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Ethnographic Research and Cultural Rhetorics: A Digital Collection of Post-2020 Wine Narratives

Published onMar 19, 2024
Ethnographic Research and Cultural Rhetorics: A Digital Collection of Post-2020 Wine Narratives
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As researchers in the field of rhetoric and composition, our work demonstrates how rhetoric shapes the world and how different rhetorical lenses help us ascertain our own values and identities. In my research, I analyze the intersections between rhetoric and the food and drink industry, specifically focusing on wine communication.

Rhetorician Anna Young regards wine culture as innately rhetorical and political, arguing that alcohol in general is “symbolic in that it serves as a ‘label defining the nature of social situations or events’” (474). In other words, wine is a useful framework for rhetorical study, and wine professionals utilize unique repertoires of rhetorical strategies to further their goals in the industry. But it is no secret that many regard wine communication as “bullshit.” This is, according to Young, because of its association with historical exclusivity and subjective truth. Young, however, supports cultural relativism’s role in wine rhetoric, noting the connections between wine communication and rhetorical style, arguing that wine is a “metonym of this broader cultural impulse to demean and sideline aesthetics and style as trivial rather than treat them as politically and culturally significant” (473). My research aims to support the narrative of wine as a reflection of larger cultural, political, and social sentiments and show how modern wine communicators are currently interrogating the “bullshit” of wine rhetoric to help reshape the industry towards authentic community representation and development.

In American food and drink culture, wine has historically lacked the togetherness aspect of other subfields in the drink industry. Beer, for instance, is largely seen as a symbol of connecting people through commonalities. Rhetoric professor and researcher Elizabeth Thorpe even deems beer the “all-important marker of a person,” noting the strategies of rhetorical identification we use to align our beer preferences with certain personality types (“Identify Yourself”). Wine, however, with its “roots in foreign soil, its strange lexicon, and its seeming elitism” has traditionally been categorized as an exclusive luxury in American culture rather than a community essential (Young 474). However, over the past few years, we have seen a surge in opportunities for professionals to restructure these conventional norms and generate new frameworks for communicating about wine.

Many of these opportunities have stemmed from individuals in higher positions using their power to create a more diverse and representational community. In her article “Why We Need More Women Working in Wine,” wine writer Sophia Longhi discusses the actionable impacts of those facilitating diversity and prioritizing accurate representation.

As someone from any minority community will tell you, it’s different when you see yourself in the people you admire. Watching Amanda Barnes host a tasting on Chilean wines at the London Wine Fair, attending a masterclass by Rebecca Gibb MW, seeing Amelia Singer present the wines for Celebrity Cruises at Taste of London, interviewing Sarah Jane Evans MW at the Decanter World Wine Awards—all of these experiences spurred me on to pursue a career in wine because I felt it was possible.

Longhi goes on to discuss the unique qualities women possess that make us valuable assets to the wine industry. She refutes the counterargument that some demographics might seem to have a “leg up” in this new environment of diversity and representation by noting that men have traditionally had this advantage for years and that structural change will take a long time.

These sentiments are echoed in Janice Williams’s article “Meet the New Generation of Black American Vintners” and Tori Latham’s “The World’s First Queer Wine Festival,” both published during the summer of 2022. In her article, Williams amplifies the voices of Black professionals in wine like Cheramie Law who notes that “Investors aren’t just throwing money around at Black women,” meaning systematic revisions must occur in order to move towards true equity in the field, such as a business education efforts called the Roots Fund. Latham, in her article featuring an announcement about the 2022 Queer Wine Fest that happened in Willamette Valley that July, points out the need for more queer voices in the industry. The event was hosted by Remy Drabkin, lesbian winemaker and co-founder of the non-profit Wine Country Pride, an organization with goals to “support the queer community [and for scholarships for LGBTQ youth.” Overall, progressive wine leaders seem dedicated to transforming the industry to be more diverse, inclusive, representational, and accessible.

These efforts create a general atmosphere of genuine care and respect for people and communities. But in 2022, many in wine communication were still struggling to find the best methods of integrating these newfound community values into wine marketing. In VinePair’s podcast, hosted by CEO and cofounder Adam Teeter, editor in chief Joanna Sciarrino, and writer-educator Zach Geballe, the team discusses the economic results of outdated marketing strategy in their episode “Further Exploring.” Geballe argues, “We hear this refrain from the wine industry: don’t worry, we’re not worried; millennials, Gen Z, they’ll age into drinking wine […] But [wine is] not a market that can afford to be just writing off a good chunk of a demographic.”

As cultural taste changes, the American wine industry, according to VinePair, seems to adopt this mentality that younger people are less interested in wine because they have yet to grow into it. In “Further Exploring,” Teeter notes this perspective and makes an insightful comparison:

There’s another very large organization in our world that makes this same argument. The Republican Party. Oh, you’re just going to get older and you’re going to make more money and you will age into being a Republican [...] Guess what? One of the owners of an old-school wine publication is one of Trump’s biggest donors. That was a thought: To be sophisticated, you drank wine, you smoked cigars, and you voted Republican. That’s not the case anymore.

Teeter’s comment here shows the intersectionalities becoming more and more prevalent in wine communication. For wine as a business, the technical, day-to-day success comes from making sales, but as a community essential, the continued and sustainable success for the industry depends on the rhetoric being used to strengthen the community of wine drinkers. From Longhi’s, Williams’s, and Latham’s articles, we can see that outdated conservative claims are quickly losing popularity in favour of community-oriented progressive values.

Ethos in Cultural Studies Research

However we end up reviving the public’s positive perception of wine culture, it is clear to many wine communicators that there is a strong “need to engage younger, increasingly multicultural consumers” who represent the diverse spectrum of individuals who hold relationships with wine (“Further Exploring”). The current U.S. wine community is made up of consumers, winemakers, and educators who hold multidimensional roles and offer culturally diverse perspectives, allowing researchers the opportunity to listen to and share narratives from various valuable viewpoints. As a graduate researcher of rhetoric and communication, I wanted to study the rhetorical strategies available for modern wine professionals.

For my dissertation research, I sought to rhetorically analyze the communication strategies in the modern wine industry. But before any analysis, I first had to gather ethnographic data about the people in the wine community. My plan was to create an archive of wine narratives for further rhetorical study. This project involved two ethnographic research strategies: social media research and personal interview research. This kind of digital ethnography, according to researchers Robert Kozinets et al., “approaches cultural phenomena in their local contexts, providing windows on naturally occurring behaviors[...] and a detailed representation of the lived online experience of cultural members” (262). These authors also note that digital ethnography emphasizes the role of the researcher and requires the researcher’s immersion into the “computer-mediated context of study” (263).

To integrate ethnographically gathered digital data into the research, I used Alexandra Georgakopoulou’s small stories approach to qualitative research. Georgakopoulou points out that primary research typically privileges only one type of narrative, and she argues that this data must be supplemented with “stories that present fragmentation and open-endedness of tellings, exceeding the confines of a single speech event and resisting a neat categorization of beginning–middle–end“ (267). These stories exist in different digital platforms based on where the research community shares fragments of their stories. Using ethnography is an advantageous method of research because it allows the researcher to work with the “ever-shifting landscape of social media” (Georgakopoulou 272). In his conjunctural analysis of culture and power, Rainer Winter calls this a “transdisciplinary approach” to cultural rhetorics and defines it as “the analysis of lived experiences, social practices and cultural representations, which are considered in their network-like or intertextual links, from the viewpoints of power, difference and human agency” (247). He indicates that participatory, personal interactions with community members is necessary for a comprehensive understanding of the overarching narrative.

When my search for research participants began, I had a preliminary list of especially prominent voices in wine communication who seemed to be a best fit for possible personal interviews. At the beginning of 2020, a few months following my sommelier certification, I became active in Instagram’s wine community and launched a wine tasting subscription service through Patreon. Through my work with my Patreon community and my interactions on social media, I connected with Bâtonnage Forum at the beginning of 2022, and their mentorship program has given me more opportunities for primary research and community engagement than I would have ever gotten on my own. This mentorship launched the major networking I have done with wine professionals all over the country and helped me gain a credible voice in the wine industry.

To integrate my work within public spheres of wine writing, I started writing for Paste Magazine in May of 2022. This magazine has been my space for playing with different ways of discussing wine and exploring interdisciplinary connections between wine culture and other concepts. My first Paste publication, “Feelin’ Great,” was a synthesis of hip-hop music and wine tasting where I developed a wine list to pair track-by-track with a album by Atlanta’s iconic band, Outkast. Following this article, I wrote about a spectrum of topics ranging from more social justice focused articles about queer and Indigenous winemakers to more entertainment-style articles about wines to drink during specific seasons.

Drawing from Winter’s cultural research approach, I continued my work within a community I cogenerated and co-constructed. It was important to me that this research balances the affordances of my participatory perspective and the varied perspectives of other community individuals. As I gained different timely opportunities to virtually connect with and personally meet prominent wine communication influencers, I ended up with a pool of seven individuals representing different racial and ethnic backgrounds, geographical locations, gender and sexual identities, and professional roles, as seen in figure 1.

Name

Pronouns

Location

Role

Kelly Cornett

She/her

Georgia

Wine Company Founder and CEO

Amanda Kimbrough

She/her

Georgia

Sales Representative

Jett Kolarik

They/them

Georgia

Wine Associate

Chris McLloyd

He/him

Georgia

Sales Representative

Vanessa Raymond

She/her

Alaska

Wine Company Founder and CEO

Alex Schrecengost

She/her

New York

Wine Company Founder and CEO

Luke Wylde

They/he/x

Oregon

Winemaker and Winery Owner

Figure 1: Interviewees’ Names and Information

The interviewees are defined in this research project as wine communicators, as their shared trait is the continued influence that they have on shaping rhetorical taste and effective communication in the industry. The interviews form an archive of narratives from oral histories of wine professionals leading revolutionary changes in the post-2020 wine industry. Researchers Janice Fernheimer et al. argue that graduate researchers can utilize oral history “to connect with communities in an ongoing and meaningful way” (338). Developing strong, sustainable relationships with my community ties was a priority for me, so I have adopted the research principles of Fernheimer et al., set forth in their article “Sustainable Stewardship,” for the goals of this paper:

  • To share wine professionals’ stories in order to expand public access to these oral histories;

  • To grow an ongoing collection of ethnographic data through personally-conducted interviews; and

  • To promote hands-on learning, authentic research experiences, professional development opportunities, and public writing.

As a wine enthusiast might build up their collection of wines as liquid archives of time, place, and celebration, I intend to build a collection of narratives that will reveal truths about the revolutionary changes in rhetoric and communication occurring in the industry today. The stories collected from these interviews will be discussed within the rhetorical frameworks of Margery Fee with particular attention drawn to the main elements of communication that these participants indicate are vital for progressive success in the wine industry.

Addressing Gaps in the Sources

Amanda Kimbrough, one of my interviewees, was the first person to bring to my attention the need for Indigenous voices in this research: trending viticultural practices of regenerative agriculture have origins in Indigenous agricultural innovations, but are usually attributed to Rudolf Steiner. Currently working for Avant Partir, Kimbrough is known in my local Atlanta community as an authentic, realistic representative of the wine profile she curates, and her personally-hosted industry get-togethers are popular spaces for networking, entertainment, and togetherness. But what sets Kimbrough apart is her unique approach to wine rhetoric. Rather than focusing on what is trendy to her audience, she seeks out truths that she can translate to her community. One of these truths is about regenerative viticulture in U.S. winemaking: “Presenting it as Steiner’s invention is colonialism. It’s not true, and it takes away from Indigenous value and contribution” (Kimbrough). Kimbrough encouraged me to conduct further research on this and, most importantly, to prioritize Indigenous concepts in my analysis of current innovations in viticulture and trending efforts towards sustainability.

In “Indigenous Origins of Regenerative Agriculture,” the U.S. National Farmers Union explains Indigenous ideas on intercropping and polycultures, water management, and permaculture—clearly showing that these perspectives existed before colonization (see Heim). In the U.S. today, many winemakers are committing to practices of biodiversity and regenerative viticulture—systems that prioritize agricultural sustainability over time along with social sustainability in managing ethical relationships with those who are a part of the winemaking process. Biodynamic viticulture is a holistic approach that integrates organic farming with specific preparations and lunar cycles, viewing the vineyard as a self-sustaining ecosystem. In contrast, regenerative viticulture focuses on rejuvenating and enhancing soil and ecosystem health, aiming for resilience and sustainability. While both prioritize organic methods and environmental harmony, biodynamics incorporates spiritual elements, whereas regenerative viticulture is grounded in ecological restoration.

While these are positive steps towards better socioenvironmental ethics, it is difficult to find biodynamic certification organizations who note the parallels between these standards and Native American agricultural innovation. Tracy Heim argues that “Diverse farming systems are central to today’s regenerative agriculture movement—but the concept is far from new.” Native Americans practiced biodynamic and regenerative agriculture before colonists arrived, yet few Indigenous people hold high positions in the wine industry. Considering how important their community’s practices are to the future of wine, it would benefit the industry to include more Indigenous voices—but few have taken the effort to make this happen.

Respect as an Element of Wine Communication

In her essay “Respect or Empathy?,” Fee makes an argument for decolonizing our theories surrounding structures of narrative research to instead be more conscious of Indigenous approaches to respect and storytelling. In my interview research and analysis, the concept of caring came up multiple times in many conversations, but it was a challenge to orient this notion within traditional Western structures of rhetorical study. Through Fee’s framework, she calls for the “recognition of diverse configurations of affects/emotions and their representations,” specifically noting that the “major difference in distinguishing these Indigenous worldviews from Western ones can be summed up by the frequently repeated word respect” (205). This word seems to define the general atmosphere towards caring for people and environments that many of my interviewees expressed in their narratives.

By Fee’s definition, respect, as a concept within Indigenous frameworks of relationship management, is a vital aspect of interpersonal communication. It appropriately distinguishes the kind of care for community that people in the wine industry are trying to encourage, as opposed to the surface-level performativity that naturally forms within capitalistic frameworks. Many in the wine industry are aware of the public’s trending attention towards sustainable environmentalist action, especially among younger consumers. So, it is not difficult to find U.S. winemakers who boast performative sustainability efforts and conventional biodynamic certifications in their attempt to appeal to current audiences. But true care for the community is reflected in this Indigenous principle of respect—the idea that managing reciprocally respectful relationships paves the way for community survival, ethical practices, and emotional balance. In order to discuss the general narrative of wine in a way that helps prevent perpetuating the cycle of underrepresentation of Indigenous influence, I will use Indigenous principles of respect to frame this discussion of narratives in the wine industry.

Narratives

When it comes to well-known, established ethos in the wine industry, Amanda Kimbrough is the authority many in my local community turn to. Her personal ethos is strengthened by her rich background in food and drink and her identity as an Atlanta native, but her authority comes from her relationship with the community. The biggest problem with many self-proclaimed wine authorities, Kimbrough argues, is that they are “afraid to build community out of fear of losing their audience.” Rather than perpetuating rhetoric that assumes an audience yearning for knowledge at the foot of an expert, Kimbrough enters conversations as a community member, prioritizes integrity in her storytelling, and aims to authentically represent the credible sources behind the wines she supports.

According to Kimbrough, 2020 was a revolution for wine because it displayed the toxic homogeneity and individualism that ruled the industry’s rhetoric. But even now, she argues that we are only “halfway there” in terms of widespread systematic change. Wine, according to Kimbrough, is already an understood essential to the community. But she believes that our cultural perspective of wine as an authentic reflection of community will only shift when people dig deeper into conversations about authority, leadership, and representation. Making small adjustments to our practices will only go so far—but rethinking our multifaceted relationship with wine is what will eventually, in Kimbrough’s opinion, cause a “big reckoning” in our future. Once we break through these barriers, it is important that we then turn around and destroy barriers for others. “If their idea of diversity means there is only one open seat for a woman at a table of men,” says Kimbrough, “then let’s just make the table bigger.”

These insights gained from our post-2020 experiences show how wine communicators have responded to the new revolution in wine, but we need innovative minds to articulate how to strengthen our relationship with wine going forward. We need diverse perspectives and comprehensive representation in this industry in order to deal with the inevitable and unprecedented challenges ahead. Established authorities need to not only amplify new voices, but also reflect introspectively about their own rhetoric. Kimbrough explains:

I used to really push natural wine. It’s a good model for how we could do things better, but it is not a more moral choice. Now, I’m talking about all the ways natural wine fails. Natural wine isn’t woke—it’s white. Biodynamics was appropriated from natives, and most people are not even acknowledging how natural wine needs to do better. Whose land are you on? Who do you hire?

Natural wine, a term often heralded in contemporary circles, essentially refers to winemaking that adheres to organic and minimal intervention methods. Marketed as a novel and innovative concept, what is now buzzing as trendy is, in reality, a throwback to age-old practices. Deeply rooted in the agricultural traditions of indigenous communities, methods like biodynamic and regenerative viticulture have been silently shaping the art of winemaking for centuries, long before they gained their current buzzword status. This is merely one example of systematic rhetorical structure in need of renovation. Unquestioned and arbitrary practices in the industry abound, and creative thinking is needed for us to “loosen our grip on what we know to be true about how wine is made.” For Kimbrough, this means being more “realistic in our rhetoric” about wine by shaping wine communication with a goal of reaching more people.

Conversations

Kelly Cornett is dedicated to sharing the narratives of wine professionals across the Southeast US. Cornett is host of A Cork in the Road podcast. Her podcast launched in 2019, but it took off in 2020 because of what she saw as a “need for connection” in the wine community. Through her platform, Cornett interviews people in wine and shares their stories with her audience, using digital communication as her main tool:

The Times used to be the only way people knew what to drink. But people aren’t getting their news just from Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast anymore. Now it’s Instagram, it’s podcasts, it’s people sharing. It’s more of a digital social media world that’s influencing how people choose what to drink.

In 2020, Cornett realized the power of her platform in its unique ability to represent people in the wine community. She also noticed the lack of diversity in the industry when it came to the narratives being shared in mainstream wine culture. But fortunately, she also saw that people seemed more inclined to start conversations about these issues, saying that “Human rights movements in 2020 have changed the way people think about wine.” She believes in reflecting diverse perspectives on her podcast because this creates a more accurate general narrative that represents the spectrum of identities drawn to the wine industry.

Identity, in Cornett’s opinion, is the most important aspect of a wine communicator’s rhetoric—especially in the modern wine world. In the post-2020 digital age, knowledge about wine is less exclusive and more accessible to the wider wine community. Cornett is an advocate of accessibility in wine education, arguing that the wine community is strengthened when more people are educated about their relationship with wine. Standing out as a wine communicator means interrogating one’s own wine narrative and finding what Cornett calls “your corner of the world.” Her argument on wine rhetoric is:

Everybody can learn [about wine]. You can digest wine information. The difference is in how it’s presented. That comes from the person delivering the message. Everyone can tell you something—only a few people are going to resonate with you. Personality is so important.

Identity and narrative are what sustain interest in wine, and representing everyone in the community helps strengthen the general narrative. In Atlanta, Cornett sees many wine communicators “weaving the human factor into the industry.” She believes that Atlanta is a hub for “wine for good”—a cultural perspective of utilizing one’s platform in wine to advocate for bigger issues in the community. Her goal is to use her podcast to tell the stories of diverse individuals so that her community can become the place people look to for new ideas, talent, and audiences.

Cornett’s goals reflect her attention to the whole identity of each wine professional she interviews. As a researcher, she gathers comprehensive data on her interviewees to describe them accurately in her media and asks detailed questions during the interview session. But as a communicator, Cornett’s approach generates a personal friendship with her interviewees, as she focuses not only on their professional achievements but also on their personal feelings about their journeys. In her data collection methods, Cornett prioritizes both intellectual information and emotional information, treating all of these as valuable components of one’s narrative. I was able to experience this first-hand when Cornett interviewed me on her podcast in September of 2022. Of my interdisciplinary work, Cornett said, “You are learning a lot through the outside experiences that we just talked about in your own personal exploration. But it is weaving into your world basically full-time with this dissertation [...] That is so cool” (“Bailey McAlister”). Her praise here demonstrates her enthusiasm not just as a researcher but as a friend, and she believes that this authentic friendship building is what sets the Atlanta wine community apart from other parts of the country.

Cornett takes the effort to demonstrate her enthusiasm for her community and everyone’s work towards making the community stronger. Her conversational strategies reflect her attention to community members’ emotions, as evidenced when she asked, “How are you feeling about what you’ve collected?” in regard to my in-progress research. Cornett’s approach to conversational rhetoric reflects Indigenous perspectives on the intersectionality between reason, emotions, and respect:

Mainstream names for emotions may be misleading or limited. In these Indigenous worldviews, emotions and reason have been connected to the idea that humans are part of a relational system where every living being is expected to sustain the others as kin, physically and emotionally. (Fee 207)

Through her podcast, Cornett helps create this “relational system” of friendship, networking, and camaraderie in the Southeast wine community. Her transparent support of and interest in her community members’ work is an ideal example of how these emotions-based concepts can be woven into interdisciplinary research and professional development. Applying respect to rhetorical purpose means developing communication goals that aim to uplift the community through reflection of our emotional reasoning and response to community-wide phenomena. In considering emotions and feelings in one’s personal self-development, a communicator becomes better equipped to understand and address the realistic needs of the entire community.

Ethics

Jett Kolarik, like Cornett, also believes the Atlanta wine community to be a fusion of social action and community-wide care. They see the city as a cultural hub for innovative movements in wine, especially for those who want to work at the intersection of wine and other passions. Kolarik’s narrative began in different industries—initially going to school for photography, working in restaurants, studying wine, freelancing for NPR, and eventually ending up in 3 Parks Wine shop in late 2020. At this point, the general culture of the shop had shifted significantly. In-person shopping and tastings were paused, and online orders, deliveries, and curbside orders were the primary focus. Kolarik was impressed by the shop’s commitment to embracing the kairotic situation—especially in their business value of digitizing the wine search experience.

Kolarik believes that one of the most important aspects of their narrative is their dedication to serving their queer community. Outside of wine, Kolarik has been a dedicated volunteer counsellor for the Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization focused on suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth. The organization “provides 24/7 crisis support services to LGBTQ young people.” Kolarik, by volunteering with LGBTQ-focused nonprofits, models Fee’s arguments in favour of more care-based storytelling methods, as evidenced in the statement: “The story isn’t telling the children what to think or feel, but it’s giving them the space to think and feel” (219). This argument along with Kolarik’s activism together illuminate the perspective of all aspects in our lives being interconnected and therefore invaluable to the authenticity of our narratives.

Kolarik is especially interested in discovering more ways to support these intersections within themself and their communities. In regard to the wine industry, Kolarik’s personal goal is to “bring more people to the table.” Particularly, they aim to fuse their long-time passion for social change and queer identities with their interests in wine. Kolarik’s favourite thing about being a wine associate is helping people find their “wine identity”—creating an authentically “personal and individualized” wine exploration experience to guide people through their relationship with wine.

I want the table to be big and weird and rowdy. I want everyone to feel comfortable asking questions. No more gatekeeping. I’ve seen how much representation matters. You just have to find what you like. Fuck anybody who makes you feel like you’re drinking the wrong wine. There’s something for everybody.

Kolarik has found that certain identities have long been excluded from wine and is determined to facilitate wine experiences that instead cater to these marginalized identities. One way they do this is by marketing queer winemakers and helping facilitate queer wine tastings. In 2022, 3 Parks invited Oregon-based winemaker Luke Wylde to host a tasting for the latest wines from their personal project, Lares Wines. Not only is Wylde a queer winemaker himself, but his wine label is meant to inspire personal expression and creativity—something he feels is most important for people coming into their queerness.

Serendipitously, I was able to meet Wylde at this tasting, and they enthusiastically agreed to participate in my research. Like Kolarik, Wylde wants to use his platform to elevate marginalized identities and integrate queerness into the wine community. After a decade in various roles in the industry, Wylde’s passion for winemaking exploded during the pandemic. The limitations on travelling and socializing helped them “unlock the opportunity to be creative” and “dig deeper into loneliness” to come up with new kinds of wines. He had just come out as queer a couple of years ago, and finally felt like he was able to express his authentic self. This personal revelation determined Wylde to inspire others to follow the same path. Like Cornett, he quickly realized that the social movements of 2020 were inspiring people to be more open about diversity and accessibility in wine. For Wylde, this was an opportunity that could not be ignored:

We’ve been seeing a cultural revolution happening around us. It would be naive for me to ignore that and just kind of go about business as usual—especially as a white business owner. I can’t ethically go backwards. Morals and ethics have to be a part of how things are done. Until we address broader cultural problems around access and diversified food, we’re not going to have an equitable distribution of how wine gets to be enjoyed by people.

Wylde points out that wine’s history of gatekeeping is unique to this subfield of the drink industry and that we do not often reinforce these kinds of barriers in other subfields. The entitled exclusivity of wine culture has been, in Wylde’s opinion, a “huge detriment to any real growth we could see as an industry.” Like Kolarik, Wylde sees their role as an opportunity to help solve this problem by bringing more people to the table and reciprocally intersecting their personal identity with diverse perspectives.

Through his story, particularly his revived enthusiasm for morals and ethics, Wylde helps demonstrate the difference between Indigenous perspectives of respect and empathy. Fee notes:

If I am empathetic to someone, I appear to be virtuous by demonstrating my sensitivity to others, even fictional or distant others. This empathy does not require action, reciprocity, or even meeting the other face-to-face. Respect, on the other hand, is a kind of deference: in this system politeness consists in personal modesty and recognition of the other’s autonomy. (218)

An example of this in wine communication is the distinction between those who utilize performative marketing tactics to please an audience who favours ethics and those whose goals are founded on ethical principles and therefore use marketing strategy to best demonstrate these principles and amplify others’ actions towards these goals. Not only do these kinds of rhetorical strategies exemplify Indigenous values of community-oriented respect, but they help facilitate camaraderie within communicative spheres where individuals support and uplift each other in different rhetorical situations. Similar to how Cornett and I traded personal interviews, people in the wine community demonstrate this interpersonal care through the actions they take towards building and bettering their communities.

Camaraderie

In my local community, I have had the opportunity to listen to stories of how people are strengthening interpersonal relationships through facilitating camaraderie. Like Kolarik, Specialty Wines representative Chris McLloyd’s background also includes many non-wine-related endeavours. McLloyd grew up in Florence, South Carolina, and his grandfather grew muscadine vines in his backyard and made his own wine to be shared with friends and family over casual dinners and conversation. McLloyd, however, did not get into wine professionally until later in his career. While he studied the music entertainment industry in school, he worked in restaurants and fell in love with wine—a classic story of many wine communicators in the industry. He moved to Atlanta for a change of pace and completed a few wine certifications to get his foot in the industry. Fifth Group distributor ended up hiring him and providing him with substantial wine training as a foundation for his career.

Early in 2020, McLloyd made the shift to retail and gained insight into how the wine sales system works on a business-to-consumer level. This ended up being an incredibly fortuitous decision, as restaurants and bars shut down only months later and entered an extremely arduous recovery period. Safe in his retail position, McLloyd took advantage of his extra time by practicing tasting constantly. He made friends with other wine shop owners and learned about his own tastes and preferences in the industry. Learning from others was not new for McLloyd, but during the pandemic is when he truly realized how important interpersonal relationships are for success in wine. In 2020, there was a significant uprising in the demand for more non-white voices in the wine industry, stemming from the summer’s new wave of the Black Lives Matter movement. Following horrifying instances of police brutality in the spring, people of colour all over the U.S. exhibited outrage and demanded immediate reform—many taking it upon themselves to create spaces for their voices to be heard. For McLloyd, these spaces took the form of casual happy hours with other BIPOC people in the Atlanta community.

McLloyd made a lot of new friends at these happy hours, and he describes the entire experience as “eye-opening.” The gatherings were informal—people would talk, share stories, play games—but what the group was learning from each other was invaluable.

“Camaraderie-wise,” McLloyd says, “me being African American, I had no idea there were so many people from my community in wine.” The more people he met, the more he appreciated how generous people were with their time, and he gained a revived passion for using his own platform to diversify the wine industry. “Representation matters,” says McLloyd. He is dedicated to advocating for more communities of colour in all aspects—especially in higher levels of business. He also believes that consumers are more and more interested in opening “crazier bottles” that they would normally hold onto for a few years. It seems that the zeitgeist across wine communities is rooted in seizing opportunities.

But one of the biggest roadblocks in this noble quest for diversity, accessibility, and representation is wine communicators’ lack of confidence in their personal identities—an issue resulting from decades of industry standards that deprioritized personal feelings in favour of capitalist values. The US wine industry has the opportunity to become a community essential, an industry that does not rise and fall with economic circumstances but instead kairotically perseveres through sustainable relationships with individuals who are part of a culture that values togetherness, seeks out diversity, and truly cares about community members. For Wylde, Kolarik, and McLloyd, this means exploring their personal identities to discover what they can bring to the table. For Kimbrough and Cornett, this means amplifying voices to create accurate representations of the community. Gaining credibility comes from developing confidence, but in an industry where credibility and competition have been historically intertwined, it is difficult to shake this individualist cultural perspective.

Alex Schrecengost—founder of Culture With Us, a professional networking platform—believes that confidence is what shapes identity and instigates social change. The social movements of 2020 inspired her to start this business as a means of providing work, education, and networking for out-of-the-job sommeliers, especially those in marginalized communities. She saw her business as bigger than a simple events service, but instead as a means of transforming wine culture’s “group think” to one more founded on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Being straightforward about her business goals helped her gain an authoritative voice, and she argues that diversifying perspectives and implementing sustainable practices are inherently vital components of any business practice. DEI associates advocating for people and business leaders considering employees’ mental health are the ingredients for a well-balanced business model in Schrecengost’s perspective. She feels that the pandemic taught us “to be grateful for community and to try and help when you can.” She now constantly asks herself the question “How can we help each other?” and uses this notion to drive future goals.

But Schrecengost’s biggest initiative is accessible learning. “Education,” says Schrecengost, “is what boosts confidence. [It’s] understanding your value and understanding where your morals lie. You can decide from there how you want to learn.” Wine education in the U.S., according to Schrecengost, has been at a slow pace for a long time, and she attributes this to historical competitiveness and exclusivity. But her goals are to reach out to people who are studying wine and to act as an authoritative example of an open-access wine educator. Schrecengost believes that her confidence in herself—her decision to put her values first and speak her views openly—is what has helped her succeed as a business owner. Now, she gets to use her platform to help others speak up for themselves and to facilitate wine learning in the ways she believes it should thrive.

Stories

The camaraderie style of education and professional development in wine isn’t new to the industry—in fact, before the digital age, learning from mentors was one of the primary ways wine communicators gained authoritative insight. But in the post-2020 wine world, communicators are opening up their perspectives about education and authority. When it comes to wine exploration and tasting, wine professionals have the power to enhance these experiences through their ability to relay wine and winemaker narratives. This power does not come from official certification or formal education by themselves; it comes from the individual’s relationship with this knowledge and their personal choices in sharing these narratives. Furthermore, there are many quality wines that are not developed through conventional methods, yet their stories showcase the reasons why the wine is uniquely special. Underrepresented narratives of wine and people contain the same potential for connection with curious individuals as mainstream narratives.

A sociotechnologist who founded a digital wine platform out of passion for wine, Vanessa Raymond has a unique role in the digital wine community that made her story a must-have source for my project. Her background is in technology and environmental research, but she developed a love for wine when she lived in Bulgaria as a Peace Corps volunteer. She describes the culture of wine as a community essential in Bulgaria—as opposed to a luxury or commodity. Her host family displayed a casual, familial relationship with wine, making it at home for family get-togethers and pairing it with local cuisine and conversation, similar to what McLloyd recounts of his childhood experiences with homegrown wine. This cultural tradition, according to Fee, reflects the beliefs of the Nlaka'pamux people, one of the First Nation communities of British Columbia:

The land itself has emotions [...] The land and everything living on it has an emotional life dependent on relationships with others, including human beings. And listening to the elders tell stories is how children and young adults learn to become human so that they can sustain themselves, their communities, and, above all, the land. (211)

This perspective positions all elements, people and environmental entities included, as interdependent and therefore containing vital emotional influence in community narratives. This is an essential framework for progressive, sustainable wine practices, as the processes behind wine depend on the relationships between agriculture, climate, kairos, and people. Inspired by this traditionally un-American idea of wine as a community essential, Raymond returned to the U.S. with plans for new career endeavours in wine.

Raymond has always been a firm believer in technology as an access tool, especially as a means for amplifying our voices. She argues that digital and social media are “ways to have conversations that we couldn’t have before,” and she wants to use these tools to open up wine accessibility. This aspiration led her to create Telesomm, an online platform for connecting wine communicators with wine lovers in the community. Wine communicators have individual profiles on the platform where they can develop virtual and in-person tasting experiences related to their expertise and interests. Additionally, the company hosts in-person events with community organizations and partners with wine organizations aimed at supporting marginalized people in their wine careers. Through Telesomm, Raymond aims to change the rhetoric of wine and taste culture. She believes in providing wine professionals with “purposeful, meaningful” work where they can showcase their rhetorical skills, and she wants their audiences to be more confident and educated about wine.

Raymond is especially interested in creating experiences where people feel like they are being cared for—but her ultimate goal is a socially sustainable method of long-term care between individuals in a community. While other wine companies concentrate on wine itself, Raymond’s business strategy focuses more on wine rhetoric—facilitating conversations and amplifying others’ voices in order to support a rhetorical shift that favours the authentic and diverse stories behind the wines. In her vision, cultural taste in wine represents the authentically eclectic methods of experiencing wine and the vastly diverse spectrum of people who learn about it. This is a culture of storytelling where wine drinkers continuously fall in love with wine by learning new stories behind it—reflective of how sommeliers and wine communicators sustain their passion for wine because of the way it renders our roles as permanent scholars, always learning.

Research Implications

Changing the future of wine starts with innovative, contemporary rhetoric that helps establish community-wide ethos strong enough to transcend boundaries and awaken our senses. As sources, these narratives provide valuable “food for thought” within this research, which Fee believes to be the underlying purpose of sharing and listening to people’s stories; the stories act as “meaningful resources [to] provide useful models of how to behave in a way that respects difference while allowing listeners to ‘think for themselves’ about their own relationships and responsibilities” (219). Studying these perspectives and sentiments within this community has helped me apply many rhetorical and cultural frameworks to public discourse, and my next steps are to continue orienting this research within humanities studies through rhetorical analysis.

The narratives collected here prove that “wine culture is really a symbolic object that links up to a larger aestheticized politics that demands our attention” (Young 475). As I continue this research, I aim to create pieces of digital composition that both act as an “accessible home for the materials produced” in my research studies and also remain open for collaboration, feedback, and further analysis (Fernheimer et al. 324). Like wine, these research discussions benefit from continued exploration and community collaboration, and evolving technologies bring more opportunities to connect. As Fernheimer points out, “collaborations and partnerships come in many forms and develop over time” (335), so I look forward to hearing more interdisciplinary conversations surrounding food and drink rhetorics as the world of communication evolves.

Works Cited

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Cornett, Kelly. “A Cork in the Road.” A Cork in the Road, https://www.acorkintheroad.com/.

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