Life is complicated. In my view there is rarely a black and white without nuance. I promise you the real story behind this, including real-life villains, is worthy of Tolstoy. Maybe one day, I will tell it from my point of view.
On November 1, 2019 the New York Times published a story about sexual harassment in the wine world. It focused on Anthony Cailan, a sommelier whom I have written about in these pages. A subscriber to the TFL, who I didn’t know, wrote to me last June. She told me that Cailan had assaulted her. She did not elaborate on the details of the assault, rather she asked me to assume. Without any details being offered, I had no way of knowing what had actually happened until I later read about her story in the paper. But her main reason for writing to me was, “I guess my question to you is what is your opinion on call-out culture?”
I told her my feelings that it should be reserved for the most egregious of crimes. One should not hold back. And of course, it depends on what we want to accomplish. I wrote to her. She wrote me back. ”
“I think in many ways I already agreed with you…Thank you, again, for a response and taking the time to read my email! I really do appreciate it.”
Our private correspondence landed on a Times reporter’s desk, and parts of it were printed, out of context. Of course, it wasn’t Raquel Makler’s fault. Of course, I wasn’t blaming her. I wish I’d paid closer attention to what she left unsaid and have been able to provide more on-point advice and comfort. However, wishing doesn’t make it so. I can only try to learn from it and do better from here on.
There’s so, so much more back story here. Maybe it doesn’t really even matter. But there is at least one rumor floating out there, that for now, I must set straight.
To be very clear: There’s a lot of noise and trolling accusing me of silencing a woman of color. I had no idea what race or religion she was and I have a difficult time understanding how my answer would have changed.
I would never advise a woman to stay silent. That would be entirely contrary to my track record. By advising her not to go “public,” I was telling her that not every situation belongs in the paper of record or social media. As someone who has been through everything from criminal sexual assault to serious harassment, and had mostly been silent (another generation, right?) I want women to shout the truth out, and powerfully so. But this was not presented to me as a situation where one person was using his position over another, which is why I advised her to first confront the perpetrator himself.
I wrote to Raquel in strong words because, well, that’s what I do. And I have so much personal experience in this. In fact, I shared with her that just the week before she emailed me, a man whom I avoided for almost thirty years apologized to me for pushing me to engage with him in a way that nauseated me then and still does. The man had been a friend. Like Anthony had been a friend to her. To me, not only that apology but his awareness meant so much to me. And I shared that with her. I wrote to her as I would a niece and from the heart.
“Maybe it’s generational, but from my perch, I believe that calling out should be reserved for the truly egregious. Be clear, do you want revenge or do you want change or an apology. I am not a big believer in revenge.”
But I am a big believer in sincere apologies and change. Especially change.
We need to move forward to keep those with less power safe in the world and the wine world. From wine writer to worker, to salesperson, to vineyard worker, to sommelier to retail, to every corner of the business, we need solutions to stay safe in the murky land of wine and sexuality. We need to make progress in maneuvering the workplace and curbing the abuse of power.
Here’s what we must not lose sight of. Our society is complicit with men who abuse women. The bro club or sexual abuse and power to keep women down is real and many men just don’t get it because it’s so systemic. But it must stop. We’re close, too. We’re at the tipping point of making it happen. But, at least in my opinion, if we lose focus for revenge on one hand or pettiness on the other, if women pit themselves against women, well, I fear we’ll be locked out of the Promised Land for at least another 40 years. We can’t let that happen.