Sunday, August 28, 2011

WINE CRITICISM AND TRANSPARENCY: TRUSTING YOUR WINE WRITER


If a wine writer accepts remuneration for writing about wine, can that opinion be trusted?  That's the question addressed in the Guardian's Word Of Mouth Blog recently. It's an interesting question, and the blog received numerous comments on both sides of the fence.


Some respected sommeliers are paid a salary to act as consultants for specific wine interests.  Writers are often provided with wine samples at no charge for the purpose of review.  Invitations to wine tasting events and winemaker dinners are the lifeblood of most wine writers, particularly bloggers, who use the information obtained through these freebies to write the articles wine lovers like to read.

Most wine writers try to be transparent about whether the subject of an article was purchased or provided for free.  Many observers feel receiving a bottle of wine or a ticket to an event for free makes the writer beholden to the provider, and thereby throws their credibility into question.

The Wine Writers of New Zealand state their distaste of their members taking so much as a free sample in order to write an article.  The Word Of Mouth Blog feels the practice of accepting freebies may mean wine writers could run afoul of the UK's Bribery Act, although that legislation exempts hospitality.

Commenters below the article ranged from those "fed up with wine writers recommending wines from" major chains and supermarkets" to one who wrote, "I'd quite like wine writers to review wines that I can actually buy.  Reviewing supermarket wine would be just dandy."

It's my understanding that people who write about wine for major publications or corporate websites often must abide by strict rules preventing them from taking samples or free passes in order to write an article.  I know this has been the case with major newspapers, and, in many cases, still is.

Many sommeliers act as advisors to wine regions or have other similar affiliations resulting in income.  Does this negate everything they write about those entities?  Should it?

Like most wine bloggers, I do not earn an income through my wine writing.  I write about many wines I pay for out of my pocket, but most of the articles I write concerning wines and wine events could not be written without the subsidy of a free sample or ticket.  I feel most wine bloggers float in the same boat I am in.  I always strive for honesty when I give my opinion.

It's been my experience that samples or entry to an event provided by a publicist are given with the understanding that the resulting article may not be favorable.  Even the cold heart of a PR person doesn't think writers can be bought off with a bottle of wine.  Of course, there is always the possibility of out-and-out bribery, but I have no direct knowledge of that in my 35-plus years of writing about wine and other things.

I have been asked if I would provide a look at the article before publication.  The answer was - and is - no.  I have attended press junkets which resulted in a less than enthusiastic article.  In at least one case, I did not hear from that publicist again.  One winemaker I queried for a sample refused the request because previous reviews of his wine - by other writers - had not been favorable.

Is it transparent enough to state that a freebie was given?  Do you trust wine writing when you know there was some sort of compensation given to the writer?

Please feel free to leave a comment here, email me at nowandzin@gmail.com or Tweet your feelings to me, @randyfuller1.  I'd love to hear what you think.