Deconstructing the language of wine to attract new consumers – In Conversation with Sandrine Goeyvaerts

Sandrine Goeyvaerts, is a wine merchant in the Liège region in Belgium, as well as a sommelier, writer and author. Since founded the blog La Pinardothéque and has since written five books, beginning with Jamais en carafe (2016), a book aimed at demystifying wine, and Les perles d’une caviste (2017). Her latest book, Manifeste pour un vin inclusive (Manifesto for Inclusive Wine) was released at the beginning of September 2021.

ARENI:

You are the author of many books on wine and your first books were in a completely different vein to this one. What prompted you to write on this subject, and with this militant angle?

Sandrine Goeyvaerts:

For me, these books are not that far from each other. From the moment I started writing about wine, I have always been committed to making wine accessible. Jamais en Carafe, the first book I wrote, was really in this vein, with this desire and with a lot of humour.

Since the beginning, I allowed myself to use words that were not part of the established vocabulary and from the beginning, it generated a lot of reactions.

I think there has been a fairly logical development to come up with this manifesto. The previous book, Vigneronnes, was already more militant and portrayed 100 female wine growers.

For me, the manifesto is only a different angle on something that I’ve been writing about for a very long time: being able to invite more people into the world of wine, in a more inclusive way. It’s more militant? Because in my personal life I became more militant. I became more feminist. It’s part of my DNA now. But this continues the common thread that I have been following from the start: opening up the world of wine to as many people as possible, because it is such a brilliant world that it is a shame to deprive a very large number of them.

ARENI:

What are the main topics of discussion and the themes of actions that you wanted to highlight?

Sandrine Goeyvaerts:

What really interested me in this book was to see how the language of wine was constructed and to see how historically, culturally, sociologically it took root in the world of wine. And above all, I wanted to understand how and why it doesn’t change that much.

I’m not going to make a big revelation if I say that this language has essentially been created by men and used by men, with a very masculine grip. And unlike other languages, the language of wine has perhaps evolved less.

I therefore set out to detail all the inequalities: sexism, racism, homophobia, lesbophobia, transphobia, classism etc, and to see what in the language of wine could either support or perpetuate these inequalities. And the idea is to say to yourself: “This is what exists. What can be done to suggest a way of talking about wine that is not exclusive, but inclusive?”

Talking about “feminine” wine, for example, excludes some of the women who do not necessarily identify with the common associations with this term. Can we not forget this “feminine” attribute and find equivalents that will no longer be linked to a gender, but which are more universal, and also more understandable by all? This is what interests me in this conversation.

We say a wine is “feminine” to describe an elegant wine, or one with finesse, or harmony. So why not say elegant, fine and harmonious? Why use the concept of gender when we have other words, sometimes even clearer ones, to describe the attributes of wine?

Sandrine Goeyvaerts, Author

ARENI:

Your book was released on September 2. How has it been received?

Sandrine Goeyvaerts:

There are really two rooms, two atmospheres. People who have read it start by telling me that it is not an “extremist” book, as if I was going to plant bombs with my book.

In general, people who have read it express their interest in these avenues for reflection. People who haven’t read it, however, usually get stuck on the title and the word “inclusive”. It’s like I walked into these people and peed on their carpet and kidnapped their kitten. It takes on incredible proportions.

There are even people who write to me to tell me that they are not going to read my book because it is a scandal.

Manifeste pour un vin inclusif, Sandrine’s latest book, was launched on the 2nd of September 2021

ARENI:

Your concept of inclusiveness is very broad, since it is not only a question here of talking about inequalities of gender, or of race. You focus on class discrimination, sexual discrimination etc, and of course men can also find themselves affected by this type of discrimination.

Sandrine Goeyvaerts:

Yes because discrimination is intersectional; they are concepts that overlap with each other. Me, I am a woman therefore I endure sexism. I am fat therefore I suffer from fatphobia. But I am not going to suffer from racism because I am white. All of these inequalities intersect. I’m also talking, and this was very important to me, about the inequalities that I don’t live, because I am obviously an ally in these struggles.

ARENI:

What changes are you hoping to see thanks to this book? What does the world of Manifesto for Inclusive Wine look like?

Sandrine Goeyvaerts:

It is first and foremost a world where no one is afraid to take part in a tasting because of their gender, sexual orientation, disability or other difference. It’s a world where people no longer put up barriers to talking about wine, buying it or even producing it. Wine belongs to everyone—or at least it should belong to everyone.

ARENI:

Your book is written in French, and you speak of France a lot. How is French a particularly non-inclusive language and language?

Sandrine Goeyvaerts:

It is not the language in truth, but the use which one makes of it. We are lucky to have a language that has a thousand nuances, a thousand expressions—we have a lot of figures of speech. We have all the means at our disposal to make this language very egalitarian, but we are not doing it. Why? From my Belgian point of view, this hegemonic impression of France’s cultural and gastronomic heritage is something that contributes to maintaining these inequalities. There are very few questions and doubts around this self-declared hegemony of France. This impression that the French have of thinking that they are still the best contributes. Even if the French do not know all of their gastronomic and cultural heritage.

France is not only Michelin-starred and great gastronomy, and French wine is not only the Grand Crus of Bordeaux.

ARENI:

This is what the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu explains in the Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, about the way cultural codes are used to continue a certain class hegemony. Maintaining this “high culture”, “fine music” or “fine wines”—in opposition to the low culture of the working classes—require the mastery of many cultural codes and languages. It’s how we preserve domination over the lower class.

Can we see a difference in the use of language between the French of France and other people of the Francophone world?

Sandrine Goeyvaerts:

With Quebecers, it is very different because they are already in a double culture. Their proximity to Anglo-Saxon culture means that these questions of language neutrality have already been much more integrated. In Belgium, we are very influenced by the Francophonie, but we have a lot of specificities in terms of language. However, when we study wine in hotel schools, we do so with French works written by French authors. We have integrated all of that. And getting rid of it is also a work of deconstruction and reappropriation of our identity. I am asked every day to understand France, while my Belgianness is erased.

ARENI:

When the conversations around diversity and inclusion started to gain momentum last year, the Anglo-Saxon world had a lot of conversations about diversity in terms of race and ethnicity. This may have led some European producers to break away from this conversation, to see it as a problem that’s distant. What do we tell them to these producers? Why is it important, even for them, to be concerned about these issues of diversity and inclusion?

Sandrine Goeyvaerts:

Because wine is a political object, like all objects of consumption, like everything that will be bought and sold. When you buy an organic wine, you are doing a political act by supporting a particular sector. When you buy wine from female winegrowers, you also support the production of women and therefore you deliver an anti-sexist message.

Working on the problem of inequality is not just seeing more women, or people of colour or people with disabilities, it is also working on violence. Because inequality is not simply a problem of visibility or wages, it is also and above all the perpetuation of violence against all these people, which is intolerable and unfortunately does not stop.

ARENI:

When you write this kind of book, you are exposed to a lot of things: personal criticism, bullying or even sometimes physical. It also seems to me that the French-speaking world is much more virulent, or even violent, than the Anglo-Saxon wine world. Could you tell us about your different experiences in this area?

Sandrine Goeyvaerts:

A few months ago I denounced a sexist caricature in a wine magazine, and the relevance of publishing this type of caricature in a serious wine magazine. I saw myself insulted quite violently without any prior conversation and discussion.

I wanted to have an open conversation about the relevance of this style of drawing, but it immediately turned to insults and personal harassment. Immediately, they attacked my mental health. I was attacked on my gender, my physique, on the way I educate my children. It lasted about three months. And with the release of the Manifesto, it’s off again, with a campaign of insults and disparagement as the style and purpose of the book once again invite conversation around these issues.

The attacks are never on the substance of what I wrote. Afterwards, I think that if there is such a visceral reaction, it is because it clearly affects where it hurts. If it’s so disturbing to talk about inequalities that you end up insulting the authors of books or articles in order to avoid the conversation, then there really is a big problem.

ARENI:

How do we prepare and protect ourselves against such criticism and behaviour? And above all how can we still encourage and inspire the women of the wine industry of tomorrow to speak out?

Sandrine Goeyvaerts:

You are never really fully prepared. Before publishing this book, I talked a lot about it with my editors, but also my husband and my children because I knew that it would give rise to this kind of insults. Now, over the years, I have learned to control anger. Anger for me is a fundamental emotion that we do not allow ourselves enough to tame and use. I no longer fear my anger, because it is a terrible engine to move forward. All these insults feed this very powerful feeling and turn into a kind of joy, because in fact it allows me to do very constructive things.

It’s difficult, we’re not going to hide it, because in addition to personal insults, it’s also commercially difficult. In the world of wine, when you take a stand against sexism or all kinds of aggression, you have a lot more to lose than to gain; a lot of doors are closed. It is the suppliers who no longer want to work with you because you are too controversial. These are the winegrowers with whom you no longer want to work, because they make unacceptable comments. It is also the aggressors who are not punished and the women who must leave their work because the environment ostracizes them. But the more of us there are, the easier it will be.

ARENI:

Should we denounce the perpetrators of sexism and racism in the public arena?

Sandrine Goeyvaerts:

It’s very complicated in the French-speaking world, because the victims always have a lot more to lose than the perpetrators, who in the majority of cases are not even condemned by the courts or by the French wine industry.

This is also why women’s networks are very important. You have to see the violence aroused by single-sex tastings here. Some journalists—because the violence and insults also come from established and recognized people, not just ordinary people on social media—have compared it to feminist ghettos, to apartheid. This non-mixing chosen by women is experienced as intolerable violence by certain established figures. But once again, if there is a very strong movement against these necessary spaces, it demonstrates their necessity. On the contrary, they are not a means of cutting oneself off from the world, but a means of reflecting on the world in which we live, without fear of violence, oppression or reprisals.

ARENI:

Turning to your clients. How do you see them evolving in their taste, their expectations, and their behaviour, their profiles since you opened your shop?

Sandrine Goeyvaerts:

My clientele is getting much younger. My shop is very traditional and was created in the 1950s. When I arrived ten years ago, we brought in a lot of new customers, especially younger ones. And these new customers are already naturally more aware of these questions, and it does not shock them at all that we are partisan. I think they come to us for our personal selection too, for these atypical and unique winemakers. And since I’m a bit notorious anyway, people know what I’m thinking before they push the door.

ARENI:

How can winegrowers help and support you to sell more wine and to do so in a responsible and inclusive manner?

Sandrine Goeyvaerts:

People must always be at the centre. It is important for me that winegrowers offer safe working environments to their employees. That they reflect on the diversity of their teams.

I also come back to the subject of labels; I still see labels that are sexist, with representations of naked women all over the place. Puns that are always to the detriment of women. Do these kinds of labels or these kinds of messages still have their place in 2021? Some winegrowers could continue to reflect on the way they communicate too.

And consumers, of course, have a path to action. Without going so far as to denounce this or that person, there are types of production, or types of behaviour that should no longer be encouraged. Buying is also a lever for change.


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