Now Pouring: Have Ethics Become the Difference between Wine Bloggers and Wine Writers?

One of the pleasant side effects of being a wine professional is the opportunities that pop up involving our favorite beverage. Take, for example, one that arrived over the weekend.

A fairly large, fine-wine-oriented distributor was looking for volunteers to pour at their portfolio tasting on a Monday, in Manhattan, in September. Said the email:

“The work is pretty straightforward: They’ll need you from noon to 6:00 to pour wines; you’ll receive a fact sheet beforehand that will cover information about the region whose wines you’ll be working with. For your efforts, you will be compensated with a mixed case of their wines.”

Note that this email came to me under the auspices of a dues-driven association of New York wine media professionals, so my response needed to account for the fact that I am a member wine writer/blogger/communicator. That said, what do you think my reaction was? Here’s what ran through my head, roughly in order…

  • Hey, I’ve been to that tasting—it’s great. Mark down the date…. Would I really want to miss it by working it?…
  • Mixed case? What’s that…about $120 worth of wine? Guess it depends on whose table you’re at…
  • Is a box of wine worth driving in for and shlepping back?…
  • Six hours work? For the equiv of about $20 an hour. Ehhhhh….
  • Wonder if a bunch of people could split the shift, and split the wine….

Not for a fleeting moment did I consider the potential dark, Faustian side of this bargain… namely that of {potentially} appearing to be an official representative of the distributor or a specific producer. And yet, as this email seeped through the INBOXes of our several-dozen members of this group, the prevailing sentiment among REPLY ALL responses ranged from simple disapproval to outrage {replete with big words like “completely inappropriate,” “offensive” and “demeaning.”}

Holy Cuvée! And here I was about to ask if any of my wine-scribblin’ buds wanted to go Dutch. Am I that out of touch with what it means to be a wine writer? How is it that an upstanding and outstanding distributor came up with a seemingly bright idea to enlist the wine-knowledgeable assistance of local wine professionals… and it basically backfired?

In the aftermath, it is now understood that such propositions will no longer be passed along to the general membership of our group; so all is well. But the incident stuck in my mind’s craw. I wondered: what would bloggers say? Would this situation provoke agita or salivation?

It’s not worth speculating; if the past few months have taught wine bloggers and blog-followers anything, it is that there are as many legitimate perspectives as there are legitimate bloggers. I can not fault any of my media colleagues, who drew their line in the sand quite adamantly. 

On the other hand, it seems that such lines are being drawn with greater and greater infrequency…and for good reason. The exploding world of wine and the burgeoning desire to share and communicate about it has pushed the basic concept of wine-professional ethics way past the area of black and white.

The 21st century reality is such that there is no consistent code for what is proper, right, appropriate. It’s all up to us, individually as professionals, to set our own thresholds of industry involvement and ethics therein.

Personally, would have no problem appearing at any function on the pouring side of a table where fine wine is being enjoyed. I see that as a valuable experience. Fun, educational, interactive. And would I worry about being perceived as some sort of day-labor shill? Not in the least.

Interestingly, my mind-juggling over the ethics of this “opportunity” was also fueled by two other developments that arrived via email…

  • Via a comment left by at drvino.com (link here), the news director of KFWB radio in Hollywood  confirmed that Anthony Dias Blue’s “Happy Hour” broadcasts are 100% advertorial. Set up, signed and paid for. Which now gives ADB credibility that rivals World Wrestling Federation bouts, and makes his grandstanding about bloggers and ethics about as compelling as David Ortiz on steroids. {This news comes on top of Dr. Vino’s previous exposure of the “exposure package” that can be purchased from ADB’s The Tasting Panel magazine.}
  • I also recceived an extensive, rah-rah email from Wines of Chile USA, dishing out the names of 20+ restaurants and retail shops participating in the fourth annual Salud! Chilean Wine Fest in NYC and DC, set for Sept.18-30. The e-letter also announced an October “sommelier summit” to take place in Chile as well as a November media trip; names and affiliations were included for both {sorry, no Jay Miller this time…the Parker leash law is apparently working}. Do you think that the wine pros going on said trips are paying their own way? I don’t. And I don’t think there’s anything wong with that, presuming transparency about the trip down the  line.

In fact,  applaud the marketing efforts of www.winesofchile.org; no reason why Chilean wines shouldn’t be put right under the noses of important gatekeepers. As for Anthony Dias Who, I shake my head; he is shaping up to be on of the wine industry’s Great Imposters.

This is, fortunately, the Age of Transparency. Questions regarding ethics of writers can and will continue to ooze through the wine world, accelerated by the Internet and bloggers. The only certainty I see, moving forward, is that every wine-media professional—be they writer, blogger or jack-of-sundry-trades—is going to be compelled to develop and maintain his/her own standards regarding the perpetually gray area of relationships with wine’s commercial side.

31 Comments

  1. Posted August 5, 2009 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    Very good observations Tish. Thank you.

  2. Posted August 5, 2009 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    I concur that wine writers of all stripes have to select and abide by a particular code of ethics. I worry, though, about the ensuing ethical free-for-all; at some point it would be helpful for us to arrive at some sort of consensus. This would elevate the profile of everyone, making us all seem more trustworthy, and would give others new to the milieu an established set of guidelines.

    In the meantime, “transparency” should, as you note, be everyone’s abiding principle: Disclose your biases, suppliers, advertisers, and other hands that feed you (or pour you a glass).

  3. Jim Caudill
    Posted August 5, 2009 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    There’s a misunderstanding about the radio show Andy does. It may be advertorial in the sense that they buy the time and independently find sponsors (common for many radio programs), but there’s no charge to have your winery participate per se. I have enjoyed having brands featured on the show as a result of research done during an editorial visit (long winded way of saying they taped interviews another day) with no charge. The additional things magazines do aren’t new, aren’t inherently evil and in this case, Andy’s well established on his own merits. A lot of this commentary over the past several months that has been reported breathlessly has been, at times, a big surprise in that it “revealed” practices that have been in place at least during the two decades I’ve been kicking around. You can expect to hear from an ad/added value salesman whenever you engage on the editorial side, but you have the power to say no. You also have the power to support voices that help reach the audiences you want to reach. And you can expect buyers to continue (for now) to ask “you have any 90 point wines?” If we believe in wine democratization, we know that consumers can get lots of different opinions about wine from lots of different places, and God Bless ‘Em. Hats off to the Blueman and Meredith for extending their brand from trade to consumers.

  4. Posted August 5, 2009 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    In the end, it seems that it is about abiding by a prestated operating code, and the ethics of any single activity is relative to that code. As you suggest, the act of pouring or gathering with like minded people is appealing and often worthwhile to even the most serious and well intentioned wine writer, blogger, trade pro. If getting free wine and travel is in line with a prestated operating code, what is wrong with that? Readers be forewarned.

    The ethics of bloggers will ultimately be voted on out on the social web. That is the beauty of rankings that are driven by human engagement and not algorithms. If the content in perpetually engaging and credibility builds, it wont matter how wines are secured or what the terms of event attendance are. Reliable content is the end game, and I don’t see how anyone can engage a meaningful enough audience size over an extended time period if they are influenced to favor wine that is not what they really say it is.

    I recently read someone mention that now that we had a wine bloggers confernece, its time to have a wine bloggers readers conference.
    Its not about the published content but about engagement that requires a building audience over time to really make any difference. Let the social networks vote and let’s focus on good content. It is easier to sniff out rotten content and low engagement than it is to flush out ethical deviance.

    Adam

  5. Posted August 5, 2009 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    @Mr. Caudill. The point, one of them, is that no disclosure is required by ADB. As the news director of KFWB writes:

    ‘“Happy Hour” is not subject to the same editorial oversight as KFWB’s general news programming. The only editorial content Anthony Dias Blue controls is within his paid program.’

    The consumer is left in the dark in all but the most general sense. It is simply not enough to say that “…Andy’s well established on his own merits”. Merits are cumulative. And each day brings new ethical tests. Let’s take Mr. Blue’s statement with regard to wine bloggers as a case in point, the punctual source of all subsequent reflection. What is the ‘merit’ of his gross simplification? Is he now better ‘established’ or has his reputation been diminished?

    A thorough reading of the Dr. Vino’s comment thread reveals Mr. Blue has softened or modified his initial position the more he has learned of the wine blogging community. The ‘bitter’ pajama-wearing writers image has given way to a more nuanced understanding of the multiplicity of wine blogger’s talents and motivations. But we are all familiar with ‘corrections’. The errant headline is above the fold on the front page and the correction appears days later on page 6.

  6. Posted August 5, 2009 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    Interesting post, Tish. My question about the NY pouring invitation is this: Do the client wineries, who pay for the expert representation of that particular distributor, know that the handling of their wines is being handed off to people who don’t necessarily know a thing about them? Just because they’re “wine professionals” doesn’t mean they are fluent in the wines/philosophies/methods of every producer.

  7. Posted August 5, 2009 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    The grey area dividing print restaurant critics and blogger restaurant critics may provide some interesting parallels here: http://www.observer.com/2009/food-amp-drink/foodies?page=0

  8. wrtish
    Posted August 5, 2009 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    Your perspective is always appreciated, Big Jim. As far as I’m concerned, ADB can run his niche in the wine world however he likes, but form him to go around bashing bloggers while putting himself forward as a bastion of expertise and ethics alike is pure bunk. He doesn’t get it. If he had been upfront about the nature of his Happy Hour, no one could or would be slinging anything his way; and he had the perfect opportunity to be open and transparent in responding to Tyler at the drvino.com. But he did not, and now he just looks like a fool to people who think honesty makes the wine arena a better place.

  9. wrtish
    Posted August 5, 2009 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    That’s a good question. Don’t know the answer. Methinks the distrib was looking for wine-media volunteers precisely because they/we tend to be a pretty quick study in terms of placing a specific wine with a fact sheet into the scheme of the overall wine market. As opposed to non-wine people, who no matter how attractive, may not be able to answer even basic questions.

  10. Posted August 6, 2009 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    Tish, eGullet has this pretty well outlined — http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=124044/

    I think one of the problems here is that bloggers aren’t trained to think in terms of “ethics.” Doesn’t mean they aren’t ethical; just means they aren’t aware of it in the way others are. I was brought up as a newspaperman, so if a trade group came to me and said, Pour our wines, I’d say no. Because I was taught that was a conflict of interest. But you never had anyone telling you it was a conflict, so it didn’t bother you.

  11. Posted August 6, 2009 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    Jeff,

    I agree and can relate to your dual view, having also spent 30 years in traditional media, not newspapers, but certainly magazines where ethics, as referenced in this conversation, guided approaches and decision making by writers and editors. There is a school of thought that the disruption of tradional media models bringing newspapers and magazines to barely sustainable business levels is being compounded by the wide availability of social media tools.

    Here is a good post from the CEO of the media company I help run now that suggests it could make sense embracing and integrating elements of the social web into content creation for traditional media products. If editorial processes can shift at traditional media companies to embrace the conversations and sharing on the social web, can the way we think of ethics also adjust?

    http://www.viralhousingfix.com/2009/07/21/thoughts-on-evolving-the-content-strategy-in-publishing-to-leverage-social-media/

  12. Posted August 7, 2009 at 12:43 am | Permalink

    Is it OK for a commentator on the world like Tish to pour wine for someone?

    Is that different from Parker pouring wine or Tanzer or Asimov?

    What about Ron Washam?–if you don’t know who he is, you haven’ t lived.

    To me the answer is simple. If you are in the employ of someone who sells wine and you are asked to “represent” that wine, you have a conflict of interest at that very point. You are no longer a judge of that wine; you are a booster. How then can you judge the wine later?

    Now, if you are not ever going to be a critic, then it does not matter. But how many folks with wine blogs do not at some point become judges, critics, evaluators?

    I don’t understand how we keep dancing around this subject. The rules ought to be clear. You cannot be a critic of wine that has sponsored you. It is one thing to go on a trip sponsored by Wines of Chile. It is quite another thing to go on a trip to Australia sponsored by a distributor whose wines you are going to review.

    Bottom line: Avoid potential conflicts. If you cannot avoid them all, mitigate them by avoiding what you can and being transparent about what you cannot. All of us can avoid writing definitive recommendations about wines tasted in non-neutral settings.

    Within those limits, there is still room to travel, and still room to enjoy the wines worth enjoying–and even to say nice things in general about them.

  13. Posted August 8, 2009 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Sorry I’m late to the party. I’m feeling like the this whole “blogger and ethics” debate is one big red herring. And there are just not very many wines that pair well with herring. I strongly suspect that most of us do not show up and read a given blog each day with the ethics of that blogger in the forefront of our brains – we are there simply to learn and/or be entertained.

    But it just hit me the other day… back in the Good Olde Days (when you added the “e” to Old and not Good) a wine writer could pursue a story, find an interesting angle, and write a good article. The number of writers that could end up writing a similar article was small, and you could shrug it off when it happened.

    Now that we have 100s of bloggers writing very publicly on the same subjects, it’s much harder to find that unique angle from which to create a unique article. Chances are someone has already written it by the time you think about it, and everyone has already read it. And even if you do think of it first, it’s stale by the time it hits print. Imagine the pressure these guys have on them.

    I’m probably wrong about this. I haven’t yet seen anyone pursue this angle…

  14. Posted August 9, 2009 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    You might have a look at a web site called Brooklyn Guy. I have major problems with his wine description style, but he wins me over with his out and out enthusiasm for one wine at a time. He is not a professional; does not claim to be; currently lacks the knowledge to be. Yet, here is a wine article (see his latest on Lopez de Heredia Vina Cubillo) that shows me why the Internet is making wine more interesting for all of us no matter what our backgrounds, professions, desires to get ahead may be.

    It was clearly not about a wine tasted blind. It also was not an article that could ever be about a wine tasted blind. It puts me in mind of some of Gerald Asher’s best writing–not that it is at that level, but that it finds a way to be both personal and informative at the same time.

    By the way, conversations about ethics are not red herrings–but that is a topic for another day.

  15. wrtish
    Posted August 9, 2009 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Appreciate all the comments, folks. I do NOT think this is a red herring. With wine contuinuing to blossom as a part of our culture and the wine industry expaning in new ways and blogging becoming the hot new media, these questions are going to keep coming up. Someday I may get around to putting a statement of ethics on my blog; until then it’s call em as they come. In this case, I would have poured if it were only for an hour. That’s me. and I don’t think it would have tarnished my rep at all. But I totally respect the decision of any writer who would choose not to.

    I’ll be chiming in on the use/abuse of blind tasting soon. Meanwhile, I think that Charlie’s last comment here is just another example of how we must come to accept multiple approaches to wine — how it’s tasted, rated/reviewed and “handled” in terms of fuzzy gray ethics.

  16. Posted August 10, 2009 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    The range of comments is simply fascinating. I am of the camp that believes that this is not a red herring but, whether ethics and wine writing can coexist…and as defined by whom. Ethics are a bit like religion, they are personal and rely on which house you subscribe to. If wine writers state a code or set of standards, great for them but, does it apply to all? In a profession like journalism is the volunteer/citizen writer held to these principles? Too many queries…relax it is personal and its wine.
    We are talking about my favorite adult beverage-WINE. If A. Blue promotes wines his way and people call him on it, so be it. However, my mother used to say “clean off your own doorstep” and some reviewers taste blind some don’t. What is right? Some wine writers accept nothing and others accept everything, and at the days end the reader decides the believability. So whether it is a score or a puff, or simply a recommendation to try the wines…consider the source.

  17. Posted August 25, 2009 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    Ethics? Maybe… I’m thinking the difference between writers and bloggers is having an editor!

  18. Posted August 26, 2009 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Jeff–

    I have just looked at your blog. Believe me when I tell you this. You need an editor.

    But, Jeff, when you get one, your writing will never be the same again. It will be saner, smarter, less self-serving and less interesting. So. on second thought, you do not need an editor–unless, of course, you want to be more than a guy whose words come faster than his thoughts.

    Hard choice in the blogosphere, but also a choice that will ultimately define the difference between those who blog for no other reason than to see their words in print and those who blog because they want to have an audience and realize that a certain level of discipline is necessary even in an irreverant blog.

    You may not be blogging about wine most of the time–your pie-eyed late evening rant after a night of too much Merlot (have you forgotten the words of Miles?) notwithstanding. But, by the way, “ethics” is not about having an editor or not. “Ethics” is an overriding principle. See Tim McDonald’s advice on that subject.

  19. Posted August 28, 2009 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

    Since this thread continues thanks to Charlie, I’d like to turn the issue on its head. Doesn’t someone who writes about wine from whatever angle and no matter how much of a following they enjoy, have an obligation to uphold an implicit contract when provided hospitality?

    When bloggers or “real” journalists are wine and dined, don’t these commentators have an obligation to provide some virtual or real ink on what those who provided the hospitality want covered?

    So shouldn’t the registrants at the recent Wine Bloggers Conference give back in some way to the wineries that picked up the tab for catered or wine provided chef meals and other goodies? If for some personal ethical reason an attendee is not prepared to offer such coverage shouldn’t s/he bow out of such mini junkets?

    I would cite Ken Peyton’s excellent blog posts on Sterling Vineyards green initiatives, which are real, and which he learned about at one of the meal functions of OWC’s “Napa Day” as an example of an appropriate quid pro quo.

    TOM

  20. Posted August 29, 2009 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    To Tom Merle:

    In a word, “NO”.

  21. Posted August 29, 2009 at 1:19 am | Permalink

    Tom is as generous as he is accurate. Alison Crary matched heartbeat for heartbeat the bloggers on tour at Sterling. Her time, potentially squandered, was the equal of ours. Should the entire experience be cynically reread, after the fashion of Mr. Vaynerchuk, for example, as a meaningless sign of Napa? Should a guest blogger reduce an undeniably rich experience to an abstract tasting note or to some other stupid atrophying trope? No.

    Mr. Merle is correct. There are ‘laws of hospitality’. And I strongly believe in them. We are done a profound disservice by anonymous marketing forces to transform a bottle of wine into a commodity in the first place. It is intellectually dishonest to replace a lived, sun-drenched moment for the dark space of private reflection.

  22. Posted August 29, 2009 at 1:56 am | Permalink

    Wow. Regardless of what is said, it is the duty of someone attending a PR discussion, to report on it with baited breath? Ken, you surprise me.

    What happens if I go to a presentation and the wine is lousy and the discussion is puerile, servile or juvenile. Am I duty bound to honor some law of hospitality?

    Ken, we go to meetings like that to learn. We are only obligated to write the truth as we see it. If you like what Alison Crary said, go ahead and talk about it. But do it because it makes sense intellectually. You don’t owe her or Sterling anything more than your attention. Otherwise, critics would owe wineries coverage for every time that someone smiled in their direction.

    Sorry, but I strongly disagree with you.

  23. Posted August 29, 2009 at 2:23 am | Permalink

    Again, Charlie, if you accept the host’s generosity, then you can find something worth reporting. Any winery that has the wherewithal to put on the dog has some redeeming main, back, or side story to comment on, whether the wine is lousy and the presentation deficient. There are all sorts of truths, however minor, that can be uncovered.

  24. Posted August 29, 2009 at 2:35 am | Permalink

    Charlie, first of all, my comment was well written. Give me that.

    Secondly, my approach is too subtle by half. Read between the lines. By transcribing what is said I provide readers an opportunity to make up their own minds.

    In many of my interviews there is much to be praised, much to be scorned. Am I the arbiter? The truth-teller? Why intervene when the speaker ultimately does a far better job of revealing themselves than I ever could?

    I don’t tell their story. They do.

    You must read more closely. I come from a literary background. We are trained to listen. What ‘critics’ do is of no interest to me. Their reductive opinions offers little insight, certainly not with respect to what I am after. And I am not one. My blog’s role, one of them, is to reintroduce speech, to reintroduce reading.

    The ‘laws of hospitality’ require of me only to faithfully reproduce what was said. Alison gives an hour, I give an hour. A life for a life. It is only fair.

  25. Posted August 29, 2009 at 3:21 am | Permalink

    1st: sure

    2nd: It is your choice, indeed, your responsibility to choose what you write about. I put it to you again. If you attend a conference, meeting etc, are you obligated to write about it if the content is puerile, servile or juvenile? Where is the subtlety in that?

    3rd: I must read more closely? Why? Did I miss something? Are people with literary backgrounds unable to write clearly? Are the rest of us unable to listen?

    4th: You are a journalist, not a supplicant. The “laws of hospitality”, and where please are those laws written, do not require you to report everything you hear.

    5th: Well, you really did not make a fifth point, but I am about to. Journalism is about far more than faithfully reproducing the words of others.

    You know that I am a fan of your blog. It is far more complex than the way you portray it.

  26. Posted August 29, 2009 at 3:48 am | Permalink

    Thank you.

    With respect to number 2, I’ve a compost heap of discarded conferences and meetings out back.

    Number 3 means only that I leave it up to any given reader. The pronoun ‘you’ is a curious shifter. It follows the path of least resistance. Why must I explain everything? Charlie, I would never attack you. Leave it at that.

    Of number 4, tonight I’ve written the laws of hospitality. They’re mine alone.

    5th, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7F-bOPhLMU

  27. wrtish
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    I’ve been going to press events for years and, like Charlie, have never felt any obligation of coverage. Attention, yes, coverage: no.

    Which is not to say Ken can’t have his own set of standards. I would guess, however, that in no way did Ken write something in response to every iota of hospitality doled out over the course of the bloggers’ conference. And I trust Ken’s coverage to be “real” and transparent, not gratuitous and veiled.

    On the other hand, I (personally) feel that press TRIPS are different than tours/meetings/dinners; trips involve a sense of commitment to cover. THat’s why I turn many down and have not been on one in years.

  28. Posted August 29, 2009 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    My exchange with Charlie last night was confined to considerations of the WBC alone. There were dozens of story opportunities I passed on. I was at one winery where farm workers were toiling in the vineyard. I made an effort to speak with them but was essentially pulled away by the ‘thematic’ structure of the tour. Didn’t write a word about the winery because of this. But I have tucked the annoying moment away to use for a bit of mischief somewhere down the road.

    But the larger consideration was an obligation I felt, whether right or wrong I can’t say, to the Bloggers Conference itself. If there was a quid pro quo, it was here. I was not happy with what some pro writers had written of the wine blogging community in the months just prior to the gathering. So I made a commitment to write as much credible stuff, accent on credible, as I could so as to put a positive spin on what last year was a rather parsimonious production by the bloggers gathered. (‘tweets’ don’t count.) I other words, I was representin’, as the kids say.

    That said, it boggles my mind that still so little was written by bloggers attending the WBC! And I was equally baffled by a curious attitude of studied indifference by many. It was as though they were saying “Yeah, that’s kinda cool. What else can you do for me?”

    Bottom line for me, a writer first, a wine blogger second, my days are filled with scribbling temptations. I can’t turn it off.

  29. Posted August 29, 2009 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Oy. Where to begin?

    Ah, yes. With Tom Merle. That’s easy. Tom, I wish we were in a pub, at least one and a half sheets to the wind, then I could tell you what I really think–and be loud about it–and we would all walk away laughing. But, it’s too early in the morning, it’s bloody hot already, I perhaps over-imbibed on hot sauce, Thai food and beer last night in one of the greatest finds of my life–a hole in the wall in a neighborhood so difficult that you have to call them on your cell phone to get them to open the door, and you walk into this vine-covered little cottage and find a restaurant that is straight out of a neighborhood in Bangkok, and so is the cooking.

    Thus, Tom, I fear that my ability to say something polite is greatly compromised. So, with apologies for calling it like I see it, with no sugar-coating, let me just suggest that any winery planning on inviting to me to anything from their latest new release tasting to wine and food pairings to discussions of their latest encounter with cow dung planted in their vineyards by the light of the full moon, should stop and consider this. I owe you nothing. I will not review any wine I taste on that day; I only review wines I taste blind in my own tastings. I may find your theories that picking your grapes when the moon is full to be as full of shit as your cow horns, and I am not in the food-writing business. So, the best you can expect of me when you invite me to your blending seminar is that I might learn something that someday helps me understand what you are doing or helps me write my book. If that is not enough, then don’t invite me. I owe you nothing but my attention.

    Now, Tom, please don’t be offended, but journalism is about choosing what to cover, how to cover it and being true to one’s own self. If wineries want more than that from me, they should not invite me. And frankly, I tell them in advance. I am not going to your event if I am not able to review the wines you make in my way, at my time, on my table, with the labels covered, in peer-to-peer tastings. I am not in the public relations business. Ask Andy Blue instead.

    I will give you two very good examples–and I would have not written about either event in any case. I was invited by Kendall-Jackson for a coming out party for the new Journey bottling from Matanzas Creek. I was quite interested in the event because I had reviewed earlier Journeys very positively. I called the PR dolly and told her that I not only was interested but I likely had more Journey in my cellar than she did (she being not old enough to drink when the first Journeys appeared fifteen years ago). But, sayeth I, I will only go to this event if I am able to get access to the wine to review it.

    Now the reason for my response is somewhat complex, but, in a nutshell, it boils down to this. KJ has informed me that my rag will no longer have access to their upscale, limited production wines. Apparently, I am not Parker, Laube, Heimoff or A. Blue. But, of course, they would continue to ship me samples of Vintner’s Reserve and Murphy-Goode. “I’ll get back to you”, she writes. I am still waiting for the courtesy of a response–and because I knew one would never be forthcoming, I wrote a second time and reminded said dolly that I was still waiting. So, Tom, what do I owe KJ other than a two-word response, and it would not be “Hardly Wallace”. It starts with f and ends near the other end of the alphabet.

    They owe me nothing and I owe them nothing. They have made the first point abundantly clear. I can give up a day to spend listening to them pat themselves on the back, but I cannot write about the wine in my own way–in the way that I have been writing for three decades. Apparently, they think I owe them something. Let them invite Andy Blue. I am not going near KJ again.

    Second example. I am invited next week up to J for a seminar on the topic of dosage. Regardless of the value or lack thereof of the topic, it is a public relations stunt. I know it is a public relations stunt because I was invited by their PR company. As with the Journey event, I was interested in the content of the event, but only if I would have something to write about in the way that I write. I so informed the PR dolly of my standards, and was promised that I would have access to the wines in my format. Not surprising, by the way, because J is very good about letting writers see their new bubbles. So, I am going to the event. I will not write about it. They know that, and I know they know that, and they know that I know that they know. I will write about their wines, but only when I taste them blind, etc, etc.

    And, Ken, my views are not above attack any more than are yours or Tish’s or A. Blue or any one else’s. And neither are my journalistic standards. It is only my ability to read that is above attack. I am hoping that Tish is right and that your compost heap of discarded notes and even articles that turned out to have no content of value is growing. In that case, it is apparent to me that the the laws of hospitality have been placed second to the laws of responsible journalism. Frankly, I am not surprised. Your writings are too well-informed, thoughtful to be subject to having to say something nice about everyone whoever buys you a bologna sandwich in exchange for you giving up your valuable time.

    And, finally, Tish. I feel the same way about press trips. You invite me at your peril. I have turned down plenty of trips where the ultimate question from the PR dolly (and why are these folks all young women–no one named Tom has ever invited me for so much as a cheese sandwich) was “where will you place your story”? I have been on trips on which I found wines that opened by eyes (the reds from Mount Etna made not with Nero D’Avola but with Nero Mascalese and the amazing old-vine Grenache Rose’ from Navarra to name two), but I have also been on trips on which there was nothing I could or would write about. Yes, I was happy to visit Rias Baixas as part of my vinous education, but education was all I got from that trip.

    Bottom line, Tish. Go on trips for the purpose of learning. Do not go on trips that require you to find something, anything nice to say. KJ owes me nothing, and I owe them nothing. Rias Baixas owes me nothing and I owe it nothing. If that is not the bottom line for journalists, then they are not journalists. Otherwise, they have crossed the Rubicon and are paid shills. It is no longer a question of what they are. It is only a question of their price.

  30. Posted August 29, 2009 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Charlie and friends,

    Though my views are not fully baked, and are presented in part to stimulate the joy of dialogue, particularly among people who can remain disinterested while passionate, I’m beginning to see the difference between journalism and blogism that doesn’t purport to be old wine in new bottles. Bloggers below the level of, say, a Alder Yarrow, may well be under compensated marketers, or if you wish, shills. If one receives, one gives back. This doesn’t apply to you Charlie, largely because you are in the business to appraise wine, not to cover the wine industry more generally. You must maintain a firewall to protect your business proposition, that you are completely objective in your ratings and reviews. Your revenue comes from subscribers who are buying this impartiality. Bloggers who haven’t “monetized” their efforts–and increasingly bloggers outside our domain are being paid for product placement and other promotional efforts–rely on other avenues for some inkind compensation, and therefore a change in the rules of the game may be allowed.

  31. Posted December 16, 2009 at 2:20 am | Permalink

    The comment thread was as great and enlightening as the original article. Thanks for starting the discussion, I appreciate it.

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