What We Learned From The Fulvio Bressan Debacle

Vinted on August 27, 2013 binned in best of, commentary, wine news

Friuli winemaker Fulvio Bressan’s racially-charged political comments about Cécile Kyenge, Italy’s first African-Italian government minister (you can read the translation if you’re up for it, but fair warning: it will most likely disgust you) just caused a large crap-storm in the wine world.

In my view, only an idiot (it takes a lot of stupid to hate based on race, people) would not find Bressan’s original statement offensive.

In the comments section of Jeremy Parzen’s excellent Do Bianchi blog,  there is a follow up from Bressan offering an unapologetic rant in defense of his original (indefensible) statement. I have a touchy spot (ok, a huge, ugly, flaming, red-hot-molten-lava spot) for this type of racially-motivated hate talk, particularly when people of African descent are the targets, as I have a niece and a nephew who are beautiful, intelligent, well-rounded, gentle, and amazing young people, who also happen to be black.

So having this kind of thing happen within the wine world hit a little too close to home for me, and I responded to Bressan directly on Do Bianchi:


Nothing in any of your unapologetic, post-facto rants justifies the fact that you could easily have made your politically-motivated comment without a single one of the racially-charged epithets you decided to include (presumably for emphasis but clearly without regard to what reasonable people would find offensive or hurtful). The right thing to do – the ballsy, mature, adult thing to do – would be to issue a formal apology immediately.

I, of course, have not been the only one to ask Bressan to apologize (far from it). To my great surprise, Bressan actually did so… sort of…

He countered with a nearly 900-word Facebook timeline response, of which exactly ten words were dedicated to a public apology, and in which he referenced Cécile Kyenge not by name but as “that person”:

Sorry, dude; NOT GOOD ENOUGH. For my money, I refuse this apology; the explanations should come later, the apology – more heartfelt and sincere than this one – to Cécile Kyenge ought to be coming first. Of course, it’s not my place to accept or reject an apology from Bressan… or is it? If I’m also an outraged wine consumer, I may not deserve an apology, but I refuse to believe that I don’t deserve a proper explanation (or that my desire to see a wrong by a celebrated producer properly righted is somehow meaningless).

I also refuse to believe that all Northern Italians share Bressan’s severely anachronistic and juvenile notions of what constitutes fair play when it comes to freedom of speech. And I refuse to believe that Bressan’s mess will soil the beautiful wines and wine culture of Friuli, just as I refuse to believe that Bressan speaks for all Northern Italians, especially considering that I come from a country (the U.S.) that in large part was built from the ground up immigrants and is all the better for it.

I refuse to believe that the wine world isn’t better than this, and I certainly refuse to become more heartbroken than offended about Bressan’s statements, no matter how heartbreaking it is to have someone so gifted write something so stupidly hurtful.

But most of all, I refuse to drink Bressan’s wines, no matter how f*cking good they might be, because we live in a world where context and character do matter. I also refuse to accept that this matter is somehow none of my business, because as a wine lover and wine consumer myself, I definitely get a say when someone who is making products that I am considering purchasing f*cks things up as badly as Bressan just did.

I refuse to believe that there aren’t plenty of like-minded wine consumers out there who will agree with me on the above. And I refuse to believe that those like-minded wine consumers won’t vote against Bressan’s actions with their wallets.

And finally, I refuse to believe that this example isn’t serving notice, because there’s something fundamental about the wine world that public haters within it need to clearly understand, something that this example – and the many, many public responses from people who are ready to stop buying this guy’s wines as a result of it – has taught us:

The wine business is competitive enough that no one in their right mind would buy a wine, regardless of how good it is, if it comes with a large side order of douchebagery.





  • The Drunken Cyclist

    Bravo Joe! While I do not think that racism will ever be eradicated, I do feel that it can be reduced to the nether reaches of society. Just like with "that woman on that cooking show," as more and more racists are publicly condemned, others will learn that it is not socially tolerable and they might alter their behavior. Hopefully, subsequent generations will not be as exposed to the hate and it will eventually recede. At least that is my hope.

    • 1WineDude

      Jeff – thanks. I disagree slightly; I think that we can all but eradicate racism in our lifetime. Specifically by pushing it so far to the fringes that it might as well be dead (tough to do in the Internet age, I know, where all the village idiots can converge with other village idiots to spout their hate, but I have hope!). Cheers!

  • passionatefoodie

    Joe, I applaud your post and there is certainly nothing to excuse Bressan's words and actions. The only thing I would disagree with is in your comment, that racism can be eradicated in our lifetime. That isn't going to happen. There are far too many people who are racist to one degree or another. Those attitudes won't change over night, and for many, won't change for as long as they live. When you consider the long history of racism in our country, it isn't something that will easily vanish. It infects all aspects of our lives, from wine to publishing, from politics to business. Identifying it can be difficult. How many Italian wine makers share Bressan's racist opinions but just haven't been openly vocal about it? We just don't know, and we can't end it unless we find that out. I think the best that we can hope is that each generation is less racist than the last.

    • 1WineDude

      Richard – thanks. You may be right, but I believe it can be done. Maybe I should aim for eradicating it in the U.S. within our lifetime… (we are well on our way, though as you rightly state, much work left to be done).

  • Todd - VT Wine Media

    I agree it will take a long time for all of us, as a human family to reconcile with ourselves to recognize that the differences we are born with are innocent, and it is the path and positions we choose that truly divide us. However, it is incumbent upon each generation to push as if unification is achievable within our lifetimes.

    The transparency of communication in this this age of radicalized ideals is fantastic. Once, a tirade spoken over a dinner table, or even in public would not travel very far, and rarely reach the consumer's ear. Now the amplification potential around all of us, means that it will be harder for any producer to maintain a position of both duplicity and impunity.

    Given how often I think about wines that I like because of the context and people behind them, it is very easy for me to simply ignore products from Bressan. But kudos to you Joe for taking a public position, and using your platform to call out bad citizenship, in a wine world based on friendship. While many may boycott, it will be even more interesting to see who will remain in support, both vocally, and in consumption.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Todd. That might be one of the best comments I've read anywhere about this topic!

    • passionatefoodie

      Todd & Joe:
      I have seen some similar issues arise in the past year in the publishing area, with racism and sexism. For example, Orson Scott Card, who wrote Ender's Game (which will be a movie soon), has made numerous & extreme anti-gay statements. Some have called for a boycott of the movie because of his extreme views. Others want to separate the art from the artist. One can point to many past authors of classic books who were racist yet their books are still revered. The Bressan incident raises some similar issues, and questions.

      If someone won't buy a wine from a racist winemaker, are you then also obligated to investigate all the winemakers you patronize to check their own racial views? If not, does it mean that you will support quiet racists, who don't make a public display? If Bressan gave a real apology, would everything then be ok so any boycott of his wines would be stopped? If someone continues to support Bressan, such as as reviewing his wines, will that person suffer any consequences for supporting such a racist?

      I don't have answers to those questions. Just throwing them out for people to ponder.

      • 1WineDude

        Richard – great questions. I suspect that only time will answer most of them, but as for the burden of proof laying on consumers, I think that's not gonna happen. It's reasonable for consumers to trust that producers who don't publicly espouse those crazy probably don't have them, but that doesn't mean they don't… When/if they violate that trust, they should be punished in the marketplace. I think we are seeing that happen now with Bressan, and I think we will see it again if others do the same *publicly*.

      • Carlo Merolli

        As long as you keep your personal views separated from your bottles everything is OK. When you air your views worldwide, well you must expect some reaction from the people who do not share your views. There are a lot of (Italian) wine producers who are extreme rightwinged, anti-gays, racists but they keep it as a matter of personal persuasion. This is not a matter of hypocrisy. Bressan has made his strong feelings public and har crossed the clear line between freedom of speech and felony. If other producers will act in the same way, they will probably be target for similar reactions too.

  • @clivity

    Joe, A couple things. From what I read this guy is a pig. These moronic comments though are actually the least dangerous form of racism, while they may be the most offensive and obvious to white people. Here's where I disagree with your statement that we'll eradicate racism in our lifetime.

    The most insidious racism that our country, and society on a broader scale faces is beneath the surface, and it's one you and I both benefit from as white people. There are far too many instances to even name them all off where race comes into play on a daily basis, the benefit of the doubt here, racial profiling there. A job interview, a fair shake, etc. We've grown up in a racially biased context. Racism, when coupled with power dynamics, as in who holds the political capital, who established the structure, who holds the purse strings makes it such an inculcated reality it's hard to see it as racist and not just the way things are. When white people are accused of being racist, they say things like "I have black friends, blah, blah blah." We all though do have implicit biases that we grew up with, that is racism, it's not as in your face as that slob's rant but it's much more harmful. If you and I care about changing that, as white people who benefit from the structure, we're obligated to call it out, and not just when it's easy to see as you have done here. (Don't get me wrong, I applaud what you're doing.)

    Many people will never come in contact with that guy, and at the end of the day he won't change. It's not about changing the Bressans of the world, in the larger picture he's insignificant. It's instead about questioning less in your face behavior, that goes on unchecked and isn't called what it is. When someone says something like "I don't see you as black" that's about as racist a thing as you can say, and terribly hurtful, in some ways because of the context far worse than what Bressan has said to those impacted by such a statement. That's the real hard work that we have to do. Bressan is the low hanging fruit, if you'll excuse the pun.

    • 1WineDude

      @ clivity – you are right, in a lot of ways, we've probably never or seldomly been denied anything due to our race. I remain hopeful, though, that those things will get called out/prosecuted/etc. A few years ago, when I talked the topic that we wrote obviously lack enough racial diversity in the wine biz, the resist comments came out of the woodwork on this site…

  • @mccellarangel

    I find the entire ordeal troubling on the micro front and very concerning on the macro level. It appears in some areas over the last 50 years we've made some strides, but only on the outside. Hopefully someday soon the changes will exist within men's hearts as well. Point of fact, when you use the word "but" in an apology, it negates everything preceding the word and serves only as a statement to justify. A sad state of affairs indeed.

    • 1WineDude

      @mccellarangel – Yep. Great points.

  • Lenny Pepperidge

    Does anyone remember the time in the 90s when Jason Pahlmeyer chose to wear a leather coat with a full confederate flag on the back for a Wine Spectator article/picture?

    • 1WineDude

      Lenny- I don't, but I have multiple pet peeves about that one. One of which is this: since when does the losing side in a war get to fly / wear / display a flag??? ;-) But seriously, I can totally see how many people would find it offensive.

  • leoricardez

    Are his wines really that good? I had never heard of him, until this happened.
    I'm Mexican and as such, it really angers me when people like Bressan speak like this. Just when you think we live in a modern, civilized society, you encounter individuals with pre historic and inhumane ways of thinking. Because that is it. It's an in-humane, animalistic way of thinking.

    • 1WineDude

      Yeah, people I respect a great deal really love his wines. Too bad, I'm not gonna be buying them!

  • Diego

    I wouldn't take this so seriously….Italy is a terrible mess both financially and socially as of now and these reactions are to be expected, especially when Kyenge is not exactly "uncontroversial" in Italy. As much as I am not a racist, I always try to disconnect myself and examine things from an objective and unemotional manner. We cannot expect and take for granted that the values and "rules" we have in America apply to the entire planet. Consequentially it is quite presumptuous of us in a way to use our criteria as "universal law". Italy has always been quite a racist country…even between themselves (North to South, Islands to mainland…) they discriminate. I believe we must contextualize. When I was in Cyprus the Cyprians HATED Turks…and they had reasons…if you go to Palestine, it becomes troublesome to just preach peace with Israelis…things are not so black and white. I feel Bressan's rant represents the exhaustion of a country facing a definite collapse…and we could talk for days on the "whys". I would not be so personally aggravated. Words are like farts, they are carried away by the wind.

    • 1WineDude

      Diego – if you want to hate someone or a regime for what they are or aren’t doing, then fine. Bringing trace in terms of potentially defining that person, I’d argue, is, in fact, universally revolting to all truly tolerant people regardless of their country of residence or their cultural backgrounds.

      • Diego

        I think Michele wrote quite an appropriate answer here : http://italianwinegeek.com/2013/08/23/on-love-and

        • 1WineDude

          Diego – yeah, great response, I actually linked that within my post.

          • Diego

            Cool ! Yeah you know…I just think we need to CONTEXTUALIZE and ANALYSE before we embark on massive boycotting crusades against someone or something. It's too easy in our cushy lives here to just judge across the ocean and pass sentence on everything. Honestly, life's too short man…who cares.

            • 1WineDude

              Diego – well stated. But I reserve the right to vote with my wallet!

              • Diego

                For sure !

  • Luca

    Boycott Bressan’s wines.

    The wine reflect the producer.

    No more Bressan’s wines. Forever

    • 1WineDude

      Luca – understandable reaction. I’d be willing to buy the wines in the future if he can show a heartfelt change on this, consistently over time. People can change for the better; rare but it does happen!

  • Michele

    You like Bressan's wine? Drink it. You don't like it or don't want to support? Don't drink it, it's that easy. You think it makes you a better person by boycotting Fulvio's wine? At his cantina he has employs that depend on him who eat and feed their family because of him (and don't think like him), work is scarese in Italy and probably will take this people a long time before they find another job. So your boycotting my hurt people a lot more than Bressan's words ever will. Are you still a better person Luca? I don't think so. As Diego says "you are taking this to seriously".

    • Luca

      Michele.Yes this is a seriously think.
      I don't feel as a better person.
      But for sure somebody that don't respect people, don't respect the land.
      Ok you don't like the word "boycott"? Ok I agree.
      Let's say this: since one week ago I don't like no more Bressan's wines.That's all.
      It's easy.
      For sure you are a better person then me

  • Bob Rodgers

    Okay I shall use my superpowers for good since you seem like an okay guy. If you were going to have a BBQ and lets say you would want to invite some people that you met online for some wine,cheese, and laughter. It would not be in your best interest to invite someone named Albert if you have children.

  • Diego

    All you are hurting is the importer, the distributor and the people that feed their families through Bressan…himself ? He's as comfy as ever….and, by constantly rapping at him and boycotting his name, you are promoting him even more. There is no such thing as bad publicity and I know many that are buying his wines more right now just because there's so much fuss about the name…not caring about his views or comments. Some stores I know had a surge of sales on Bressan the last week. Especially when people like Larner write articles praising his wines for a full page before emitting sentence on him. Rightfully so though, since his wines are AMAZING.

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