This is not an easy piece to write.
As a sommelier, wine is important to me. It has taught me about geography, history, gardening, science, marketing and the environment. Wine has also taught me about community, passion and discipline.
As a wine consumer, wine is fun, social and interesting to chat about. It’s a great accompaniment to a good meal or good friends. I’ve learned that when I’m not at work or not actually studying wine, I shouldn’t take it so seriously. After all, it’s just grape juice.
I also learned that the wine community is not immune to sexual misconduct. Bubble burst.
I should have known better. No industry is without its issues. We’re all flawed humans, after all. What I find fascinating is that we now live in a world where we need a handbook to tell us how to behave respectfully towards each other. Companies now have sexual harassment policies and procedures in place because some people don’t know how to be decent humans to other decent humans. We need a handbook to tell us how to not harass others and then what to do when it inevitably happens. It would seem as though these policies are not enough.
On June 19, 2018 the Globe & Mail exposed sexual misconduct accusations against Norman Hardie. On June 20, 2018, Norman Hardie issued a statement on his winery’s website. For the past few days, the story has blowing up all over traditional and social media. Norman Hardie is a Canadian winemaker. This one hits close to home.
Norman Hardie’s Power and Influence in the Wine Industry
In the big picture of the wine industry, Canada is a very small player. Canadians think we’re a big deal, but globally (apart from our icewine) we’re small and we’re really just getting started. The quality of our wines can certainly stand up to wines from around the world, it’s just that the most of the rest of the world isn’t aware of that fact quite yet. Enter Norman Hardie. He’s a big player in the Canadian food and wine industry. A major influence, particularly in Ontario. In an interview with Matt Galloway on CBC Metro Morning, Jen Agg, writer and Black Hoof restaurant owner in Toronto had this to say about Hardie’s place in the wine industry:
He was THE guy. Everybody knew him… he was getting recognition outside the country…. in ways that almost noone else was.
Hardie has met with royalty, political officials, celebrity chefs and wine critics from around the world. They’ve shook his hand and sampled his wines. Hardie has been in the wine business for over 30 years. Less than two months ago he was named 2018 Winemaker of the Year at the Ontario Wine Awards. He’s built a legacy of power and influence as a sommelier, winemaker, winery owner and restauranteur. He also admitted to trying to kiss a female employee on her first day of work. Now he has a legacy of dozens upon dozens of alleged incidences of gross sexual misconduct. Some he has admitted to, others he denies.
Norman Hardie has caused a lot of damage.
Norman Hardie’s Statement in Response to Sexual Misconduct Allegations
Here are excerpts from Norman Hardie’s statement on his winery website. You can read the full statement here.
Hardie starts by saying this in the first paragraph of the statement:
“Reading the stories of these women and how my behaviour impacted them has made me deeply ashamed. To all those who felt marginalized, demeaned or objectified while working for or alongside me, I am truly very sorry.”
He goes on to say that some of what he is accused of is true, and denied other accusations. He does not specify which accusations he believes to be true and which ones he believes are false.
“Some of the allegations made against me are not true, but many are. Several years ago, I was approached by trusted colleagues who expressed concern about our work environment becoming too familiar and, specifically, with my behaviour and language. I was also told that the socializing and overly-familiar bantering with colleagues needed to stop. I took this to heart and have since worked hard to change my behaviour. But I clearly have much more work to do.”
Socializing and verly-familiar bantering. That’s not how I would describe “…let me grab your boobs.” (allegedly)
Our work environment becoming too familiar. That’s not how I would categorize putting your hands down an employees pants (allegedly).
I thought maybe that was just me. Until I read the comments on Twitter.
Support for Norman Hardie in Ontario and Beyond
Not everyone believes his apology statement was hollow. There are some people who support Norman Hardie. There are bound to be people who have met him or know him that do not believe the allegations and certainly as many strangers that shout from behind their computers and smart phones “whatever happened to innocent before proven guilty.” Not everyone who worked for him experienced the harassment that his more than 20 accusers say they did. Some former and current employees characterize him as generous and supportive of their careers. One employee has gone so far as to say that a recommendation from Hardie is influence enough for someone to get a job anywhere else if need be.
Stop and think about the kind of influence this man has.
On social media, where many people believe they are entitled to be judge, jury and executioner, there are people who believe his apology is a good first step.
For the record, the winery’s official record is clean. The winery’s operations director, who was also in charge of Human Resources, made a statement to the Globe & Mail saying he had never received any complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace. Hardie also hired an independent advisor to assess the workplace environment. It found that “enhancements” were necessary but there was no “examples of sexual harassment in the workplace today.”
Guests of the winery, employees of Hardie’s winery and his restaurants, wine buyers for restaurants, other winery owners in the region and the general public will tell you otherwise. Vicki Samaras, President and co-founder of Hinterland Wine Company described him in an interview as having a reputation for being
“a ladies man, [who] sometimes says inappropriate things…”
However, as his equal she was able to say to him “Norm, you know what, that doesn’t make me feel comfortable… stop that language.” She understands it’s different for employees, “it’s our job to protect our employees…” She says that her and other colleagues in the industry did not know how deep this went until the Globe & Mail published the first article on June 19.
The Consequences of Being Accused of Sexual Misconduct in the Wine Industry
More people are now speaking out about Norman Hardie and many are making statements with their buying power. Véronique Rivest, one of the top sommeliers in the world has made an official statement regarding the Norman Hardie. Not sure if that’s big deal? She has twice won Canada’s best sommelier and took second place in the World’s Top Sommelier competition in Tokyo. She is Air Canada’s official sommelier and the owner of SOIF Bar à Vin in Gatineau, Quebec. SOIF has been named one of the 10 best restaurants in Canada. Her statement? She immediately removed Hardie wines from her wine list.
Eastern Canada Takes a Hard Stand in light of these Allegations
Two of the largest buyers in Canada have also decided not to order more wines from Norman Hardie winery. The Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ) and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) are the government bodies that, among other things, purchase wine for every single liquor store in each province. Some believe it is not enough to not place new orders of the wine, that they should remove all product from their shelves, and some believe they did not act quickly enough. Regardless, the consequences remain the same, there is little doubt that without the financial support of these two crown corporations, Norman Hardie’s winery has very little chance of survival.
There are others. People and organizations are saying it’s time to stop rewarding bad behaviour. Restaurant owner Anthony Rose, who had known “Norm” for 20 years, has taken a stand to remove his wines from the Wilder and Rose group of restaurants. George Brown College in Toronto canceled a tour and lunch of Norman Hardie Winery that was scheduled for this weekend. Honest Weight owner, Victoria Bazan, changed her wine list the morning after the story broke. Jeremy Bonia, sommelier and co-owner of Raymonds Restaurant in Newfoundland, will no longer carry Hardie’s wines. The Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation will not be re-ordering his wines.
The Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association (PECWA) represents nearly 40 wineries in Prince Edward County, Ontario where Norman Hardie Winery lies. They are a not-for-profit organization that promotes, advocates and educates on behalf of wineries and grape growers in the region. On June 21, 2018 Board of Directors suspended Norman Hardie’s membership.
“The Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association supports progressive and safe environments for employees, customers and management. The allegations of sexual misconduct at a member winery are very serious. We are sorry to hear about the victims’ experiences and applaud their courage in coming forward.
We encourage all our members and their staff to adhere to the highest professional and moral standards. Accordingly, we have currently suspended Norman Hardie Winery’s membership with the Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association.
We are taking some time to consult with experts and industry partners about how to best to support employees in our industry.”
The Wine Council of Ontario (WCO) has also suspended his membership. On Sunday, June 24, the Ontario Wine Awards rescinded Norman Hardie’s award of Winemaker of the Year, issuing this statement.
It’s not just Eastern Canada that is taking a stand against Norman Hardie.
The news of these allegations has spread across the country. Jackie Cooke, sommelier and proprietor of Avec Bistro in downtown Calgary indicated she would not be carrying Norman Hardie wines and posted this on Twitter the night the story broke:
I contacted a representative with media relations for the Alberta Liquor & Gaming Commission AGLC. Their response to me was this:
“We’ve spoken with the registered agency representing this product and have collectively decided that we will not be bringing any new shipments of Norman Hardie wine into Alberta.”
I contacted several wine stores in Calgary, Alberta for a response. One retailer, Highlander Wine & Spirits, replied with this statement:
“At Highlander Wine & Spirits we believe in safe, respectful environments for employees, customers, and suppliers. We share deep concerns regarding the allegations brought forth against Norman Hardie this past week. We expect all of our partners in the industry to uphold the highest standards of professional and ethical conduct. At this time we are suspending sales of all Norman Hardie Wines. We remain a strong and proud supporter of Canadian Wineries and committed to providing our customers with a diverse selection of the best wines produced in Canada and around the globe.” Nathaniel Miller, Director of Operations
There is a good chance Norman Hardie is ruined.
The #MeToo Movement
Are you tired of hearing about the #MeToo movement? Yeah, me too. It’s exhausting. It’s exhausting to know that speaking up might mean career suicide. It’s exhausting to think that no one will believe your story. It’s exhausting to make decisions to survive, rather than thrive in your workplace.
I’m tired, too.
The #MeToo movement has an important role to play in the lives of those who have been marginalized, abused, harassed and made to feel their sense of worth is tied to being objectified or sexualized. One of the reasons women feel more compelled to speak up is because of #MeToo and #TimesUp because they believe things are changing for victims of abuse. These movements give women a sense that things are getting better and there is now a more open environment for victims to come forward. The Avalon Sexual Assault Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia has this to say about #MeToo:
It’s because people have broken the silence, by sharing their experiences online, to their community, or even to just one person, that we are beginning to see societal and systemic change, but we still have a long way to go.
However, not everyone has a positive outlook on the situation. In a Globe & Mail article written on June 21, Jen Agg writes the following:
Despite the huge sense of relief #MeToo has brought to so many women, few men are facing any real consequences for their actions.
In fact, in spite of the Globe & Mail conducting approximately 50 interviews and revealing that at least 21 different victims of sexual misconduct at the hands of Norman Hardie, no charges have been laid.
What Does the Wine Industry Do To Stop Sexual Misconduct ?
As a sommelier, it is my duty to shine a light on flaws in the wine industry and work to make things better. As a writer, it is my duty to start conversations. As a woman, I am compelled to make the world in which I live and work a safer, more respectful place for other women.
Sandra Oldfield, an icon in the Canadian wine industry, formerly of British Columbia’s Tinhorn Creek, works toward creating an equal space for women in the wine and hospitality industry. In an article for Wines In Niagara, she says it’s the imbalance of power in a male dominated industry that “takes a situation from awkward to scary for a female worker,” and it likely won’t be long before other women in the wine industry come forward with “disturbing accounts of male winery owners saying some very disturbing things to women employees.” However, she does provide hope. She had this to say in an article released this morning:
If you feel that your gender has put you in an unwinnable situation, or you are on the receiving end of inappropriate behavior, I can honestly say that there are many, many great winery employers out there who you can work for who will treat you with respect and gratitude. I know this because the wine industry I have made a home in is simply awesome, and so are the majority of the people in it—not just the hard working employees but also those people at the top.
But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect.
When You Stay Silent, Power Remains with the Perpetrators of Sexual Misconduct
“If you see something, say something”
This is the slogan for the Department of Homeland Security in the United States of America. It applies here, too. Believe me when I say, I understand that phrase is easier said than done. Power remains in the hands of perpetrators when we remain silent. They are counting on it. People who abuse their authority bank on their victims to stay quiet about their misconduct so they can not only get away with it, but continue their behaviour. Also, they don’t just count on victims keeping quiet, they’re counting on everyone around them that sees or suspects sexual misconduct to not want to get involved and not make it their business. But it is your business. If there’s one victim, chances are there have been – or will be – more. By not speaking out about something you know, you are part of the problem. You are enabling the perpetrator and you are continuing the culture of silence that they rely on. Policies and handbooks are not enough. Public facing messaging is not enough. Hashtags are not enough.
Enough is Enough — A Grassroots Movement Against Sexual Misconduct
A group of service industry workers have decided enough is enough. They started the Order’s Up Collective. They say it’s a grassroots movement of accountability. That’s what it takes. Concerned members of an industry coming together to have a voice. That, and accountability within that industry.
This is what has happened with the movie industry with Harvey Weinstein. This is what is happening now with Norman Hardie and the wine industry.
The Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services (AASAS) has launched a campaign, funded by the Status of Women Canada and the Alberta Government, called #IBelieveYou and believes campaigns like this one create a safer environment for survivors to tell someone.
Historically, survivors have been afraid to tell for fear of not being believed. That fear is fading. When we see an increase in reporting, we know we’re doing a better job of helping survivors feel safe to tell.
There must also be a cultural shift. The North and Navy in downtown Ottawa removed NH wines before service the day after the story broke and posted this statement on social media:
Taking a stand as an individual or a company makes a bold statement that bad behaviour will not be rewarded, now or ever. When this happens, people are more comfortable speaking out when they experience or witness harassment. Encouraging others to do the same creates a culture shift. It says that this is not acceptable in a respectful society.
This should cause people stop and think. Then talk about it. History repeats itself if we stay silent.
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual harassment, sexual assault or sexual misconduct or inappropriate behaviour, there are resources available for you. When you are ready, tell someone.