‘the wine business’ In Blunderland Has Alice In Danderland

Ever been in a relationship with—or, worse case, been married to—someone who thrives on getting pissed off; to whom bile is lifeblood, huffiness heroin and acrimony the only emotion possible that can offer day-to-day, hour-by-hour equilibrium?

I’m talking about someone who wanders the earth like Diogenes, holding a lantern, looking not for an honest man, but for any scenario, any angle, any expedient however minor to succor the ravenous, mewling, insatiable demons of distemper within?

In other words, ever hung around with an anger addict?

I have, and I quake to be reminded of that mindset, but it was sort of hard to suppress those awful, corrosive memories while reading the vitriol spewed by readers of the drinks business—Europe’s leading booze trade publication—based on some moronic monochrome model that turned up adjacent to one of their recent features.

Alongside Top 50 Most Powerful Women In Wine, the drinks business published this absolutely bizarre clip-art-looking illustration:

original illustration

To me, it seems more inexplicable than offensive—as if the art director was a microcephalic time-traveler from Mad Men who suffered a full-on cerebral hemorrhage while smoking a fatty blunt.  I cannot imagine who was thinking what when on the drinks business editorial staff, because—blatant piggery aside—the graphic simply makes no logical sense as an accompaniment to a story about powerful wine women.  In fact, it represents the opposite since it depicts a non-powerful-looking woman incarcerated by an inverted wine glass.

Unless they were going for some sort of Orwellian allegory for how we allow our jobs to trap us—which they weren’t—I attributed it to an epic fuck-up in the editing room.

And, brothers and sisters, have I got some of those stories for a long winter’s night.

Shake a Head, Yes.  But, Shake a Fist…?

Apparently, the rest of the wine world disagrees.  It was blood they wanted, and blood they demanded, and blood they got so bloody quickly that within hours of the story going live, with volumes of venom and scads of sarcasm beginning to blast the Comments section like Katerina and Sandy* combined, the editors folded.

*Named for Sandy Koufax, of course: A man.

Here’s but a sampling of the snivels:

…Wow. Worst Visual Ever…

…Couldn’t get past your image of a pole dancer provocatively posing in heels to want to finish reading the article….

…As a woman that has been in the wine business for over 15 years, and often writes about the sensuality of wine and the way it can seduce you, that image is insulting as hell….

…trashy, insulting, and totally inappropriate…

And so on.

Within a short span, the publication got the message and pulled the illustration and replaced it with this mini-skirted silhouette, who, even without a wine glass or stiletto heels, is still absurd, but at least it doesn’t look like Daryl Hannah at The Blue Iguana:

second illustration

Yet, here are a few of the retorts after the image of the glass lass was dropped:

…you swapped out 1 offensive image for another…

…The second picture is just as big of a problem as the first…

…Your replacement image shows how truly clueless, old-fashioned and misogynistic you are at TBD…

So, the editors of the drinks business sighed once more and acquiesced, replacing the skirt woman with a bunch of ripe, delicious-looking gamay grapes—a benign enough icon for any viniculture article ever:


That would have to calm stormy seas, right?

Guess again.

Janice Cable writes:

…Now that the illustration has been replaced with a gender-neutral bunch of grapes, I can just be outraged at the strange, myopic, ahistoric introduction…

‘Gender-neutral’ is a weird way to view gamay, but…


New one on me, Janice, but apparently it is a real word, and means ‘without regard to history’.


The offending intro was:

‘The fact that there are enough powerful women working in wine to warrant a top 50 is a sign of how far the industry has come in a short space of time.’

This is ahistoric how exactly?  To me—correct or incorrect as the premise itself may be—by measuring the quickness with which the wine industry has begun to seek talent of both men and women alike, it sounds like they are looking history square in the gender-neutral kisser.

Sort of a-ahistoric, you might say.

And not for nothing, Janice—you yourself sound like a bit of an a-hole.

And Now: The Ne Plus Ultra of Hypocrisy

But, it must be confessed, my absolute favorite comment came from somebody named Marlene Rossman—who, for some cryptic reason hasn’t changed her name to ‘Rosswoman’:

‘…drinks business is a UK publication. They are still in the dark ages when it comes to women’.

Come again?  Which UK are you referring to, Marlene?  The one whose monarch is a woman, whose Stock Exchange CEO is a woman and whose longest-serving Prime Minister in the 20th Century was a woman?

Anyway, don’t you feel a bit strange dissing an entire nation with your smug, silly, superiority-complex ranting?  I mean, if for no other reason than half of the folks you just insulted are women?

Why are these people so goddamned angry??

Go Ask Alice

You just knew she’d weigh in, didn’t you?  Would have to.  And why not?  As one of the most powerful women in wine, who will obviously show up in one of the drinks business segments (only #41 – 50 were listed with the stripper/skirt/grape edition —stay tuned), she should have as much—nay more—room to spout her righteous illustration indignation as Janice the Cablewoman.

Clipboard carrot topAlice Feiring, of course, formerly Time Magazine wine/travel writer, Louis Roederer’s ‘Online Wine Writer of the Year, 2011’, renowned Robert Parker Jr. hater and award-winning author of several wine books including ‘Ginger on the Gironde’, which bears the following back-cover endorsement from Carrot Top:

‘If people with red hair read only one book about Bordeaux this year, let it be ‘Ginger on the Gironde’.

Feiring is also the voice behind ‘The Feiring Line’, that excruciatingly cutesy-titled wine manifesto in which she pointedly expresses uncompromising opinions about the same sort of titanic, tectonic topics covered by yours truly, with one important difference: People actually read her stuff.

And, as a result of that, any time I dare take the con to a Feiring pro or a pro to a Feiring con, I am inevitably mocked by friends, colleagues, offspring and that persistent peckerheaded poozle ValveKeeper of Must, who say:

‘You’re just jealous’.

Which is true, mea culpa.  Mea maxima culpa.  ‘Fess up: I’ve always wanted hair that looks like steel wool dipped in puréed flamingo.

In any case, that’s really sort of childish of me, and I do intend to keep on topic.

the drinks business Throws Women Under The Bus’

The above was the title of Alice Feiring’s take on the whole skank-under-glass controversy, and as always, I expected—beside the prerequisite ire—a hard-hitting, art-director-spanking, intellectually stimulating promulgation of the publication’s sins along with the musings of a double-x chromosomer and a brief prospectus of the Daimler-Hyundai Truck & Bus Corporation.

Well, I got the ire part right—Feiring, apparently, feels near pity for the drinks business’s benighted editorial board, wondering if they are owned by Rupert Murdoch.  She rightly points that women in the wine industry are indispensible to the product’s manufacture, sales and marketing.

On the other hand, I thought that’s what the article was all about.

But, no biggie, because that’s not even the weird part.  The weird part is that Feiring begins her column with the following statement:

‘”Do you ever have problems in the field, because you’re a woman?” So goes the oft asked question. After all, even if there are young men involved, there is an old boy network at the top. And so, I instead of telling them the truth I say, no, I get a hard time because I’m short.

I’ve always felt a little guilty about not being totally honest…’

‘Not being totally honest’?

A bit of a euphemism, that…  Still, folks wiser than I will have to determine when saying ‘no’ when the answer is ‘yes’ passes into the realm of ‘complete bullshit’.

But why?  What’s so hard about saying, ‘Yeah, but somehow, we muddle through…’?

Chromosome_Y.svgI confess to a Y chromosome, so obviously I don’t understand much of the subtle side of the prejudice that women in the industry may have dealt with over the decades.  Although, having taken my sommelier training from Madeline Triffon MS, I can say that a consideration of her gender never once occurred to me, then or now.  Only her palate.

But, I can also say with equal candor that if I was a woman experiencing bias from an ‘old boy network’ (let’s name names, shall we?), I would look to people like Alice Feiring to stand up and scream from rooftops until the situation changed—not to lie about its very existence, make excuses, then joke about it.

And if that rooftop screaming didn’t happen?  I guarantee you that I would consider it Alice Feiring—not a publication that’s willing to print a multi-installment feature on powerful women in the wine industry—that was throwing me under the bus.

I make no correlations here, but I will point out that The Feiring Line’s mission statement is:

‘I’m hunting the Leon Trotskys, the Philip Roths, the Chaucers and the Edith Whartons of the wine world’.

A list, one notes, that is three-quarters male, with the lone woman bringing up the rear.  Hope there is room under that bus for Toni Morrison, Pearl S. Buck, Charlotte Brontë, Joyce Carol Oates, Doris Lessing, Lillian Hellman, Virginia Woolf, Katherine Anne Porter…

Et cetera.

Does That Mean That the drinks business Gets a Pass?

Yeah, kinda.  They screwed up, owned up and patched up.  As mortals, we can do no more.  Time will tell if there were lessons learned—and if so, I feel bad for that legion of tantrumheads who will have to sniff out their misogyny—or rumors of misogyny—elsewhere.

And, does that mean that I commiserate with the drinks business? 

It does.

Billie-Buckwheat-ThomasLike, if I were to publish a list entitled 50 Most Influential African Americans Of All Time, I would expect a bit of gratitude and, the very least, respect from folks like Oprah Winfrey, Condoleezza Rice and that actor with the liver spots all over his face.  I expressly would not expect excoriation from them—or the hoi polloi—simply because I chose to accompany the column with a picture of Buckwheat.


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