“Democracy; a system based on the principle that all members of society are equal rather than divided by money or social class.”
So how does this definition apply when speaking about the wine sector? We are about to find out, since this blog is going to attempt to unpack this mammoth topic, first by discussing its exploration within the new book entitled “Wine Democracy” and thereafter, elaborating on the concept in a more humanistic way.
This instant style book is a Mamma Jumbo Shrimp publication and is aimed at helping readers understand how the democratic process can be extrapolated through specific interview conversations undertaken by the hosts of the Italian Wine Podcast (IWP); the podcast network that publishes podcasts each day of the week, 365 days a year on varying topics from diversity and equality, business, marketing & communications, food, wine travel, and science & education.
Before cutting to what I believe feeds the root of this topical book, let’s consider its contents briefly, because my own personal opinions will have no context without doing so.
The meaning of democracy in wine can seem convoluted, in fact, everyone has an opinion as to what it means to them, just like dogma (which is ironic since that is exactly what I intend to resort to in my own attempt to address wine democracy) because of the many degrees democracy must permeate within the various areas throughout the industry. The authors (namely the podcast hosts) of the book “Wine Democracy” do an admirable job of identifying some of the issues and possible solutions for this subject matter, which certainly puts things in perspective.
Examples of these issues include: the world of wine is often perceived as elite and exclusive; the language around wine can be inaccessible; diversity in the workforce is still missing, or even that demographics for wine consumption is lacking because perhaps the wine industry has not quite hit the mark when it comes to marketing to what a specific demographic is asking for (Gen Z for example). However, solutions to these issues have also been put forward, and not merely on a whim. The solutions have been attained through the personal and professional experiences of the hosts, as well as researched data; the abutting central force of the book, or the “hole in one” so to speak, is the real-life experiences of the guests; the recorded conversations. Each IWP host provided a range of interviews that furnished their own personal idea of what wine democracy looks like.
Cynthia Chaplin’s show deals with diversity and equity, thus, she focuses on conversations such as those with Elaine Chukan Brown (a guest from an indigenous community in Alaska specializing in personal empowerment, education and social justice), or Hoby Wedler (a Dr. of organic chemistry turned wine guru, who has been blind since birth), or Ntsiki Bayella (a prominent black female winemaker in South Africa).
Marc Millon’s idea of wine democracy is a bit subtler. He focuses on the struggles overcome by guests who had to overcome obstacles in their journeys to bring wine to common man or, preserve the traditions and history of a wine, at great personal cost. An example we might use here would be Marc’s inclusion of Matteo Bisol’s conversation. Bisol, through his Tenuta Venissa project, brought the Dorona grape back to the Venetian lagoon, ensuring it was not lost to history because of climate change; allowing wines from this variety to be available to people today, all over the world.
Steve Raye on the other hand, with his business focus, has “taken the point of view that Democracy in Wine speaks to equal access of consumers to products imported into and sold with the US, a subject that is fundamental to the consulting working with brands to help them navigate the complexities of the U.S. market”. He illustrates the aforementioned ideas on wine democracy with conversations with the likes of Cheryl Durzy (Founder of LibDib, the first alcohol distributor and tech company to offer a three-tier compliant web-based platform) and Josh Wand (Founder of Bev-Force, a boutique recruiting and staffing agency that specializes in hiring strategies and organizational design for beverage companies, nationwide).
Polly Hammond, IWP’s digital marketing expert, concentrates on the idea of adaptability in the current environment, that shifting demands, digital landscapes and saturated markets have created a tricky forecast. She believes that rather than remaining in the stasis of the status quo and the congestion of fast paced content, in order to achieve wine democracy, players need to think outside the box, go beyond what might be expected, have confidence, take risks, questioning norms at every turn. And so, to emphasize these thoughts, she offers up conversations with guests such as Cindy Gallop (Founder and CEO of IfWeRanTheWorld, co-action software launched in beta at TED 2010, it enables brands to implement the business model of the future – Shared Values + Shared Action = Shared Profit (financial and social).
It is clear each host has their own unique approach to the topic of wine democracy, but there are cross-overs between all of their varying viewpoints. Most poignantly, it seems that more awareness and empathy is needed in the industry, regardless of which area within the sector is being discussed. Coherency has been achieved with the use of real-life stories, bringing intangible thoughts into a realistic space. In summation with regards to the contents of this publication, what makes these learned experiences even more impactful are the reiterated “take away’s” after each conversation, so as to ensure the reader is left with a final overarching objective.
After reading the book, it struck me that at its core, the very notion of wine democracy and all it encompasses – regardless of what it means to an individual – is all about ethics. Ethics is the set of principles that governs what people should do in a situation, the right conduct, the system of moral values and choices that should be made. But the question is (and I am sure this has been asked across the ages by almost everyone); Why are ethical standards ignored and pushed aside and replaced with paths to desired outcomes, regardless of the means by which they are obtained? You could argue that this is simply the human condition; to act upon need for the sake of profit, for the sake of power, acceptance and/or rank, but this is base – and clearly people are waking up to foresight at this point in time, having gleaned the problems that our structured systems and behavioral mores have caused and continue to self-perpetuate.
Course corrections are more difficult for those who have been operating within the wine industry in its present state for a long time. For those who are just beginning their journey, they are faced with the dual task of recognizing the issues present (either from personal or second-hand experiences) in the current environment, then, separating themselves from the framework in some way so as to allow for success, while utilizing benevolence and what they understand to be ethical in order to carve out a new path and set of norms. Armed with foresight and perseverance, the benefits to themselves are inclusion and success in this chosen field; the dividends to the sector at large becomes obvious. Personal ambitions pair well with a cause, like mutually righteous icing on a cake. So, like a wave that begins to gain momentum, the past form of this industry will eventually be washed away by the crashing weight of conscientiously driven voices who are present in every corner of the wine world; those who want to have equal footing, education, good standing and success, but equally so for all. Therefore, in my mind, it is a battle between the easy, the known, coarse ambitions that have formed our foundation and the new democratic approach that is slowly becoming emboldened – therein lies “strength in numbers” and the globalized landscape cannot be denied overall – realistically speaking that is. So, we find ourselves at a fork in the road and this book seems to shine another light on the current aforementioned foresight present, a testament to the cumulative force, in all its various forms and categories within the wine industry, working to gain momentum and bring critical mass to the forefront.