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On Anonymity

A willingness to take responsibility for our opinions and our words is a positive trait. It speaks of maturity. And regardless of what your opinions might be of wine writers, from the high-flying critic dishing out scores to Bordeaux, fast and early, to the part-time blogger who only posts once a year about the Len de l’El harvest in Gaillac, they share one common habit; in general they all put their name to their words.

At the most pointed end of wine writing, we find Ron Washam writing as Hosemaster. Ron isn’t writing gentle tasting notes, which can be softly worded even when critical, but true wine satire, poking fun at the world of wine’s most famous names. Even with this modus operandi, Ron is still ready to put his name to his work. That has always impressed me, and it puts the overheated reactions of those who take offence at his words into an even sharper perspective. The prime example surely has to be the heavy-handed response of Georg Riedel when Ron pointed his satirical spotlight at his firm’s expansive range of glasses back in 2015. Riedel’s first recourse, presumably unconcerned with cultivating an ‘I can take a joke’ persona, was to kick off with a letter from his lawyers. Thankfully (for all involved) the matter was settled amicably, although it did necessitate the introduction of a prologue to the piece, still online here, as a cushion for a bruised ego.

Why does it matter to me that Ron put his name to that article, and why do I still think about it three years on? The answer is simple; by taking ownership of his words, by providing transparency about the origins and authorship of the satire, it removed any doubt about ulterior motives concerning its publication. Ron Washam might take some flak for his words, but his name frames the article for us; because of his track record, we all (well, all apart from Georg Riedel and his lawyers) knew it was nothing more than an author poking fun for comedic effect.

How would we have viewed the article if Ron had been too afraid to own his words? Our knowledge about the author’s motives would have been less certain. While no doubt many readers would have recognised Ron’s style, the piece if penned anonymously would certainly have deserved greater scrutiny. How, for example, could we be reassured that it was not a new competitor to Riedel desperate to discredit its strongest rival in the field of wine glass manufacture? It would not be the first time satire has been weaponised; sometimes satire is merely entertainment, but it can sometimes reflect a deeper motive. We only have to raise our heads to look beyond the little world of wine for a moment, to see how the inhabitants of Kafr Nabl in Syria gained fame for their use of satire as a form of resistance, to understand that.

In this era of fake news, we have to be wary about what we are reading, and what its origins are. In my opinion anonymity – whether it be as an author, a blogger, a blog-commentator, or on social media – has no place in the world of wine. If you are a rebel fighting an authoritarian regime, you have good reason for remaining anonymous. Very good reasons indeed; Raed Fares, the head of the Kafr Nabl media centre, and identified in the article linked above, was assassinated just three months ago. Last time I checked though, the world of wine was not an authoritarian regime. Lives are not in danger. Anonymity is not necessary to preserve life and limb. And anonymously written words relating to wine should therefore always be viewed with a very critical eye. I might chuckle at what humour and satire lies within, but I have to ask; what are the motives of this anonymous author? Is he merely a spineless, bitter or jealous soul who is scared his friends will realise this if his identity is revealed? Or is there a secret, undisclosed motive? Who is the subject of his ire? Who receives more gentle treatment? And, ultimately, who might gain from that?

In the increasingly big-business world of wine, in Bordeaux for example, where there are livelihoods and millions of euros at stake, these are the only questions we should be asking of anonymous authors.

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