Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Dirty Little Secret
There are a lot of dirty little secrets in the wine business. Stuff nobody likes to talk about. Some of it is even true. Though it's hard to tell which. Like how common it is in California to pick grapes very ripe and then add water in the winery--it's the Tang Method of winemaking. Hey, if it's good enough for the astronauts, it's good enough for you. But wineries hate to talk about it, are loathe to admit it. And then there is all the hush-hush about how much importers might mark up their wines from Europe. Most folks think they all work on the same margin, but that ain't the case. Someone's got to pay for producing the importer's latest vanity music CD. And then there's the biggest little secret of all, the truth no one likes to read about or talk about or do anything about, the shameful fact of sexual discrimination in the wine business, the unspeakable, relentless, and ongoing persecution of men in the wine business. I, myself, have been a victim.
I don't recall exactly when I noticed it. At first I was treated like everyone else in the wine business who is new--that is, disdainfully. I suffered through the usual hazing. Learning how to remove Champagne corks in the "traditional method" by squatting naked over them. Being forced to prove my loyalty by killing rival wine shop owners with an unregistered price gun. Proving my wine virility by sleeping with six Budweiser girls, three of them Clydesdales. I fell for all of that, and just thinking of it now makes me feel all dirty and ashamed and strangely happy to watch the Rose Parade. But I didn't realize it was just the beginning of my humiliation.
When I was first hired as a sommelier I was told I had to wear a "special" uniform. I didn't think anything of it, really. I had noticed how at the time there weren't any female sommeliers, but I just assumed that was because there wasn't any money or prestige in the job so it was left to men to do it. But the "special" uniform which I was forced to wear began my humiliation as a man in the wine business. Imagine being forced to wear nicely tailored pants, a form-hugging clean white shirt that "accidentally" revealed my hairy chest, and a bright, shiny medallion called, ironically, a "tastevin!" I had to parade around the restaurant every night in front of several hundred people dressed as some kind of Sammy Davis, Jr. impersonator. Women took the liberty of staring directly at the bulge in my pants (I was still packing the price gun for protection) as I walked by, summoning me with their wine lists and asking me, "Could you recommend something big for me?" Night after night I was subjected to this kind of sexual humiliation, forced to bend over a woman's shoulder as I helped her select a wine, her lips next to my neck, her eyes locked on my white shirt, her sizing me up as if I were one of the meat selections on the menu, the one that came with a bone. And I was expected to take this and like it. It's why I only lasted nineteen years.
I came to find out that my experience wasn't at all unique, it was happening to all the men in the wine business. Constantly being treated like we have no brains to offer, just our penises. Assaulted daily by female wine reps who shamelessly use us, treat us as fools and lechers only to further their own wine sales, not caring about us at all, but instead playing us until we drop a three-case load. Enduring the endless sarcastic and sexist remarks aimed at guys who sell wine. "I'm sure you like this wine, that's great, but is there a woman around here who can help me?" "Can you just point me to where the woman who owns the store works?" "Women have a more developed sense of taste, though I love the way those jeans fit you--they're tighter than a newly bottled Syrah." Endless shit like that, remarks that make you feel like you're nothing more than a plaything, a sex toy, a ribbed and lifelike Gary Vaynerchuk.
It's the dirty little secret that won't die. Men in the wine biz being constantly and relentlessly sexually harassed. Look at the endless worship that Jancis Robinson receives compared to the vitriol aimed at Robert Parker. And, why? It's that teeny thing hidden in his pants that Jancis doesn't have. And I don't mean Mark Squires. Women have it easy in the wine business. They have better senses, they aren't subjected to the constant humiliation the men in power endure. They have the gift of invisibility. How I envy them.