In Defense of Describing Wines as Masculine, Feminine, and Sexy

Neal D. Hulkower

Except for my own personal use, as a favor to a friend or colleague, or to satisfy a requirement for a gig, I eschew writing wine tasting notes. Consequently, I dismissed Vicki Denig’s rant against alleged sexist terms on wine-searcher.com on 20 October 2020 (https://www.winesearcher.com/m/2020/10/time-to-kill-gender-stereotypes-in-wine) as yet another misguided lunge by a hypersensitive. But when it became the subject of an entire session entitled “Term Exploder” on the first day of the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers (WWS21, held via Zoom from 10 to 12 May 2021), my reverie was disrupted, and I was rudely awakened. The cancel culture has seeped into the world of wine writing. In response, I took to the chat to offer a different perspective.  I offer this rebuttal based on the position I put forth in that chat.

At the start of the session, the panelists were asked to “Explode this Tasting Note”: “A wine of great breeding, the XXXX bursts from the glass with sweet smells of black currant, pain grille, and exotic spices. Masculine on the palate, with a sexy core of rich, dark fruit supported by a lingering acidity. Has the potential for medium to long-term cellaring and would pair well with almost any stewed meat dish. A serious wine for the collector set and a fine example of the varietal.” Almost every adjective and noun pushed someone’s buttons, with “masculine” and “sexy” singled out for extensive condemnation. Who knew the path from wines to lines could be so fraught?

This session elicited responses from two admittedly more notable wine writers. In her article, “The evolving language of wine” (https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/evolving-language-wine), Jancis Robinson writes: “I guiltily did a quick search of the 200,000+ tasting notes published on JancisRobinson.com since 2000 and – sure enough – found 192 masculines, 147 feminines and 37 sexys, although many of them were quotes from producers, or were preceded by the get-out ‘stereotypically’.”

Without an ounce of guilt, I decided to scan through my 450 notes on wines I sampled between 1969 and 1979.  I found three that contained “feminine” and none with “masculine” or “sexy.”  (More on how I’ve been making up for this omission lately below.) Here is part of my description of a 1962 Château Margaux that I tasted on 2 October 1977: “… Lovely medium deep elegant mature color. Flowery perfume – vegetable bouquet prominent at first – with air – nose becomes better balanced – flowery, fruit, herbal. Delicate flavor – flowers and fruit fade rapidly into a lovely long finish. Very feminine. Overpriced [at $27.50 less 10%, mind you], but interesting…” My reaction to a 1967 Corton “Hospices de Beaune” consumed on 12 January 1976 concludes with “A very pretty, feminine burgundy.”   And then there is a 1970 Gevrey Chambertin sampled on 7 November 1975: “…Light, elegant well balanced taste – very feminine taste.” Decades after they were written, these records of wines help me recall the experience of drinking some truly exceptional bottles.  Until recently, I would engage in a parlor game with my dinner guests and ask them to read a description I had written decades earlier to see if I could recall which wine it corresponded to.  Gender terms are among those useful in stimulating such memories.

W. Blake Gray blogged his reaction to WWS21 under the heading “Professional wine tasting notes are for the reader, not the writer” (https://blog.wblakegray.com/).  A long time hater of sessions on tasting notes, Gray offered a two-part rant focusing on the purpose of describing a wine in words. While I appreciate his complex and nuanced arguments, I take issue with the following: “Nobody should call a wine ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ in 2021 because nobody knows what that means anymore; half the women in San Francisco can kick my ass, and the other half say, ‘What do you mean, only half?’”

I certainly have no trouble knowing what masculine and feminine mean in the biological sense and have an unambiguous notion of what I mean when describing wines with these terms.  Also, there are plenty of wine terms being used that have no universally recognized meaning. For example, consider the pervasive “minerality” which carries with it the additional absurdity that rocks have taste or smell. Instead, what we are doing here is using the terms as metaphors which can evoke memories of similar tasting experiences.  They are certainly not intended to be offensive or to be in any way exclusionary. The latter was the justification given by the panelists for retiring these terms without any evidence, anecdotal or statistical, that folks are traumatized by their use.  Certainly, men enjoy wines described as feminine just as women enjoy wines described as masculine. In an inane conflation, Denig advises: “Next time you’re tempted to use a gender-focused tasting descriptor, think about how you would react if someone characterized a wine as ‘white/Black’, ‘gay’, or ‘elderly’ on the palate. If you’d find any of these terms offensive, then imagine how some of us men and women feel.” I’m sorry, I simply don’t buy into this comparison and even find it offensive.  

I remain unchastened. In fact, I have since increased my use of these terms and even found a way to acknowledge those who have not made up their minds which sex they are.  At one of the tasting rooms in which I pour, there is a wine that naturally lends itself to being described in gender terms. It is a lovely pour that starts masculine, i.e., rustic and funky, then gets in touch with its feminine self, exuding floral and perfumed aromas, before returning to show its more macho side. This single vineyard Pinot noir is a shining example of a gender fluid fluid! Far from offending visitors, my characterization is appreciated, revelatory, and even endorsed.  No one has pushed back, and sales are good for this higher priced bottle.  Denig made this offer to those who might be offended:  “Next time a winemaker, tasting room employee, or sommelier uses a gender-focused descriptor, feel free to check them. Or send them my way.”  I look forward to her call.

“Sexy” also came under attack.  One of the WWS21 panelists termed it awkward. But once again, these PC word police have arrogated the responsibility to purge the language of descriptors that they deem inappropriate without offering any evidence of the need to do so beyond their feelings or the feelings of those they seem to want to represent. But since “sexy” is used to describe a particularly alluring or seductive bottle without any reference to the various facets of the act like who, how many, what, what kind, where, how often, and with which parts, the word should remain in the lexicon of terms.  One is free to ignore the term or use his or her imagination to personalize its meaning.  “Slutty” also came up and in the heat of battle, I agreed in the chat that this was an unacceptable term.  I hereby withdraw my objection.  I have in fact had wines that were overly generous and a little too eager to please.

Like Denig, the same panelist who had problems with “sexy” labeled “masculine” and “feminine” “lazy cliches,” and was joined by his fellow scolds. But like all imprecise descriptors, really the preponderance of those used for wine, they are merely suggestive and can elicit memories of similar wines. If you want to attack a term for being lazy, look no further than the afore mentioned “minerality,” the pandemic use of which has led Alex Maltman, a noted Welsh geologist and winegrower, to produce a stream of articles and a book to set straight the record.  It is also a term for which there is no consensus definition. Everyone seems to acknowledge, and science provides solid evidence that one’s perception of wine is subjective. Compound that with different cultural references and experiences and no one can expect anyone else’s tasting note to precisely reflect his or her perception. Furthermore, tasting a glass of fine wine over a period of time is like dipping your feet into a stream.  It is never the same moment to moment.  

And what about wine scores?  Despised by many but used, nonetheless.  Even WWS21 keynoter Jancis Robinson expressed her disgust with them yet still assigns them. As an applied mathematician, I regard scores as a most egregious form of number abuse ironically referenced with reverence by innumerates!  Should I start a movement based on my bruised sensibilities to ban their use? Better to simply ignore them.   

While free speech is a precious right, there is no inalienable right not to be offended, especially on behalf of unnamed others.  As such, I am not particularly interested if you find my terminology lazy, inappropriate, non-inclusive, or dated.  It works for me and likely others who use it or resonate with it. If you can’t stand the reference, take heart, many of us are boomers who are slowly leaving the wine scene. I hate tasting notes anyway. What these verbal prohibitionists are advocating is a one size fits all version that will certainly make them so diluted that they become even more useless.  Nevertheless, this free speech absolutist welcomes all voices in wine writing and believes that all should be heard…including mine.

Now go ‘way and let me nap.

End-of-Line Packaging Solutions

Photo Courtesy of A-B-C Packaging

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

Much of the winemaking process focuses on growing and harvesting grapes and turning raw materials into the amazing beverage that is loved worldwide. But once those bottles, cans, pouches or boxes get filled, some essential work is still to be done.

  End-of-line packaging is an integral part of getting wine into the hands of consumers and establishing a brand image. Therefore, it’s good to know all the details that go into the packaging process to make it as efficient, safe and cost-effective as possible.

Machinery and Materials for End-of-Line Packaging

  Various machinery exists for end-of-line packaging solutions, including depalletizers, decasers, case erectors, packers, partitioners and case sealers. Some wineries use an automatic process, while others rely on old-fashioned manual labor to package their wine.

  Automation is typically implemented when a winery’s line speeds get to at least 120 bpm as a way of reducing labor, producing more product or adding diversity to packaging sizes and configurations. While automation requires a significant up-front investment, it can help keep winery employees safe and take production to the next level.

  Pallets, cartons, shrink wrap, Styrofoam and Tetra Paks are commonly used to ship wine. Ensuring that wine is protected from damage is the top priority during shipping, but the aesthetic appeal of the packaging is also a consideration for wineries to keep in mind.

End-of-Line Recommendations from Industry Experts

  The best way to learn about end-of-line packaging solutions is to talk to companies specializing in this part of the winemaking process.

  Bryan Sinicrope, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for A-B-C Packaging Machine Corporation in Tarpon Springs, Florida, told The Grapevine Magazine that his company offers several options for packing, including robotic and pick-and-place machines for bottled wines. He said that these robotic and pick-and-place machines have features to protect both the closure and label during packing to preserve package integrity. For pouch-packaged and cartoned wine, robot packers provide maximum flexibility to pack into cases or trays with servo-powered product feed, gentle robotic packing and quick changeover at the operator station.

  “We also offer a semi-automatic carton packer for smaller operations that package wine in cartons with speeds up to 10 cases per minute,” Sinicrope said. “This packer uses one attendant to supply cases to the packing section, while the packer automatically orients and stacks the cartons. The packed cases feed to a case sealer.”

  A-B-C Packaging has been providing packaging solutions since 1940 and serves a variety of industries, including beverage, automotive, electronics, chemical, pharmaceutical and more. The company offers machines that close and seal the top case flaps with adhesive or tape and square the case as it is sealed for maximum stability on the pallet.

  They also sell low-level, robot and semi-automatic palletizers to accommodate wineries’ budgets, space, flexibility requirements, speed and personal preference. Sinicrope said that the low-level machines are easy to install and help keep operating costs low due to the floor-level control and simple maintenance.

  “These palletizers convey cases into layers with complete flexibility for pallet patterns,” Sinicrope said. “The patterns are programmed into the HMI, and new pallet configurations can be set on the plant floor. Also available are empty pallet feed, slip sheet insertion and full pallet discharge. These palletizers are a good solution for most wineries.”

  Meanwhile, A-B-C Packaging’s robot palletizers can handle multiple product types with minimal hardware because these machines stack cases on pallets in preset configurations with the option to easily program new patterns. A-B-C Packaging’s semi-automatic palletizers can be converted to full automation for small wineries looking to upgrade their equipment.

  “They require one full-time operator who creates the pallet patterns by orienting cases from the line,” Sinicrope said. “The palletizer lifts and stacks the pallet layers. Completed pallets are removed by a forklift driver who also positions the next empty pallet.”

  ABE Beverage Equipment, a company based in Lincoln, Nebraska, also serves the winery market and has expanded its equipment solutions to address rapid growth in canning and ready-to-drink packaging options. In fact, the company changed its name from American Beer Equipment to ABE Beverage Equipment in 2020 to better reflect its all-encompassing lineup of equipment solutions for nearly every beverage market. Amanda Podwinski handles sales and marketing for ABE Beverage Equipment. She told The Grapevine Magazine that in addition to canning lines for carbonated and still beverages, ABE offers the AutoPak Can Carrier Applicator, an end-of-line automatic carrier applicator for six- or four-packs of cans.

  “This labor-saving system offers a minimal footprint and is adjustable to accommodate a variety of cans and configurations,” Podwinski said. “Carrier applicators are an excellent choice for marketing multi-packs of wine in cans. As competition heats up in the canned wine marketplace, ABE also offers a 12- and 24-pack case wrapping system, perfect for wineries looking for ways to minimize their canned wine packaging costs. The ABE ShrinkPak is designed to shrink-wrap cases of cans when selling bulk, rather than by way carrier packs. Case costs can be reduced by as much as 60% when compared to corrugated packaging.”

Mistakes Wineries Often Make with End-of-Line Packaging

  Every winery has its own preferences and processes for packaging wine, but some common mistakes seem to repeat themselves throughout the industry. One example?  Assuming all packaging options are equal. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for packaging wine.

  “Everyone’s space, budget and resources differ,” Podwinski said. “In the highly competitive beverage industry, there are plenty of suppliers offering one-off parts or equipment. To ensure you receive the most reliable solution, ABE Beverage Equipment provides a comprehensive approach to your beverage equipment line. At ABE, we design and engineer your equipment from the ground up, ensuring you receive the highest quality product. And we don’t stop there: Our world-class team of engineers, manufacturers, customer service techs and support staff are by your side to help you plan, launch, build and maintain your beverage business. We promise our dedicated partnership will extend beyond just providing your equipment.”

  Not considering future flexibility is another common mistake that wineries make with their packaging.

  “While a winery may be packaging only 12-packed cases of 750 ml bottles right now, they may find opportunities in alternate bottle sizes, container styles or pallet configurations as time goes by,” Sinicrope said. “With flexible equipment, they can take advantage of these opportunities without a large capital investment or line downtime.”

Trends and Innovations in End-of-Line Packaging

  Because of advances in modern technology and lessons learned from challenges with end-of-line packaging, companies that work in this niche industry continue to develop promising solutions. For example, A-B-C Packaging has introduced a compact palletizer with a small modular footprint to accommodate tight line layouts. This advancement emerged in response to wineries having limited space for equipment in the packaging area of their production facilities.

  “It occupies from 10 to 30% less floor space than conventional low-level machines, with an open profile and full machine guarding,” Sinicrope said.

Concerning trends and innovations, Podwinski said ABE Equipment products could be used across various industries looking to package, label and produce different types of products.

  “ABE’s innovative equipment solutions span several markets, product types and industries,” Podwinski said. “The equipment we have built for nearly 30 years continues to evolve to meet the needs of today’s entrepreneurs. This includes solutions for a variety of container sizes, shapes and materials.”

Choosing the Right End-of-Line Packaging for Your Winery

  Since there are several options available today for end-of-line packaging solutions, wineries should start researching machines and materials before they are truly needed.

  Sinicrope said wineries should talk to their potential suppliers about the best ways to ship their wine. “Discuss your goals, ask questions and listen to their recommendations, and they can help you find the best solution for your winery packaging line,” he said.

  Ultimately, trends in wine consumption are changing how wineries approach end-of-line packaging and equipment choices. Podwinski said that canned wine is making a substantial impact on how wine is sold.

  “Multiple cans packaged together make a sturdy package that in many cases is less likely to be damaged and [more likely to] arrive safely and allow consumers to take their favored beverage into numerous environments,” she said. “Cans may be new to many wineries, but with the versatility and environmentally friendly impact that cans offer, wineries would benefit from investigating this opportunity further.”