A few months ago, I received an email from a Canadian wine writer I’ll call, N. “Mack” who was asking me to review her new memoir.
I turned down the offer as it seemed her idea was just to rope in positive blurbs from people that could be listed on the cover. This is a common practice which goes to show how worthless these endorsements are (ES) both for the author as well as the endorser.
These are say-nothing statements like: “Filled with grit and vulnerability”, a “highly personal odyssey is an eyes-wide-open take on betrayal”, and of course the standard, “A fabulous read!”
These may seem ridiculous, but what I just listed are in fact the actual quotes that now appear on the Amazon listing. They go a long way to show that not only did these people not read the book (which I did) but they also seem to have forgotten the wine review plagiarism scandal that was of Mack’s own making back in 2012.
Mack gained a great deal of infamy when it was discovered that hundreds of wine reviews on her website had been lifted from other websites and wine reviewers.
In this new book, she’s painting it as, “an online mob of rivals comes for her career” and at various points mentioned dreams wherein she’s surrounded by men inferring that what happened was due to sexism. And while she is correct in that, even today, rampant sexism still exists in the wine trade, that’s something that doesn’t excuse her own questionable behavior.
As was uncovered by the website, Palate Press who then listed a very large batch of wine reviews by other people on her website, her stealing other people’s work was not caused by sexism but by entitlement. Even using the weak argument of “fair use” (which varies by country), she knew very well what she was doing, especially as it’s been pointed out she engages in other questionable practices like including a page on her site for every wine available in the Canadian monopolies whether there’s a review or not on her website, just to try and capture the searches.
The review appropriation issue happened 10 years ago so it has essentially vanished and countless people were unaware of it. This was helped in no small part by it having been scrubbed from Mack’s Wikipedia page. But since it’s now gone and people seem to have forgotten about it, it begs the question as to why she would want to revisit it in this new memoir?
Dirty plate, clean slate
The copy of the book I read came from the publisher and I will say now that I won’t be writing a review as I found it to be purely a vehicle for Mack to try and whitewash the whole affair, and redeem herself in the process. In the book she is outraged about people’s outrage of her actions, claiming that this was “defamation” which is right in the subtitle of the book if you don’t feel like reading it. There are echoes here of the New York Times’s Jill Abramson being caught plagiarizing in her book “Merchants of truth” and instead of owning up to it and apologizing, she initially dismissed the accusations, then just said she hadn’t cited her sources adequately and that she would “look into it”. Again, entitled behavior.
In talking about Mack with a friend who is well-placed in the Canadian wine industry, who summed up Mack as, “Once a fraud, always a fraud”, which I suppose is why there was the desire by Mack to attempt whitewashing her name as she’s certainly never atoned for what she did.
What is interesting however is that Mack might very well get away with it in some form or another. As shown by the 13+ people who gave glowing quote endorsements, there seems to be no institutional memory in the wine trade (or any other trade for that matter).
As I mentioned here previously, when it comes to Twitter, the common modus operandi is for someone who’s outted for whatever reason whether the cruel sexist “satire” of J. “Tini” or the outright sexual predation of the likes of G. “Uncouth”, the game to play in such cases is a waiting one. You just sit back, chill from social media and then kind of slide back in as if nothing happened. Et voilà, problème résolu.
This was how a flat-out criminal like, Aaron “Timmer” Brown managed to scam thousands of dollars and then thousands of euros, first from the international cycling community, then the wine community in Catalunya, then art, and then… so many more. He simply did his deeds and then pulled back until it was seemingly forgotten to pop up somewhere else. It’s a nefarious behavior, but it clearly works.
If you need further proof of this have a look at, Louis CK, who some people apparently find funny and don’t see for the unrepentant sociopath he clearly is.
He recently did a (sold out) headline show at Madison Square Garden in New York. The incredulity of this is that this is the same Louis CK who was being sexually inappropriate with women and as it turns out, has no problem saying n*gger despite being an extremely white man.
CK just held back for a bit, bided his time, and eventually worked his way back in. This isn’t to say he’ll be done away with in the court of popular opinion in the future, but the precedent of this makes it all a good deal harder.
So, if it’s like this in general pop culture, what chance does a segment of the drinks industry that’s seen as being the most elitist, exclusionary, and opposite of cool?
Time out or act out?
While Mack has also been accused of pay-for-play reviews as well as sock-puppeting (leaving fake negative reviews) for an app by a rival, the real king of pay-for-play had to be the infamous P. “Field” scam that took place when a well-known wine reviewer was heading to a very central region of Spain.
Once found out, Field resigned from a prestigious wine association which then “closed” its investigation into his behavior (to avoid behind tainted by it?) He lay low for a couple of years until one day, when Interpol took off his Red Notice (his personal history is truly amazing), he started moving freely again as if nothing happened and working the angle of Climate Change and wine, showing that you can continue business as usual as if you’ve never been a scumbag.
In fact, there are some people who don’t even bother taking a time out. For example, here in Spain, there’s a well-known sommelier who has been accused of stealing a good deal of expensive wine from his previous employer. Said employer has even filed charges against the sommelier which isn’t something people do in Spain as the legal process is very long, very costly, and very arduous (unlike the US). Despite this, the sommelier in question continues as if nothing has happened and even releasing his own wine brand. It seems Spaniards often attempt to follow in the model of politicians who never, ever repent, resign, nor back down no matter how horrible they are.
I tread around all of this somewhat lightly, using nicknames and all, as I would like to focus the discussion less on specific individuals and the details of their cases, and more on the larger discussion about, what can we do about this?
The Macks and the Tinis aren’t the only of their type out there in the wine scene. Very few people in general really want to talk about everyone who’s a less than ideal example of humanity when it comes to wine. There’s an individual everyone knows locally here in Catalunya who has wronged countless people in many different manners but none of us talk about him publicly as there’s little advantage and the world is shitty enough as it is. I’ll admit that when putting that against simply enjoying wine for wine’s sake, I prefer the latter as well.
This lack of being open isn’t to our advantage however as it fosters behavior of people like Mack thinking she can plagiarize and then wipe her record clean without remorse. Or then a somm brotherhood that results in chasing women from the trade and further tarnishing the less-than-perfect image people have of those in wine.
So, I put the question out there, what’s to be done? Is it simply as A. “Frying” stated that we should all basically, “suck it up“?
I’m wondering if that’s our only option in the end as the most notorious of fraudsters, Rudy Kurniawan was recently released from his stint in US federal prison for defrauding wine investors out of millions of dollars. He was reportedly seen hobnobbing at a fancy restaurant in Singapore with people who seem unbothered by his firmly-established criminal past (very well documented in books and films).
But the truth is, simply pretending like the ill deeds these people do never happened doesn’t work well and only continues to show that those who don’t deal with a bad history appear doomed to needlessly repeat it.
Is it simply on a few people or media outlets like Palate Press who value civilized behavior to keep track of this and be the institutional knowledge of ill deeds getting to point out when things go to shit, again? Or, is there a better way?
I’m very open to hearing about Option Two given that things on this front don’t seem to be improving. All that’s been established to date is that if you want to succeed in wine through malignancy, simply do whatever you want, spend some time in the weeds, and come back when all is forgotten.
This, is not a good look.
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