By Rick VanSickle
News that the Ontario wine industry’s biggest celebrity and most well known winemaker, Norman Hardie (above), was embroiled in a sexual misconduct scandal sent shockwaves through the wine community and far beyond that this week.
After the Globe and Mail published its story early this week, listing serious allegations against Norman Hardie, owner and winemaker of his namesake winery in Prince Edward County, of a wide-ranging pattern of sexual advances and sexual harassment, reaction came swiftly and decisively.
The Wine Council of Ontario told Wines In Niagara on Saturday that it had suspended the membership of Norman Hardie Winery pending a full review. The full text from a Q&A between Wines In Niagara and the WCO is below:
Wines In Niagara: Is Norman Hardie still a member of the WCO?
WCO: Membership in the Wine Council of Ontario (WCO) is governed by our by-laws, which provide for a formal review process in cases where a person or organization fails to live up to the obligations of membership. WCO has suspended the membership of Norman Hardie Winery and Vineyard in the WCO, subject to further review of the WCO’s bylaws and a meeting of its Board of Directors. Until such time as this review and discussion is complete, it would be inappropriate for us to comment further. We will communicate the outcome of this review once it is complete.
Wines In Niagara: Has the WCO reached out to Norm Hardie for answers to the allegations he faces?
WCO: Mr. Hardie has issued a statement that acknowledged many of the allegations. WCO has included that document in the review process that is underway.
Wines In Niagara: Has the WCO reached out to the many women who have allegedly been a victim of Hardie’s to offer support and counselling?
WCO: The misconduct to which Mr. Hardie has admitted is deeply troubling. Sexual misconduct is never acceptable. This behaviour is not characteristic of our wine industry. The Wine Council of Ontario supports a safe working environment for all, free from harassment, and expects the same from everyone in the industry. We encourage anyone who has experienced inappropriate treatment in the workplace to come forward and speak out.
As an industry association we are not privy to the personal information of the women who have made allegations about Mr. Hardie. However, we encourage all our members, as employers, to ensure their workplaces are free from harassment and to provide the safe space needed to allow discussion about this important issue.”
And late Sunday afternoon, the Ontario Wine Awards rescinded the 2018 award of ‘Winemaker of the Year’ from Norman Hardie, effective immediately.
“The presentation of this honour was based on the annual polling of Ontario Wine Awards judges who voted overwhelmingly for him.,” according to a release sent to Wines In Niagara. “The ballot took place 45 days before the story of his improprieties broke in the Globe & Mail on June 19.
While we respect Norman Hardie’s abilities as a winemaker and acknowledge the international reputation he has achieved, we cannot condone or ignore his self-admitted behavior.”
The Ontario Wine Award organization went on to say that “over the course of its 24 years, the objective of the Ontario Wine Awards has always been to recognize, encourage, promote and celebrate the excellence of the province’s VQA wines. And this mission statement also
includes the need to provide a safe and respectful working environment.
“For this reason, we are formally withdrawing the award of ‘Winemaker of the Year’ that was presented to Mr. Hardie at Niagara College on June 7th, 2018.
Meanwhile, restaurants and bars from Ontario to Quebec and beyond reacted to the news by pulling Norman Hardie wines from their wine lists at an alarming rate, including some of his key clients and friends and two of Niagara’s biggest supporters of his wines — Backhouse and Treadwell, both in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Neither restaurant wanted to discuss the delisting of Hardie wines, other than to say they were gone.
The LCBO, Norm Hardie’s biggest outlet for his wines other than his winery, initially and surprisingly issued a statement saying they would continue to sell current stock of Hardie’s wines but would not order any more wine from the PEC winery.
Wines In Niagara received this email from an LCBO public relations person named “Jessica” after enquiring via Twitter what the LCBO plan was for Hardie wines earlier in the week.
“We saw your tweet to us at @LCBONews and wanted to clarify.
“Current inventory of Norman Hardie brand products will remain available at LCBO stores. However we will not be placing new orders at this time.
Many thanks, Jessica”
Shortly after that, Hardie wines disappeared from the LCBO website, stores were reporting they were taking Hardie wines off the shelves and not waiting for a directive, and by the end of the day, the lucrative ride for Hardie wines at LCBO stores was over.
Also reacting quickly, The Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association released a statement regarding Norm Hardie shortly after the Globe story broke. Here it is as written:
“The Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association released a statement 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.
— Board of Directors Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association
Also taking action against Hardie was Natalie MacLean, publisher of “Canada’s largest wine review website.”
“In light of the recent allegations of sexual harassment levelled at Norman Hardie, winemaker and owner of Norman Hardie Wines, reported in the Globe & Mail this week, I will be removing all listings and reviews of these wines from our web site and mobile apps.
“I believe in the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, however Norman Hardie has subsequently published a statement confirming that many of the allegations are true.
“Immediately thereafter I started determining how to do this quickly and effectively within our database, which contains hundreds of reviews of these wines from our team of writers.
“As well, there are thousands of listings from those of our members who keep cellar journals on our site.
“Therefore, I wanted to let you know that these listings will be deleted to give you a heads up in case you’d like to save your cellar notes or wine reviews elsewhere.
“Actions speak louder than words, so I’ll keep my own words focused on this action, and leave the excellent editorial and reporting to Ann Hui and Ivy Knight of the Globe and Mail.
— Sincerely, Natalie
Hardie himself reacted after the Globe story was published, issuing a statement that confirmed some of the allegations and denied others — he did not say which were true from his point of view.
Here is his apology:
“Dear customers and friends,
“I have read the article published about me in the Globe and Mail yesterday. 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.
“Behavior and language I viewed at the time as harmless or good-natured was anything but. This was particularly true given the position of power I was in. That position of power almost certainly explains why it took several years for anyone to confront me over my behavior.
“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.
“When the Globe and Mail first contacted me several months ago, I was concerned that their information did not accurately reflect our workplace at the Winery today. However, there could be no doubt or uncertainty in this matter. I therefore hired an independent advisor to conduct a comprehensive review and assessment of our workplace and culture. They carried out personal and confidential interviews with all of our employees, and comprehensively reviewed our policies, procedures and communications within the workplace. That assessment was completed in April.
“The results found that the Winery required enhancements to our organizational structure, policies and procedures, job clarifications, performance management tools, and an updated and enforceable code of conduct. The independent review did not find any examples of sexual harassment in the workplace today.
“Over the past month, my team has begun implementing the recommendations from the review, including developing new policies, job classifications, and an employee handbook, and providing specific training on harassment. We have made good progress. But there is still work to be done, particularly as it applies to me personally. I am absolutely committed to ensuring a safe, open, respectful, equal and inclusive work environment for every member of our team and customers at the Winery.
“I would like to thank my team, former colleagues, customers, friends and family who have supported and continue to support me. I know it is not easy for you, and that I have let a lot of you down. To all of the women who were part of the Winery and uncomfortable coming forward with these concerns I sincerely apologize.
“All I can promise is that I will work hard every day to earn back your trust in the days, months and years ahead.”
— Norman Hardie
I will continue to update this story as it develops.