Bianca Bosker Talks Hierarchy
Fresh off the red-eye from India, Bianca Bosker seems to have a foot in each continent. She’s talking about her op-ed in the New York Times, celebrating the purpose of ‘bad’ wine – and the incendiary response that followed. “It was fierce and merciless”, she says, “but I want healthy disagreement. It’s like the sacred cows of India. We should examine them, understand what they’re about, and if they’re still sacred then we can put them on a pedestal. But otherwise, no way!”.
Bosker is the author of Cork Dork, an account of her mission to become a qualified sommelier from a standing start. And she really wants to hammer home that point about hierarchy. She’s been invited to speak to Women in Wine London, a collective of, you guessed it, women who work in the UK wine trade. It’s the first session I’ve attended, and I’m struck by a room which crackles with the unique electricity of women gathering together.
In her quest to qualify as a somm and learn about what makes wine geeks tick Bosker fully immersed herself in the power hierarchies at play in our industry. And she really means in every facet of our industry. Sure, there are the still male-dominated hierarchies of power in wine businesses and hospitality across the globe – but she’s also keen to open our eyes to hierarchies of perception.
“Our world seems to be dominated by sexy male chefs. While somms are gentle nerds. Popular culture has mined every bit of Back of House. Front of House doesn’t really get its due”. As a somm, Bosker does have some personal investment in this narrative – but it strikes me that her description of the psychology and ultimate care of FOH interaction, that which elevates “the ingestion of calories into a meal to celebrate” could go a long way to disassembling typical consumer perception of what does and doesn’t have value.
Inevitably in a discussion of hierarchy in the wine world, talk turns to judgement. It’s inherent: is a wine good or bad; how many points does it have; is this person’s palate decent; what does your choice of bottle say about you – about your values – about your taste – about your knowledge and education. “The whole wine world is so opinionated,” says Bosker, and cruel in it’s implicit judgement. The obsession which is seemingly mandatory for success in wine is as prevalent as the essential cruelty of the product: ultimately, nature has the last say, whether it’s in the weather destroying a crop or a finished wine spoiling.
Bosker seems to think that there are also hierarchies in the way we learn about wine. We learn about how things should smell before we can get a handle on the basics of literally how our sense of smell operates. It links back to that infamous op-ed, where Bosker repeatedly reference the disparity of taste between the elevated hierarchies of the wine trade and consumers:
“There is an irony to oenophiles’ definition of quality: What they deem ‘bad’ wine is really wine that tastes good, at least to large numbers of drinkers. And what’s so bad about that? What is wine but a drink of pleasure? Parallel trends exist in music, fashion, movies and art, where the lowbrow and highbrow coexist”.
Can social media be used to break down the hierarchical walls? It was an inevitable part of the Q&A. The conclusion was yes – but only in used in the right way. It shouldn’t engender a new kind of snobbery that is Instagram-friendly – all plaid shirt and beard and ‘oh don’t you drink exclusively raw/ natural wine’. Similarly, it shouldn’t be used for posturing – the one-upmanship of label sharing which ran rampant across the internet last year. But it is the place Bosker feels we can embrace the high-low in wine and, returning to the core purpose of her book, connect people to the means by which they can develop a taste for wine and all the great stories that come with it.