Recently, something disturbing came to light in the wine social media world. Dynamo wine writer Marissa Ross disclosed that someone had been harassing and stalking her for over two years on social media. And she put his posts out there for all to see.
If you’re not familiar with Marissa, she’s an outspoken voice in wine media, a fierce proponent of natural wine, inventor of the “Ross Test” and author of “Wine. All the Time.” She has a loyal following of supporters, as well as a number of individuals who disagree with her – which she openly discusses on her Instagram stories and Twitter. However, her stalker went way beyond disagreeing with her natural wine fervor and Ross Testing. His comments were cruel, threatening and scary.
Thankfully, the wine community came together en masse to support her – including those who normally tend to dismiss her antics (she often refers to them as the “old guard”). It was encouraging to see everyone put aside their differences and agree that this type of behavior was not to be tolerated – on social media or anywhere. As of now, Instagram has banned the individual (the least they could do IMO).
As I was reading through the hundreds of supportive comments on Marissa’s page, one of them jumped out at me. It was from a wine related (perhaps some would call it an “influencer”) account and she said she’d had “similar things happen to me.” She wrote that a “certain individual” and small group of men in the industry had been shaming her, her photos and women in wine in general. I’ll refer to her as Dolcetto. I knew which “certain individual” Dolcetto was referring to because I follow that account – which I’ll refer to as Amarone.
But before I go any further, let me take a step back and see if I can kinda sorta explain where Amarone was coming from. At least initially . . .
The Rise of the Wine “Influencer.”
In the wine world, there have been several articles recently regarding the increasing number of wine “influencers.” For that matter, influencers have risen in recognition across all of social media endorsing products and – the theory goes – holding sway over their thousands, and sometimes millions, of followers. This article is particularly well written and helps explain why the word is sometimes used in quotations (hint: it’s because some of these individuals aren’t truly influencing anyone.)
Unfortunately, wine seems to be one of a growing number of subjects that an individual can “influence” and have minimum actual knowledge about it. Snap a ton of pictures with wine bottles and smile, make sure to comment constantly and generically on others posts (something like “That looks like some good wine!” or “I’ll have to try that!”), join multiple pods, and boom – you’re on your way to being an influencer. For those in the wine industry, some of these influencer accounts can be exasperating since they tend to focus way more on engagement as opposed to actual wine education or experience. In order to be a true “wine influencer” – shouldn’t an individual ideally have some combination of all three?
(Please note: this is not saying that all wine influencers are frauds, or that none of them have any wine knowledge or experience. There are plenty of legitimate, intelligent and genuinely engaging wine influencers out there. This would actually be a great subject for a future blog post!)
The Shaming of Wine “Influencers.”
Originally, Amarone’s account poked fun at the wine “influencer” group as a whole. There was a generic jab at those who constantly post about “National Anything Day” (every day is a National “Something” Day – and it is admittedly annoying as fuck…even though I’m guilty of participating in some). He’d call out wine reviews that were a complete cut and paste of the winery’s tech sheets with no individual thought whatsoever on the part of the “influencer”. Or lament the rise of the IG pod, which often results in skewed engagement metrics because it’s basically the same people commenting on each others posts – over and over again. Months ago, someone on Twitter called pods the “IG circle jerk” – which is a colorful, and not altogether inaccurate, description.
Sometime around the beginning of this year, the tone of many of Amarone’s posts changed. They became more mean spirited and targeted at specific individuals. Often, the focus was attractive women in their 20s and 30s who post about wine – a group he started referring to as the “girl gang.”
These gals have carefully curated IG feeds with beautifully composed, even professionally taken, photos. Many of their posts aren’t about wine per se, but rather enjoying life, drinking wine and being with your friends and family. And seeing as how most of their accounts have over 10,000 followers, clearly there are many people interested in this type of content. (True confessions: I follow several of them and the vast majority of their posts are refreshingly light and upbeat – like if Beaujolais Nouveau had an IG account).
So, instead of the usual generically humorous memes, Amarone’s account started copying photos directly from some of these ladies IG accounts. Everything from what they wore, to how they held a wine bottle, to their WSET credentials, was mocked. I’m guessing this is what Dolcetto is referring to when she mentions “shaming” behavior. And I get what she’s saying, because I noticed this the other week . . .
This photo on Amarone’s account was followed by the comment “You couldn’t manufacture these kinds of metrics if you TRIED.” After seeing this post on IG, I immediately thought something had happened to Marissa’s sweet old dog, Zissou. After scrolling through her feed and finding nothing, I started wracking my brain as to who else has pets that they post about on IG. And then I thought HOLY FUCK . . . this is about ME.
I initially took this pic of me “kissing” Luke and sent it to Hubs and then realized – “hey, I don’t look godawful in this photo!” So, I decided to post this shot of me on IG, and one of Luke, because I’d had a WSET Diploma exam that day and wore my lucky necklace – which is made from Luke’s ashes. Honestly though, I rarely post personal photos on IG because: (a) my account is focused on learning about wine, and (b) I take incredibly crappy pictures.
Did I post about my “dead pet” specifically to get likes or “manufacture” metrics? No. Did it happen to get more engagement than my usual posts – which are typically bottle shots or wine tasting notes? Yes. So, maybe there is something to be said about including a bit of your personal self on your feed – you’ll get more engagement, but also leave yourself open for someone to make snarky comments.
(Sidenote: I’m guessing that many members of the “girl gang” have blocked Amarone on IG because he’s really scraping the bottom of the “influencer” barrel if he’s taking a shot at me with my barely 1,000 followers. FTR – his main account, the non-parody one, has over 32,000 followers.)
Shaming Isn’t Stalking – but it’s still Shitty Behavior.
Most people can agree that trolls and haters are an unfortunate part of social media. And, while incredibly annoying, their behavior usually doesn’t rise to the level of stalking or threatening. It’s misleading to equate the two and I’m not doing so here.
However, shaming someone is still shitty – and what’s the point? Particularly when you’re over the age of 13 and should have better things to do with your time and energy? Yet even as I write this post I’m bracing myself for the snarky comments which I’m sure will be forthcoming. Funny, I didn’t feel this way when I wrote about Chenin Blanc or the Italian Wine Scholar exam.
This recent increase in shaming behavior has made me take a second look as to how I feel about wine “influencers.” I understand the wine community’s concern if these individuals are purchasing followers, or not disclosing that they’re being paid to endorse whatever wine or product they’re posting about. That’s dishonest and the latter is actually against FTC regulations. And I totally feel the frustration of wine academics who cringe when an “influencer” posts something massively incorrect or misleading about wine – like when Drew Barrymore said that Rosé is made from peeled grapes.
But otherwise – what harm are they doing? Is their presence taking away from your number of followers or engagement? Highly doubtful. Are you even interested in the same type of followers? Probably not. My point is: there’s room for everyone in the IG sandbox – and it would be awesome if we could all play in it a bit more nicely.
Don’t get me wrong, after all this ranting about IG – I actually really do enjoy it. I’ve gotten to know a number of amazing people in the wine community through IG and am hoping to meet many more of them in person – including Amarone and Dolcetto. He’s incredibly knowledgeable about wine and it would be awesome to pick his brain on which out of the way California wineries to visit. And I’d love to get her recommendations for spots in Napa – and, well, perhaps a few pointers on how to take better pictures.