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08.23.2013

Should We Care What Winemakers Say?

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Like many in the wine world, I was horrified to learn today of winemaker Fulvio Bressan's appalling rant on Facebook against Italy's first African-Italian government minister, Cécile Kyenge, in response to her suggestion that undocumented immigrants be given temporary housing under certain circumstances.

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His comments, as translated by Jeremy Parzen of Do Bianchi, from whom I learned of this (after a tweet from colleague Hande Leimar), are as follows:

"hey, dirty Black MONKEY, I DON'T PAY TAXES to put your GORILLA friends up at a HOTEL. Please take them to your house where you can be the big shot with all that money of yours. Oops. That money isn't even yours. Because Italians give you that money. YOU SHITTY NEGRO GOLD DIGGER."

I'll pause for a moment to let that sink in. The comment was subsequently removed from Bressan's Facebook page, but his response to the article on Parzen's site made it clear that he has no intention of apologizing for his actions.

Instead, somewhat astonishingly, after saying he is adult enough to take responsibility for his words, he lashes out against everyone who would dare to criticize him for making such a comment ("You are just a crowd of sheeps that accept everything and more..." "grow some balls since it seems you are missing them as well as a free mind") while at the same time insisting that he is not racist.

Fulvio Bressan has never been a shrinking violet. He has a reputation for speaking his mind about just about everything. He's fond of threatening to kill anyone he catches bringing commercial yeasts into his winery. But up until his recent comments, that bluster has been charming. He's been a big guy, with a big mouth, whose wines always spoke louder than he did. I've written about his wines, which I adore, several times.

But now the question: what is a wine lover to do in the face of such outrageous behavior? Can we separate the wines from their maker?

Such questions are often asked of people like composer Wilhelm Richard Wagner, whose anti-Semitic views and favor among Hitler's coterie have made him composer non-grata to many. Yet others say he was merely a product of his time, and that his views would not have been out of step with many in his era. He is given a pass the same way Thomas Jefferson is given a pass for owning slaves (though some draw the line at him fathering illegitimate children with one of them).

Those questions are easier to contemplate, however, because we're talking about people long dead and gone. There's a sense that somehow enjoying the Ring of the Nibelung today can be done without the act being an implicit endorsement of the man who created it. For some it can be appreciated as a work of genius without needing to deal with the nastiness that may have accompanied that genius. History, after all, is complex.

It's another thing entirely, however, to contemplate the abhorrent views of a living producer of something we appreciate, as Paula Deen has recently proven so widely and publicly.

Bressan's comments are much the same, and if the last 24 hours of Twitter and Facebook opprobrium are any indication, they will lead to the same result.

Many wine lovers will have no interest in supporting the livelihood of someone whose views include sentiments like those Bressan shared so publicly. I know I feel that way personally. There are so many great wines in the world, why would I want to give my money to someone whose view of the world would permit them to speak in such a manner about an individual person?

We know the world is filled with people who have ugly views, and do ugly things. Just look at the comment stream on Yahoo.Com after any news story about President Obama or his wife Michelle if you want to see some of the filth that fills the minds and hearts of people in this world. Some of these people, like Bressan, hide behind the excuse that they despise the policies of our current president, but that doesn't turn racist hate speech into political commentary.

Do we buy and drink wines that are made by assholes? Undoubtedly. I'm sure plenty of winery owners whose wines we consume regularly have views that not only don't square with our own, but run counter to our deepest values. The same is true of some of our friends. The question, however, is what we do when those views not only surface, but are broadcast far and wide in a public forum? It's an individual, ethical choice for each of us to make, and not an easy one.

Bressan will continue to rail against his critics, I'm sure. He's displayed evidence enough of an ego that will, in all likelihood, prevent him from ever eating crow over this statement. And even if he does, he's set fire to enough bridges in the aftermath that will never be rebuilt.

Like my colleague Joanie Karapetian this whole experience makes me quite sad. She is correct in saying that for many of us, drinking wine consists of more than simply consuming a beverage. Wine may quench a thirst to be sure, but for many of us, it is a thirst for story, for meaning, and for beauty, all of which are shared with and produced by the place from which the wine comes, and the hands that make it.

And because of that, Bressan's wines will never taste the same again.

Read the tweet that first showcased this, and then the follow-up post on Do Bianchi.

Comments (28)

Luca wrote:
08.25.13 at 9:11 AM

Yes I agree.
Who don't respect people don't respect the land.
No more Bressan's wines.
No more

frugalglug wrote:
08.25.13 at 11:58 AM

That's a real shame; Very archaic and crass of him.

I'm sitting here thinking about it, and I'm affronted by a rather large quandary within myself. If the man has created some truly spectacular wine, I would want to experience it. Yet I would not willingly buy it. As you said, why would I want to enable the livelihood of a man I find abhorrent?

I love Wagner's music, and I do so knowing that he himself had less than appealing ideals. I make it a point to separate the man from his work. However I believe an artist is, intrinsically, connected with his or her work forever –– thus I can only come to the conclusion that I am comfortable with Wagner's music because of my own disconnection with the music and the man (even though I know they are in some way one and the same), he was a man gone before my generation. If Wagner was writing his music today, and was causing a vomit-response within me like what was mentioned above, I would be proactive––or I should say inactive––in not buying his music or attending performances, etc.

With this ethical logic, I should not have ever purchased my vinyl records of Wagner. I should even find the music insulting. If I tasted Bressan's wines today, I would judge them based on my obvious distaste of his comments. I won't lie: there's no way I'd get around that. His wines would taste plonk-y to me.

I can only assume that time heals all. Except it doesn't. Maybe it applies only to art? Except that's not at all true either, there have been several pieces of art that still rile entire peoples based on their previous associations.

With this in mind, it almost seems as if we should approach art without any sort presumptions or pretensions. It may also be better if you belong to the philosophy of art, that once it is created, has its own life that is quite beside its maker. I don't think it's true; it's a very romantic ideal.

chickeee wrote:
08.25.13 at 11:58 PM

why support (buy wine from) someone like that

Sarah May wrote:
08.26.13 at 8:49 AM

Thank you for posting this, Alder.

Mel Knox wrote:
08.26.13 at 9:38 AM

There are two ways of looking at this:
1/a lot of great art was made by people whose political views wouldn't pass a PC test today...people who owned slaves, anti-Semites, etc..yet we still read Celine, Ezra Pound, TS Eliot, etc. and admire impressionists like Degas
2/Alice Waters has said that there is a lot of terrific wine out there so why not just buy wine from your friends.
I'm with Alice.

The question is where do you draw the line?? if a winemaker was an avoid supporter of any of the following, would you stop buying their wine?

1/Mitt Romney
2/Sarah Palin
3/Michelle Bachman
4/Jane Fonda...still provoking boycotts
5/Tom Hayden
6/Jean-Marie Le Pen...his party is supported by many in france
7/Valerie Putin...
8/Pol Pot
9/Tom Lasorda...hard to believe that I drink wines made by supporters of this evil man
10/Mussolini...he really didn't make the trains run on time
11/Napoleon....Hitler without the death camps??

Peter C wrote:
08.26.13 at 9:47 AM

Can you say boycott.

BaroloDude wrote:
08.26.13 at 1:31 PM

here is a listing of his wines... DOES HE ONLY PRODUCE WINE UNDER HIS OWN LABEL "Bressan"? Or are there other wines he is hired to produce for other wineries?

http://www.bressanwines.com/indexinglese.html

08.26.13 at 2:29 PM

Another thoughtful, well-written commentary. Thank you for your contribution to this discussion, Alder.

gdfo wrote:
08.26.13 at 3:21 PM

I do not think Wagner and Jefferson are good comparisons at all. They should not named in this same article as Mr. Bressan

There is a big difference between holding holding a view that ones heritage is superior and that of a person who is an insulting bigot. I do not think the comment is Racist, I think it is Bigoted.

winewiz wrote:
08.26.13 at 3:51 PM

to gdfo: You are incorrect. Calling someone a "monkey" or "gorilla" is both racist and bigoted. Everyone has to reconcile whethe they will in any way support obvious evil; for example, I will never purchase music by Michael Jackson.

Joanie wrote:
08.26.13 at 4:10 PM

Thanks for mentioning me here, Alder. Such a sad day for me- I love his wines, but I can't agree with the way he has chosen to express himself. Unfortunately, as valid as his political commentary might be, none of us can hear it because we are all so distracted and apalled by the racist epithets. It sours everything for me.

George wrote:
08.27.13 at 3:22 AM

just to let you know, he's made many similar if not worse comments on his fb page.

gdfo wrote:
08.27.13 at 9:27 AM

winewiz, Please look up the two words I used. Bressan is not specifically promoting his/one race over others. He is comparing the person/persons in question to animals. He is a bigot.

BTW what does Michael Jackson have to do with this?
What are you really thinking about?

Regina M. Lutz wrote:
08.27.13 at 10:25 AM

Thanks Alder, for your comments and for posting...Bressan is an idiot and ought to be ashamed of himself, but of course, he's not. And that's what makes the issue surrounding this episode even worse. Ah well, everything that goes around, comes around...

Beau wrote:
08.27.13 at 3:15 PM

Will you review his wines in the future? I ask out of curiosity.

Hopefully the backlash against this mans vile comments persists past the current news cycle. I do not think it will, however. His distributors still have to sell his wines, and oblivious customers will still buy them. Such a shame.

Mel Knox wrote:
08.27.13 at 4:12 PM

This story reminds me of a man who owned a winery in the Napa Valley. He
1/called Jerry Brown a gay epithet, thereby insulting democrats and gays...two groups of wine buyers
2/appeared to be anti-Semitic...Hmm, what ethnic group besides Italians is big in the wholesale wine and spirits world??

He ended his life living in a trailer park, as I recall.

Alder wrote:
08.27.13 at 9:13 PM

Beau,

No I will not be reviewing his wines in the future.

Alder

ChiWine wrote:
08.28.13 at 8:02 AM

Beau,

I disagree with your suggestion that distributors have to sell Bressan's wines. They don't. His Chicago distributor already announced that they no longer represent Bressan. They'll have to write off some inventory, but they place principles above profits.

Sarah wrote:
08.28.13 at 9:57 PM

I agree with what most are saying here. I will not be looking for his wines in the future. For me, wine is not just the taste of it, but the entire experience and culture that comes with it. I do not want a person with such hateful views to have any contact with the wines I drink. I don't care how they taste, they are still tainted in my mind. Good on you to decide not to review them anymore.

Diego wrote:
09.03.13 at 10:41 AM

He is selling more now than he ever did because of all the articles, bogs, discussions, rapping against him and so on...there is no such thing as "bad publicity"...and in Italy, no one even cared.

Alder wrote:
09.03.13 at 8:34 PM

Diego,

Can you substantiate that claim with some sort of evidence? Slow Food Editore has decided they will no longer review his wines. I guess at least one person in Italy cared.

Gary wrote:
09.03.13 at 9:19 PM

"it is a thirst for story, for meaning, and for beauty, all of which are shared with and produced by the place from which the wine comes, and the hands that make it."

Yes. I enjoy the story of the wine and the winemaker, and the lessons of the wine, which enhance the experience of bringing its distinctive beauty from the land and the vines. These comments reduce the beauty and the story....making it desirable to find another choice.

Diego wrote:
09.04.13 at 6:53 PM

Alder,

Slow Food HAS to care...because it's a multi-national, highly exposed entity...you will never hear Frescobaldi or Antinori make any "politically incorrect" statements. Bressan (and many like him), doesn't care. He sells out every year anyway...not only does he have tons of followers, but many of them think like him or don't care what he thinks. Support for him is growing in Italy by the day.

I fall in the category of those that let the wines speak. Life's too short man. If I had to worry about the views of every winemaker I drink, I wouldn't have time to live.

He has NEVER been politically correct and he has ALWAYS been an abrasive, blunt farmer. Just because now he strikes a bigger nerve than he did in the past, it's made into a massive scandal. In Italy, Kyenge is subject to these things on a daily basis...and from people far more prominent than a small natural wine maker in a little town of Friuli.

I have Somm colleagues in Italy that are supporting him...groups have been opened to support him online and I know at least 5 individuals here who are buying his wines out of curiosity due to the uproar. If that's only on me, 1 individual, then God knows how the percentage is.

In absolutely no way do I condone his "delivery"...but being Italian and knowing the background of his rant, i definitely support his reasons to out-lash.

I definitely did not appreciate his "words" (the guy is not exactly Queen Elizabeth...)...but it is hypocritical now of everyone to lynch him because he touched on a specifically delicate topic especially in the USA, when for years and years he has been saying things against others in exactly the same manner...but no uproar there. As an Italian magazine wrote..."Bressan has always been like that. First we supported him and even made a hero out of him and his wines...and now we are flaming him because he struck a chord."

Be it clear that everyone is totally free to buy what they want.

All i am saying, is it comes as NO surprise to me honestly...and in Italy, all those I talk to daily, don't care. They have bigger fish to fry...

Alvaro wrote:
09.04.13 at 7:05 PM

Unfortunately in Italy, the man who is heard is the one that screams the loudest, and there is a lot of need to be heard as of now.

Diego wrote:
09.04.13 at 7:44 PM

Hey Alder,

Here's some proof of how he is actually supported (not his "words", but for the lynch mob against him...)(you'll need google translator unless you are fluent in Italian...hope it translates properly though) :

1. http://percorsidivino.blogspot.it/2013/08/se-fulvio-bressan-e-colpevole-anche-io.html
2. http://www.scattidigusto.it/2013/08/30/caso-bressan-quel-vino-e-piu-buono-di-un-altro-diventa-giudizio-morale/

What are even better articles are Franco Ziliani's (the biggest and most repsected Italian wine blogger in the world), the Antinori-Bressan one is a must read (#2):

1.http://www.vinoalvino.org/blog/2013/08/il-caso-bressan-il-boicottaggio-dei-suoi-vini-e-la-risposta-piu-stupida.html
2.http://www.vinoalvino.org/blog/2013/09/niente-espulsione-dalla-guida-cari-amici-di-slow-wine-per-antinori.html

Diego wrote:
09.04.13 at 7:49 PM

Sorry, I am putting them up as I find them :

another one : http://www.gazzettagastronomica.it/2013/quando-cerano-i-fascisti-e-i-comunisti/

Diego wrote:
09.06.13 at 1:51 AM

Here's a French article supporting Bressan in the boycott against him : http://hlalau.skynetblogs.be/apps/m/archive/2013/09/05/le-guide-slow-food-des-vins-d-italie-fait-il-de-la-politique.html

...so it ain't just the Italians.

I think globalization is having it's effects.

Felix wrote:
09.10.13 at 8:56 AM

This is just an amazingly sad story. All the negative reactions are overwhelming. However, all this bad press is completely deserved. Let's hope we all learn from this to build a more tolerant world... How unfitting that this incident stems from the world-wide and world-open wine scene.

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