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An Opinion Piece:Whores in the Wine Industry? Updated 5 July

by Daniel Rogov » Tue Jun 30, 2009 4:31 pm

An Opinion Piece: Whores in the Wine Industry?
Daniel Rogov


I cannot help but feel very strongly that criticism and ethics most walk hand-in-hand. With specific regard to wine criticism, that means to me that critics who are open to influences other than their own knowledge, talents and abilities are cheating the public (that is to say, those who read them). Critics, for example, who ask for or accept bottles of wine other than for the purpose of tasting or accept any sort of fee or salary from a winery are, in the most literal sense of the word, whores – that is to say in my opinion little more than mercenaries who compromise themselves by selling their supposed good name for a distinctly unworthy purpose.

Of late it has been brought to my attention that several individuals and groups have been whoring themselves in an interesting way – by charging a fee to wineries to taste and review their wines and then by publishing and even selling those tasting notes as if they were without any potential bias whatever. Two examples will suffice…

New Zealander Sam Kim, maintains both an internet site and a bi-monthly, subscription-only publication that are said to provide readers "with independent, extensive and detailed wine reviews" of the wines of New Zealand and the world. The internet site also boasts that it "an advertising-free publication".

On his internet site, Wine Orbit, Mr. Kim posts quite openly that he will review any wine submitted by a winery, that along with a fee of NZ$ 34. He then writes that for that fee "you are guaranteed to receive an independently written wine review by a senior wine judge for wines rated above 3 stars or 78 points". He then offers subscriptions to both the general public and to the trade to his published tasting notes at the annual rate of NS$90 (about US$55) for six issues. Full details as well as a list of Mr. Kim's qualifications can be found on his internet site (http://www.wineorbit.co.nz/home.html

A second body carrying out similar practices is Appellation America (http://wine.appellationamerica.com/aboutus.aspx# ). As stated on their internet site it can be seen that the organization sponsors a program called Best-of-Appellation. Under this self-declared program, a panel of wine experts evaluates wines on an appellation-by-appellation basis to objectively assess and define the characteristics of each appellation. We are compiling this information into a "Blue Book" on appellation characteristics that will be continually updated and refined as we evaluate new wines. Wines considered to best represent an appellation are elevated to "Best-of-Appellation" status and receive Gold and Double Gold medals. Our evaluations also produce Tasting Notes for each BOA-evaluated wine and these (which are great reading, by the way!) can be seen on our wine lists". It is interesting to note that the site stays that they do not charge for reviews but then goes on to say that the will only review wines that have come through the BOA system. That is so
contradictory. The fee charged in this case for the tasting and evaluation of wines is US$ 50 for every wine submitted.

I have also come across at least six other internet sites and blogs that seem to be following such a path. I will name those but only when and if I receive confirmation that this is true. I can happily say that I know of no critics in Israel who are playing this particular game. I have been so approached by wineries in the USA and Europe and one of my colleagues from abroad writes that " someone contacted me about 6 months ago about offering me money to review their wine. I'm not sure if I took the time to decline or simply hit the delete button. I wish I had kept the email. I could ask them how many writers they have paid to review their wines. Some new producers are desperate for reviews of any kind". Alas, I fear that my colleague is correct and the practice is becoming more common.


Note that we are not talking here about advertising. Advertising in the print or other media is perfectly acceptable on the condition that there is full and clear separation between editorial and adverting. It is true that some publications (print or other) do not fully make that distinction but that, as might be said, is another story altogether, in fact one we have discussed on the forum on several occasions What we are talking about here is what I consider a clear ethical violation.

Please understand - I have no objection whatever to people who choose to serve as tasting and evaluation consultants to wineries. I even sincerely hope that talented and knowledgeable people who choose that route will make a good deal of money and I will praise them for it. I will even praise a winery that uses an outside consultant to give them at least one point of view that is hot "house-bound". I cannot, however, perceive how a critic or critical publication can be in the employ of or receiving fixed fees from wineries and manage to publish what are supposed to be unbiased tasting notes. Tasted blind or not, the bias is built in automatically by knowing that those wineries employing you (a) expect your notes to be published; (b) anticipate using those notes to promote their own wines and (c) will certainly not continue to employ you if you publish more than an absolutely minimal number of negative tasting notes.

Perhaps I am exaggerating in my feelings and perhaps I am even wrong and I therefore welcome dissenting opinions, not only by forum members but including from either Mr. Kim or a representative of Appellation America (either of which can sign up as members of WLDG in order to post or who can send their responses to me by email to drogov@cheerful.com . If they do respond, their comments, questions and objections to my point of view will be posted in full.
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Re: An Opinion Piece: Whores in the Wine Industry?

by Ian Sutton » Tue Jun 30, 2009 4:52 pm

Daniel
The only comparable example I can come up with is on the wineshow circuit, or for some magazines, where entry requires payment or a number of bottles above those needed for tasting. Though I note one UK show now auctions off excess bottles for charitable purposes.

Wine writing does require a balance of ethical vs. business needs. Few critics could survive buying every single bottle they review. Likewise many take sponsored trips, sometimes quite extravagent ones. So there are some grey areas of varying shades.

However these instances do on the face of it suggest a commercial focus overriding an ethical focus. I'm guessing this would overstep the mark for most of us.

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Re: An Opinion Piece: Whores in the Wine Industry?

by Daniel Rogov » Tue Jun 30, 2009 5:40 pm

Ian, Hi.......

We are in general agreement on all points. A few clarifying points from my own point of view....

Regarding wine competitions I have no problem with their modus operandi. After all, the vast majority of competitions arem pure and simply businesses, in fact far more profitable enterprises than operating a winery or writing wine criticism. And in that they are entitled to all of the cash on which they can lay their hands. My problem with such competitions is not as "businesses" but as relates to the value of their Uranium, Platinum, Double Gold, Gold and Silver medals. I suppose by now that my view of most such competitions is fairly well known and that view is not very positive.

Agreed that no wine writer on the planet can afford to purchase every bottle that must be tasted. As to receiving one bottle of every wine that a winery chooses to send, I have no ethical problem whatever so long as those bottles are indeed used for tasting, evaluating and writing and not for personal consumption. The rest can be tasted at professional exhibits, at professional tastings or, worst comes to worst, from our budgets. I suppose we all drink the best of the day's tasting but lawsy, lawsy, not one of us can drink 20, 30 or more bottles daily.

With regard to trips - as stated on earlier occasions, I have no problem with those (including myself) who acceptitrips from governmental agencies or governmentally sponsored bodies, but that on the condition that the recipient is wise enough to realize that even those bodies have agendas and thus to extend our trips on our own account or better of course the account of our publishers in order to taste from wineries, regions, etc, not included in "the invitation". I also believe that the acceptance of such trips should be accompanied by a note to the effect that we intend to taste and write critically and honestly.

Indeed some "critics" accept those trips as "junkets" and those people are to be scorned. Such trips can be great fun, I'll admit but by heaven, they require a great many hours of intensive and often difficult work.
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Re: An Opinion Piece: Whores in the Wine Industry?

by Loweeel » Tue Jun 30, 2009 5:51 pm

At least with Appellation America's "best of appellation", they make it pretty clear that they only go on what was submitted.

I looked into it pretty extensively, because they started with Petite Sirah. I have to say, what they did publish was fascinating -- Clark Smith, of whom I remain in total awe -- had some fantastic detailed causal viticultural information on the sources of PS's diversity across those regions.

So, my 8 Agorot: the "best of appellation" label/medalling indicates nothing about a wine other than where it ranks among the others submitted for consideration within that appellation and across all the appellations. The underlying documents and explanations, however, that comprise the "bluebook project" are extraordinarily valuable and a treasure trove of information.

I discussed (and even criticized the odd scope of wines in) the PS project on my blog in february.
http://PSychospath.com -- The PSychos' Path: the long road to being crazy about Petite Sirah
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Re: An Opinion Piece: Whores in the Wine Industry?

by Paul Winalski » Tue Jun 30, 2009 6:50 pm

This starts to look like the wine industry's version of payola.

-Paul W.
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Re: An Opinion Piece: Whores in the Wine Industry?

by Glenn Mackles » Tue Jun 30, 2009 7:02 pm

I, as usual, feel very out of place here. I am a simple wine consumer. I don't review wines. I don't go to mega tastings. I usually go to one wine fair a year, mainly because it benefits a local charity and it mainly features local Maryland/Virginia wines. And seeing I don't spit all that much if the wine is decent, it quickly becomes just a wine drinking experience. And, in fact, I really don't like to concentrate all that much on all the nuances of a wine I'm drinking and indeed would rather focus on the overall experience. I do know what I like and don't like but not in any sort of scientific fashion.

All of that was simply prelude to my reaction to your post. Of course I agree that anyone reviewing anything must at least attempt to remain unbiased. And, of course, if one is taking compensation from the product one is reviewing, it creates at least the perception of, if not actual, bias. But what it means to me as a real wine consumer is that it confirms what I have known for some time... that wine reviews as a whole do not really help my personal buying decisions. And actual knowlwdge that some reviewers are paid to review certain wines just makes it much worse. So, basically I don't read published reviews much anymore. I attempt to ignore the hangtags in the wine stores. I do read the wine column in the local newspaper but very seldom buy anything mentioned there. I subscribe to exactly zero wine periodicals. Still my dear lady and I drink approximately 2 bottles of wine a week and sometimes 3. I buy wines that I know I will enjoy based on past experience and try new ones based almost solely on recommendations from those I know and from merchants that have known me and what I like for years.

So one might ask, why do I come to this forum at all? Because I have learned a lot about wine from reading the material here. But I don't post much because I really don't have much I could say. I don't do detailed reviews of the wines I drink. It is distracting to me to take notes when I am trying to enjoy my evening with a wine glass in my hand. Because much of the enjoyment I get from wine is based on the environment I drink it in and the company and conversation and food I enjoy with it.

I do appreciate that most reviewers of wine, both amateur and professional, are doing so in good faith and attempting to pass on their expertise in the best possible sense. I do not denigrate their efforts. They have brought wine to the masses and are due many thanks for spreading the gospel of wine near and far. And their efforts have benefited me directly and greatly. Without their efforts it is extremely doubtful that I would even be able to buy the vast variety of wines available in local stores almost everywhere these days. I recently went into a tiny general store in a rural town of less than 2000 people and was astonished to find that that they had a selection of over 70 different wines available... and some pretty darn good ones. And in any suburb of a city of almost any size in the US, stores with hundreds upon hundreds of varieties are common. Wine reviewers deserve much credit for making wine desirable and thus demanded and available. But what reviewers have not been able to explain to my satisfaction is what makes a certain wine a 92 as opposed to an 88 or most any other number other than their personal taste. And what is even more clear to me is that their personal taste is not my personal taste. I guess for the people who are relatively new to wine, a guide to what to try has great value, but I have been drinking wine for more than 30 years now and a beginners guide is of limited value to me. So in summary when you add to all of these thoughts I already had about the limited utility of reviews the facts that some reviewers specifically solicit money for their opinions and reviews... well... all I can say is that don't expect me to pay a lot of attention to reviews. And even worse it paints the scrupulous reviewer in a horrible light of guilt by asociation.

Sorry for the rant.

Glenn Mackles
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Re: An Opinion Piece: Whores in the Wine Industry?

by Victorwine » Tue Jun 30, 2009 10:55 pm

Hi Daniel,
I wouldn’t knock the Appellation America program “Best of Appellation”. For a region or American appellation trying to find an identity in the "world of wine" or promote itself as a quality wine-producing region this “blue book” program sounds like a good idea. If you read thoroughly thru the program, present at the judging or “competition” is a “regional advocate” (chairperson of a regional vine-growers association; alliance, or council, knowledgeable wine maker from the region, or someone who knows the appellation inside-out) and a guest journalist or wine critic (very likely from a local or regional paper or magazine.

Salute
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Re: An Opinion Piece: Whores in the Wine Industry?

by Paul Winalski » Tue Jun 30, 2009 10:56 pm

Glenn Mackles wrote:But what reviewers have not been able to explain to my satisfaction is what makes a certain wine a 92 as opposed to an 88 or most any other number other than their personal taste. And what is even more clear to me is that their personal taste is not my personal taste.


Glenn, here you've hit on the crux of the matter concerning wine reviews.

There is nothing, repeat, NOTHING, other than a particular critic's personal taste, that distinguishes a 92-score wine from an 88-score wine.

As you've realized, in the end the only thing that's important is what wines YOU like. The really good critics manage to convey in their prose a sufficient description of their impressions of the wine that you can read the words and gauge for yourself how they probably would match your own impressions. When I post my own wine reviews on these fora, that's what I try to convey as best I can--my own personal sensual experience. I hope that others can match that against the sort of sensuality that they prefer in wine, and that it will be helpful to them in judging whether they might also have liked that particular bottle of wine. I never attempt to reduce the wine experience to a number. I do use Stuart Yaniger's Three Stooges method for a summary evaluation, both because I think it allows one to express several dimensions of the wine experience, at the appropriate level of accuracy and precision, and because it expresses the correct level of mockery of the whole wine-score process.

Salut,

-Paul W.
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Re: An Opinion Piece: Whores in the Wine Industry?

by Daniel Rogov » Wed Jul 01, 2009 7:31 am

Victorwine wrote:I wouldn’t knock the Appellation America program “Best of Appellation”. For a region or American appellation trying to find an identity in the "world of wine" or promote itself as a quality wine-producing region this “blue book” program sounds like a good idea. If you read thoroughly thru the program, present at the judging or “competition” is a “regional advocate” (chairperson of a regional vine-growers association; alliance, or council, knowledgeable wine maker from the region, or someone who knows the appellation inside-out) and a guest journalist or wine critic (very likely from a local or regional paper or magazine.


Assuming that there is no bias on the part of the panel members and that the palates have been calibrated between the various members of the panel, all of this is peachy-keen except that it automatically eliminates every winery that does not care to pay US$50.00 to have each of their wines evaluated by this particular panel.

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Re: An Opinion Piece: Whores in the Wine Industry?

by Daniel Rogov » Wed Jul 01, 2009 7:36 am

Paul Winalski wrote:...There is nothing, repeat, NOTHING, other than a particular critic's personal taste, that distinguishes a 92-score wine from an 88-score wine.



As gentlemen do at times, let us agree to disagree. Agreed of course that a certain subjective element enters into all parts of wine evaluations from the tasting note to the score, but there are standards and many have been trained to taste wines in light of those standards. Indeed, from time to time disagreement on wines can be major between critics, but the vast majority of scores do fall into a certain highly acceptable statistical mean and thus give them reliability*. And indeed, as seen in many re-tastings, also replicability.

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Rogov

*That based on taking a selection of at least fairly well-known critics, comparing their tasting notes and scores for the same wines over a period of a year or longer.
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Re: An Opinion Piece: Whores in the Wine Industry?

by Daniel Rogov » Wed Jul 01, 2009 7:42 am

Glenn, Hi....

First of all, yours was not at all a rant but a fine explanation of where you stand, and the place on which you stand seems to be quite well grounded. And, by the way, no need to ever apologize for being a "simple wine consumer". You and your like are the people who keep the wine industry (yes, and even wine journalists) in business.

Only one minor disagreement. You say:

Glenn Mackles wrote: And even worse it paints the scrupulous reviewer in a horrible light of guilt by asociation.



Some women are prostitutes: That does not lead us to think that all women are prostitutes.
Some attorneys are dishonest : That does not lead us to think that all attorneys are dishonest
Some men are swindlers: .....
Some policemen are murders: .....
Some journalists are whores:.....

Best
Rogov
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Re: An Opinion Piece: Whores in the Wine Industry?

by Glenn Mackles » Wed Jul 01, 2009 9:48 am

Dear Daniel,

Your point was well made and well taken. It's just from my perspective as a consumer, it's hard to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Best Wishes,'
Glenn
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Re: An Opinion Piece: Whores in the Wine Industry?

by David Mc » Wed Jul 01, 2009 11:53 am

Disclose. Disclose. Disclose.

Only then can you evaluate the review in light of their underlying motivation. It's another piece of information on which to make an informed decision.

It's really no different than the reviews on any other product. Take Consumer Reports magazine for example. They are perhaps the epitome of independent evaluation - they are entirely subscriber funded and don't take advertising so their product reviews are presumably truly independent. They have even started reviewing wines in the last few years.

At the other extreme, you have advertising. Anything in an ad is obviously completely biased and not independent. Their underlying motivation is to sell their product. Everyone knows this (well should anyway). So I'm not going to believe the ad but I'll view the ad to see what at least they think in important about the product.

So in light of Mr. Kim, he has certainly disclosed his practice of getting paid to review wines (I want that job!). So on the continuum outlined above, I would place him maybe in the middle. If the fact he is a "paid" consultant is disclosed in his bi-monthly newsletter, then I can use that information to discern how his reviews match to what my unsophisticated pallet thinks of the wine. In the future, then I use that information to make an informed choice (I use Wine Spectator rating in this way). One the other hand, if the fact that he is paid for this reviews is not disclosed or is obscured, then I agree - whore.

(Side note: In the early 1980s, there was a popular bumper sticker here in DC "I don't believe the [Washington] Post". I was in high school and was confused because if it was printed in the paper, it must be true, right?. The modern analogy is "if it's on Wikipedia, it must be true." On wine reviews and anything else for that matter, I think Reagan said it best: "Trust, but verify".)
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Re: An Opinion Piece: Whores in the Wine Industry?

by Ian Sutton » Wed Jul 01, 2009 1:20 pm

Daniel Rogov wrote:
Some women are prostitutes: That does not lead us to think that all women are prostitutes.
Some attorneys are dishonest : That does not lead us to think that all attorneys are dishonest
Some men are swindlers: .....
Some policemen are murders: .....
Some journalists are whores:.....

Best
Rogov

Ahh! I can play this game:
Some politicians are liars: ... errrr... this game is harder than it looks :oops:
:wink:
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Re: An Opinion Piece: Whores in the Wine Industry?

by Florida Jim » Wed Jul 01, 2009 1:24 pm

Daniel Rogov wrote:I cannot help but feel very strongly that criticism and ethics most walk hand-in-hand. With specific regard to wine criticism, that means to me that critics who are open to influences other than their own knowledge, talents and abilities are cheating the public (that is to say, those who read them). Critics, for example, who ask for or accept bottles of wine other than for the purpose of tasting or accept any sort of fee or salary from a winery are, in the most literal sense of the word, whores – that is to say in my opinion little more than mercenaries who compromise themselves by selling their supposed good name for a distinctly unworthy purpose.

Daniel,

Indeed, you must feel very strongly; the use of the word "whore," being both pejorative and emotive, seems sufficient to indicate your contempt. And while that may be warranted, it may also be that you are too close to the subject to be objective - after all, this is your livelihood and you clearly take your responsibility seriously.

I wonder if you have attempted to view this with an eye toward the responsibility of the consumer?
For me, these people, should I read them at all, will receive very limited credence - their obvious interest and their appearance of impropriety are sufficient for me to find them not worthy of belief.
Likewise, it would be my position that, should a consumer simply take these folks word on face, that they get what they deserve.
Consumers are not without responsibility in this relationship; we must be accountable for our choices, even if they be based on biased information or puffing.

So while I understand your consternation with the ethics of these folks, I think it is also important to consider who reads them - and why.

Best, Jim
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Re: An Opinion Piece: Whores in the Wine Industry?

by Shlomo R » Wed Jul 01, 2009 2:20 pm

Daniel Rogov wrote:Only one minor disagreement. You say:

Glenn Mackles wrote: And even worse it paints the scrupulous reviewer in a horrible light of guilt by asociation.



Some women are prostitutes: That does not lead us to think that all women are prostitutes.
Some attorneys are dishonest : That does not lead us to think that all attorneys are dishonest
Some men are swindlers: .....
Some policemen are murders: .....
Some journalists are whores:.....

Best
Rogov

Daniel,

Two counterpoints from my experience: First, even the honest attorneys that I know like to make jokes about attorneys - if only your line were true. I think the actual representation would be "Loads of attorneys are dishonest: Unfortunately that does lead us to think that most attorneys are dishonest" :lol:
Second: an actual quote from a meeting with a client: "When we started the project, you were too busy to get the work done quickly enough for us, so we hired the engineer we hired, figuring an engineer is an engineer. Now, having sat and met with you, and having worked with him, we can see that you are running two completely different businesses. There's no comparison." Unfortunately, Daniel, I find most people DO draw conclusions regarding a group of people from a single experience, until presented with overwhelming evidence contradicting their conclusion.
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Re: An Opinion Piece: Whores in the Wine Industry?

by Steve Slatcher » Wed Jul 01, 2009 4:32 pm

An argument in favour of a disclosed fee being taken for reviews is that the same fee is taken for all wines. Certainly the practice does not encourage bad reviews, but at least all wines are reviewed with the same degree of bias. I am not sure you can say the same thing about other ways in which wines might find their ways into journalists mouths... samples in the post, tastings, trips to the regions of production etc. I treat ALL reviews with a healthy scepticism, but I am not particularly shocked by the practices you describe as prostitution, Rogov.

As for critics' scores being subjective, well that is perhaps best kept for another day. Apart from perhaps to point out even if critics are consistent and reliable it means little if consumers are not. I taste in a Wine Society where we often have a show of hands for which is the most popular of 2 wines tasted side by side, somestime with wines that differ greatly in price. Often the split is roughly equal, and I don't think the split has ever been greater than roughly 80/20. So how does it help us that critics consistently think one wine is better than another? Well, OK, for investment maybe.
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Re: An Opinion Piece: Whores in the Wine Industry?

by Daniel Rogov » Fri Jul 03, 2009 3:39 am

I received a response from Sam Kim of Wine Orbit in New Zealand and that follows in its entirety. I thank Mr. Kim for his gentlemanly response.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dear Mr. Rogov,

First of all, thank you for letting me know of your post in Wine Lovers’ Discussion Group and giving me an opportunity to respond. I trust that you will keep to your promise of posting my reply in its entirety.

I will focus on the issue of ethical behaviour rather than getting involved in the side issue of wine scoring (out of 5 stars, 20 points, 100 points or 3 glasses; that’s for another day). Your observations and the points you make are valid. Indeed I have questioned the very same issue myself before deciding to charge a fee. Of course the amount of the fee doesn’t matter – whether it’s $1 or $100, it’s the fact that I am receiving money from wineries to review their wines. Wine magazines and wine competitions charge fees and there are no ethical dilemmas there. It’s a wine writer charging a fee for a review while claiming independence that is in question.

When I launched Wine Orbit magazine two years ago, I considered whether or not to charge a fee to wineries for submission as they do in other magazines and wine competitions. I had spoken to a number of wine industry and trade people about whether they would view me as a publisher of a magazine (which I am) or a wine writer (which I am), and would they be happy to pay for entering their wines to Wine Orbit for tasting. One had expressed his disapproval that I would be ‘crossing the line’, and one suggested that I would be biting the hand that’s feeding me. But the rest were supportive or accepting of the fact that that’s how things are done (commercial reality).

Despite the majority support for the fee-charging, I decided against it. I didn’t want a whisper of doubt about my integrity as an independent wine reviewer. It turns out that publishing a magazine costs money (mainly in time). And I have worked out that it takes about 30 to 40 minutes to fully ‘process’ a wine (it adds up when you have 250 wines) . By the time you unpack the box (polystyrene boxes need to be free of stickers and labels before I can take them to a wine shop for re-use and cardboard boxes need to be flattened for recycling), put away the bottles in groups of variety/style, file the paperwork alphabetically, enter each wine details on the database, set up the tasting (I like to give wine the best chance of showing so I chill or warm the bottles to ideal tasting temperatures : 17-18°C for whites and 19-20°C for reds), taste the wine, write notes, wash the glasses, enter them onto the database, add any technical notes for highly rated wines, re-read what I’ve written then get someone else to proofread, and I re-read it again to make sure price, vintage etc are correct against the entry form (even though odd mistakes do get through), and e-mail individual reviews to about 200 producers (for your information, there are about 400 registered winemaker/producers in New Zealand but not all produce commercial wines), then finally format them for publishing; this all takes a considerable amount of time as anyone who has published even a simple newsletter would appreciate.

I have persevered for the last two years in order to avoid someone suggesting that what I do is unethical if I charged a fee. So I have maintained full-time employment and worked every night and weekends tasting and writing but I simply couldn’t keep up with the demand as I was getting further and further behind the schedule. While I am grateful to those wineries who sent me samples (and without their generosity and support I wouldn’t have a publication or be a wine writer), in the end I ended up with far too many wines. And I was providing my professional assessment and review free of charge. Finally I came to the conclusion that this needs to be a user-pays system. From Wine Orbit Issue 8 (around August) I will be charging for wine entry to Wine Orbit tastings at what I believe is a reasonable fee of NZ$34 (about US$20) per wine. I have made this very clear on my website and in the publication so Wine Orbit readers are aware of the background. I could have chosen to keep this information out of the public arena (i.e. the world wide web) and quietly sent invoices to wine producers. But by declaring the commercial interest (by the way, I do not have any financial interest directly or indirectly in a winery, importer or distributor) which is a flat fee to every wine submitted, and tasting each wine blind in a line up, I believe I can be impartial. I believe it is an even playing field to charge the same amount to every entrant rather than accepting advertisement from those who can afford it (since Wine Orbit is advertising-free). I can be accused of bias for reviewing only the wines submitted but doesn’t every magazine, competition or wine writer do the same?

It appears that many producers have been appreciative of my free service and favourable reviews while others have expressed their disappointment suggesting that my reviews have been ‘too harsh’ or that I don’t understand their style of wine. Some producers stopped sending me samples due to repeated unfavourable reviews. Wine Orbit is about my opinion. It’s neither right or wrong. It’s the carefully considered opinion of a wine professional, a senior wine judge, and I am asking people to pay for that opinion. I am sure you get paid to write your opinion. For this entry fee, a producer receives a professionally assessed review as long as the wine is rated above 3 stars or 78 points. And if they, or anyone else, wish to read other producers’ reviews then they need to subscribe to Wine Orbit. I believe this practice is neither unethical nor deceitful. I hope what I do is a service to the industry and to wine enthusiasts as I do my best to assess wines as they appear and pen my thoughts. Ultimately I will be judged by those who submit wines and those who choose to subscribe to Wine Orbit.

I wish I could simply sit at a dinner table and enjoy a bottle of wine with friends and family over comfort food and talk music and life. Over millennia, artists, poets and lovers have sought inspiration and comfort from wine, and today millions of consumers enjoy wine simply for what it is – something to be enjoyed, not to be analysed. But humans also have sought to reward art in their finest forms, otherwise we wouldn’t have the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition or the figure skating at the Olympics. I enjoy what I do and I’m darn good at it. So I reward those growers and winemakers who diligently work through winter and summer to provide us with liquid worthy of description and praise. These producers are in it for love and for business. I am also in this game of wine writing for love and for the business of surviving, with no hidden agenda.

Yours sincerely,

Sam Kim
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David Glasser

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Re: An Opinion Piece:Whores in the Wine Industry? Updated 3 July

by David Glasser » Fri Jul 03, 2009 8:52 am

Very thoughtful reply. So long as the entry fee is low enough that it is not a barrier, and it is the same for all wineries, I don't see it as necessarily introducing bias or crossing any ethical lines. No doubt it will (and has) rankled. A similar tempest is brewing over at Gault Millau:

http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/a20090703.html
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Re: An Opinion Piece:Whores in the Wine Industry? Updated 3 July

by Ian Sutton » Fri Jul 03, 2009 3:34 pm

I still have concern. Maybe $10 per wine would be fine - what about $20, $50, $200? We'll each have a point at which we believe the line has been crossed, from independant critic into commercial supply of tasting notes.

I think supply of a sample bottle entitles the winery to a fair and honest review (and indeed the right to offer a 2nd bottle for review if they feel the TN of the original didn't match their belief of how a good bottle should taste).

However the moment they pay cash for that review, they have to start thinking clearly about what they're getting for that money. Indeed if I got an average review on sending a bottle in, with a cheque for $20, I doubt I would send another bottle. There is the beginnings of an ethical dilemna here for the reviewer, who may feel they owe the winery just that little bit for the $20 they paid to support his/her family in this business. If they pay a blogger $20, do they then pay Rogov $100 as he has a higher readership. Michael Broadbent $200? James Laube $400?

However, besides the ethical issues, there can be a selection process similar to the Aussie show circuit. A tiny boutique operation may justify putting 2 of their wines into the local show - they can't afford anything else. A larger boutique may put most of their wines into the two local shows, plus the boutique winery show. The large corporations put most of their cheaper wines into all the shows they can. In this situation 20 'no medal' is of no consequence if they get a gold and 4 silvers. They pick those medals and plonk them on the label. Likewise the large corporations, with large marketing budgets will send wine to anyone who'll review it - and I'm sure would swallow a charge for the process. Collating just the positive reviews makes for a glowing recommendation. As before, the smaller boutiques can't afford to do this - hence we end up with high-volume wines getting a disproportionate amount of press.

It was great to hear the reasoned response and it gives a good insight into the thought process (and I can empathise). I still believe the idea is flawed though.

regards

Ian
Drink coffee, do stupid things faster
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Bernard Roth

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Re: An Opinion Piece: Whores in the Wine Industry?

by Bernard Roth » Fri Jul 03, 2009 11:14 pm

Victorwine wrote:Hi Daniel,
I wouldn’t knock the Appellation America program “Best of Appellation”. For a region or American appellation trying to find an identity in the "world of wine" or promote itself as a quality wine-producing region this “blue book” program sounds like a good idea. If you read thoroughly thru the program, present at the judging or “competition” is a “regional advocate” (chairperson of a regional vine-growers association; alliance, or council, knowledgeable wine maker from the region, or someone who knows the appellation inside-out) and a guest journalist or wine critic (very likely from a local or regional paper or magazine.

Salute


Let me tell you why this is a problem. It is dishonest to define an appellation based on a selection criterion that involves wineries paying to get considered.

An appellation is supposed to represent a commonality among vineyards, regardless of whether a winery cares to promote its presence in the area.

An honest analyst would procure wines from as many vineyards and wineries as practical in the appellation and determine without bias whether the appellation had merit and whether there were distinct characteristics.
Regards,
Bernard Roth
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Re: An Opinion Piece:Whores in the Wine Industry? Updated 3 July

by Victorwine » Sat Jul 04, 2009 10:41 am

I don’t think I would consider writing a “review” and “judging” a wine in competition as exactly the same thing. In writing a “review” one might write it from a wine appreciation angle (Do I like it or not? Does it match or pair well with this type of food or not? Does it deliver pleasure?). There is absolutely nothing wrong with this; IMHO this is the job of a “wine critic” or wine review. On the other hand, in a competition (well I could hope anyway, and depending upon how the competition is set up) the wine is somehow evaluated using a quality angle. I’m going to borrow a quote from The WineMakers’ Magazine- “Wine Wizard”, Alison Crowe; the trick to evaluating a wine from a quality angle “is to maximize objectivity while retaining pertinent hedonic information about the wine in a sound and reproducible manner”.

Salute
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Re: An Opinion Piece:Whores in the Wine Industry? Updated 3 July

by Victorwine » Sat Jul 04, 2009 10:46 am

In the case of an AVA (especially the “smaller” ones), a Wine Growers Association, Alliance, or Council, might be a good representation of that AVA.

Salute
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Re: An Opinion Piece:Whores in the Wine Industry? Updated 3 July

by Daniel Rogov » Sun Jul 05, 2009 8:28 am

Indeed even the prestigious Gault-Millau guide is now "in the life"*, requesting rather generous "contributions" from wineries whose wines they will deem to taste.

As can be seen both by a commentary by Jancis Robinson at http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/a20090703.html and by the various German producers involkved http://blog.johner.de/2009/07/open-lett ... publisher/ , not too many are happy about this move.

Best
Rogov

*For those not in the know the term "in the life" is often used as a self-description by prostitutes.
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