How to transform an exclusive wine society into an inclusive wine society
There is no other fermented ingredient in the world that causes as much fear and intimidation as the fermented grape.
As a consistently practicing sommelier, I often see people who are afraid to ask questions about wine and/or show any opinion whatsoever because they are afraid to appear unsophisticated or of the lower class.
In the book Distinction, Philosopher Pierre Bourdieu talks about the role wine plays in the creation and maintaining of a hierarchical society. Bordieu mentions that wine itself has become a marker of class and classism, as it is used to maintain the separation of the classes. When a specific class teaches a certain approach to their young, it undoubtedly ensures the continuance of this classism over time.
Examples of wine classism in literature stretch back as far as ancient Greece, wherein The Iliad those who ranked higher in society drank better wines. Today we find these same displays of classism in wine tastings as well as within high-end restaurants, where name dropping of specific (albeit expensive) wines and a tendency for pompous, vague wine vocabularies is practiced.
It is time to call it as it is:
We - sommeliers and wine-enthusiasts alike - naturally enjoy the privilege that comes with wine knowledge in our society, and in this way, maintain the chain of classism for our own profit at the end of the day. But if we really want to abolish classism and create an inclusive environment instead of nursing an exclusive environment, we have to give up on some of these self-interests. And I believe that there are no better people to begin this conversation of dropping privilege for inclusivity than the people of influence within our industry, like wine experts and wine enthusiasts in positions of power.
I personally am genuinely present for inclusive change in the wine industry and have begun to incorporate the following practices into my profession as a sommelier. I share today in hopes that others will gain inspiration from even one or more of these practices, so that together we may begin taking the steps necessary to permanently abolish classism within wine.
Aim for a “Wine Collection,” not a “Money Collection”
An expensive wine cellar does not necessarily equal a great wine cellar unless you are a money-hoarding dragon - then goal achieved!
But it is important to understand and discuss why we collect certain wines:
Is it because these wines show how much wealth we have? Do these wines make us feel “classy” or “high end” or “better than others” for having them? Are these wines a way to pass wealth along to our children?
Or do we actually collect bottles of fermented grape juice because we enjoy drinking it and supporting what the winemaker stands behind in this world? Do you enjoy a less expensive bottle of wine equivalently less?
Choosing and “liking” certain wines just because they have a higher price point is an example of something we do in the wine industry that contributes to exclusivity and classist society. Choosing and “liking” a certain wine just because we're “expected” to in order to “fit in" and not because of its flavours is also something we do that contributes to exclusivity and classist society.
And on a lighter note, this sort of behaviour also makes us miss out on some really great wines with a lower price point (and thereby less social prestige)! Choosing to spend your dollars based on talent instead of price point will not only open more doors for all people within the wine industry, but it will also ensure the continuance of the wine industry in general - an industry already faltering with younger generations; those who demand more inclusivity in the world.
Every time you buy wine now, ask yourself why you are choosing that specific bottle. Is it because you actually enjoy drinking it, or because of another (more classist) reason like above?
Abolish the snobby language within wine discussions
Often when a sommelier performs their “wine-talk" in a high-end restaurant, I am tempted to look them dead in the eye and say “Now please do the same for my food.” Wine and food are both taste sensations experienced using our palate, but things we eat are rarely described with the same pretentious, unapproachable words that wine tends to be. Linear Fries. Foxy Beans. Flabby Lettuce. It seems odd, right? So why is there this difference in speech between wine and food?