By now, most everyone has heard the unfortunate news about sommelier, Anthony Cailan and his reported sexual assault of various women that have both been his subordinates as well other women he’s been in contact with in the wine trade. There is a general reaction amongst wine professionals about the news which isn’t, “How could this have happened?” but more “How did it take this long to be uncovered?”
For those who aren’t in the wine trade, the unfortunate truth is that it’s still very much dominated by white men and usually those who are middle aged/older. Anthony Cailan being neither old nor white offered up a breath of change, but it’s probably played to some extent into why this case, in an industry that undoubtedly has much more misbehavior ranging from minor to grave, has suddenly popped up. While his offenses appear to be quite clear, he was also low-hanging fruit for everyone to come after given that his outsider status.
One twist to the story is that wine writer, Alice Feiring got pulled into it as she had discouraged one of the accusers from coming forward. This is made doubly worse as she self-describes as being a feminist and is slated to be the keynote speaker at a women’s wine conference. But beyond singling any one person out, it speaks to the great ills that are pervasive in the wine trade in terms of attitudes and why it has proven so hard for women to get established and be taken seriously.
I mention this as the focus has quickly been turning to victim blaming and coming back to saying that the women accusing Cailan were stupid for “going to his apartment when he was drunk.” I’ve been hearing this from women in the wine trade I otherwise respect, which is insanely depressing. All this public support towards Feiring goes to show of the massive cost of coming forward, especially as there’s been a serious lack of support for the accusers when compared to the amount of people claiming this was a “hit job” on Feiring.
I emphasize this as we as a culture have become so immune to these sexist behaviors and “transgressions” by men, whether they be famous actors or the current main occupant of the White House, that we’re a bit desensitized. Uncovering these guys and making everyone aware of their misdeeds makes it appear that everything is done and taken care of, except that it’s not. Awareness in and of itself is not a solution to a problem.
The culture absolutely must change as there’s still a general atmosphere in the wine trade of, for lack of a better word, “shittiness“, because most guys think that because it’s generally just guys around, they can say whatever inappropriate thoughts that pop into their heads. Any time you have a group that’s too uniform and closed in its thinking, history has shown that it’s never, ever good. This is why I’d proposed a gender balance addition to OIV judging rules given that comments about “this sommelier girl serving us is hot” or “That’s my future mistress there” or then actually making jokes along the lines of “Who liked this wine?” “Me too! Me too!” at competitions as par for the course (yes, these are all actual comments.)
There’s now been a call to create an “Equity Pledge/Code of Conduct” for the wine industry. That’s all fine and good but even if this wasn’t being pushed by an individual who has burned a lot of bridges in San Francisco, it’s a skin-deep measure. Sure, it creates a baseline for what’s not appropriate but at the same time but it doesn’t address the underlying problem which is a male-dominant industry that’s rife with abuse.
So, what’s the solution? Thankfully, despite facing all of this, the numbers of women entering the wine trade each year continue to increase. But, there simply need to be more, full stop.
Whether you’re a guy from any age and walk of life or whether you’re a woman who should be supporting and mentoring those who come to you for advice you have to not just be aware of your immediate actions and their repercussions, but fucking own them. Putting up an Instagram apology after there has been backlash against something you said doesn’t do a damned thing to repair any damage that was done.
Even those of us who think we’re acting professionally need to constantly take stock of what we do and say as well as what others do and say to be active participants in making an inclusive and not abusive wine industry. There is admittedly a competitive angle to wine and honestly, whether male or female, striving towards being a mentor in place of a menace is something we all need to work more towards, while calling out bullshit and toxic behavior when we see it.
We’ve come a long way as an industry, but there’s still a great deal further to go as men need to be aware of their inherent privilege. I honestly don’t foresee any point in my lifetime where being a guy in wine will ever be a disadvantage–any guy who thinks differently is driving with a massive blind spot.
You’re reading a free article on Hudin.com.
Please consider subscribing to support independent journalism and get access to regional wine reports as well as insider information on the wine world.