Wait; What Century is This? A response to “The Daily Sip”

This morning, The Daily Sip ran an installment entitled “She Gets 100 Points” about Sophie Parker, a young woman wine critic from New Zealand. The tag line reads “If Robert Parker looked like this, we’d pay more attention,” and it’s made perfectly clear that those 100 points refer to the 22 year-old, blonde’s feminine charms, not her writing. The Daily Sip (TDS) is the trademarked daily e-newsletter of Bottlenotes, “the premier online wine community,” with over 175,000 subscribers according to its advertising page.

Wait; what century is this? Haven’t we, as a wine community, moved past this? I’m not talking about using attractive, scantily-clad women (and men) in wine advertising – heck, sex sells cars and toothpaste, too – but explicitly rating a woman wine critic on her looks? Really?

Eric Arnold from TDS responded to my outraged comment that “that’s merely the introduction, meant to be humorous. Having spoken at length with Ms. Parker, we’re confident that she’s not offended. Furthermore, you should read the full interview, which shows unequivocally we paid attention only to her work, not her appearance.” Having read the full interview prior to making my original comment, I naturally realized that the focus was indeed on Ms. Parker’s wine reviews. But does that justify the introduction? The title and leading paragraph are what TDS uses to promote reader “click through” to their main site. By focusing that lead on Ms. Parker’s looks, TDS is implicitly telling its readers: “We’d like to tell you about this young woman’s professional interests, but we think that the best way to get you interested, to hook you and pull you in to the rest of the content, is with her physical attributes.”

Even if Ms. Parker isn’t offended by this approach, I am offended as a reader. Furthermore, this kind of lead is naturally going to inspire a disproportionately high click-through rate from readers who are principally interested in Ms. Parker for the wrong reasons. And what of those readers who receive TDS’s emails but don’t bother to read the interview? That substantial readership segment has now been given entirely the wrong ideas by a very heavily skewed leading paragraph. As Ms. Parker proceeds forward with her career, this is the kind of attention that she’ll do best to avoid. A few of the comments following the interview sarcastically asked if wine reviewers need to be old and ugly to be taken seriously. Let’s not be absurd. Jancis Robinson, Andrea Immer Robinson, Meg Houston Maker (emeritus editor of Palate Press), Sarah Chappell (a Palate Press contributing editor and manager of a Manhattan-based wine company)…the list is too long to continue even if I leave out the many young men in the wine world who should never be called “old and ugly.”

Am I overreacting? Maybe, but this is an excellent excuse to point out how far we’ve come, and to show exactly how far from the norm TDS places itself. The books Women of Wine: The Rise of Women in the Global Wine Industry (A.B. Matasar, University of California Press) and Women of the Vine: Inside the World of Women who Make, Taste, and Enjoy Wine (D. Brenner, John Wiley and Sons, Inc.), written in 2006 and 2007 respectively, had no lack of material on which to draw. Today, women winemakers are so commonplace that their gender is hardly even remarked upon. Gina Gallo, Merry Edwards, Heidi Peterson Barrett, Helen Turley, Sarah Marquis, Elisabetta Gippetti, Amelia Ceja, Claire Villars…again, it would be ridiculous to continue.

So, to those at TDS: I appreciate your jocular approach and your desire for humor, but you can do better than this. Any journalist worthy of the name can come up with more than one lead for a feature, and anyone worthy of a feature is worthy of fair representation. Ms. Parker is worthy of more respect than this, and so is your readership. You can do better than this but, until you do, TDS, you’re on my black list.

Am I alone in thinking this is inappropriate? Let me know what you think.

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3 thoughts on “Wait; What Century is This? A response to “The Daily Sip”

  1. no, you’re not alone as i too was disheartened at the misleading representation of a very accomplished budding wine personality, . . . and eric arnold’s not alone as even the erudite, thoughtful jon zimmerman of garagiste recently gushed like a schoolboy over yet another multi-talented yet much younger woman (noting her suitability). while mr. arnold’s sure that ms. parker’s not offended, the fact that an initial commenter already asked when she was swinging by (perhaps just to discuss viti-vini but what if?)

    having worked in fields as wide ranging as actual vineyards to corporate offices, in contexts as broad as fashion houses to sweatbox gyms (with actual professional footballers) and thoroughly enjoying the jocular camraderie among my mixed colleagues the difference is (real) respect and (appropriate) context.

    contextually, the “semillon striptease” of male UK wine critics a la the Full Monty that occurs summertime here in london is more honest and straightforward as the agenda’s clear, and there’s no hiding behind what’s really going on.*

    cheers!
    *(pardon the inevitable puns as couldn’t write without — just not that talented!)

  2. While you may not be alone, you certainly do not have the majority on your side. I appreciate humor for what it is, and this was a joke, nothing more. I am a strong independent woman, and if I was not offended by this, why are you? If this was a story in the Wall Street Journal, that would be different. However, TDS strives to make wine accessible to everyday people without the snobbery offered by those like Wine Spectator. And if they do so with a joke, you are going to rip them apart? Seems like an overreaction to me.

  3. Thank you Erika, once again, for your comments and opinions.

    I and the rest of my colleagues welcome any and all criticism and discussion of an edition of The Daily Sip; please understand that your frustration and concerns do not fall on deaf ears. At the same time, I hope you appreciate our position that your reaction to the item on Ms. Parker is excessive and a misinterpretation of what we hoped to achieve.

    With our headline (“She Gets 100 Points”) as well as the kicker, regarding the quality of the interview (“We give it 99 points”) we hoped more to make a statement on the silliness of the 100-point scale championed by wine critics, Robert M Parker Jr. in particular, and wine ratings in general. In terms of physical appearances, we hoped the joke to make more of a statement about Mr. Parker than Ms. Parker and, perhaps due to the early tone of the piece, the joke missed the mark in your eyes. But I should point out that this is even a topic we asked Ms. Parker about in the interview; she provided a thoughtful, poised response. We hoped that this, ultimately, was what would be of interest to our readers.

    Along those lines, you are correct in your assessment that we chose to make a play on Ms. Parker’s appearance versus that of famous wine critic Robert M. Parker Jr. in an attempt to raise interest in the interview which, as you also admit, focused exclusively on Ms. Parker’s work as a wine reviewer and new voice in wine media. While a bait-and-switch of sorts may rub you the wrong way (and, again, we’re sorry that you feel the way you do), please know that half our staff is comprised of women. Two of them, in fact, worked on the item about Ms. Parker–one even having the final say on the copy. Neither woman expressed the same reservations or offense that you did.

    Those women, and I, are also familiar with the bibliography you provided, as well as your long list of successful, brilliant female winemakers and critics. The Daily Sip has focused on some of these women in the past, in fact, which you apparently failed to notice. It’s also a shame that The Daily Sip is momentarily on your “black list,” which means you’ll miss the item we already have in place, set to run next week on–and in celebration of–International Women’s Day, headlined, “The Most Important Women in Wine.” Please know that we planned this item months ago, not in reaction to your criticism. Does that strike you as the sort of thing that we’d do, much less take seriously, if–to use your words–we were living in another century?

    We hope you look forward to that piece as much as we do, and that you’ll share your thoughts on The Daily Sip in this space, as well as others, in the future.

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