Wine is so important for diplomacy that government hospitality often means opening their cellars to ensure successful negotiations and opening a few bottles more to foster long-lasting friendships. This reminds me of an old joke about the difference between a diplomat and a camel where the latter can walk for many days without needing a drink and the former having the capability to drink for days. The diplomatic corps work hard, that is for sure, but the joke about the camel and the diplomat has wisdom to it.
Wine has been served in diplomatic dinners and lunches for centuries and in its capacity as the liquid welcoming mat, it has broken barriers, relaxed tense atmospheres, and has turned dry dialogues into meaningful conversations.
Another Glass and A Particular Set of Skills
Boozy diplomatic dinners are my favourite because the skills required for such are very particular. One of the most obvious is matching all the guests drink for drink. If his excellency fancies another glass of wine, you must pour yourself another glass, too. It is a beautiful thing but you must have another skill to go with it and that is the ability to pay attention to the conversation while the alcohol takes effect. In my short stint as a reporter, I have toasted to gods, progress, and grapes while remembering salacious information for my report the next day. Apart from retaining important information while drinking, stakeholders also need a bit of grace, a knowledge of socio-cultural issues, a bit of history, and a kilogram of geopolitics to navigate the terrain successfully. However, one must say that wine is still more powerful than anything else.
Wine Helps Negotiate Difficult Situations
While drinking alcohol is quite enjoyable on its own, drinking it with the diplomatic corps opens doors to many things. It paves the way for honesty and frankness, for example, and as a side effect, it helps politicians and diplomats negotiate difficult situations. Wine has the capability to ease tensions in certain negotiations that even the most exhausted of envoys given yet another glass of wine would feel relaxed and therefore ready to give the talks another go. As a winemaker, I am inclined to say that very few deals have been sealed over fruit juice or a cup of tea although the latter likely works for the English.
There are some interesting notes from history that backs the claim that alcohol is an effective weapon for diplomacy. One such example is a comment of the Spanish Ambassador to the court of Russia’s Peter II. This ambassador is believed to have said that “in that part of the world all affairs are concluded on a bottle”.
In a BBC report in 2018 about the meeting of the two Koreas said that serving French cheese and wine was “certainly part of the tactics” to win over North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.
The Tehran conference in 1943 also offers the same conclusion. During this time, Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill needed to come up with a strategy for the war and they all worked this out in an alcoholic daze. They drank champagne and vodka, according to records.
Serving a particular bottle of wine commemorates events that add a cultural and even historical touch that foreign guests would appreciate. In Megumi Nishikawa’s books on diplomacy, the author wrote, “The 1989 vintage, which is ideal for festivities marking the legacy of the French Revolution, can also bring to mind the fall of the Berlin Wall. French-German banquets are often accompanied by Corton-Charlemagne, a fine white Burgundy from the Côte de Beaune subregion which goes well with starters, and is also an allusion to Charlemagne who made Aachen the capital of his Carolingian Empire.”
It is safe to say that alcohol and wine exploited in moderation can foster friendships between nations and may even further national interest with every glass. It is of course not a good idea to do this in excess as that can be very dangerous but it must be said that in the hands of the diplomatic community, wine, is a wonderful weapon and a generous friend.