Woke wine

Woke wine

It’s all too easy, when your head is in the 9-to-5, to feel an unnecessary sense of urgency. It’s wine, after all; and even then, it’s writing about wine – there is nothing really so pressing that it can’t wait until the next day, the next week or even month. And perhaps in doing so I slightly belittle my role, but I’m fairly content with the idea that – as invested as I am and as much as I might fret over misplaced apostrophes, off-brand copy and getting that email just right – nothing all too significant will happen if I don’t get that bit of copy in on time.

Recently, Jon Bonné wrote an article in Punch – soon after Anthony Bourdain’s death – asking why the wine world is so un-woke. And it’s brilliant – a poignant piece of writing with relevance, but also an article that left me feeling concerned, confused and perhaps guilty. Should I be doing more?

Much as I love to read cutting restaurant reviews (oh AA Gill, how we miss your most discerning palate and genius turn of phrase), I don’t necessarily believe in slamming wines or their makers for entertainment; whether that’s prissy or not, it doesn’t sit right with me. I like to think – and forgive me for my naiveté – that by praising only the good, highlighting the talented, the inspired and the just damn delicious, I’m doing my bit.

But, as I seem to taste more and more faulty wines, I do wonder whether it’s right.

I’ve never shied from airing my thoughts in a restaurant or wine bar; if someone serves me a faulty wine, I’ll send it back – and I don’t mean simply corked, I mean if a wine is so laden with brettanomyces that it could actually be liquefied horse manure, I won’t drink it, and I refuse to spend my money on it. I love wine, and I don’t want to waste my hard-earned cash on wine that is simply bad – and restaurants or wine bars should know that they can’t get away with it.

This – however – is a small-fry issue. Bonné was talking about climate change, labour, economics, power – real issues that seem a bit serious for anything as silly and trivial as wine. Yet, of course wine doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and one of the most fascinating things about wine is its endless connections to art, science, politics and almost everything.


When I went to South Africa, I was struck – especially in vineyards and wineries – by the racial divide, and it was the one thing I spoke to everyone about (I even mentioned it – briefly, I admit – on this blog). Should I have done more?

In California I learned of the labour issues faced by the industry – a dependency on a Mexican workforce threatened not just by Trump but climate change. As grape harvests move earlier and earlier in the year, they coincide and must compete with other fruits – crops and industries that can afford to pay workers much more than wine can. But what could I do?

Here in London I have faced plenty of sexism – whether it’s a sommelier’s dismissal or being overlooked or underrated for my gender elsewhere. I’ve observed the whiter-than-white crowds that fill trade tastings and consumer events, a crowd I can’t help but contribute to – more middle class and stereotypical than I’d like.

It seems false in my mind for me to burst into temporary activism on these topics, having witnessed just a snap-shot of the issue. But finding just exactly where the line goes from standing on the sidelines, watching the world go by and seeming not to give a damn, to offering valuable commentary, to stepping outside my area of so-called expertise, bulldozing blindly over the nuance, is no easy thing.

The reality is that there are far too many people offering unqualified, unjustified views – preaching from a position of ignorance. The wine blogging world (oh how I loathe to admit to being a part of this sector) is one of the worst; while I can’t help but applaud the democratization of wine, and anything that encourages people to drink better bottles, it opens the floor to those overconfident in their knowledge and opinions, putting the unprepared and uneducated accidentally on a pedestal.

My worst fear is being put in that bracket. I’ve never aimed to lecture or be a bore, my hope is merely to be part of the conversation. I’m open about the fact that I am on a journey myself (yes, I cringed too), but I’m still learning about not just wine but the whole blooming world. Here on out, I’m making a promise to have more conversations – about the challenges in the industry, about what makes wine delicious and about how to be, well, woke.


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