Really? We are still on this gender claptrap?

Dear First Families (as much respect as I might have for you personally, as well as many of your wines):

Resorting to the gender divide to promote your agenda and events is ridiculous. The Fabulous Ladies press blip this week? Did you zero favours. Retweeting it? Tied you to the sentiment.

And that sentiment was predominantly negative. The tone was ugly, and failed to do anything to promote these ‘fabulous ladies’ as anything more than an afterthought.

I’m really not sure why we need to be saying this again, but women in wine? Great. Plenty of us. But how about we talk about the work, not the gender? How about we discuss the innovation in wine technology, in marketing nous, in analysing and interpreting trends, and channelling sales and wine strategy appropriately. Or not. A gender issue arises when we discuss things in gender terms. How about we ignore it, and just do what we do? The issue then cease to be, should it ever have existed.

Perhaps, in the interests of everyone, we can avoid resorting to terms like ‘the macho Australian wine industry’. This is stirring for a reaction, and pandering to a dreamt-up cause. Hands up anyone who actually sees our industry as being ‘macho’? Yes, there are men in the industry. Many men. But not, I would suggest, the aggressively hyper-masculine type that the carefully chosen ‘macho’ would indicate. And not, I would also suggest, to the deliberate exclusion of women, as the tone of the article might suggest. Wine, and farming, have been generally the province of men since Australia was settled. As we have more women showing an interest, and more families with daughters wishing to follow in the family footsteps, we are starting to see the natural rise in the numbers of women in the game. This is not unusual. This is a natural evolution. And it is nice to see. What it is not, is a soapbox.

The item on the site uses the following terms:

– patronising
– jibe
– good ol’ blokey buffoonery
– misogynistic

It sideswipes Colin Campbell’s acknowledgement of the great women coming through the ranks by chastising him for the use of the word ‘remarkable’.

It says that the place of women is long-awaited. By whom? As far as I am aware, there have been women working in wine for decades. And longer. Actually, pretty much since the beginning.

It says the gender debate it has created from nothingness will be ‘well and truly null and void’. When, and only when, ‘this generation takes the helm’. Which effectively writes off the women already happily running their own businesses, working in and around wine, and just being themselves. Nice work for a site professing to advocate for the hardly-done-by women in wine.

I understand that women in wine as a category is smaller than men. I just fail to see that that is a point of blame against the men who have been happily working the land and the industry for so long. It’s not like there has been a concerted effort to prevent women from getting into the industry. It has simply been a natural evolution. And the terms used above are derogatory and demeaning. They do not help. Should there actually be a gender issue, this kind of terminology is simply fuel on the fire. It lessens your position, and debases your argument. And it manages to actually ignore the fabulous women for much of the text…

So, I am all for celebrating the wonderful people in our industry. We have some truly wonderful identities, with more emerging every year. And to a certain extent, I think that there is probably room to fete the women making their mark. But at the end of the day, I would rather celebrate the people. Male, female, transgender, intergender. Frankly, I don’t care. And nor do the majority of the buying public. We just care about finding wines we like, hearing stories which engage, and meeting some awesome people.

I would rather the First Families had not retweeted that link. It has the air of kindergarten politics about it. It is vaguely mean, for a reason it fails to comprehensively elucidate. And nasty? It’s not a good colour on anyone, or on any industry. I understand that both parties probably chose to see the link between their women and being fabulous, but the remainder of the text is shrill, and denigrates the work and lives of the men in that room.

And that is not only unfair, but utterly uncalled for behaviour.

I am proud to be a part of the wine industry. Regardless of which bits I have. I have fond memories of some brilliant people in our game who have inspired me.

This is not one of those memories.

I think I have said this before: play nice. A cohesive industry will have a stronger voice than the one playing nasty games. I know which side I am on.

** I saw a Wine Australia retweet of the link at the time. That is either no longer there, or I have completely lost my mind. As such I have amended the post to reflect this.

Oh, well. While I am at it….

Huzzah! A cork which screws into – and obviously, out of – a bottle.

Nice work. Did you want to make it even easier for people to switch from cork to screwcap? Because that is what you just did. Three cheers!

And if one more person mentions cork in the same sentence as romance, I might just explode. Corks in bottles are as romantic as cork-soled wedge heels. As in? Not at all.

Why do we persist in relying on a faulty closure when we know it is faulty? If we were car makers – go with me here – and we produced a vehicle which in somewhere between 5% and, let’s say, 16% of the time had faulty brakes, which we acknowledged, do you seriously think that car would be allowed into the market? Not a chance (side-eye toward VW…). Would we bottle in glass which might have cracks in it, and just accept that as normal?

And yet. Yet many in the industry persist in packaging wines of which they are presumably proud under closures which are faulty, but that is ok, because CORKS ARE ROMANTIC. You know what is not romantic? Cork tainted wine. It is feral. Unattractive, and likely to put people off buying your wine, whether they can identify it as a fault per se or not. Also not romantic? Closures which break. Or crumble apart. Or leak. But that is ok because romance trumps quality closures apparently.

For crying out loud, people. Stop being so inexcusably stubborn. Put your best foot forward. Always. And the screwcap taint argument does not work, because even if there is some degree of fault, it is generally down to damaged caps, rather than the closure itself being at fault. And even then is at a fraction of the openly acknowledged degree of cork fault.

As producers, surely we want our wine to look its best when in the consumer’s glass and palate? For some, that means cork. Because of the tiny amounts of oxygen allowed in to age the wine to best suit the wine’s given aging potential. Which the producer suggests. So surely, the producer can just amend the suggested aging potential to suit the screwcap? Because if one were to ask the expert – by whom I mean the end consumer, whose palate is the expert at what it likes – whether they would prefer a wine with a 5-16% chance of fault, or one with the infinitely more convenient, and far-less-likely-to-be-faulty closure at the potential expense of romance, you know which most are choosing?

Many consumers no longer own wine knives. Or they cannot remember where they last left it. Because they trust screwcaps, and find them more convenient. And romance gives very little fight to the concept of convenience in our world. Sad though that might be when applied to non-consumerable parts of our lives.

And a cork which screws into a bottle will not help with this concept. Mostly because it is still made out of cork.

And I do realise that I am railing against the ever shrinking minority here, but apparently these things still need to be said.

I returned home after a long day a month or so ago. Tired. Cranky. Needed the Riesling sitting in my fridge door. A gift from a houseguest. From a renowned producer. Current vintage. Dug out the wine knife, and opened the bottle. Corked. Badly. Saw the producer at an event the same week, and they graciously offered to replace the wine if I returned the bottle to the cellar door. Which is about an hour or so from where I live. I asked why they persisted in putting their Riesling (let alone others in the range) under cork, and they said, and I quote: “Because wine is all about romance, and corks are romantic!”

Fuck you cork, indeed.

Did anyone think to ask the customer?

So, I heard a story the other day, and I was wondering if someone could clear things up for me….

Vintage 2011 wines are being rejected sight unseen by the gatekeepers: retail and on-trade buyers. The story I heard had one refusing to look at the wines at an appointment made to … look at the wines. Because they are 2011. Restaurateurs and somms skipping 2011 wines in lineups. Deliberately.

Small question – has anyone:

a) Taken the time to look at the wines before dismissing them out of hand? Or,

b) Asked the consumer whether or not they actually care?

Surely, if you are as good a buyer as you think you are, people buy the wines because either:

a) They don’t really care; or,

b) They trust your buying acumen and nous in getting the best wines into your shop or onto your list (and in not buying something just because it is there and the deal is good).

This situation is getting ludicrous. We have smart somm-types (@pgmarchant, @dansims – not exclusively, obviously, but apparently my memory is failing somewhat) finding themselves having to advocate for  2011. And this all seems a little silly. It was two years ago. It was difficult. Things did not, it is fair to say, go to plan in a number of regions. Frankly, I am so much better at this wine business because of 2011. We were all out there, hand selecting rows, bunches, and adapting our schedules and winemaking styles to best suit the fruit we had. We made changes to make the best possible wines. And many of these have never made it to your nearest bottleshop or wine list, because we were not happy with the finished product. None of us want to see a wine out there with our name on it, with our label on it, which might not be up to scratch.

And yet. There have been some less than ideal 2011 wines. But you know what? That happens in every vintage.

If we have decided that even with the reputation of 2011, and the difficulties in making the wine, let alone selling it, if we have even then decided to release our wine, in most cases (and never in all), we are pretty proud of what we are putting up. We think it is worthy of our time, and our names, our labels. And people are dismissing the wines out of hand.

Initially, it was the problems associated with the vintage, regardless of whether the wine was actually from an affected region or not. Now? Now I seem to be encountering the ‘I can’t sell that’ excuse. Really? Because have you actually tried, with good wines?

To a varying degree, many consumers will have forgotten about 2011. Two years is a long time in any terms, let alone wine. I get blank looks when I explain why we will be going from 2010 to 2012, and skipping 2011. I certainly have had no issues selling 2011 wines I have chosen to release to the market.

Remember the heat wave in southern Australia a few years back? Do you think the consumers do? They are lapping up 08 reds from SA when they pop up on wine lists, clearance sites and auctions. Yet at the time, there was huffing and puffing about the jammy, hot styles yet to be released.

I wish I could convince more people that 2011 has produced some outstanding wines. It is sad that I am finding those I need to convince are not the consumers, but the trade. The gatekeepers who simply see what might possibly be a problem, and rather than trying to educate, and illuminate the world of wine which they inhabit to the consumer, they are in some occasions becoming the problem itself.

I’m proud of what I made. I am especially proud given the vintage conditions, but there are few (and never all) who release shoddy wine just because it is there. And yes. There are some. There are some every vintage. But you know what? Try the wines. Go to tastings. Try the wines sitting in front of you with a winemaker eyeing you off hopefully. Be responsible for what you put in store, for what you list, and be proud. Be known for that, and for ensuring that all of your wines are good – irrespective of individual taste. Everyone’s taste buds are different, but that is no excuse for hijacking the prospects of an entire vintage.

I asked my dad – discerning type, likes his wines – whether he would order a 2011 wine from a list. He looked at me like I had lost my mind, and said: ‘Sure. Why not?’ OK, says I. Different question: would you order 2011 wines from a clearance website without having tried them? He responded: ‘I never buy without trying, or failing that, a recommendation from a trusted palate, like the bird at the bottleshop, or the restaurant owner.’

So. Ask your consumer. If there is an overwhelming issue with the perception of 2011, there are plenty of us who would donate a few bottles to showcase how utterly proud we are. Open them. Maybe do it without telling those unwilling to order or buy 2011s what vintage the wine actually is. This is what we do. Or perhaps, what we should be doing.

I have asked a number of consumers over the last few months about whether they would buy 2011s. Various situations – and not all of them family, I promise – and for the most part saw a complete lack of comprehension regarding the point of the query.

I do keep banging on about asking someone who knows. If in doubt, if you think there might be something more, ask someone who knows. You know who knows about the wines they want to drink? The consumer. You, the gatekeeper, are merely a guide. And consumers who have faith in their guide return time and again, spending their hard earned money.

So please listen to us shouting our pride in our wine from the rooftops, and listen to the consumer just wanting something good, for the right money, which suits their palate. Be it 2011, or 2008, or 2013 or any other year.

And if the wine is not up to your standard? Sure. Then say no. Dismissing us and our wines out of hand shows a lack of respect for your business and your customers.

2011 – the vintage I learned how to break the rules, and make some awesome wines. And failed to sleep for weeks on end…

And a belated mention to the Swirl Sniff Spit crew in Queensland for their upcoming 2011 tasting aimed at dispelling the myths around the vintage. Great work guys. Mind if I roll it out everywhere else?!