It’s not often that wine scandals spill over into the real world. Normally wine people fight over arcane matters such as sulphur levels or what sort of barrel you should age your wine. Last night I noticed a full-blown brouhaha brewing. An Italian wine maker, Fulvio Bressan, has been posting racist things on his Facebook wall. They’re in Italian so I couldn’t understand them but you can read a translation here. In them he refers to the Cecile Kiyenge, the Congo-born Italian minister, as a ‘negro ape.’ You couldn’t really get more textbook racist than this: a white man calling a black woman an ape. Sadly this is not the only vile abuse that the poor Kiyenge has come in for. Frankly it makes our own Bongo Bongo Land furore look like a storm in a teacup.
Leaving aside the other abuse that Kiyenge has suffered, Bessan’s own particular problem have been exacerbated by social media. In the past if you wanted to have a grappa-fueled racist rant, then only your long-suffering friends or family would notice. On Facebook, however, it’s permanent and thanks to the magic of twitter, everyone now knows about it. A now deceased head of a large Rhone house was famous for his forthright views on immigration, Arabs etc. Racism is not uncommon, even in the wine world. In fact, with all the talk of the sacredness of the soil I’m always amazed that there aren’t more far-right wine makers especially amongst the provisional wing of the Natural Wine movement. But before social media, there was just the rumour that M. ——— was a big old racist, now we have it splashed across our screens.
So what is to be done? There have been the inevitable calls for a boycott of Bressan’s wines. Pious merchants have already said they will removing his wines from their shelves. Beyond ruining the business of someone who, whatever his demons, made wonderful wines (apparently, I haven’t actually tried them), I can’t quite see what the point would be. It’s not as if Bressan was pouring the profits he made from wine into a shadowy neo-fascist organisation. It might force some sort of reluctant mea culpa from Bressan but it’s not going to make life any easier for Kiyenge or other immigrants in Italy.
I suppose it boils down to whether you can you separate the wine from the man. This is something one has to do in the arts the whole time. Talented people are often unpleasant: Arthur Koestler* was a misogynist and alleged rapist; Evelyn Waugh was racist, even by the standards of his time, and pro-Franco; HG Wells was a Stalinist apologist and eugenicist; Gary Glitter is a paedophile. Can we still enjoy and admire their work despite the stupid, evil or ill-advised things they did or said? Well it depends, I suppose. I don’t find it hard to enjoy Waugh’s novels despite his views but on the other hand I do find it hard to enjoy the films of Sean Penn after watching him and Oliver Stone suck up to Hugo Chavez. Bressan might well be as awful as his rant suggests but I don’t think that is reason enough to deny ourselves the one thing that he does magnificently (or so I’m told). If I do ever try one of his wines, however, it will be hard to drink it without thinking of all that hatred.
Rereading my article I realise now that my comparisons aren’t the most apt as most of of them are examples of stupidity or misjudgement rather than hate (though Koestler does sound like a particularly nasty piece of work). It would have been better to compare Bressan’s outburst to Mel Gibson’s ongoing anti-Semitic antics or Morrissey’s comments about the Chinese.
Some further thoughts on Bressan here.