Scandal In Translation
Why misogyny inside the French wine world is relevant outside the French wine world.
A confession: I don’t read much French wine media. I hadn’t even heard of Bettane & Desseauve’s En Magnum magazine until its recent publication of a misogynist cartoon prompted my friend Antonin Iommi-Amunategui to write an article cataloging the grievous offenses of its editorial team. For me, the genius of Iommi-Amunategui’s piece is in its wider indictment of the complicity of the French wine media’s old guard in supporting one another through the inexcusable affair.
That sense of complicity among the elders of French wine media has long been perceptible from afar, even to foreigners like me. It’s precisely why I don’t read much French wine media: it’s plainly a closed ideological bubble, immune to reflection or revision. I offered to translate Iommi-Amunategui’s piece for Not Drinking Poison because the fundamental culpability of the elders of French wine media - and their corporate partners and international collaborators - deserves to be more widely known. It shouldn’t be something that gets waved off as another curious intra-French kerfuffle. Figures like Michel Bettane, Thierry Desseauve, Nicolas de Rouyn, and so forth actively perpetuate a climate of hateful misogyny in the wine world. When international companies like Veuve Cliquot and Laurent-Perrier advertise with them, they endorse misogyny in wine.
Presumably these corporate partners and international collaborators act in the belief that the insular nature of French wine discourse will keep any controversies safely within France. Perhaps. But this dynamic should bother all of us working in wine outside France, too. As long as authority within the French wine media remains a top-down affair, wielded by old, spiteful, domineering figures like Bettane, wine itself will suffer. Innovation will slow, or be fundamentally misdirected, as will vital agricultural reform. These things cannot and should not happen by the say-so of pompous wine critics drunk on the success of yesteryear.
As Iommi-Amunategui notes, Bettane and his ilk are probably not motivated chiefly by animus against women. It is a cudgel they wield to fend off anything new, including women finding success in wine. By no coincidence, the elders of the French wine media are almost unanimously opposed to the notion of natural wine. (Bettane, for instance, has written that natural wines are “stillborn,” “rotten wines” that “stink.”) For these people, the notion of women finding success selling and promoting natural wine is doubly offensive, like someone weeing on a relative’s grave and giving you the finger. This is presumably why Bettane and his circle have come down so hard on admirable figures like Alice Feiring and Fleur Godart. (Godart would appear to be the inspiration for the agent figure in the En Magnum cartoon, purely on the basis that the cartoon agent’s company is titled “Vins Fins Poulet-Rautiz,” while Godart’s own distribution company is titled “Vins et Volailles.”)
I spoke with Godart recently in the context of an article I was writing for Wine Business International (it’ll appear soon). We chatted about a series of one-off wines with militant feminist labels that she’ll be releasing in collaboration with Julien Albertus of Kumpf & Meyer in Alsace. She’s aware of the challenges she faces as a woman working in a male-dominated industry.
“We understand we’re not in a milieu of people who’re often confronted with conversations about feminism,” she says. “What we want is for people to pose questions, and to get out of their comfort zone.”
In support of Godart - as well as Sandrine Goeyvaerts, the Belgian journalist and wine merchant victimized by the En Magnum staff - let’s do just that. Let’s take a moment to consider what it means for the health of the wine industry when so much mass consumer trust - not to mention advertisers’ money - is placed in the hands of villainous old French misogynists.
What to actually do?
If you’re reading this, you probably already boycott En Magnum’s advertisers on purely aesthetic grounds.