When Nick Rowley is not seething silently behind wine shop counters, he sits loudly on the board of a Shakespearean theater group in—of all places—Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
I note that as an incongruity because of all the things that the U.P. is known for—pasties and funky accents and Woody Guthrie songs—I wasn’t aware that renditions of Merchant of Venice were among them. Merchant of Black-Ice, maybe. Eh-thello.
But I digress. Back to Nick Rowley.
Recently, Nick informed many of our mutual friends on social media that I had attended a series of free wine tasting at the shop where he worked and drank a lot of wine. And not only that, but—even though the wine was free—I failed to pay for it. Never mind that I was personally invited to the free tasting by his boss in the expectation that I would review the wines for free, which I did. Nick’s public beef was that I failed to buy any of said wine, and he referred to that as ‘mooching’.
My assumption is that perhaps he’s paid on commission, and rather than wait until my subsequent review attracts buyers (as his boss seems willing to do), Nick evidently expects the reviewer himself to buy the wine and eliminate the middle man.
My grandson has the same need for instant gratification, as do many two-year-olds.
But it raises an interesting point, and I query my fellow wine writers:
What are the financial obligations of wine journalists who are invited to tastings?
Are we, in any social construct, required to buy bottles of the wine we are invited to sample? If so, wouldn’t the merchant then feel an obligation to pay us for the glowing columns we subsequently write? Quid pro quo? Or rather, is the expectation that one freebie leads to another freebie, mutual back-scratching, pay-it-forward, and thus, in the long run, sells more wine to the public than a lone reviewer would likely purchase.
That’s always been my take—but feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. And by ‘free’, of course I mean, ‘it’s free’.
Meanwhile, of course, there is a deeper and more insidious side to Nick’s allegation: It’s bullshit.
Not only did I never drink free wine at any of these tastings, I haven’t consumed alcohol in nearly a decade. As regular readers of this column know, I gave up drinking many years ago, yet still find the aura surrounding this beautiful product—its history, its makers, its lore, its nuance, even its merchants (in Venice and elsewhere)—entrancing enough to write about on a regular basis.
It’s the effects that affect me. So I don’t.
Alcoholism in the wine industry is a topic currently gaining traction among writers, and I have spoken about my own journey through addiction at wine conferences. I’ve devoted chapters in books to it and written columns about it until I’ve squeezed the subject drier than a botrytis-spackled Semillon grape.
The implication of Nick Rowley publicly insisting that he has watched me fall off the wagon many times when I have not—when my family, my colleagues, and the people for whom I work believe correctly that I have not—is abhorrent. In this hyper-connected universe, false allegations of this nature have a longer shelf life than a ‘09 Latour and that’s why most employers are wary of employing people with loose forked social media tongues. Many company handbooks even have a policy forbidding it.
It’s not the first time Nick has done it, either. I’d mention the name of the shop where this took place, but I consider the owner a friend and I don’t want to embarrass him over his thankless clerk. However, if he’s been wondering why I haven’t stopped in for a while, now he knows.
It still begs the question: Why would an employee go out of his way to publicly trash talk an invited guest who writes regularly and positively about the product his employer sells? Frankly, it broadsided me—I had no idea that Nick harbored such toxicity; I always like the guy, and recall congratulating him sincerely when he temporarily found a better-paying gig at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
“Wherefore by fate would a random clerk wanteth to foment such ill-will with a near stranger?”
Enter Nick’s Knight in Shining Plus-Sized Armor
Rebecca ‘Apparently, Silence Isn’t’ Golden thinks she has the answer. She claims it’s because Nick thinks I’m a smug asshole.
Moi?? Regrettably, dear reader, unlike the drinking, there may be some truth to this particular rumor. Over the years I have had multi-moments of smug assholiness, though hopefully fewer after I gave up demon rum. Mea maxima culpa.
Still, is this a textbook case of the pot calling the kettle black? Nick loves to tout his expensive British, student-selective, Henley-in-Arden education, and claims to have three hyphenated last names, even though I can only count one. Then again, my education was freer than one of his wine tastings and free-for-all in which I graduated four millionth in my class.
However, were I to hyphenate ‘Smug-Asshole’ and tack it on at the end of Rowley, I believe the numbers might add up.
Nick also claims that such lah-dee-dah schooling places him in a caste above a mere ‘plebian wine clerk’. In his own words, it makes him an ‘equestrian wine clerk’. Now, he may have confused the word ‘plebian’ with ‘pedestrian’, but I feel his pain. I didn’t realize ‘equestrian’ meant that you were smuggier than other wine clerks; I thought it meant you dated people who look like Camilla Parker Bowles.
Shylock-like, Rebecca seems eager for her further pound of flesh—Shakespearean irony, since her contribution to the world of literature is a journey through life while weighing five hundred sixty pounds. You go, girl! but slowly. She drives the blade in deeper by gleefully pointing out that on the lowly 11 shillings, 6 pence my wine writing earns me each year, I can’t even afford to sue Nick Rowley for libel.
Alas, again she is correct. Yet, rather than mix metaphors by claiming that this is another case of the pot calling the kettle golden, I’ll point out that Rebecca’s magnum opus ranks four millionth on the Amazon Best Seller List and far from being worth its weight in golden, it is available for three cents. As a result, I suspect that she knows from whence she speaks.
Would that I had married an equestrian and could afford to sit around the house writing Worst Sellers.
Dear Nick: Next Time, I’ll Pay for Free Wine Tastings In British Money. How about £560?
In the end, Nick Rowley reminds me of one of those sniveling British brats in Lord of the Flies who crash-land on a desert island and suddenly become all bold and macho and bloodthirsty. In Nick’s case, his island is Facebook. Apparently, he wants to cast me as Piggy in his silly little melodrama, but as Shakespeare once famously quipped, “Oy, have you got the wrong vampire.”
Or maybe that was Roman Polanski.
It’s said that Englishmen lead lives of quiet desperation, and verily! —would that it had been a little quieter, since Detroitermen often lead lives of pointed retaliation.
And this time, I have the conch.