Today, The Drinks Business, a wine-and-spirit industry magazine, published an article titled “Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Wine 50-41.” I assume that the industry publication plans four more parts, but given how spectacularly The Drinks Business has failed in its first part, I ponder the need to continue.
To begin with, The Drinks business chose the image to the left as its initial illustration for the article. This picture, depicting a shapely woman caged in an upturned wine glass, engendered a swift reaction on Twitter. As soon as the article hit the Internet, prominent wine writer and blogger Meg Houston Maker tweeted, “Really, Drinks Business @teamdb, WHAT were you thinking with that illustration?” Meg’s reaction was hardly unusual; within an hour, wine tweeters were expressing outrage. Within two hours, The Drinks Business had replaced the image.
The first image is bad, no question. It essentially depicts exactly the opposite of what the article is trying to claim: that women have gained a measure of power in the notoriously sexist world of wine. A classic naked stripper silhouette, caged by a glass–it’s at once woman as comestible and woman as object; like a bug, a woman is something to be looked at, pinned down and scrutinized. Imagine for a moment the same image but replaced with a naked man. Yeah, that.
The second image isn’t a lot better. Sure, this silhouette at least dresses the woman, but she’s still faceless, nameless, a black-bordered enigma in heels and a short skirt. She’s standing seductively, hip cocked to one side, breast framed by an elbow. She’s the respectable sister of the stripper in illustration one. Why not a picture of Jancis Robinson? She’s more or less the standard-bearer for professionalism in wine, regardless of gender.
But at its core, these illustrations do little more than point out the gobsmacking sexism inherent to The Drinks Business listicle, a slideshow of women who are authorities in the world of wine, whether because they make it, write about it, or sell it. Do a quick search on The Drinks Business for “50 Most Powerful Men in Wine,” and you get…nothing. The default setting for the wine industry is male. And that means that it’s all the more important to not only write about women in wine, but to get it right.
To its credit, The Drinks Business’s Lucy Shaw does a fine job giving each individual woman her due. However, that’s some late-to-the-party salve on some wounds that begin with the image and continue with the intro to the piece. In the intro, Shaw writes, “The fact that there are enough powerful women working in wine to warrant a top 50 is a sign of how far the industry has come in a short space of time.” I question the historicity of this fact. A closer scrutiny argues that women have long had a place in winemaking, whether you’re talking about Champagne titan the Widow Cliquot, or California’s Josephine Tychson, Lily Langtree, Kate Warfield and others in the late nineteenth century, or Italy’s longstanding tradition of grappa-making women.
As a woman who has fallen into the professional business of wine, I’m deeply troubled by articles such as this one by The Drinks Business. This is an industry magazine whose target audience is people like me, people who include women who make, sell, or write about wine. I imagine that it wasn’t the publication’s intent to belittle women, to degrade them, or to offend them. Sadly, the article did all that—and more.
I think about the women winemakers working in Italy: Maria Teresa Mascarello; Cinzia Merli; Christina Rinaldi; Alessia, Allegra and Albiera Antinori; Gaia Gaja; Paola Scavino; Bruna Giacosa; Luciana Sandrone—just Piemonte alone sits on the verge of a new woman order, and these hard-working, smart and savvy women deserve better. Likewise, women like Christy Canterbury, MW; wine writer Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka; writer Meg Houston Maker; wine retailer and Italian white wine maven Melissa Sutherland; wine connoisseur and restaurateur Karen Campanale and all the women involved in the Women in Wine Leadership Symposium, all those involved in the Wine Sisterhood and, hey, every woman who has ever experienced a small epiphany while drinking wine, we all of us deserve better.
Let’s make it happen.
UPDATE: Currently, the illustration for piece is a gender-neutral, inoffensive bunch of grapes. The Drinks Business has also added this apology to the piece, in italics, under the original intro: “Due to popular demand we have changed the image on this page of the feature. The original image was not meant to cause any offence, we apologise to anyone who was offended. We look forward to comments about the feature and the list, Teamdb.” My response is a giant eye roll.