Putting Boots To Ground

Introducing a new project

In Wine
on 27 Feb 15

When I started Stellenbauchery in 2010, I did not yet know I was interested in social justice. I was just interested in wine.

Mitchell Vineyard bud break

My amazing coworkers and friends in South Africa proved good and patient teachers, however, and they humored my oblivious white-girl questions about race and class and gender and equality. I wrote down what I saw and learned. I didn't plan to start incorporating this into my wine blog, but I did, and I haven't really stopped writing about social justice issues since.

What I've stopped doing is writing about them here.

With venues like Skepchick and The Progressive, I'm lucky to have a home for most political and social topics that cross my path. So when I sit down to write here, in my online home, I really just want to talk about wine.

Sometimes that's okay, but I'm coming to realize that these two major interests of mine are far from mutually exclusive. Really, in retrospect, it's a little silly that I ever thought I'd have to choose between them; social justice is about action, about putting your boots to the ground, which incidentally is what makes good wine.

After a few years of working, writing, and organizing in the craft beverage and food worlds I've learned that social justice is both a sorely needed topic here and a frequently unwelcome one. We in the food and beverage world are in the business of luxury––of escape––to some extent or another, and yet politics touches us just as it touches everyone else––our access to water, the price we pay (or charge) for a bottle, the wage we earn in the tasting room, the laws dictating what we put on a label.

I often read articles about inequality and injustice and feel hopeless. I despair at the inhumanity of capitalism, the oblivion of oppressors to privilege, the unwillingness of people in power to bend on even simple matters of convenience because it means changing the status quo. I want to know about these problems, but I also want to know what I can do to help. I want to know who's doing something good and how I can support them.

That is what I want this site to include from now on.

The wine world has many problems: labor concerns, sexist and gendered marketing, environmental effects of climate change, and diversity in ownership and leadership, to name a few. But one of the many things I learned in South Africa is that there are many, many wineries doing something to make the world a better place with each bottle they sell. I want to find them, write about them, interview their people, learn why they do what they do and how it works. I want to share those findings with you.

In the coming months, look for weekly updates on socially and environmentally responsible winery efforts around the world. Look for interviews with people making a difference through wine. Down the line, look for a map and database that will help you find wineries whose practices are consistent with your ethics, and resources to visit and support them.

This project will take time, so I welcome tips and input––if you run or know of a local winery doing something really great, send me an email or tweet and let me know. (I'm sorry I have to add this, but I'm a journalist, not a PR service; I will ask questions and investigate wineries who contact me to learn more about the impact of their work.)

Here's to a new adventure.

Julia Burke reviews South African wine and writes about social justice, the South African wine industry, and her own adventures in winemaking.