Drawing a very clear line in the sand

Last week, wine industry leader Darren De Bortoli posted a photo of two women in a wine barrel with the caption “Whip me, crush me, make me whine. I love the idea of all those nubile virgins vigorously squishing my grapes during vintage time” on his personal Facebook feed, which was set to ‘public’.

Darren is Managing Director of De Bortoli wines, one of the most significant wine brands in the country. He is also a member of the Medium Winemakers Committee & an Alternate Board member of the Winemakers Federation of Australia (WFA); the peak Australian wine industry body.

Corrina Wright, winemaker at Oliver’s Taranga and fellow board member of the WFA, posted the below in response:

‘“Statements and comments like this really disappoint and frustrate me. You are a leader of our industry; you sit (with me) on the board of WFA, the peak wine industry body. You are a leader in your region. You are the leader of a respected wine business. People look up to you and your achievements and your voice carries weight. You have held this respect for a long time and worked hard to get it. You have also heard me talk around the WFA board table and elsewhere about the need for cultural change in our industry. We are one of many industries in which women are seriously under-represented. We are less than 10% in production roles, yet we are 50% in the university courses. When leaders such as yourself make comments such as these, it makes it so much harder for women such as myself to be taken seriously in my work. It makes it harder for the next female graduate to be taken seriously. It also makes it okay for this sort of everyday sexism under the banner of humour to be normalised. This makes it okay for the next generation of men coming through to do the same.
It is actually not okay. It is undermining, sexist and doesn’t make good business sense to alienate 50% of your market/employees/industry. I bust my arse to do what I do, and it really makes me sad and terribly frustrated to see language like this perpetuated.”

A measured and fair response if there ever was one.

Sadly, the vitriol and hurtful messages Corrina received in response to her response were typical, and there’s no point in repeating them. You’d find them sadly all too familiar and just reiterates the need for avenues for women to feel safe and supported when speaking out.

The post was taken down and apologies ensued, with Darren himself stating “A post of mine which was deemed offensive was never meant to be and it has been removed. I apologise to all of those that deemed it to be offensive which was never the intent. I hope this now puts this matter to rest.”

No, Darren. It doesn’t.

The De Bortoli family were rightly quick to respond with a statement on Facebook, distancing themselves by stating that the post by no means represented their company values. Which it of course, does not.

The WFA also tweeted “WFA does not support or condone comments made by Mr De Bortoli. His personal statements do not reflect the views and culture of WFA. WFA strives to create an incl. envt. for women in the wine industry. These comments are not OK and WFA recognises our need to step up here.”

But are these statements enough? Is reminding him of his position really enough?

Australian wine has never been more progressive, forward thinking and exciting as it is right now, so we, as the greater wine community, have a right to expect our leaders and national organisations reflect this in who they are.

It’s one of many reasons why Darren’s comments beggar belief. It’s incredibly out of touch with the current climate.

In the midst of #metoo, women’s marches, Harvey Weinstein and more, how do men still believe it’s okay to say, post, even think such things? And to say “I’m sorry you deemed it offensive”, and not take full and proper responsibility for their actions, is just not enough.

It’s 2018 for goodness’ sake.

The DeBortoli family are in a tough bind. It’s a significant wine company in Australia and knowing Leanne De Bortoli personally, I can imagine the genuine embarrassment and I wholeheartedly believe they’re sorry this ever happened. It’s not who they are as people or a brand. I also understand Leanne has reached out to Corrina many times personally in the past week saying as much.

Yet the fact Darren is an influential member of the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia remains problematic.

Regardless of his apology, his views, whether personal or public, are at odds with who we believe and need them to be as an organisation.

They have been presented with an opportunity to draw a clear line in the sand and say ‘No’. This is not acceptable and we must call for his resignation.

Doing so will send a message that we not only expect more of our leaders, but go a long way in supporting women in the wine industry. As Corrina noted in the above comment, 50% of university winemaking courses are filled by women, yet only 10% of production roles. It’s no where near enough.

To do nothing would endorse the outdated misogyny that we, as a wine community, must move far away from. By allowing such casual sexism to go unchecked is to ignore the need for a deep cultural change in the way in which women are viewed. That can only change when true action is taken.

This is no small thing.

The industry is watching. Ignore at your peril.

This is not the first time Corrina has has to call such things out. She discusses it below in her talk at Wine Day Out in 2016, an event my company, REVEL, run.

Subsequently, she has been asked back to that same show as Chairperson. Change can happen.