Playing God in the wine industry

The test of first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."

-F. Scott Fitzgerald

A lot of people assumed this piece would be about a "problematic" person or commentary on an article - but this is about a fear we all share - one of being "cancelled".

I speak to this on my social media channels often - the current state of affairs is alarming, and it's taking a toll on my mental health. It has left me feeling scared a lot of the time, as I don't always agree with the commonly held belief du jour.

I want to have a discussion that doesn't involve people. I itch for discourse that analyzes current practices, why they're happening, and where they might be taking us.

Creating a system where we're relying on a mob infantilizes individuals. Granted, I have not always been as assertive as I should be. But we need to empower all people - not just women - to be true to their decisions and not be scared to communicate clearly where their boundaries lie. All I see lately, is a fervor being fed to the masses.

Some of my identity has been formed from the desire I elicit from others. I enjoy the male gaze. Yet, it seems this belief is increasingly antiquated in today's climate - to enjoy being desired has become dirty.

Distinction seems to be lost amid a sea of generalizations. There is a need more than ever to feel confident in one's own boundaries, because the line is different for everyone.

We get mad because of stories regaled by our friends - all while they edit out their own sexuality or participation in a situation. It can quickly start sounding criminal when certain details are omitted. Yet, repartee is often based on signals and nonverbal cues between partners.

Currently, we are all defining what law is. However, it seems neither the victim, nor the perpetrator are ever content with the outcome. When we move towards a public forum, are we in the Colosseum looking for blood or are we looking for justice? When the mob is the judge, jury and executioner, there will never be true justice - it devolves into retribution and vengeance. When we're having these conversations publicly and drawing conclusions based on hearsay - we're barreling down a dangerous path.

We're opening a world where we get satisfaction, but no justice. Where are the lines? What are the boundaries? We all want the world to be safer. We don't want our peers to endure a traumatic experience that could plague them for the rest of their lives.

Social media has become the modern day court room, as wine professional Gael Mackie points out, "We find ourselves in an interesting situation where we'll all soon be in hypocritical positions. Do we buy wine because it’s good, or because a good man or woman made it? Also, who measures the mob rule? The sommelier? The consumer? The law? Hearsay?

Does all your wine come from good people? Are you sure? Do you know every producer personally?

Do you listen to music because the musicians are good men or good women? Have you ever listened to a song produced by someone who is racist, sexist or broken the law? I would imagine so.

We continue to drink wine from producers facing questionable charges, but we boycott others based solely on hearsay. It's a slippery slope.

Those calling out other's actions should ensure they’re holding themselves to the same legal standards and expectations.

Trying to play God in the wine world - now if that’s not an ego, I don’t know what is.

I could name dozens of producers I have known and heard of over the years who are imperfect people - but I’m not going to witch-hunt the cellar just because it’s cool to be 'woke'."

Do we want to live in a world where we're convicting people for bad etiquette? We need to shine a bigger light on inappropriate behavior and misconduct - but who wants to live in a totally appropriate world?

Wine professional Kat Nyman believes many have remained silent for too long, which she feels justifies the outcries for change, "I think people who speak about “cancel culture” are quite literally only looking at things from the abuser’s/accused’s point of view. And it only ever refers to whatever finally brought the behaviour to light - which is often an account posted online (anonymously or not) - 9/10 times this is only after months or years of stories shared, rumours swirling and confrontations had to no meaningful avail."

While Kat's comments on the fear many victims face in coming forward is valid, we often ignore the many individuals who have been caught in the crossfire.

A friend - who requested anonymity - shares the reality of what it's like 'to be cancelled', "A few years ago, a business owner from my hometown was canceled. The stories from all parties paint a blurry picture, and while he was never charged with anything, his reputation in our relatively small town was completely ruined. He sold his business and moved to another country with his young family.

This individual and I had always been cool with one another, certainly not close friends but we bonded over our love for natural wine. When he opened a natural wine bar on the other side of the world, he’d reached out to me as he was looking for a sommelier. I jumped at the chance to be a part of something new and fresh and to leave the city behind, to experience wine culture on a grand scale, to develop my knowledge and skills and to share my love of wine with others.

I knew that the decision to work with this person could be seen as problematic, but in my heart I believed (and still do) that nobody is perfect and that one should be allowed to learn from their mistakes and grow, to become better.

To cast someone as a social pariah benefits nobody. Witch hunts are evil. I saw the same people standing on soap boxes preaching about mental health and their openness to listen, when weeks earlier they were contacting the local newspaper in his new home, attempting to cancel him there as well.

COVID-19 cut this experience short, and when I returned home, I found myself ostracized by many that I used to be close with: cafés, bars, artists.

I believe that these situations are not black and white. The mentality that I’m just as bad as somebody if I don’t completely cut them out of my life is nothing short of Draconian. 

There is danger living in an echo chamber. The mob mentality that if you don’t think and act the same as the masses, then you’re next in line. It’s cancel or be canceled, and that is a terrifying precedent to set."

Vendettas are now branded as "calls for accountability" via public shaming. A lack of compassion is lost when it's someone we don't know, and we excuse black listing by generalizing the target as evil, or "other". Empathy isn't exercised until it's experienced personally.

Wine professional Sean Sydney, however, holds a different perspective. He sees leaders in the industry failing their students and protégés, "I disagree with the concept of "cancel culture" in general. The reality is that thus far, those who hold the positions of influence - community leadership, industry powerhouses and the judicial system itself - have failed to take the necessary steps to hold offenders to account. They have closed ranks and valued their platforms - and their business interests - above the safety and security of others. Until those with power exercise it ethically, those without will bypass those institutions in order to keep each other safe. If 'cancelled' wineries being packed to the gills every summer by tourists is any indication, the consequences of this alleged culture have been greatly exaggerated."

The opportunity to engage in conversations with those who hold opposed beliefs are shunned. Yet to make progress, we must run the risk of disagreeing with one another. As winemaker Sébastien Hotte points out, “This is a touchy subject. I am under the impression that people are often quick to judge without any first hand experiences. Even more, there seems to be a lack of awareness to different views and opinions.

We need to be better at creating dialogue and assisting each other. Some things are meant to be shouted out loud, but other situations should be discussed among peers.

There is a big lack of empathy and a need for empowerment which unfortunately is not done appropriately. Which then causes further issues for the people who do need their voices heard.

We are back to childhood bullying - social media is the schoolyard and unfortunately, like our experiences have shown - most are afraid to speak out against the bully who is often praised."

We are starved as a society for social interaction and desperate for connection, and we are now looking to social media to fill this void. Freelance writer Ruxy Stefan observes, "A moral compass must be calibrated by evidence, not muddied by suspicions. Being 'woke' isn’t a slur - indeed, its original image has been poisoned mercilessly by Twitter and armchair preachers who are lawyers one week and accountants the next. No aspiring lawyer or elder looks to trolling as a beaming light against darkness, anymore than a surgeon would look to a crystal shop. Cancel culture is rife with projections, poor information and dangerous assumptions."

Regressing to baser instincts isn’t progress, let alone worthy of celebrating. Our beliefs evolve. Society’s do too. If we are now the drivers - let's act like it.