The Clown

Photo on 1-20-16 at 10.41 PMIt’s not funny.  Especially if this is your livelihood, how you make ends, hopefully they’re meeting with the low wages, the seasonal traffic, and how some wineries just shed workforce members when numbers aren’t met.  But more on that later.  Or.. no, let’s start there.  Why don’t they want to pay?  And I mean, PAY.  Not something astronomical, just a livable currency set.  I worked for a Dry Creek winery from late ’10 to early ’11, and I left or was rather dismissed after raising an issue about the pay.  “Well,” the then-tasting room manager dingbat said, “we did a survey of what other tasting rooms around us were paying and that’s what we used to determine what was fair.” $12 per hour.  That’s fair.  Well, there is truly the nucleus of the humor behind and within and all around wine’s illustrious and inarguable industry:  They all think it’s okay not to pay.  So, I should have said, “because everyone’s doing it, that makes it right?  OR, ethical?”

Wine’s industry is starved, a quadriplegic of desperation, unquantifiably frenzied and madcapped to be respected, taken seriously.  And for many, it is.  People taking their love of wine seriously, I applaud.  But, the crux of my qualm comes with and is directed toward industry behavior.  When the season is fiery and heaping with sales and guests and wine club signups, there is no problem, management is aglow and effusive toward everyone around them.  Then, with the season slow, look for any reason you can to cut something from “the budget”.  Budget budget budget…  What’s budgeted, what’s in the budget.  Am I in the budget?  Will you please let me eat this week?  I know so many tasting room and other winery dimension workers that have thought this, told me, told their higher-ups, and who knows what happened next.

It’s not just management, it’s the language, and the tinges in the wording that’s used, that everyone uses.  Much of which is deceptive, a sales pitch, leading to successful self-deception about workers (which management adores, ‘cause that means you’ve subscribed to their ideology, you’ve bought it, you’re one of their sales serpents, or just ‘workers’).  “Wine Education” is the first such language I’ll entertain.  And it is entertaining, how it’s so often on “literature” from the wineries, how they let you know you’re in the presence of a “Wine Educator” when you visit, and if you’re working in the tasting room or anywhere else on the estate involving selling wine (which is always the purpose, no matter to what degree they may seem to like you or enjoy your role, presence), you’ve been given the title of Wine “Educator” and you better bloody sell.  I always have to ask, what am I being truly taught?  Is this not information I can gather on the website, and if not then what do I do with this ‘wine knowledge’?  Will it make the wine taste better?  Will it make me a better taster of wine, of your wines?  Whenever I see the word Education, Educator, or Educate,  I expect all.  As well, I anticipate being educated by an actual, somewhat credentialed educator.  Not someone who was recently hired and read some employee handbook or heard one of the owners and/or winemaker speak for a couple hours, and let loose pouring, to sell.  My character, though, I concede, is of compromised place being an Adjunct English Instructor of over ten years.  So I acknowledge that.

Moving on, though, from the education obverse, I think of the reality of ‘wine club’.  And, the precipitation of the “members” ideas.  Some are members, then others are not.  And when working at a winery, your worth very much involves how many people you sign up.  But, what management never respects is the tangible nature of a wine club; it’s a commitment.  Yes, it’s dependable income, for the winery, and yes you are compensated (sometimes munificently), but to connect your worth as an employee to how many you ‘bring into the fold’ is laughable.  Unethical, actually.

Wine is something to be loved, and not used.  Its industry has become less about the wine and more of just a systematic industry, like every other corporate step-on-you and claw-to-the-top behemoth.  There’s nothing assuring and certainly not re-assuring about that, when the mood changes so quickly, when things manipulate shape right in front of you and you have to meet sales goals which Mother Nature may not let you tackle.  Even if you’re a “luxury brand”, which many of these small estates and producers call themselves (which is vulgarly vain), there’s only so much you can move.  Only so many bottles can move out a door in a given day.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with friendly competition and selling wine, challenging yourself to meet a certain marker, outdo yourself or whatever.  But when management/ownership bullies you with what needs to be done (translation: how much money THEY need to make), there’s obvious cultural ailment.

I’ll be frank, there’s nothing entertainment or comical about this.  I know to many dependent on a winery’s functionality and everything transpiring with sales and in the tasting room.  The industry is clownish, but it’s that horrifying clown, with jaws; proving itself carnivorous, heartless, just out for spreadsheet cell content, numbers, what more can be done; what you’re doing needs to be improved, so let’s institute another policy, and when they fail to work let’s make up a new policy—  Now that is funny, how string-pullers just change their mind, whenever, and whyever.  “And what are you paying me?” you should ask.  No, don’t, don’t endanger your job, but just think about it.  Who is this serving?  How much are you doing for you?  And if you are in a happy place, at a winery that treats you well, and beamingly proves itself the exception, then ignore every paragraph you’ve read.  But hold this sentence closer than close:  That heavenly exception proves the industry’s devilish rule.

Don’t let it rule you.