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Is this Blog Post a Joke? Wine Bloggers’ Responsibilities

Is this Blog Post a Joke? Wine Bloggers’ Responsibilities

wine cartoonJanuary is abstention or certainly moderation month for many.  Out on the web, the world may notice that wine communicators’ blogs, tweets and FB statuses are somewhat more sober than usual: recipes for special juices, angst about resolutions made or not made, and declarations of resolutions kept or broken break through the usual wine tasting notes and articles.

But, what about our responsibilities during the whole year? Indeed do many wine bloggers (and in that term I include those who tweet, FB or use other social media channels) consider their responsibility as bloggers, or should we perhaps consider a code of ethics?

Among the wide ranging sessions at the European Wine Bloggers Conference in Vienna last October was one entitled “Freedom, Rights and Responsibilities”. I found the three speakers both fascinating and horrifying in their different ways (so much so that I have just watched the complete video again). However, due to time constraints, there was little opportunity for a real debate, which might have been constructive.

Ken Payton of the Reign of Terroir blog, who was the third speaker (following Adam Watson Brown of the EU Commission and George Sandeman representing the Wine in Moderation programme) has summarized the session on his blog in his customary intelligent, forthright and questioning way. Here, I want to elaborate on a question that I asked at the end, to raise some points that resonated with me, and finally to be perhaps a general killjoy concerning what I can only describe as ‘Payton’s Defence’.

What about EU Alcohol Responsibilities?

Adam Watson Brown emphasized that EU alcohol policy (as in the USA and elsewhere I imagine) does not distinguish between types of alcohol. He was able to state that 34% of alcohol consumed in the EU is wine, but he admitted that the demographics of use/harm of different alcohols have never  been compared, speculating that wine might be responsible for a quarter or a third (wildly different figures) of harm. In relation to binge drinking he said “I don’t know how far wine really is the problem in relation to binge drinking.”

Bacalhoa, PortugalAdam pointed out that northern drinking habits (including binge drinking) are spreading south and I do not doubt this. My question at the end of the session was: considering the financial importance of wine (jobs, tourism, taxes etc) in the EU, why has wine’s part in the harm caused by alcohol never been studied, and was there any chance of this being studied in the future. To paraphrase the answers: to the first part, we don’t really know (but it was a similar situation with cigarettes versus cigars, yet these are hardly comparable in financial terms), and to the second part, simply no.

The Collective Effects of Alcohol Communications

According to Adam Watson Brown, the medical profession criticizes the total ‘weight of communications’ about alcohol (i.e. not just advertising, but editorial of all kinds) and he urged bloggers to think of the collective impact and to consider the signals we send out. I wonder if he had spent longer extrapolating on this and if we had been able to debate it, whether this might not have been more constructive than presenting scare-mongering alcohol misuse pictures described by Ken Payton as “perhaps better suited to an audience of high school teens than a room full of industry professionals”.

Ken also mentioned that the EU stance gave “a transparent warning of the coming regulatory storm looming on Europe’s horizon,” and I believe it is this that too many wine bloggers are blissfully unaware of, and that needs much more debate. You only have to follow what has been going on in France for two decades since the Loi Evin was introduced in 1991, to appreciate the real threats, which translate to wine being virtually unmentionable on French TV, citing just one example.

Official Wine in Moderation Logo
No Joke

This was the second time I had heard George Sandeman explain very clearly to wine bloggers about the valiant position taken by the worthy “Wine in Moderation” organisation, of which the company he works for, Sogrape, is a supporter. After talking a little about using “best practice communication” George suggested that when we related an amusing tale that might mention over-indulging, we should perhaps ask ourselves, “is this [really] a joke?”.

And it is at this point I fear that I am becoming not so much a joker as the laughing stock of wine bloggers….

I believe that if we work professionally (earning any money whatsoever) from communicating about wine (and of course any other alcoholic beverages), then we have a responsibility to refrain completely in the public domain from admitting that we have over-indulged, unless it really is a self-confession piece, complete with self-flagellation, and that’s best avoided. And, sorry folks, in my view, that includes not only tweets, and posts anywhere that’s even semi-public (e.g. Facebook), but also should apply to anyone who classifies themselves as a wine blogger, not only professionals. I don’t want to see tweets about hangovers, one drink too many, behaving disgracefully etc. And, ideally I’d love to see the end of those January hangover cure articles written by wine writers/bloggers … surely these belong in a different lifestyle or health category?


Payton’s Defence

Ken writes in his blog post: “Strongly implied by both gentlemen in their official capacities was that we as on-line alcoholic beverage writers, principally wine in this instance, need to begin to take note of our position as influencers. But this idea is shadowed by an additional disturbing dimension. Also strongly implied was that we may ultimately be subject to regulation and sanction because of a growing temptation within the EU and beyond to understand alcoholic beverage writers as a subset of the advertisement industry, as themselves potential promoters of alcohol abuse.”

Knowing both France and the basics of the history of alcohol attitudes around the world, I don’t think this is at all surprising or unlikely, and I believe Ken really knows this too. We all need to be aware and to fight this by taking our own responsibility much more seriously than some of us do.

Ken, you came to our defence by describing bloggers as “essentially goodwill ambassadors to the wine world” and saying how we disseminate stories of wine culture, and yes, I agree that many, many worthy wine blogs do just this. But not all, by a long, long way. And, what about in our tweets, which as you, Ken rightly pointed out are no longer transitory and are being catalogued?

Responsible Communications

Personally I do not believe it is enough to, as Ken expressed it so eruditely, “remove alcoholic beverages from something to merely drink and place them into a wider, more expansive context, into a timeline of cultural work.” Ken said so much more than this and I commend you to read his excellent thoughts and of course, to continue striving to communicate on-line about the many historical, cultural and political influences connected with wine. I think we wine bloggers have to do much more if we are really to take responsibility and to be prepared for our beloved wine and our beloved communication about wine to be constantly under threat from misguided legislators.

Even if we should fight it, as Ken suggests, we must accept that for now, to legislators and anti-alcohol ‘do-gooders’, wine is just alcohol, and for that reason we must take much greater care to be vigilant in what we say about our private activities in the public domain. Share the enjoyment of drinking wine with the world, yes absolutely, but do not joke about any over-indulgence.

Thanks to the speakers above, to Ryan and Gabriella of Catavino and Robert of the Wine Conversation for organising such an interesting European Wine Bloggers Conference 2010, and to all the sponsors, especially Austrian Wine for hosting us.

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Comments (43)

  1. Avatar

    Fantastic piece Wink, and I couldn’t agree more. After reading this, my mind immediately went to famous musicians, artists, athletes and actors who have been placed on a pedestal and seen as role models for their contribution to society. However, some have made rather poor choices along the way; whereby influencing young, impressionable minds as to quality of not only their industry, but of the individual. Now, although our influence is considerably less ample, our message of “over indulging” may have equal impact on our readers, and it is our responsibility to live by example. Our words have meaning in all realms, and your article is a great reminder of how we all need to take note of our influence on others.

    Jan 9, 2011
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      Thanks, Gabriella for your thoughtful addition, much appreciated.

      Jan 9, 2011
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    Excellent post about a subject that wine bloggers – indeed all drink bloggers – should heed. Responsibility is all and we must set an example. Wine is too good to be ‘medicalised’ (see Ken Payton’s post) and we must strive to ensure that wine is treated with the respect it deserves. Wine is the livelihood of very many dedicated people.

    Jan 9, 2011
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      Thanks, Brett. Yes you are right – we, as communicators, are repsonsible not just in relation to the product, but to those who earn a living with it too.

      Jan 9, 2011
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    Thanks Wink. I’m a big supporter of this position as you know. I covered some similar ground here:
    http://wineconversation.com/wine-culture/drugs-alcohol-and-a-crazy-debate/

    … and as for becoming the laughing stock, I beg to differ. I admit that my facebook and twitter comments at Christmas about exactly this point were my least ‘liked’ but I hope that together we can make people think twice about this.

    We need to call out people, programmes and other influencers who take this issue too lightly. Thanks for speaking your mind on this.

    • Avatar

      And, thank you Robert too. Sorry, I did mean to link to your very thoughtful post, but as it came from a slightly different angle, I didn’t find the exact place. So glad you have added it here.
      And, for those who do not know what Robert tweeted/FB’d on New Years’ Eve it was that a hangover didn’t need to be seen as a badge of honour… And was very well said!

      Jan 9, 2011
  4. Avatar

    Great article, can’t say I agree. Wine intoxicates. Intoxication is not necessarily bad, and talking about it’s effect on ones state during or after said consumption does not necessarily advocate or condone the act of bingeing or overindulging. Not talking about it leaves the elephant in the room that no one will acknowledge, something potentially more harmful.

    Having a hangover does not necessarily mean that you are abusing drink. I do though think that we as communicators we need to talk about the good and the bad, and have some solemnity when discussing the abuses we see others partaking in.

    When I was a retailer of alcoholic beverages it was very uncomfortable to talk about certain customers who came in on a regular basis and helped keep certain bottom shelf liquors on the shelf. They helped us to stay in business at their own expense. This is a discussion and an area of our world that needs more talk, if we hope to create a healthier environment for alcohol.

    Eliminating the conversation about how we occasionally all over do it, does not make the issue stop or fade away.

    Again great article! 🙂

    Jan 9, 2011
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      Thank you, Ryan, even if I am quite sure that we can agree to disagree on certain points.
      You are quite right though to bring in the issues of keeping retailers in business. Yes, this needs much more discussion in a much wider forum.

      Jan 9, 2011
  5. Avatar

    Donna Childers-Thirkell Wink, we don’t know each other, but your post in my very humble opinion is a little throwing rocks at glass houses. If you wish to take the position you are, perhaps you should also cease your wine travel guide program as it indirectly promotes drinking and driving which in many peoples views is worse than what you are stating in your blog entry. Everyone views the same thing differently and asking for restrictions of free speech is something I can never agree with.

    *reported from Facebook by Links request

    Donna Thirkell
    Jan 9, 2011
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      The above comment Donna gave on my Facebook link to this blog and so this is my reply to Donna that was on Facebook:
      Hello Donna, I’d love you to post this directly on my blog post… I welcome all debate.
      I will say here, though that I do not believe that Wine Travel Guides promotes drinking and driving, even indirectly… Designated drivers are perfectly… acceptable and so is spitting by responsible people.

      Jan 9, 2011
  6. Avatar

    Donna Childers-Thirkell Wink, exactly the position you should take, that is the view of some, some would view otherwise you’re encouraging drinking by giving people a map on where to find it, just like speaking on ones inebriation, it’s relative to ones own position and view. Please don’t ask for further whitewashing on a beautiful individual world where you would also be up for censorship by your own rules.

    *reposted by request from Facebook

    Donna Thirkell
    Jan 9, 2011
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      And my reply to the above, originally on Facebook:
      Donna, all I am saying in rather a lengthy way on my post, is that we wine communicators should exercise a certain caution in what we write even if it’s just a tweet. It is precisely because I believe in free speech that I decided to write the post.

      Jan 9, 2011
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        Using free speech argument to promote censorship is an interesting angle.

        Donna Thirkell
        Jan 9, 2011
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          I can only re-iterate, that the debate as I see it is not about censorship. I neve used this word in the post. It is about responsibility, a very different word.

          Jan 9, 2011
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        Telling others to restrict their voice is censorship whether it be from their contemporaries or legislation. Your advocating peer pressure for wine bloggers to self censor.

        Donna Thirkell
        Jan 9, 2011
  7. Avatar

    A stimulating post, Wink, which not having been to the EWBC I haven’t thought about. Though my initial reaction is that this is probably an unachievable ideal. Thinking about it soberly (appropriate word) no, you shouldn’t talk lightly about drinking too much but you could argue that you shouldn’t admit to eating too much or stuffing yourself with chocolate and other unhealthy foods which might encourage followers to follow suit. Blogging and tweeting also have a spontaneity that isn’t always compatible with measured comments and it has to be recognised that a good deal of its appeal is its immediacy and lack of political correctness. Tricky one. Obviously I should think more about it so good for you for raising it.

    Jan 9, 2011
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      Thanks Fiona, and yes indeed “tricky one” sums it up.

      Jan 9, 2011
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    Ryan, recognising that alcohol intoxicates and can have negative consequences is absolutely important, I’m not disputing that (and I doubt Wink would either). I think what gets me, at least, is the glorification of excessive intoxication, of drunkenness to extremes for the mere sake of doing so, which are far too big a part of our (US & UK) cultures. Wine bloggers ‘boasting’ of a hangover is wrong and we should recognise that until we do not take some responsibility for this, others in society are either unlikely to either, or will use it as evidence that we are a ‘bad influence’. No?

  9. Avatar

    My own position is close to Ryan’s comment. Omitting such information could be harmful as well, potentially indicating that drinking has no consequences at all. If all people read is the good things about wine, won’t that tend to appeal to them more than if they read of some drunken evening where you puked all night?

    I think if the studies were done, you would find far more binge drinking with beer and spirits than wine, especially with young people. The stats for U.S. Millennials for example, show they drink far more beer and spirits than wine.

    And how far will you take this? Should we restrict our wine blogs to only people of legal drinking age? I don’t think I have ever seen a blog so protected, but if the worry is of undue influence, then why not go that far too? One could make the argument that even a very positive wine blog could potentially adversely affect children. Should you restrict your Facebook and Twitter to only people of legal age?

    I think there are better ways to combat the potential of binge drinking than worrying about a few hangover posts and tweets.

    Jan 9, 2011
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      Richard, thank you. I so wish these studies were done to prove that more binge drinking took place with beer and spirits than with wine. Where are these studies?

      But, in all honesty I didn’t intend to protect anyone here, except us – wine communicators – and to protect us from the legislators. I must have expressed myself wrongly for you to think that. I simply am suggesting that professional communicators in wine (and other alcoholic beverages) and those who call themselves ‘wine bloggers’ just exercise caution about what Robert so aptly describes in these comments as ‘the glorification of excessive intoxication’.

      Jan 9, 2011
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        If you are worried about legislators, then maybe you should be age protecting your website too. Otherwise you could be accused of contributing to the corruption of minors, by making alcohol consumption appealing. Seems as valid a worry as being concerned about blogging or tweeting about a hangover.

        I can’t see blogs and tweets having a significant impact in the regard you discuss. And refraining from discussing hangovers and such won’t change anything. Look to movies and TV which far more glorify binge drinking, as well as having a much greater impact. Look at the popularity of “The Hangover,” which has a sequel coming this year. If ever blog refrained, it would be a drop in the bucket compared to the effec of that movie.

        RichardPF
        Jan 9, 2011
  10. Avatar

    This was an excellent article Wink. Intelligent, well-constructed and thought-provoking. I’m on both sides of the fence here.

    I completely agree that as wine communicators we have a responsibility to carefully consider the message being sent out. I covered this ground in a recent blog post ( http://mygrapeescape.ie/index.php/2010/11/26/homeless-walking-tour-of-london/), and plan to include further content like this in my blogging agenda. While the wine industry certainly brings many positive benefits to society and reasons are outlined above, at the same time there are parts of society abusing wine (think young British/Irish females destroying a bottle or two of Pinot Grigio before a night out), with nobody telling them the harms of this abuse.

    The other part of me (and maybe this is my Irish blood!) doesn’t see much harm in joking about a rough morning after. After all, wine IS and should be fun, and from time to time we inevitably go a bit overboard. Personally I keep my inner body workings to myself, but I don’t take offense if someone else decides to announce it. A quick glance at my Facebook home feed on a Saturday morning leaves little to the imagination, ‘heroic’ feats of drunkenness and still in pyjamas when X Factor comes on.

    How many clear heads were there in the room of the (sparsely-attended) ‘Freedom, Rights and Responsibilities’ Saturday morning session? I won’t be a hypocrite, and admit I enjoyed the GV a bit too much the night before.

    Jan 9, 2011
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      Thanks Eamon, and you are right that we must not be hypocrites either.

      Jan 9, 2011
  11. Avatar

    The role of social media, especially in our capacities as (semi) private individuals apart from our more formal, public media personas, that tweets and FB comments add in some way to the totality of alcohol communication, is, I think, both interesting and dangerous. For example, the virtual cataloging of all tweets to which I referred in my talk, had more to do with the replacement of historical, human memory by an artificial, merely technological capacity; for while context, forgetting, and forgiveness are features of human memory, they do not exist in the artificial, the technological. No marriage would survive, no child’s imagination would remain intact, friendships could not survive, were total recall part of our make-up. The danger is therefore the purpose to which transitory utterances, forever recorded somewhere, may be put. Now, I for one, as a private person, have zero interest in revisiting tweets, whether mine or others, past their ‘use-by’ date, usually a few hours; so who might? Well, postmodern historians and anthropologists, certainly, but also lawyers, journalists, advertisers, legislators, and the police. After all, many are the uses to which social media may be put, from launching criminal conspiracies, directing political demonstrations, chronicling a scientific expedition, expressing delight in a product, to the antics appropriate to celebrity.

    Yet context is king. And the use of social media by most private individuals typically contains little beyond the moment, the ‘use-by’ frame mentioned above. When a tweet is read through the prism of its limited occasion, the healthy mind moves on. As cruisers of another’s social media performance, it becomes our unique responsibility to re-introduce the shared features of our human memory that the very technology erases.

    The pressing questions for our era: What remains of the distinction between public and private in the era of social media? Is an individual the sum total of their tweets? What is the role of context? What is our role as readers? Shall we police our utterances in light of the uses to which they might one day be put? Is social media particularly social? After all, with respect to Twitter it has been documented, and is readily evident to any routine user, that the vast majority of tweets go unanswered; it is largely a one-way street. (Indeed, I fear for the sanity of some tweeters that they persist in monologue. I have from time to time re-tweeted some soul’s particularly trivial observation, their love of their new IKEA couch, for example, just so they know someone is reading.)

    As a quasi-political performance unique to each nationality, a final question we must ask is whether we willingly surrender to the increasingly general surveillance of our every utterance? I say no. How we might resist remains unclear. But valorizing self-censorship is not the answer.

    Thoughtful piece, Wink.

    Jan 9, 2011
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      Thanks, Ken. I am glad that my piece has provoked so much debate.

      Jan 9, 2011
  12. Avatar

    Lots to think about. More people should. I write about a lot of alcohol topics, most of which I enjoy at home. I do that for a reason.

    My friends will throw my name out immediately if you ask them who knows about wine, beer, cider, cocktails, etc. But they will also tell you that I am responsible and that my wife and I always determine who is driving and who is drinking before we arrive at any party we go to. I am always worried about people leaving our place having had too much and I moderate what and how I serve it as parties proceed. I want to know who the drivers are and make sure they are well tended too and not made to feel like drinking is the life of the party.

    Jason

    Jan 9, 2011
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      Jason, thanks for adding to the debate.

      Jan 9, 2011
  13. Avatar

    Ryan, for me, Robert is dead on. Yes, over indulgence happens to the best of us, but it doesn’t mean that it should be supported by the professional community. We have a responsibility to lead by example, and I doubt any of us would ever want to support quantity over quality.

    On the flipside, should we talk about the issue of overindulgence, absolutely! But we shouldn’t be touting our aching headaches when we’ve partaken in one glass too many, because unfortunately, few will view it as a negative, but rather a badge to flaunt on one’s lapel as a “necessary evil when having a great time”.

    Jan 9, 2011
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      Thank you, Gabriella, for bringing this debate back to the point of ‘responsibility’ and I do like the expression ‘to lead by example’.

      Jan 9, 2011
  14. Avatar

    The problem with censorship is there is stopping it. I’m surprised no one has brought up Zane Lamprey who has taken liquor knowledge, education and public intoxication to new heights. A blog, TV show, stand up act, roaming get shit-holed parties has resulted in a massive following. He’s vulgar, charming and very funny. He’s had audiences and tapings with wine producers some bloggers can only dream of.

    So, in context, when wine bloggers boast about behaving badly, its so miniscule to call for a moratorium on self censorship.

    Wine professionals need to make wine approachable, continuing high brow attitudes is detrimental. We have bigger fights to fight like legislation than to be concerned about our collegue tweeting about upchucking after a holiday party.

    Were writing about booze, alcohol that gets you drunk and if you can’t have a sense if humor about it, then you shouldn’t do it.

    Donna Thirkell
    Jan 9, 2011
    • Avatar

      The threat of legislation was precisely one the key points of this post if you look back at it and if you watch the video transcript of the original EWBC session.

      Jan 9, 2011
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        But censorship isn’t the answer. You create unnecessary legislation through censorship. Again any writer who promotes censorship has to be prepared they too will be censored. My example of how people can look at your guides as an aid to drink. Just like blogs, no one censors your guides. You have to be prepared to be under the same scrutiny you are calling others to adhere to. Maybe there are some winemakers that are heavy pourers, should they be removed from your guide? It’s like book burners, its not a matter of starting, its where do you stop?

        Donna Thirkell
        Jan 9, 2011
  15. Avatar

    Some other thoughts:

    Donna: Censorship has never been advocated. Asking someone to be responsible and to do what may be right or good for the community is not the same as saying you can’t do what you want. Asking for social responsibility is not even related to censorship.

    Wink, Rob, Gab: I never said we shouldn’t be responsible, though I do think whitewashing it is dumb too. I agree that boasting of drunkenness is not good nor right, nor appropriate. That said, I do think that sometimes it might be better not to talk about the problem, but rather lead by example.

    Again great post, and Wink thanks for posting it!

    Jan 10, 2011
  16. Avatar

    Ryan, you took the words out of my mouth! Social responsibility does not mean censorship, per se. If I meet someone on the street who I think is overweight, do I hold my tongue, or do I spurt out, “My friend, you seriously need to lose a few pounds”? In this case, I “censor” my thoughts because it is not my place to share my personal belief with this particular individual – simply causing unnecessary pain. If I am with a brand-spanking new winemaker, and I feel his wine tastes like diesel fuel, do I say, “Jesus, get a new profession”, or do I “censor” my thoughts, considering thoughtfully, how best to share my opinion. My point is that we “censor” our thoughts everyday, doing our best to be kind and considerate to our community. And I would like to believe Wink is asking no less of us when it comes to sharing our relationship with alcohol. Saying that I totally got wasted last night does nothing for my community. It advocates unhealthy drinking practices and condones overindulging. Now, I’m not saying that there isn’t an honest and healthy conversation to be had about overindulging online, but “censoring” one’s thoughts when the statement does nothing to help influence better choices in our community should seriously be considered, especially as a claimed “professional”.

    Jan 10, 2011
    • Avatar

      Gabriella,

      If you meet someone on the street, you may self censor yourself not to tell them they are fat, but my point (using your example) is it’s not your place to tell others to censor theirselves to do the same as you.

      You can’t define it as social responsibility because social responsibility is indeterminable based only on current trend. Prohibition was considered “social responsibility” 90 years ago.

      Donna Thirkell
      Jan 11, 2011
  17. Avatar

    Being slightly (or greatly) hungover on occasion is an occupational hazard for anyone involved in wine who has a joie de vivre (or an alcohol problem).

    I think the usual rules about writing apply – if the content is fresh, interesting, and says something good, then just say it. Boasting about hangovers usually isn’t interesting, but if someone could do a really good post on it I would be happy to read it and I don’t think it would do very much damage in the world.

    In the grand scheme of things, making light of hangovers normalises them and heavy drinking and so, strictly speaking, should be discouraged. But wine bloggers aren’t social workers either.

    I wasn’t aware there were loads of hangover-themed wine posts?

    That said, I wrote a spoof one recently myself called “Man Surprised To Suffer hangover After Drinking Organic Wine”. I hope it sends out a message to all the kids that alcohol is alcohol, even if it comes disguised as an organic drink.

    http://pauljkiernan.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/organic_wine_spoof/

    Jan 10, 2011
    • Avatar

      Thanks for your comment, Paul. My ‘argument’ was about all social media, not just blog posts and yes it is quite prevalent. What I object to mostly is what Gabriella described so well as ‘the glorification’ of drinking too much. Thanks for the link to your spoof, I love it!

      Jan 10, 2011
  18. Avatar

    Two points.

    1. As Ken said, context is king. In one context (a cosy night in with friends watching a movie, maybe enjoying a few drinks), this clip is hilarious http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6m6LhZJdCQY

    But if you dig right down to the facts (the Withnail character is based on the real life story of an alcoholic) http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/editors-choice/2010/11/06/tragic-tale-of-chronic-alcoholic-actor-who-inspired-cult-80s-movie-86908-22696884/

    well, it’s a little harder to laugh.

    To my mind, it’s the duty of wine writers to pinpoint the context within which they’re communicating (rather than censoring themselves or simply never mentioning the odd “heady” night or cloudy morning-after-the-night-before).

    The wine writers I respect are savvy enough to make this distinction and recognise the validity of a responsible attitude. At the same time, in their social and private lives – and possibly in their public writing too – they maintain a sense of humour and are aware of the reality of human behaviour and the world in which we live, where (some) folk like to get high, get drunk, have casual sex and any number of other activities that might be considered potentially (and I stress potentially) harmful to one’s general health, but which at the time – f— it, let’s be honest here – feel good.

    So my point is: contextualise. And recognise that we live in a world where people (often/sometimes/occasionally) over-step their boundaries, because it feels good. It would be wrong to advocate over-stepping of boundaries, but equally wrong to pretend it never happens, or to suggest that it shouldn’t. Rather, encourage people to do their over-stepping in an informed manner, to recognise what constitues over-stepping for them (it’s a personal thing), and to point them in the right direction if they want to seek support.

    Back in the UK in the 1990s, the government ran an advertising campaign in relation to the rising number of HIV infections. It featured tombstones, the Grim Reaper and a good deal of scare-mongering imagery designed to frighten society (straight and gay) into monogamous, so-called “safe” sexual behaviour. It aimed to frighten people into modifying their sexual habits, and was ridiculed in many quarters. I worked for a while for an HIV counselling service where the approach was the opposite: the focus was on how people (the users of the service) actually behaved and on giving them the facts (and only the facts – not opinion, or moral guidance) they needed to keep themselves safe(r) and reduce their risk. I continue to find this approach valid today; maybe it’s valid in respect to the alcohol and social responsibility debate too?

    2. The second point is about Europe and the “coming regulatory storm” : as Wink so rightly points out, as far as France is concerned, that storm is not so much on the horizon as right here, right now. Here’s an example http://www.terredevins.com/article-1877-Du-vin-a-la-television-oui-mais-pas-de-degustations-selon-Francois-Laborde-CSA.html

    Sobering indeed.

    Louise Hurren
    Jan 10, 2011
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      Thanks, Louise for taking the time to post such thoughtful comments.
      And yes, regarding the French situation, through our French social media contacts, we are seeing more and more of these instances. I believe that it’s hard for wine lovers and professionals from out of France to really appreciate how a country so prized for its wine culture, can and does regularly behave in such a censorial manner about wine communications.

      Jan 10, 2011
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    A couple of follow-up thoughts. We are witnessing here in the comments a great divide between the political traditions of the US and Europe. For example, France is a republic. All real power flows from Paris, hence the regulatory arrogance. The US is a constitutional democracy with a First Amendment and states rights enshrined as founding principles. Currently the US is going through paroxysms of political turmoil; and the First Amendment is central to the national conversation, especially over a growing concern about hate speech. Germany may ban outright nazi symbols, but such a move is unthinkable in the US. (Though the boundaries are contested, as the sociologists say. The standing demand of the US govt. for access to the private Twitter accounts liked to Wikileaks is the most recent example.) Indeed, the majority response in the US to threats against free speech is always more free speech. That is our unique inheritance and burden. This divide is what I was hinting at when I wrote, “As a quasi-political performance unique to each nationality…”. One needs only to look to the severe penalties for even trivial political dissidence in China, Burma, or Iran, to name but a few, to see how free speech boundaries shift internationally.

    The tussle over whether ‘censorship’, ‘self-censorship’, or ‘responsibility’ is the proper word culturally flows from the above. But I would also argue that concern over EU policing agencies does animate the discussion here. So it is not simply a question of a personal responsibility inborn or given us by proper education or parental guidance. Neither is it simply a question of leading by example. Europeans are concerned about Big Brother, or the Nanny State, call it what you like, peeking over their collective shoulders. Therefore, in my view, ‘personal responsibility’ doesn’t quite capture the whole of the matter. And neither does placing a voluntary Wine In Moderation badge on a wine advert necessarily satisfy bureaucrats on a determined mission to save Europeans from themselves. In a remarkably frank, private conversation with fellow panelist Adam Watson Brown of the EU commission outside the confines of the conference proper, so I must be careful here, he broadly indicated very real dissension within the EU over how to deal politically with the matter of alcohol abuse. Suffice it to say that there are absolutist forces at work indifferent to whatever a ‘personal responsibility’ caveat may offer. And that EU member nations differ in very substantial ways over the trust-worthiness of their citizens.

    Jan 10, 2011
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    This is an very interesting and timely discussion. One of the issues is that the wine world has a history of only sharing the kind of news it likes. So, there is wide transmission of every morsel of positive data about wine being good for you, and far less interest in factual data about possible links to cancer, the fact that healthy intake of wine involved drinking less than a glass a day and that, at those levels of moderation, wine may not do that much more good than other forms of alcohol.
    Another danger is the propensity of the wine world to promote the notion that wine is always drunk differently to other forms of alcohol. Of course, this is true, when one considers it as an accompaniment to a meal, but I well remember the old wine drunks I met in Burgundy and Paris when I lived in France, and I could take anyone who’s interested to plenty of bars in London, Sydney and New York, where the Sauvignon and/or Pinot Grigio is being consumed in anything but moderation. and without the tiniest crumb of food.
    Few wine lovers and professionals would, now want to to be associated with the kind of unthinkingly offensive jokes and comments that were, until quite recently, casually applied to gender, race and handicaps. The climate has changed. Even the keenest smokers no longer light up cigarettes in the presence of other people’s children. So, no I don’t think communicators should be banned from saying that they drank themselves legless last night, any more than they should be legally prevented from making jokes about their mother-in-laws, or the meanness or stupidity of people of a different race or religion. But they should be aware that the climate has changed…

    Jan 10, 2011
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      Thanks for your wise input, Robert, and no, I have never considered advocating a ban, only caution and consideration.

      Jan 10, 2011