The French wine community is noted for their adherence to an old school epistemology–even by the staid standards of oenophiles. Unfortunately, these OG’s of the wine world are also criticized for adhering to 19th century gender norms as tightly as they adhere to 19th century viticulture techniques.
The #MeToo movement breached the alabaster bleached walls of the French wine world last week. However, when a sexist cartoon catalyzed the community to tug at the mondovino’s patriarchal perch, many prominent figures scrambled to restore the old, white, male guard to their pedestal.
The catalyst for the reckoning was the publication of an unsigned sexist cartoon in the December 2020•Jan.-Feb. 2021 edition of En Magnum. En Magnum, published by wine critics Michel Bettane and Thierry Dessauve, is a major French publication. The Bettane + Desseauve group’s press kit touts 6,400,000 readers.
The cartoon in question, titled ‘COVID requires new strategies’, depicted a female wine rep drawn with exaggerated lips, eyelashes, and nipples pitching to an obese, male shopkeeper. The rep explains her new tactics to push wine during the pandemic; in exchange for a case order, she will remove her top and for a larger order, “Georgie, love. Can you guess? Go on…”
The woman caricatured declares that she is the new agent for ‘Vins Fins Poulet-Rautiz’ (Fine Wines & Roast Chicken). The name bears a strong resemblance to the real life,’Vins et Voailles’ (Wines and Poultry). The IRL manifestation is helmed by Fleur Godart, a well regarded natural wine advocate who is one face of France’s new generation .
Under the French legal system, if the parallels were proven intentional, the cartoon would move from the realm of simply offensive to defamatory, allowing Godart legal recompense.
‘No shortage of resources…’
Yet, wine merchant and writer Sandrine Goeyvaerts was more concerned with systems of civility, not to mention the patriarchy when she viewed the piece. Offended, Goeyvaerts wrote a letter to Bettane and Desseauve requesting an explanation of the problematic content.
Goeyvaerts stated that En Magnum Editor-In-Chief Nicolas de Rouyn responded with a string of malicious text messages. The EIC allegedly concluded by stating, “If you’re looking for a fight, I have no shortage of resources.”
Several other prominent members of the French and Belgian wine communities followed suit with hostile messages. The social media community also joined the fray. Some offered an argument centered around the conflation of sexuality in wine with sexism in the wine industry; others simply opted to hurls misogynistic slurs.
The collective backlash was authoritatively detailed in French and English by Antonin Iommi. In the writer’s excellent piece ‘The Old White Men Of Wine’ he provides translation of some graphic commentary including blogger Vincent Pousson‘s reaction
“The Tweetbunal of market-women, I assfuck it dry,” Pousson cried. Then, he adds, “to put it in perspective, because there’s no shortage of women who act like whores in the ‘mondovino’… Big blonde whores who prostitute themselves in the street to sell fine wines – there are hundreds of them in the world, at least.”
The pair also indulged in several other graphic defenses of the cartoon as chronicled by several observers including Goeyvaerts herself.
Illustrating the extent of the backlash, Iommi also noted defense of the cartoon by industry leaders such as Pierre Guigui, Eric Boschmann, André Furster, and Coureur Devin aka ‘Le Coureur de Vin’, pseudonym of writer (and En Magnum vet) Gilles Durand Daguin.
Le Monde’s wine blogger Ophélie Neiman also reported backlash from the old guard when she, too, criticized the article. Bettane, himself, allegedly messaged the respected writer to berate her as an “upstart.”
On an institutional level, the reception was mixed as well. Sources told Neat Pour that many of the old houses and their powerful confederacies remained silent, viewing the issue as a ‘Natural Wine problem’ beneath their position.
Many smaller producers rallied against the sexist caricature. The Federation des Cavistes Indépendantes, an indie trade group, issued an official condemnation. “[The cartoon] is not how women involved in the sale of wines and spirits behave!” The group wrote, “This cartoon seems to reflect more a cartoonist’s fantasy than an everyday reality!”
En Magnum’s advertisers also remained largely silent despite public calls for action. Iommi identified Veuve Clicquot, Bollinger, Laurent-Perrier, Lanson, and La Chablisienne as the publication’s largest patrons. The writer said that his own requests for comment to each of these companies went unanswered.
Ten days after the publication of the cartoon, the controversy appeared to have subsided. In large part due to fear of criminal harassment charges, the social media furor was reduced to a simmer. Yet, internationally, more outlets picked up the story creating the potential for more pressure on corporations. Stay with Neat Pour for updates.