand why this new video creation and sharing platform is all the rage.

And so I was excited to see the article in the Wine Enthusiast touting the Tik Tok Creators who were bringing “Barrier Free Joy To Wine”.

I was particularly interested in finding the answer to this existential question posed in the article: “Will #WineTok de-snobbify wine for good? Or is it a passing fad in a lightning-fast digital landscape?” Besides introducing the new word “de-snobbify” (who doesn’t;t want to be de-snobbified?), the question implies that the wine world ought to consider handing over its marketing efforts to the folks who brought us bikini-clad women in beer commercials and forget about using the written word to discuss off-putting subject matter like terroir, the difference between Napa Cabernet and Medoc reds or how to use a corkscrew. I was primed to learn how we could get thoughtful discussion out of wine.

So, I was excited to be introduced to @winewithtlc, otherwise identified only as “Tyler C”. Tyler, who works for a large wholesaler in San Antonio, for some reason does not want to disclose his identity. Why he doesn’t want to seems like an interesting story, but it wasn’t told. In any case, we learn from Tyler the following fact:

“There’s a lot of gatekeeping [in wine], and that is not the way to grow an industry.”

This is not the first time I’ve heard or read this claim about the wine and the wine world. However, why am I not surprised that the claim is being made by a person who wants to make a name for themself outside traditional channels of wine communications. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for new channels of communication. Hell, I was blogging about wine in 2004 when blogging was new.

However, just once I’d like to read a defense of this claim that gatekeeping is the problem within the wine industry rather than just the claim alone. Hell, I’d simply like a definition of “gatekeeping” in the context of wine. It sounds really bad, whatever it is. It sounds like there are folks standing in front of the thousands upon thousands of books, blogs, videos, wine tasting rooms and wine stores barring access to these things that will enlighten those interested in wine and that without these gatekeepers’ approval no one shall pass. It sounds like something evil is afoot in the wine industry.

But there isn’t. Let’s be perfectly honest. “Gatekeeping” is almost always a charge leveled by those who haven’t been able to get what they want from the industry and when they want it. Whenever I see the charge of “gatekeeping” leveled against the wine industry I imagine my seven-year-old boy looking at me and whining, “HOW COME I CAN’T HAVE THAT CANDY FOR DINNER” then proceeding to walk away and declaring, “You Gatekeeper!”

The Urban Dictionary describes Gatekeeping this way: “When someone takes it upon themselves to decide who does or does not have access or rights to a community or identity.

Merriam-Webster, the gatekeepers of official word definitions, defines Gatekeeper two ways:

1: one that tends or guards a gate
2: a person who controls access
I guess the question for Tyler would be, access to what? Wine? No. Wine of every sort is widely available. Access to information about wine? That’s silly. Do a search on Amazon for “wine” in the books section. Better yet, do a search at Google for “Wine Blogs”.
If there is any gatekeeping going on in wine it exists in one place: wholesalers. Within the context of the various state distribution systems, the wholesaler literally decides which brands of wine will gain access to a state’s retail outlets. I’m not sure Tyler’s Tik Tok videos are going to alleviate this kind of gatekeeping.
Here’s my point…well, point:. When someone making Tik Tok videos about wine or when someone posting pretty pictures of themselves and wine on Instagram makes the claim that the wine industry has a gatekeeping problem, you can be pretty sure what they mean is that they don’t like what they are reading from other, larger, better read wine communication vehicles.
It’s legitimate to take issue with points being made in more mainstream wine communications. But the fact that you don’t think larger, better read, more prestigious wine communication outfits are doing a good job of communicating with the people, doesn’t mean they are gatekeeping—particularly in a day and age where everyone on the planet has access to everyone on the planet via the Internet.
Tik-Tok away I say. We need more dogs and cats drinking wine out of wine glasses. We need more folks mocking people who take wine seriously and who think there is value in exploring its nuances and its history and its culture. What we don’t need, however, are false and self-serving accusations that some nefarious gatekeepers are barring access to information on wine.

6 Responses

  1. Jim Ruxin - September 27, 2021

    The correct response to Tyler is pity. Pity that he is appealing to the ignorant, like Fox News, or pity that he does not know how to define his terms.

    If gatekeeping is the three tier system blocking access to out of state wines including DTC channels, he has a point.

    But if he means it is too complicated to get the straight truth, then he is just reflecting the laziness of the Tik-Tok to search for authoritative information. No, they like it easy and simple, and have no idea of the subterfuge that hides behind easy and simple.

    We all agree that the most authoritative channels do appear snobbish, and that is off putting to the Millennials and those younger. Yet their battle cry is always for “authenticity” as though that can be communicated in an easy to remember sentence.

    Anything worth knowing is worth understanding, otherwise its merely a factoid or advertising and dangerous on its own.

    Wine can be complicated, but the world is far more complicated by orders of magnitude. This bodes for far more threatening problems globally than wine consumption.

  2. acv - September 27, 2021

    “Gatekeeping” for Millennials is about fairness in their minds. Now the minute I say “in their minds” I realize alarm bells go off. See, all disparity = discrimination. Pretty easy to wrap your head around this thought once you form it as a millennial.

    What’s the quote from Carl Jung? “All ideas are judges.” “This is better than that”…. There’s an antipathy amongst the millennials that any system that upholds the status quo must therefore be unfair. All mainstream wine communication and the standards that they have achieved or hold – forming ideas longer than a bathroom break….is a standard that the new forms of communication – Instagram and Tik Tok don’t want to have to aspire to as a communication medium. Pithy low-resolution crap…sure we can do that.

    Here’s where I go off the reservation a bit. I know not PC.

    Tyler’s quote “My thing is helping people choose wines that are within their price point without them feeling intimidated or embarrassed, and then also broadening their horizons a little bit, too,” says Tyler. He estimates that 85% of his followers identify as women between 24 and 40 years old.”

    I can embrace this thought by Tyler. I’m not anti-new media.

    Often folks say, “you want to whitewash our history” I know un-PC. I don’t want to keep anyone away from asking difficult questions about our history or rather in this blog’s example using new forms of communication to reach a modern-day wine consumer.

    My issue is how SJW Millennials frame their world. This “one factorial” binary thinking I’ve mentioned. The left side of the brain thinking. Simply put by you and me in my comment is that Tik Tok can join the party…. but that doesn’t mean up until now the system has been broken.

    I read books…not as many as I could but I still read. I also have embraced hearing books in the audio version. I don’t think before audiobooks came along that the gatekeepers of literary thought were keeping me from exploration by making me read.

    Honestly, maybe is salesmanship on Tyler’s part caught up in the ethos of the day…. maybe he’s trying to “do- in” the competition so he doesn’t have to compete as hard for attention…. but it seems like an unforced error…but he’s young so maybe one day he’ll rethink what he said.

    I know…. forgiveness…. what is that? It’s the crazy Judeo-Christian concept I heard about. I think I’m supposed to say, “10 Hail Mary’s and 5 Our Fathers” and banish such archaic thoughts of “forgiveness” in our modern age…shockingly a very 20th Century way of behaving.

  3. Donn Rutkoff - September 28, 2021

    Hey, it only took Mr. Love and Tolerance, a.k.a Ruxin, 17 words to take a dig at a totally unrelated object, Fox News. I personally love all the great coverage in the “regular” media about our beloved wines. As for vodka, well, you know, “Russia Russia Russia”.

    Tik Tok vids are fine to expand wine awareness. So are the NBA players and NFL superstar Charles Woodson. The only defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy. And Tiktok or other blogs, yes, learn up about the grip the big wholesalers have on actual distribution. Kind of like the grip farcebook and utoob have on some people’s brains. For advertising money first, and political power a very close second.

  4. Paul Warson - October 8, 2021

    Tom

    While I agree with you that gatekeeping is, “almost always a charge leveled by those who haven’t been able to get what they want,” there is an underlying issue for Tyler and others to feel this way.

    Wine is intimidating to those who do not know and understand it. But the larger issue is why they feel that way. When people start to drink coffee or beer, the are not advised by a friend to read books or check out YouTube videos or TikToks. They may have some at home with family or try a few different types out at a time at a party or ask a barista for advice when they tire of their iced frapa latte. These beverages are a part of everyday life, but wine is not, at least not in America.

    If you ask someone what kind of steak they like, if they eat steak, they are quick to respond their cut preference and how they like it cooked. They may even have further preferences based on location like a backyard bbq or a restaurant. Did they come to this by talking to experts before ever eating red meat? No, they learned about what they like by what they were served at home growing up, experimenting at home as an adult (maybe taking advice from their butcher or a Food Network show), or at restaurants, sometimes splurging if they are out on a special occasion.

    General consumers feel they have to be a certain level of knowledge so they can appreciate what is in a glass before them, rather than simply enjoying what is before them. This is the big picture issue. I believe many consumers feel so wrapped up in picking the “wrong” wine, fear leads them to grabbing something else.

    I often feel the same way when picking out gift for my family. Fortunately, gifts can be returned and exchanged, no harm no foul.

    Returning to Tyler, looking at his TikToks, he does much the same as others that seek to educate the consumer. This is fine, but he doesn’t do anything to combat the “gatekeeping”, he’s simply perpetuating it. If he truly wanted to break down barriers he would let viewers know that it’s ok to not know, that they will make mistakes, and that overtime, they will learn what is is they like, and that no one can tell you what that is. I think I just had an idea. Gotta go.

  5. acv - October 10, 2021

    I respectively want to challenge this assertion that “wine is intimidating” as an axiomatic truth. It’s frankly a sleight of hand statement repeated by many in the wine world who by invoking this “truth” as a lazy catch-all statement for justifying some theory of consumer behavior or new industry initiative.

    I get your first reaction “he’s just being argumentative.” But when was the last time we as an industry challenged that statement? Is it unchallengeable? An unquestionable leap of faith that is true?

    We went through a Yellow Tail phase, a Moscato phase, and now a white claw phase and I think we throw this statement around like it’s…. well, an axiom that need not be questioned.
    In past articles on this blog about social influencers or folks on the diversity side of the ledger calling for equity that it is all in the promotion of making wine less intimidating. Like, to whom? When? Really? Show me some credible polling…

    Certainly, simply looking at consumption numbers, or wine tourism numbers that the shy are having a hard time by into this victim mentality of wine being an intimidating beverage
    Example 1: (2018 by his Ted Talk) = Have you heard of the “Dematerialization, humanity’s biggest surprise?”

    An MIT scientist, Andrew McAfee has shown that despite more people, who consume more things that the evidence shows that the number of resources from the planet we use today in regards to things like the metals in our products, the fertilizers in our farms, the water in our aquifers, energy, that when we take a closer look at the data we are using less and less of these resources today than in 1970.

    Simply, the population has gone up; consumption has gone up, and despite that, we keep making stuff and buying stuff we are extracting less and less from the planet to fuel this consumption economy. He has a Ted Talk I suggest you watch it… I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t been shown data.

    Example 2 = I imagine many of you may have heard we make more food today, for more people …utilizing less agricultural land per capita.

    These are axioms that go seem to fly in the face of common wisdom.

    To get back to my point. Who are these people who are so intimidated? These folks are like ghosts, werewolves, and vampires finding them tends to be harder than you think. I’ve taught wine classes. I’ve worked in all 3 tiers, and I have helped friends and family buy wines, and finding these helpless intimidated folks has not been my experience.

    Let me tell you who I think is the most intimidated by the subject of wine. The educated.
    Not the Yellow Tail or Moscato drinker. Not millennials who I constantly berate. If anything, the Millennials may drink more spirits today than in the past based on some sort of cyclical generational phase…. or their lack of discretionary income making them search for a higher bang for their buck in their libation choice.

    For the millennials, it can’t be for lack of unprecedented access to information.

    The one person I could half-heartedly make a case for would be represented by my sister. She has a Ph.D….she is smarter than me in a cognitive sense. She’s never liked the taste of alcohol and thus never embraced it. But even in this case if she wanted to buy a Christmas gift of wine for a colleague and she didn’t have me to rely on for advice… I’m sure she’d just ask a clerk to help her choose.

    After her purchase, she’d spend zero time learning about wine. And, this is from someone who occasionally forwards a wine article to me she comes across whose title makes her see an interest in it for me to read.

    I don’t think I hear anyone telling people to read books or watch YouTube videos (though wouldn’t a Food Network show be the same thing) or even have a certain level of knowledge to enjoy a bottle of wine. On the contrary, I hear people saying some sort of version of my only axiom about wine I have – “There’s red, white and the one you like.”

    Is there a quest for knowledge that manifests itself in oenophiles? Yes. Does gaining knowledge require effort. Yes. Welcome to the real world.

    “Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.” – Biologist George Wald, 1970

    “By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate…. that there won’t be any more crude oil.” – Economist Kenneth Watt, 1970

    “Man must stop pollution and conserve his resources, not merely to enhance existence but to save the race from intolerable deterioration and possible extinction.” – New Yor Times editorial, 1970

    Too often it is the case that smart people push forward ideas that they fail to take a proper step back and test to see if it still holds to be true.

    I remember a column from Eric Asimov who defended the point system. Not a huge fan of the guy but he’s smart. In his article, I believe the exact example he gave was (paraphrasing) – If you’re a brain surgeon and you want to use points to buy your bottle of wine after a 15-hour shift and then go about your life, he sees nothing wrong with this practice. Conversely, if you are a wine producer desiring to charge $100 for a bottle of your wine…you’re the last who should be crying about unfair wine scores and those who choose to buy their wine utilizing points as a guide.

    Lack of knowledge on the subject of wine doesn’t mean you are intimidated by it or that if given the opportunity to learn more it would be top of subjects waiting for your exploration.

    If the white claw isn’t a demystification of wine, I don’t know what is.

  6. acv - October 13, 2021

    Jamie Goode
    @jamiegoode
    We groaned about the power of critics, but the next generation of wine communicators seem to lack any critical faculty whatsoever

    Randall Grahm
    @RandallGrahm
    Replying to
    @jamiegoode
    The expression, “It’s all good” has taken on a slightly different meaning.

    …well, said.


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