Women and the wine industry. What “IT IS NOT OK”. Spilling it out.

After reading “Women, wine and the uncomfortable conversation we need to have” by Vinka Danitza I had an epiphany. All of a sudden I connected the dots of the countless moments and episodes in my 7 years long career in the wine business when I felt bullied, verbally and sometimes physically harassed, subtly sabotaged because of my gender, not heard, not considered professionally, because I am a woman. I have never been a feminist, I have always advocating for merit and hard work, I have sometimes considered pretentious the complaints of other women (yes, I am guilty of that) and now, after reading that essay (which is a MUST read), I suddenly realised that I became a product of the underground sexist culture which is widely accepted and encouraged, even by women, in the wine business.

I won’t write again the same concepts that Vinka Danitza has beautifully illustrated in her revealing essay. I am here today to spill the tea or, better, the wine. To say what IT IS NOT OK. I am here today to speak up, because if we women want a change, we have to be that change and we have to stop hiding our heads under the sand.

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IT IS NOT OK that when I post a video on Instagram or Youtube talking about a wine region, trying to deliver good wine education content, I end up charged of the following offences: my nail polish does not match my make-up, my dress look like a pyjama, I forgot to dye my grey hairs, I look tired and unhealthy.

IT IS also NOT OK that the positive comments about the already quoted videos are for the majority about my green eyes, my skin tone and my blow-dry.

As an experiment: count how many comments about appearance there are on a male wine expert profile on Instagram and then do the same with a female profile. I did. IT IS NOT OK.

IT IS NOT OK that more than 70 per cento of these comments come from other women.

IT IS NOT OK that every time I post the food I enjoy with my wine I receive messages of desperate women who want to know my secret diet. Or men that encourage me to eat more because I am too skinny, or to eat less because If I really eat all those carbohydrates I will lose my good shape. I am obviously talking about strangers on Instagram.

IT IS NOT OK that I didn’t receive the best of class special prize at the graduation of one of my wine diplomas, despite I had the highest final exam score, the exact same score of a male colleague. The exact same score. The board of  the wine education association wasn’t consulted to make a decision because  the male president choose to award the male sommelier. Final decision. No room for discussion. I became aware of it after a couple of years when a repentant woman sommelier of the association’s board came to me with tearing eyes telling me the truth: “The president didn’t even consider to award you, or to mention during the graduation ceremony that it was a tie between you and the other sommelier”. I worked so hard that year to be the best of class and I felt frustrated when I learned that it wasn’t enough. But it was more than enough instead, if I were a man.

IT IS NOT OK that after some years the very same male president of the very same wine education association wrote me an email accusing that I was ungrateful because during the interviews and the media appearances for my book launch I didn’t mention the wine association and the diploma I got from them. “We basically create you”. He wrote that. Really.

IT IS NOT OK that when I sit in a panel during a wine competition and I am the only  female wine judge the male colleagues ask for my opinion only on dessert wines, on the basis of the archaic assumption that women drink or prefer sweet wines.

IT IS also NOT OK that when there is an important decision to take such male wine judges storm out of the room to consult with other male judges, often less qualified than me, instead of asking my opinion. And I sit there staring at the reunited wise male judges council feeling invisible.

IT IS NOT OK that at the restaurant with my husband nobody ever ask who is choosing the wine and the wine list is delivered automatically to my husband all the times. IT IS also NOT OK that even if I order the wine, the first tasting pour to asses  whether  the  wine can be served goes automatically to my husband. It’s like saying: “Ok, he let you choose the wine, dear baby girl, but the quality judgement is serious male stuff, you can’t mess around, wait patiently for your husband’s verdict”.

IT IS NOT OK that if I dare to comment the nth picture of a naked woman in the bathtub with a glass of wine, asking why she needed  to show her body to deliver a message  about wine , my comment is deleted  and the woman who posted the photo accuses me of being a troublemaker because my comment could have started a shit storm.

IT IS NOT OK that a woman feels  the urge  to use her body to deliver a message which is not related to her appearance.

IT IS NOT OK that during a press trip, after one or two too many glasses of wine male producers and colleagues feel free to make sexual jokes and to try to touch you, even for fun.

IT IS NOT OK that when an important producer and inspiring entrepreneur invites you to visit his personal cellar on a work trip, after he had praised your work in every possible way and let you understand the brilliant future you and him can have together professionally, he pushes you against the stone walls of his beautiful (and well isolated) wine cave and tries violently to push his tongue in your mouth. And you feel powerless, you feel unworthy of everything he said before that moment, you start doubting your talents and asking yourself if they are true or if they don’t even matter, because all they want from you is sex. You look behind to all the sacrifices, tears and sweat poured to achieve a professional role in the wine business, where you have to work twice as hard because of your gender and then you ask yourself: was it  worthy? Will I be considered valuable for  what I did and what I create and achieve or it’s just because of my green eyes and long legs?

IT IS NOT OK. It’s fucked up.

So, especially if you are a  woman, think about all these things that  are NOT OK the next time you feel the need to post a picture of you cleavage between the bottle and the glass of wine.

Ask yourself why you feel that  need. Whose approval you are seeking? Which mindset and culture are you feeding with this choice? Is it the world you would like your kids to live in?   


16 thoughts on “Women and the wine industry. What “IT IS NOT OK”. Spilling it out.

  1. Really well said Laura, thanks for writing this. It’s NOT OK for you to have had these experiences, although unfortunately – I’m not shocked. Women need to work together to create an environment where this doesn’t happen. That means sharing our experiences, supporting each other, and having some uncomfortable conversations. Like you said – we need to stop hiding our heads on the sand and confront this ugliness head on. I’m so glad you put your thoughts out there.

  2. Amazing article and thank you for sharing your experiences. I’m always shocked to hear of all these things that go on behind the scenes, and many times I have been there, feeling uncomfortable, powerless, doubting my skills or abilities, and I know so many other women have felt these things too. In my post, I had a few women say that we should just be good professionals and work hard, but clearly you have demonstrated that even being at the top of the class, working your ass off, is not enough. We get sidelined all the time because we are not buddies with the man in charge. Its really quite unfair and just another indication that even though there are women in the industry, the decision-makers are men who often look out for other men. Of course, not all men.
    I look forward to following you here and on other platforms! Thank you.

  3. I’m so sorry to read about your experiences, and I can’t begin to imagine how it all makes you feel. I’m glad you wrote about it because change first starts with awareness. When I read stories like these, I think of female colleagues in the industry, and wonder what they might have experienced but maybe not talked about. I’ve also had encounters at tastings where a woman who represented the winery poured the initial samples for me, and then a man appeared and the woman stood back, almost like she was less valued. I take note of things like this and feel like I can and should be selective about who I work with. I want to be a positive part of the change.

    For the record your blog is one of the few external links on my website, because it is one of the best and most comprehensive sources of information about Italian wine I can find. Now I understand a lot better about the hard work that went into building this, and unfortunately some of the bad experiences as well.

  4. Condivido tutto Laura… busogn uscire fuori da queste logiche di genere… ahimè sempre troppa ignoranza da entrambi i sessi…. hai l’appoggio e il riconoscimento di tantissime persone continua così co.e sempre….

  5. I’m sad that you have gone through all you have had to endure and the fact that your article is spot on.
    As a woman in the wine marketing world, specifically in the social media side of things, I’m constantly shaking my head at how many young aspiring influencers feel pressure to use their bodies for an unrelated message. Yet at the same time I understand because it’s the seemingly the only way to get the attention of many of the old boys in charge. Thank you for sharing your words. I hope it wakes up those of us who are sleeping.

  6. Well written and glad that these types of things are being brought out into the light!! As a mother of 4 females and grandmother of 3, I have tried to teach them to be advocates for themselves- stand up, be heard and don’t back down!! Thank you

  7. As a wine buyer and shop manager in the 1980’s (who happened to be female) I have many stories. Here are two of my favorites:
    Was up on a ladder one day stocking in the wine dept. A young salesman came in and said “Is the wine buyer here?” I replied that I would be right down, and as soon as I got to the bottom of the ladder, he said “Where is he?” Let’s just say, I did not buy any wine from him that day.
    I always took my husband with me to the Gourmet Show in SF. Even though my name tag said “BUYER”, my husband is the one who got the sales pitch. Since I went through the line first, I was long gone by the time my husband said “Oh, she is the one you needed to talk to about buying your product.”

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