This anonymous letter was published in The Week That Was in November 2015…
An email crossed my desk inviting me to nominate for the Women in Wine Awards. Apparently there is some controversy regarding these awards and I understand the gist is that we shouldn’t need our own awards; that we compete on an ‘even playing field’. Well it is a lovely idea that we can just make it on our own merits but there are many instances of women with twice the merit getting half the recognition, or the pay, or having to fight twice as hard to be given the job over a bloke with half the talent. It takes affirmative action to change entrenched ideas and to shine a light on how far we have to go in terms of equal opportunity. So those that say we don’t need to consciously promote women in the wine industry (or any other male dominated industry) needs to stop snorting fairy dust. However that’s not the reason I am writing this. My issue is not with the fact that the awards are for women, my issue is with the fact that it is another bloody set of awards. I’m struggling to think of an industry that is more obsessed with awards. International wine awards, capital city wine awards, regional wine awards, boutique wine awards, we-can’t-grow-grapes-in-this-here-town-but-we’d-sure-like-to-have-a-wine-show awards, Australia vs some other country awards, Chardonnay awards, Shiraz awards, Not-Chardonnay-or-Shiraz awards, wine book awards, wine magazine awards, journalist with a book awards, journalist with a newspaper column awards, label awards, cellar door awards, young winemaker awards, not young winemaker awards, export awards, business awards, tourism awards.
What is it about the wine industry that we seem to require so much validation? Is there some common deficiency in our childhoods that we need to be concerned about? And this on top of the relentless self-promotion that is required of today’s winemaker. I started in this industry 30 years ago and yes, I am nostalgic for a time when winemakers were just a bunch of people who went about their business making what they recognised it to be: a beverage. For the record I’m OK with wine shows. Yes, I am a believer. For the most part they are a transparent and rigorous benchmarking system and, notwithstanding the odd ethical lapse from certain regional wine show chairmen, any shortcomings that wine shows have are known unknowns – just how Donald Rumsfeld likes them. But the rest? Now I am not suggesting that some very deserving wines, people and businesses do well in this plethora of awards but I think it is all too much and much of it begs scrutiny. Journalist ratings? When they start tasting wines blind I’ll start taking them seriously. Tourism awards? Have a close look at what is actually being assessed. Local beauty pageant awards? Oh pass the razor blade.
I’m continually haunted by my inability to enter every tombola and cake raffle going, my failure to gush about myself on social media (didn’t your mother ever tell you it’s rude to constantly talk about yourself?) and my petulant refusal to stalk journalists or network with captains of industry. I’m exhausted by what I don’t do and my email footer is much the worse for it. This is a terrific industry with plenty of great people who possess humility and integrity making great wine. But I fear they are destined to be drowned out by the boorish braggarts. It would be churlish to blame winemakers for jumping on the merry-go-round, if I was starting out in this industry I would certainly feel compelled to throw myself into the mincing machine of wine marketing. I blame a handful of old players who upped the ante some time ago when they realised marketing dollars were an excellent substitute for substance. I dare say I am naive (and clearly jaded), perhaps this is what is required in today’s marketplace. Yet when I look at my own business that has a cellar door that seems to have happy customers, a brand that makes and sells around 10,000 cases of wine each year and that most importantly keeps the wolves from the door, I wonder why I am chastised for ‘flying below the radar’. They seem to say that like it’s a bad thing?
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