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#MeToo Hits High-End Wine Industry


In recent years, the phrase #MeToo has become a hashtag and a movement that's helped survivors of sexual violence feel more connected and less alone. That movement has also forced many industries to reckon with patterns of sexual misbehavior that were ignored or tolerated for years.

A similar conversation is now taking place in the wine industry, which is dominated by mostly male winemakers and influential sommeliers. Last week, The New York Times wrote about a rising star in that world, a sommelier who was accused by four women of assaulting them or trying to do so. That sommelier has since resigned. But we wanted to hear more about the environment for women and wine, so we've called Marissa Ross, who's a columnist and wine editor for Bon Appetit. Marissa Ross is with us now.

Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

MARISSA ROSS: Thank you for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: When you first got into the industry, did it seem like a very male space to you? I mean, I know that sometimes, you know, people walk into certain rooms, and they look around and go, gee, this is a pretty male environment. Did it feel that way to you when you got into the business?

ROSS: Absolutely. Even before I got into the business, I was going to a lot of tastings to learn about wine. And I remember there was always so many men there. And this one man in particular - like, I'll never forget this. I do curse from time to time. I'm a human (laughter). And I remember this man that was next to me that I hadn't even been talking to turning to me and being, like, ladies can't talk that way. And if you can't be a lady, you shouldn't be in here. You know, it just felt, like, woah - like, I can't be in this space and be myself.

And I was one of the only women in there at the time. And then, once I became a part of the business, it became very clear to me very quickly that I was always going to be one of the few women in the room. Luckily, things have changed over the last five years, but there's still a lot more room to grow and change.

MARTIN: And in terms of the behavior that has been exposed, has been written about, have you experienced that as well? Because, as I mentioned, The New York Times published an article by Julia Moskin which detailed allegations against a particular person. But it also talked about people feeling like they can touch you, groping...

ROSS: Oh, absolutely.

MARTIN: ...And worse. I mean, is that something that you and other women in the industry have experienced?

ROSS: That is something that I experience on a regular basis. I was at a wine-tasting festival just this past spring, and a winemaker came up to me and, like, grabbed me from behind and grabbed my breasts and, like, whispered in my ear that, like, one day he'd have me and then, like, kissed my neck. And I'm, like, what are you doing? And those behaviors get excused because, oh, they're French. You just don't understand their culture. You know, I do my best to try to leave events early, and I monitor how much I drink.

And, you know, there's so much that women have to do to protect themselves in these environments, and that's why it's really scary for younger women that are entering this industry - because they possibly don't have those skills yet. They don't have that knowledge of, like, oh, I have to be consciously aware of how much I'm consuming, how much everyone around me is consuming, what everyone around me is doing, and where am I, like, fitting into all that? And it's a lot of mental work.

MARTIN: And I say that because you also wrote a piece about this for Bon Appetit, and the title of which is, "To Make The Wine Industry Less Toxic, We Need To Get Loud." And one of the things that you point out in your piece is that drinking is part of the job. You know, in a lot of workplaces, you know, right before a holiday party, for example, the company will issue guidelines saying...

ROSS: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Watch how much you drink, and, you know, don't drink if you have to drive and things like that, and - but drinking is, in fact, part of your job. And I wanted to ask - when you are at these events, is there any effort made to watch the behavior of people, to - are there any steps taken to ensure people's safety? Is there anything like that?

ROSS: I don't think that there really has been yet. There really isn't even any, like, self-policing. But now, we're going to have to do something about it. If we can't rely on people to take it upon themselves to act appropriately, then I believe that it is the leaders in our community's job to start making sure that they do. And I don't think - a lot of it too is it's, like, well, that's not very fun to make rules. Well, you know what's not really fun? When you don't feel safe in a space. And something has to change.

MARTIN: So how - what has been - the reaction been? I understand that you actually - you helped gather some of the accusations about this particular sommelier who, as we said, has since resigned, that were published in The New York Times piece. And I know that you wrote about the fact that people have been sharing stories with you. I mean, this has all happened within the last week. What reaction have you been seeing to the fact that something that apparently you all have been talking about privately has now become public?

ROSS: The response has been actually really quite wonderful in terms of the way that the community has come together to spread the word and to get people to come to me. I'm still having survivors that are coming to me, which is incredible. And people are - have been overall very supportive. Of course, there are the same sort of detractors that all stories like this get, where they blame it on a generational thing or, you know, whatever. But it's not a generational thing, I don't personally believe. I think it's a systemic problem.

And overall, I'm very, very, very happy that it's resonating with so many people and that they can see that if it's happening in this industry, it's all industries. It's all walks of life where this is happening, and we have to keep talking about it in order to make sure that it stops happening in all of our lives.

MARTIN: That is Marissa Ross, wine editor for Bon Appetit magazine. You can read her piece "To Make The Wine Industry Less Toxic, We Need To Get Loud" at the Bon Appetit site.

Marissa Ross, thanks so much for talking to us.

ROSS: Thank you so much, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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