Wine Writers Aren’t the Frauds…It’s Marketers
I often wonder why the issue of "wine writer ethics" seems to raise its head on such a regular basis. Most recently a highly respected and accomplished English writer, Fiona Beckett, broached the subject. Fiona reiterated the obvious: Critics shouldn't take gifts from the folks who's products they are critiquing. On the other hand, she notes, traveling on the dime of trade associations to wine regions and accepting wine samples from producers doesn't cross the line.
The great writer Jamie Goode responds that if we are going to suggest, as Fiona seems to, that some shenanigans are occurring, it's best to point to them specifically. I hope no one will argue with this.
What's interesting to me is that this seemingly ongoing debate about "wine writer ethics" has been going on in a fairly regular fashion from just about the time wine bloggers got into the game. Now, this may be a function of that combination of navel gazing, aspirations and unlimited space that we bloggers engage in and possess.
But truth be told, I just don't see any egregious conflicts of interests or unethical acts by wine writers that serve to foul the waters of wine writing. Where is it happening? I don't see it. It seems to me a controversy with little substance.
If you want to witness unethical activities in the wine industry, don't look to writers. Look to marketers.
Here is a perfect example in which some of the foremost biodynamic producers make claims about their work and wines that 1) have no basis in fact, 2) are insulting to anyone not engaged in biodynamic farming and wine making and that insinuate disdain upon winemaking practices that are no different that winemaking practices the biodynamicist and "natural" winemakers embrace.
You want to see unethical shenanigans?
"Return to Terroir was created in 2001 by Loire winemaker, and book writer Nicolas Joly of Coulee de Serant and now counts 175 wine growers from 13 countries. It aims to guarantee what it calls "the full expression of the appellations" and wine of a high quality and great originality."
Paahleese! As though folks not using biodynamic and "natural" techniques are somehow not making wines of "great originality". Suggesting so, as Joly does, in a straight up insult to folks he doens't even know and to wines he's never laid his eyes on, let alone tasted.
"To become a member [of "Return to Terroir"], a vintner must provide a guarantee of good agriculture, which in practice means an organic or biodynamic certificate from a recognized body…It also means no use of chemicals, no wood chips added to the wine to change the taste, no reverse osmosis or other manipulation, and only local yeasts are allowed to be used."
Yet I'm guessing these folks who have "returned to terroir" have no problem using oak barrels. When was the last time you saw grapes encased in oak growing in the vineyard? Yet wood chips, which serve the exact same functoin as oak barrels—an unnatural flavoring component—are presumably OK to us if you wan to "return to terroir".
The article ends like this:
" 'The aim is to make wine that helps you stay healthy. No chemical traces that can make you ill. What we make is pure happiness,' Jacques [Granges-Faiss] said."
This is among the most outrageous, unethical and lying claims I've ever heard a wine marketer make. It doesn't need it, but let me translate: You'll get sick if you drink anything other than biodynamic, organic or "natural" wines.
If bloggers and established wine writers want a crusade to pursue that centers on ethical behavior, they really ought to focus their efforts on these kinds of frauds. It's one thing to explain your winemaking practices to those you hope will buy your products. It's another thing to insist that all other practices result in "unoriginal" wines that will make you ill if you drink them….and all for one purpose: selling your wares.