Miroki Tong Refuses To Be Invisible
The Toronto-based wine blogger speaks on the power of saying no, bias in wine circles, and how to get ahead in an industry that’s not always inclusive.
Miroki Tong first popped up in my Twitter feed this summer when she—rightfully—called out an old white wine dude about the important distinction between equity and equality, especially as it relates to the wine industry. That guy was a hot mess, but I’m glad she spoke up for two reasons. One, these types of conversations unfortunately still need to be had, and two, it put her on my radar and guess what? Miroki RULES. During our interview, we talked about her previous work as a professional actor, her secret singing skill combining opera and metal (!!!), defying parental expectations, the power of saying “no,” and her experience as a Chinese-Canadian wine blogger.
“I love wine!” exclaims Miroki. But despite her longtime passion for the fermented beverage, she admits wine hasn’t always loved her back. In an industry where women make up approximately 16 percent of Master Sommeliers (in the Americas chapter) and where one report reveals white people make up 84 percent of the wine workforce, it can be hard for people like her to flourish.
She describes the difficulty of navigating a wine world where she’s often rendered invisible: relying on strategically dropping key wine terms during tastings to preemptively hint that yes, she does in fact know what the hell she’s talking about.
“I went wine touring with a group of friends a couple of years ago, and my [white] friend looked at me after the trip and said ‘Do you notice they always talk to me first and I have to defer to your experience?’” she recalls. “And I, frankly, had never noticed, because it was always just naturally part of the discourse. I have to really work hard to claim a piece of space for myself.”
She pauses. “I, and probably a lot of people like me, have developed so many different defense mechanisms just to navigate through society. We don’t notice how different it is until we hang out with someone who’s not like us.”
As a self-described wine blogger, Miroki is aware of the preconceived negativity of being a woman (specifically, a Chinese-Canadian woman) who promotes herself and her work on social media. She found the same racial stereotypes about Asian women echoed from her previous career as a professional actor and producer into wine: the same competitiveness, low pay, and lack of diversity and support are similar to many criticisms of hospitality at large. Taken together over time, she eventually decided to leave performing behind, calling it “toxic” and “unsustainable” in the long term. It’s also what keeps her at her day job as a strategic management consultant instead of diving into wine as a full-time profession.
“I don’t to want to make wine into my bread-and-butter, because I don’t want it to become that thing where I’m doing the work because I need the paycheck, but I hate it,” she explains.
But her acting work imparted skills she’s taken to wine; specifically, the ability to leverage adverse conditions into opportunity. “I will use any opportunity I have to get on that stage, because when I do, I can finally have a platform to use my voice that will create other opportunities for people like me… you bet during Asian Heritage Month, I’m going to create an event or speak certain things, because when else are people going to listen to me?” she says. “If this is the only time I have, I’m going to yell a lot and hopefully that’s going to stick somewhere, so next year it gets better.”
Making the most of limited opportunities can be tiring, tokenizing, and often frustrating, Miroki admits. But sometimes, “you take that win, no matter how desperate you are,” she says. “That’s like wedging the doorstop in the door, so that hopefully more and more diverse bodies and diverse people can start permeating that space.”
Not everyone agrees with her approach, but Miroki understands that not everyone’s work towards improving diversity, equity, and inclusion can (or should) mirror her own. Making wine a better place for all people will take steps of all sizes, and right now her focus is on issues like eliminating snobbery and reducing the Eurocentric bent of wine vocabulary. Considering how out-of-reach top-tier wine accreditations can be for people without the thousands of dollars required for programs like Wine Spirit and Education Trust (WSET) or certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers, reducing barriers of entry and advancement to people who fall outside the white male demographic is a tall order. But it’s one battle Miroki continues to wage, often by open discussions about identity and how it mingles with wine as both a profession and hobby. In short, she doesn’t just “stick to wine.”
“The idea that human beings could try to isolate their hobbies or isolate things they enjoy away from the greater conversation, or the greater scope of life, is very flawed,” she says. “We're human beings, and we all exist in a space together. And until there is an equal opportunity for all, those spaces will always have a skew towards people of privilege.”
That’s poised to change, or at least Tong hopes so. Until it does, she’s going to keep up the fight.
Keep up with Miroki on Instagram at @9ouncesplease, and be sure to catch her monthly IG Live wine series with André Proulx (@andrewwinereview), which usually airs the last Wednesday every month at 8 pm Eastern. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for her forthcoming opera metal album as well!
Prohibitchin' is made possible by a sponsorship from Hopsbauer, a woman-owned hops brokerage company based in San Diego. Hopsbauer brings the best hops from around the world to craft breweries. Find out more by visiting Hopsbauer.com, and thanks to Liz Bauer for her generous support!
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I recently heard on the radio that the safest age of our lives is 10 years old. I have absolutely no idea if that’s true or even how that’s measured, but it sounds like a fun and very low-stakes-if-it’s-wrong tidbit to share with friends.
Do you know of a woman or non-binary person working in beverage alcohol who hasn’t seen the spotlight—and should? Nominate them for a future feature!