Tag Archives: wine writing

Groans and Hoses — Or how I saved wine writing from satirical dick pics

I really shouldn’t be writing at 2 am. I should be in bed, lying next to my gorgeous wife. But instead, I’m downstairs on my laptop so as not to disturb her with ruminations that have been bothering me for the past few days.

Photo by Alex E. Proimos. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

Ruminations that I’m far from alone in sharing as evidenced by the eruption of anger towards a recent piece posted on Master of Wine Tim Atkin’s site.

There Ron Washam, the HoseMaster of Wine, wrote a satirical tribute to Robert Parker in the voice of wine writer Alice Feiring. The background, besides the announcement of Parker’s recent retirement, is that Feiring is a fierce natural wine advocate who has had deep philosophical disagreements with Parker on how wine should be made.

While she’s written numerous books in her long career, as well as a highly respected newsletter, one of Feiring’s most notable works has been her 2008 part treatise, part memoir The Battle for Wine and Love: or How I Saved the World from Parkerization

I’m not going to link to Washam’s piece.

But I will post screenshots and you can Google the full thing for context if you like. But, believe me, the “context” isn’t much better.

I’m a frequent reader of Tim Atkin’s site. It’s one of my favorite bookmarks. Both he and his contributors–including Celia Bryan-Brown and fellow Master of Wine Christy Canterbury–usually produce excellent and engaging content.

I’m also a fan of witty and biting satire–both written and performance. George Carlin, Amy and David Sedaris, James Thurber, Dorothy Parker, Mark Twain, Frances Burney and, of course, the legendary Jonathan Swift.

So perhaps my expectations were too high when I went to read Ron Washam’s “satirical” take on Alice Feiring and what she might say to Robert Parker in a note.

Attribution: Ron Washam at https://timatkin.com/, June 3rd, 2019

Attribution: Ron Washam https://timatkin.com/alice-feirings-tribute-to-robert-parker/

Really?!?

Instead of getting satire, Ron Washam and Tim Atkin gave us a dick pic.

Instead of skewering both the real and made-up divide between Parkerized wines vs. Natural wines–something ripe and juicy for satire–we get “a woman scorned” as Washam signs off his Alice.

We get a women’s work, her research, her personal journey, her opinions, her philosophy and approach all drilled down to “Oh, she just really wanted to ride his dick! Ha Ha!”

Give me a break.

Now I don’t agree with everything that Alice Feiring says. I think the idea of Parkerization has been vastly overblown and the disdain of “Parkerized wines” has had more of a Streisand Effect than anything. It pushed people into camps and encouraged tribalism–which is just as destructive in wine appreciation as it is in politics.

But I respect her work and even if you don’t agree with Feiring’s opinions and approach, she certainly deserves more than sexually charged mockery.

Yes, she is a strong voice in the public sphere on controversial topics. Then speak to her voice, speak to her words, speak to the controversy.

Speak to the substance of what she is saying. Don’t denigrate and dismiss with a phony portrait of a scorned sex kitten.

That’s not satire and it’s certainly not wine writing.

The post that I should be writing tomorrow (while I’ll now be sleeping) is one answering a poignant question that came up during the recent Born Digital Wine Awards Summit about the nature of wine writing.

During the summit, Felicity Carter of Meininger’s Wine Business International posted this compelling Tweet asking how the industry would be impacted if there were no wine writers.

The post that I wanted to write was in defense of wine writers. In defense of people like Tim Atkin, Celia Bryan-Brown, Christy Canterbury and others who share their joy and passion of wine with their readers.

Yeah, wine writers have their warts and often spend too much time focusing on telling people what to drink. But overall, I think wine writing brings much-needed light to a topic that is both fascinatingly complex but also quite simple in its pleasures.

And that, for me, is the essence of wine writing–bringing light.

Now it doesn’t mean that everything has to be all fuzzy, lovey with everything fabulous.

The disinfecting light of sunshine on dark and uncomfortable topics (like sexism in the wine industry, racial, labor and environmental issues) is just as important as sparking the lightbulb of discovery in consumers to seek out new wines and learn more about them.

It’s also that disinfecting light that makes satire such an important literary genre. Good satire is like yanking the table cloth away from the table. Yes, it may make things uncomfortable and mess up all the place settings. But that’s precisely the point–to shake things up and encourage the reader to look at what’s really being served to them instead of just accepting the ornate way it is presented. Regardless of how modestly it was proposed.

Satire is about bringing light, not heat.

It’s not about being offensive. That’s low-brow and something that any idiot can do. But a good satirist will heed the advice of the greatest satirist of them all.

Satire is a sort of glass wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own; which is the chief reason for that kind reception it meets within the world, and that so very few are offended with it. — Jonathan Swift, The Battle of the Books and Other Short Pieces

A good satirist (like a good wine writer) can toe the line between the uncomfortable and the offensive without crossing it. And if they do cross, once again they should heed Swift’s advice and never be ashamed to own that they were wrong.

Because that shows that they are wiser today than they were yesterday.

Ron Washam should admit that he was wrong with his sexualized attack on Alice Feiring. And Tim Atkin should admit that he was wrong to publish it and let it hang on his site under the banner of his name and Master of Wine credentials.

That post did nothing to bring light to Atkin’s readers. It did nothing to further the conversation about Parker, Feiring, Natural Wine, Parkerization or even satire.

It was a satirical dick pic and wine writing should be better than that.

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Wine & Politics — Strange Bedfellows or Drinking Buddies?

A few days after Christmas, the South African Twitter account @WineMag decided to resurrect the ghost of controversies past by revisiting Jon Bonné’s provocative article Why Is the Wine World So Un-Woke?.

By Neeta Lind - IMG_0416, CC BY 2.0,

Written in the aftermath of Anthony Bourdain’s suicide last summer, Bonné wondered why we didn’t have more writers who embraced Bourdain’s willingness to “tear down the false romanticism” around wine. Instead, wine writers seem to actively avoid covering sensitive topics or the industry’s unsavory elements.

Food, and food writing, may be guilty of its share of glossing-over, of preening and celebrity and the lionizing of malcontent, egoist chefs—not even at the Batali-Friedman-Besh level, but more subtly. It’s no different with tech, where Steve Jobs’ iconic status could overshadow the fact he wasn’t a terribly nice person. But when it comes to whistling past its problems, wine asks those other industries to hold its beer. Jon Bonné, PUNCH magazine, July 18th, 2018

Bonné certainly garnered a lot of attention (and interesting comments) when his post was originally published. But then, like many things in our ADD-driven culture, it faded from the conversation. At least it did until the December 27th tweet from @WineMag. That piqued the interest of Master of Wine Tim Atkins who retweeted it on his feed.

Then Whoa Nelly!

While I’ll comment on a few things below, I can’t possibly do justice summarizing all the many excellent points and divergent opinions in the thread, as well as the many side threads, that sprung up from Atkins tweet. Instead, I’ll encourage you to take a trip down the rabbit hole to read the insightful comments from Atkins, Artisan Swiss, Felicity Carter (the Editor-in-Chief of Meininger’s Wine Business International), Master of Wines John Atkinson and Elizabeth Gabay, Petri Pellinen as well as Bonné himself.

While Bonné’s original post wasn’t explicitly about wine & politics, several of the threads converged on the question about how “political” should we expect wine writers to be. Things took a particularly charged turn when Maureen Downey, probably the wine world’s foremost expert on wine fraud, shared her stark disagreement that politics and wine should ever mix.

This set off another cascade of replies and threads–including one where I finally poked my head. My tweet came in response to Felicity Carter’s comment that wondered if American and European folks were looking at Bonné’s article from different angles.

Why Go Red or Blue When You Can Go Rosé?

As I learned later, through a series of tweets by Jon Bonné, my political views and Maureen Downey’s are very different. I’m a moderate who disdains tribalism that puts people into red/blue, liberal/conservative camps. I personally don’t believe that any ideology has a monopoly on good ideas (or bad ones) which is why we should listen to each other and compromise.

While the vitriol of Downey’s political posts disheartened me, they still don’t sway my overall respect for her work. I feel it would be foolish to shun her expertize or boycott her company just because our beliefs outside of wine are so different.

But I fear that such a public outing of personal politics (even if they’re made in a public forum) would cause others to rethink their esteem of Downey. And that disheartens me just as much as Downey’s politics.

Simply put, I don’t want to lose the “safe space” of a wine community. I love that people from diverse backgrounds and beliefs can set aside their differences and share a common joy. Losing this sense of community is exactly what we’re risking when wine writers dive too much into politics.

Exceptions not Expectations

However, I don’t believe that the world of wine needs to avoid politics completely. I do somewhat agree with Bonné yearning for a Bourdain-type figure in wine. We do need writers who aren’t afraid of poking sacred cows or exposing the ugly side of the industry.

But I think those people, like Bourdain, are rare breeds. I shared this sentiment in a further reply on Carter’s thread.

It would benefit no one if wine writers were judged by how “woke” they were and how actively they covered political topics. Not everyone has the skills set (or tact) to tackle those issues in ways that move the conversation forward instead of disintegrating into pontification and invectives.

Those that have those skills should be valued and encouraged to write when they’re inspired. But for the vast many who don’t, their dabbling into political tussles is more apt to produce a landscape of replacing facts with opinions and emotionally charged slurs of SJW, liberals, right-wingers or conservatives slung about.

And where does that help? It certainly doesn’t help enhance the appreciation of wine. Nor would it edify anyone’s understanding of sensitive political issues.

Maybe We Need More Esther Mobleys Rather Than Anthony Bourdains?

If you want an example of a wine writer that has the skills and tact to write effectively about politically charged issues go check out Esther Mobley of the San Francisco Chronicle. Over the years, she has tackled some thorny subjects like the role of immigrant labor in sustaining the California wine industry and gender issues.

While you might be able to infer Mobley’s politics by her topic choices, you would be hard-pressed to peg her exact personal views down. That is because her work rarely speaks to her opinion. Instead, the scalpel she uses to cut deep into her topics speaks loudly enough for her. Sure, she’s not as blunt as Bourdain was in calling out perceived ills. But her thoughtful approach moves these delicate conversations forward.

That makes her far more effective as a wine writer than a wannabe Bourdain being a bull in the china shop.

If there were more Esther Mobleys writing about wine, I wouldn’t feel as cringey about the thought of wine writers being political. But just like Anthony Bourdain, Esther Mobley is a rare breed as well.

Not many can fill those shoes. I know I can’t. Which is why I’ll continue to keep my two Twitter accounts separate.

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