Founder, Owner, Winemaker, Hose Dragger, Vine Pruner and amateur blog writer...
I have been thinking about bullies lately. As a kid in the schoolyard and a teenager growing up in a small beach town on the shores of the Mediterranean, I ran into my share of them. Whether because of genetics or my family history (most likely a mix of both) – I grew up as a sensitive male who shied away from confrontational situations yet at the same time, I was always very self-assured. I could always rely on my mental and physical abilities to get me through tough situations. I survived my childhood, got a few battle scars and moved on with my life.
Like many folk who get bit by the “Wine Bug” – the term we use in the industry to justify our decision to make it in this business, I believed this occupation to be as wholesome as possible for a human being. You work the earth, you use your senses, you nurture a product that brings pleasure to people and you keep a roof over your head – simple, honest, uncomplicated. Last thing I ever thought is that I’d have to deal with bullies.
Venturing into the world of distributor wine sales these days is a trip to Bully-World. Gone are the days when you could expect to sell your wine on its merit and the chemistry you managed to develop with some of the distributor’s sales people. Now it is all about “How many free cases can you give me” and “We can run a promotion next month if you can shell out $10 per case for the sales people”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I just discovered various forms of “kick-backs” exist in the wine business, they have been there forever, but it always seemed as if the small, home-grown brands were exempt. What has changed is that because of mergers and consolidations the wine business is now controlled by a few “Behemoths” (by the way, this word means “Crass, unrefined beast” in modern Hebrew). Because these mega-corporations represent a revenue stream that, if lost, can sink a distributor – they effectively demand all of the distributor’s attention. Sales people now have quotas to meet. Stop for a second to think what that means: it means that a salesperson may lose their job if they don’t sell X cases of Chateau Piss-De-Chat this month. And that means he or she will bully some retailer to buy it who will eventually convince you or someone you know to buy it, just because they need to move some boxes. That’s how things roll in BullyWine™.
The writing is on the wall, small wineries will be bullied out of a national presence and the wine aisle in your favorite store is going to become a copy of the cereal aisle; two hundred or so brands all controlled by three companies and all tasting pretty much the same, you know what I’m talking about.
But, hold on for a second… Is there also a flip side to this coin? After all, we will never eliminate bullies in our school yards (do schools still have yards?). Does bullying also serve a necessary function in evolution? I can see a case for it. A kid bullied by a classmate or a teacher does not always become a bully him or herself, sometime they just become better people – whether by having absorbed the lesson of hurt or simply by having to experience a struggle. Sometimes, someone who bullies carries with them a shame-filled internal scar that shapes the rest of their life, adding a layer of sensitivity that was not there before. Sometimes, the cliché of “What does not kill us makes us stronger” plainly works.
Bullies come in many shapes and forms but regardless of gender and their particular mix of physical, mental or emotional operating arenas – they are all basically trying to hide a weakness by drawing our attention elsewhere. Think about it next time you get an urge to buy a $7.99 wine and maybe, just maybe, you will opt to let the bullies drink their own wine and go for a sustainably priced and locally produced one instead.
I, for one, do not plan to sit back and whine. Instead, I intend to resist the urge to play BullyWine™ and make sure the wine Longboard produces is nuanced, always a great value and sold on it’s merit. I’ll take the lesson learned from the bullies and use it to grow stronger and more compassionate. Don’t look for my wine in the cereal aisle.