Status-Envy in the Wine World and Beyond

expensive wine 2At Wine Searcher, Oliver Styles rags on sommeliers but then grants that everyone from wine writers to cellar hands gets into the act.

Sommeliers – they’re the worst, aren’t they?

I follow a bunch of them on social media. You should see it. Balling like rap artists of yore, cracking open the Pétrus, posting videos of all the great wines they’ve opened, a well-lit Instagram picture of a great label they’ve just received, whingeing about deliveries being late or orders not being fulfilled, going on trips to taste wines at Vega-Sicilia, cigars at the club and then, the final twist at the end of the pour: bragging about the ridiculous hours they do….

But not only somms:

Go look at non-sommelier influencers and there are basically two categories: posts of great and good bottles of wine (Vega-Sicilia, Petrus, Ornellaia, Dalle Valle, and so on) and advertising for mass-market brands. You want to see a progression of well-known, already well-established wines being slapped on the internet when they were offered as a tasting sample, or given as a gift, or on a press trip, take your pick of wine-related professions.

If sommeliers open wines for the well-off, what do prominent wine writers do? Taste those wines to uphold and maintain the status of those very labels? How many disparaging social media posts have you seen by our prominent critics?

Et tu cellarhands?

As for the hard-work-as-brag trope, sommeliers don’t come close to cellarhands. Even I’ve been guilty of this: declaiming to all who would care to listen that I’d achieved a 100-hour week during harvest several years ago. It mixes showing off with exploitation in a way that is hard to outclass.

As Styles says, they’re all “showing off the crumbs that fall from the table.”

But the problem surely transcends the wine world. What else would you expect from a culture and economic system that defines happiness in terms of success and then defines success in terms of income, clicks, likes, influence, hours worked or some other one-dimensional, quantifiable metric.

We’re all taught from a young age that our worth is based on our productivity, so self-esteem is tied to the production of market value. Economic modes of thinking structure all aspects of life. To be perceived is to be perceived as a winner or loser. Social media is the stage on which this game of “whose on top” is played.

It’s a fool’s errand to blame this on individuals or particular professions. Of course, it’s engineered by the people who benefit from keeping our noses to the grindstone. But it has become so embedded in the cultures of modern society that we can no longer imagine a different way of life.

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