Wine Writers Aren’t the Frauds…It’s Marketers

Biodynamics 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.

There's more…

"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.


41 Responses

  1. Thomas Pellechia - July 6, 2011

    “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.”
    Tom,
    Not exactly. This debate has been ongoing since ancient times.
    As for the subject of influence: every human being is subject to psychological (read that as subconscious) influence. Now, if wine writers claim to be super human, that would be another story.

  2. Fredric Koeppel - July 6, 2011

    hahaha, PR folks and marketers are a riot. usually the concept of “book writer” is encompassed in the widely-used term “author.”

  3. Marcia M - July 6, 2011

    My mind went to the same place as yours, Tom, about the oak barrels. Someone’s still got to chop down that tree either way. If we’re going to be picky – how local are those yeasts? Do they specify within X distance of the winery facility???
    Leave it to Thomas to remind us the debate on ethics has been going on for, um, many centuries….
    As for the silly marketing-speak about wine making you healthy (and happy), I am less insulted by the broad conclusions of the writer(s) and more disapointed in what I see as simply lazy writing skills.

  4. Pinot Noir Australia - July 6, 2011

    Great post you got there. I agree with your insights and I believe wine writers are passionate about their jobs.

  5. Stu Smith - July 6, 2011

    Tom,
    Great post, and thanks for taking the path less traveled. The wine industry has always had more than our share of BS slingers, yet I’ve never seen such outright lies and distortions than is now coming out of the green marketing movement.
    Well done,
    Stu Smith

  6. Mike Tommasi - July 7, 2011

    I agree with most of what you wrote, and I share the same allergic reaction to Joly’s fabulations – the best: “biodynamic wines cannot oxidize” (his own Coulée in some years is so oxidized it is almost rusty – ok the other years it is magnificent…).
    I disagree about oak barrels, true most of the time they are used purely for flavouring, creating almost a caricature of a wine, in which case yes why not use wood chips? I am not interested in those wines anyhow…
    But the world’s best wines are almost all raised in oak barrels, and NOT simply for flavouring. The best Burgundy whites are fermented in oak. But yes, let’s say these wines are the exception…
    Mike

  7. Wayne Young - July 7, 2011

    I have to take issue with this statement:
    “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”
    TOTALLY not true. The environment of the oak (or wood) barrel serves much more than simply adding flavor. Chips. on the other hand ONLY add flavor.

  8. Tom - July 7, 2011

    Nice. Notice they’re not promoting any particular direct health claim for their products — that would of course bring FDA and maybe TTB down on them.
    Have they analyzed their own wines to determine there are actually no trace amounts of harmful chemicals? Some of them may be created naturally during fermentation and be present in all wines.

  9. 1WineDude - July 7, 2011

    Tom, this keeps coming up because people like you keep digging up the dead horse and re-beating it soundly. :)
    My “credo” (such as it is): Be transparent in all things, and let your readers decide for themselves whether or not they think you’re a shill. After all, wine blog readers are smart people!
    I sound like a broken friggn’ record with that statement these days (or at least it feels that way to me).

  10. Tom Wark - July 7, 2011

    Dude,
    transparency? Where’s the mystery in that?
    And for the record, there’s beating going on here. Just some gentle stroking.

  11. Thomas Pellechia - July 7, 2011

    But Dude, Tom is pointing out that the proponent of bio-d is the one “digging up” (nice pun there fella) the dead horse, in the form of bull horns, I suppose. What that fellow says about all other methods should be considered slander.

  12. 1WineDude - July 7, 2011

    Tom and Thom – well played. I concede defeat! ;-)

  13. Wine Maker - July 7, 2011

    Wayne Young – You are way off base. The prime purpose of oak barrels is to impart flavor, which is what wood chips do. If you don’t want the flavor components of oak barrels, then stainless steel barrels make much better containers – they are cheaper, more durable, more consistent, and easier to clean. Wake up Wayne.
    Signed,
    An old and experienced wine maker.

  14. John - July 7, 2011

    Mr. Wine Maker I suspect I at least as old and experienced as you, and your statement that “[t]he prime purpose of oak barrels is to impart flavor…” is way off base.
    I’ve got barrels in the cellar that are up to 20 years old and still hold vacuum between toppings. Wines aged in these barrels are different – and to my taste much better – than wines aged in stainless.
    I recall a conversation I had with Vincent Dauvissat (a man who uses oak very carefully) a number of years ago where he described the impact of the flavor of new wood in his barrel regime as “the cherry on a very big cake.”
    Bottom line – if one wants simply to add flavor, use chips. If one actually wants to raise and refine a wine, use barrels.

  15. Ken F - July 7, 2011

    I’ve worked with wine writers for over 15 years from the PR side. I remember one poor guy who couldn’t accept any wine, travel, or you name it. Yet the newspaper he worked for provide no budget for wine, travel or you name it. It costs money to travel to a region to write about it. And it is very hard to review a wine without tasting it. Someone has to foot the bill. And I never met a winemaker who didn’t make the best wine in their region, it not the world – just ask them.

  16. Jay - July 7, 2011

    So funny. Its actually the sales force at the big distributors, liars the lot of them, telling lies about the wineries who’s wines they do not carry. example, Southern wine and spirits telling restaraunts that they cannot buy wine direct from a winery. next time I hear of this I’m going to find that saleman and beat his ass with a stick.

  17. Chris - July 7, 2011

    Isn’t this a pretty obvious example of red herring fallacy?

  18. John Corcoran - July 7, 2011

    Tom, imagine my surprise at this wide strike at wine marketers. In wine biz marketing, just as in the disciplines of PR, food & beverage journalism, wine writing and in winegrower & winemaker circles, there are many good actors and a few bad actors. It seems as though your point is on the message of biodynamics, and not focused on this significantly narrow view of wine marketing. Let’s talk IRL sometime soon.
    Cork

  19. Jeff - July 7, 2011

    Tom,
    The word ‘insulting’ seems to be raised often by opponents of Bio-D/Organic/Natural wines. I’m curious, you’re a PR guy yourself, so is this post part of a campaign for a client or do you really feel ‘insulted’. It’s an strange word to use, as is your single ‘perfect example’, emphasis yours. Out of all of the ‘perfect examples’ you could write about, you set your sights (and matching image) on the “Return to Terroir” group? Really? That is your ‘perfect example’?
    Lastly, calling Nicolas Joly or Jacques Granges-Faiss ‘marketers’ is highly inaccurate. They are in fact winemakers first and foremost.
    Please keep up all of your illuminating work on educating the public on the misinformation coming from the WSWA and what consumer wine rights might be in jeopardy. I would have guessed the shenanigans from the WSWA would have been tops on your ‘perfect example’ list.

  20. PaulG - July 7, 2011

    Somehow this rambled from “winewriter ethics” to biodynamic marketing to debates about oak chips vs. barrels vs. stainless steel. Is there an actual topic in here? Or just (to quote the Dude) digging up (more than one) dead horse and beating on it?

  21. Tom Wark - July 7, 2011

    Jeff:
    Nope, nothing on behalf of a client.
    What’s insulting to anyone who does not employ BioD is the notion that Joly and others put forth that it’s only through BioD that one gets wines of originality. The very name, “Return to Terroir” can mean only one of two things: 1) members of the group once abandoned the search for terroir in THEIR wines or 2) everyone not using their methods have abandoned a terroir-based approach.
    Finally, Joly is a GREAT marketer, in addition to be a producers. No one but a marketer would start a group called “Return to Terroir”.

  22. Tom Wark - July 7, 2011

    Paul,
    My thought was that having been subjected to another article that suggests there is unethical behavior in wine writing, and knowing that there is not, I was able to connect this issue of unethical behavior with a bit of real unethical behavior I saw displayed by Joly and his “return to terroir” group.
    So, if we want to ferret out unethical behavior, it’s best to look to marketers like this, rather than wine writers.

  23. Tom Wark - July 7, 2011

    John:
    I really don’t have an issue with anyone who wants to use biodyanmics in their farming and winemaking. But once you start suggesting that BioD is the superior method or, God did not forbid, suggesting that doing otherwise might make drinkers and humans ill, I take issue.

  24. Amy - July 7, 2011

    Anyone can be a charlatan, no matter their profession.
    As someone who has long worked both sides of the press release (promotional and journalistic writer) I hereby attest that there are ugly ethics and lame-os in every role.
    Obviously there are plenty of icky marketers out there. There are also a *lot* of bad wine writers. Hacks in either camp have a notoriously pedestrian command of language. Their greatest offense goes far beyond grammar and syntax, though. Their greatest offense is that they are insincere.
    Instead of delving deep into the art and science of winemaking, they are drawn to the agri-glamour of the business. These people will do anything or write anything to get closer to the hot winemaker or winery du jour. Let’s face it, every industry has its climbers.
    Yes, I am saying that marketers *and* writers act this way. I offer this anecdote:
    I currently help run a small winery, and among my many many duties is (yes) marketing. One reviewer recently insinuated that my lukewarm response to his persistent sexual advances would sabotage my chance for reviews. I thought he was kidding. He wasn’t.
    Writers are “passionate”, alright. Not always about oak.

  25. The Wine Mule - July 8, 2011

    Good point, but accusing Nicolas Joly of fraudulent marketing is…inexplicable.
    Joly is not a marketer, he’s a True Believer. What wine marketer in his right mind would say “Before being good, a wine should be true.” ? Not anybody who’s hoping to move a lot of bottles. Or: If Nicolas Joly is this diabolical marketer, how come he ain’t rich?

  26. Tom Wark - July 8, 2011

    Mule:
    One can be a marketer and a producer. I’ve known lots of one and Joly falls into that category. Ought we think he is engaging in “Return To Terroir”in order to influence himself and other BioD producers? No.

  27. The Wine Mule - July 8, 2011

    Just saw this from Alice Feiring (or is she “fraudulent” too?)
    “Gladly, I have never seen any journalist promoting wines from so-called “organic” vines as being more healthy for the consumer, that would be indeed an extravagant assertion, and one which would cause the majority of wine producers a great deal of anxiety.” She’s responding to an article by Dr. Richard Smart defending conventional winemaking, written for Jancis Robinson’s site:
    I understand the anxiety. Big wineries are not wanting to have to change as farming without chemicals and making a more natural wine is contrary to large scale winemaking. He is right there. He is wrong though. I am one journalists who is happy to make that assertion, and I’m not pot stirring. Chemicals that the plant drinks in gets transfered to the drinker. In the winery, what about those added tannins, for example. I just deeply believe it that the less you mess with the food and the soil, the better. If you can use something in nature to combat nature rather than something synthetic, that is better. It is just common sense, no? What’s more they’re more delicious (to me) as well. I can well understand the industry anxiety.
    PS: I know Joly was a banker and has an MBA from Columbia. That doesn’t actually mean he’s any good at wine marketing. Nor, as some would argue, at winemaking.

  28. The Wine Mule - July 8, 2011

    Ugh, still no editing of posts. Let me try again:
    Just saw this from Alice Feiring (or is she “fraudulent” too?) She’s responding to an article by Dr. Richard Smart defending conventional winemaking, written for Jancis Robinson’s site. First, the quote from Smart, then her response:
    Smart:
    “Gladly, I have never seen any journalist promoting wines from so-called “organic” vines as being more healthy for the consumer, that would be indeed an extravagant assertion, and one which would cause the majority of wine producers a great deal of anxiety.”
    Feiring:
    I understand the anxiety. Big wineries are not wanting to have to change as farming without chemicals and making a more natural wine is contrary to large scale winemaking. He is right there. He is wrong though. I am one journalists who is happy to make that assertion, and I’m not pot stirring. Chemicals that the plant drinks in gets transfered to the drinker. In the winery, what about those added tannins, for example. I just deeply believe it that the less you mess with the food and the soil, the better. If you can use something in nature to combat nature rather than something synthetic, that is better. It is just common sense, no? What’s more they’re more delicious (to me) as well. I can well understand the industry anxiety.
    Me: Somebody’s ox is always being gored.
    And:
    PS: I know Joly was a banker and has an MBA from Columbia. That doesn’t actually mean he’s any good at wine marketing. Nor, as some would argue, at winemaking.

  29. Michael Wangbickler - July 8, 2011

    Leave it to you Tom, to draft a post that spurs three separate debates at once: use of oak, merits of biodynamics, and wine writer ethics. LOL
    Yes, unfortunately, there are still a fair amount of unethical wine marketers out there. It’s what makes it harder for the rest of us to do our jobs. And, I’ve seen my fair share of posts like this… railing against the ‘evil’ shill or hack.
    But, once in a while, it would be nice to see a post by somebody who praises a marketer or campaign that does it right. Just saying…

  30. Tom Wark - July 8, 2011

    Mule,
    Someone needs to demonstrate to me where non BioD or non-Organic wines are making people sick.
    If someone can’t demonstrate this to me, then M. Jacques Granges-Faiss and anyone who furthers this notion is acting unethical, probably immoral (accusing others of hurting others without evidence) and deserves to be called out.

  31. John Corcoran - July 8, 2011

    Tom, agree re claims of any benefit to the wine purchaser beyond enjoyment, sensory or social … but, didn’t we have this convo at the Tank early one evening after an event? Values marketing, if it indeed represents the beliefs of the owner or winegrower/vintner, seems to be, IMHO, a valid wine biz marketing exercise.
    BTW: Is Bio-D any different than being a devout Buddhist or a Populist, or??? … with all 3 perhaps being a little squidgy in definition and practice and each with their fair share of passionate believers. Metaphysics aside, while we may agree or disagree on specific points of order … deeply held personal beliefs and values as expressed in one’s business expressions (i.e. Peets Coffee & Tea) and products, to this marketer, are sacrosanct and not by definition ‘fraudulent.’ However often the path that this (or any marketing) message makes it to the end user is often like relying on the dinner party game of ‘Telephone.’

  32. Jeff - July 8, 2011

    Mr. Wark,
    Interesting quote; “Finally, Joly is a GREAT marketer, in addition to be a producers. No one but a marketer would start a group called “Return to Terroir”.
    It’s hard to imagine someone in wine PR calling Mr. Joly “GREAT” at marketing. But, hey, we all have our opinions/definitions of what great means/is. I would give the brains over at Kendell Jackson GREAT marketing status, or Robert Parker for being the greatest non-marketer marketer, or Mr. Franzia as a GREAT marketer. Actually, I would give Mr. Franzia Genius status.
    Your analogy is also puzzling. Should we confront the members and advocates of ZAP? I mean, if I produce Zinfandel in California but I am not a memeber of ZAP does this mean that I must not be a legitimate Zinfandel producer?
    These Associations/Member Groups/Alliances are normal extensions of people with like-minded products/believes/practices or simple geography. Fraudulent? Hardly. If that were the case, wouldn’t people from every other wine grape growing region in the world call that old Napa Valley Vintners Association slogan “To a wine grape, it’s Eden” a bit fraudulent?
    Lastly, by claiming/believing that you are producing a ‘healthy’ wine is not immoral. Have you visited the http://sipthegoodlife.org website lately? Great Wines/Healthy Vineyards. If I’m following your thoughts correctly, these SIP members think that they produce healthier vineyards (and by extension wine) than others?

  33. Tom Wark - July 8, 2011

    Jeff:
    I feel as though you either read an article I don’t recall writing or that you misunderstood me.

  34. Tom Wark - July 8, 2011

    John:
    Saying that using using chemicals in winemaking will produce wine that makes one ill, and not modifying “chemical” in any way, results in two very singular messages:
    1. Only those wines that are exposed to no chemicals in the vineyard produce wines that are “healthy”.
    2. Any wine that uses chemicals in the vineyard will make you ill.
    Not only is this false on its face, it is self serving to the BioD marketers and producers.

  35. Strappo - July 9, 2011

    But they can be passionate about wood. (cough)

  36. Thomas Pellechia - July 9, 2011

    John and Jeff,
    The issue Tom is trying to bring up but keeps getting lost is not that the passion behind biod proponents is misplaced.
    The issue is some of them willfully make insupportable comments about the way other people grow grapes and produce wine. The question is whether or not those comments are immoral or fraudulent.
    It’s one thing to fight for what you believe and do but it’s quite another to lie or mislead about what others do, and yes, I know that is the way our culture likes to have a debate, but it isn’t a good way either to debate or to send PR messages.

  37. The Wine Mule - July 9, 2011

    Tom: Yes, I agree that biodynamic winemakers should not be disparaging conventional wines on the basis of the relative “healthfulness” of their wines.
    On the other hand, it seems the mainstream wine press (not you, not you!) is always taking the biodynamic/organic guys to task, but rarely asks conventional winemakers to defend their practices. Just because it is legal to use all those additives and operate all that machinery doesn’t mean it is right, or even necessarily safe.

  38. John Kelly - July 9, 2011

    Mule – if you knew me you would know how ironic it is that I find myself quoting Reagan, but “there you go again…”
    Right? Safe? Right by whose standards? Safe to whom, and again by what standard? The burden of proof is on you.
    Perhaps you are a marketer, and if so, guilty of the same poisoning of the well that the BioD marketers are. If you are not a marketer then perhaps you are a true believer, in which case facts, as much as logical and ethical consistency, are irrelevant to the discussion.

  39. Tom Wark - July 9, 2011

    Mule,
    Show me a good reason to take non bioD and non organic winemakers and growers to task. And I will. Are they harming consumers or making false claims or dancing around a maypole and claiming their jig will produce better wine, healthier consumers or more fidelity to fertile?

  40. Amy - July 10, 2011

    Wood aside, biodynamics aside:
    Isn’t it the journalist’s responsibility to fact check their information And isn’t it obvious that any information coming directly from a company’s marketing department would bear bias and hyperbole?
    Yes and yes.
    Any writer who swallows a press release whole without investigation is not doing their job. A marketer who wittingly lies is also not doing their job. But the journalist must question everything.

  41. Bob Henry (Los Angeles wine industry professional) - March 19, 2013

    On the subject of wine writer ethics, see this Steve Heimoff posting:

    http://www.steveheimoff.com/index.php/2011/12/16/the-ethics-of-wine-writers-flash-back-24-years/

    Reproduced below:

    Following the news last week that Robert Lawrence Balzer had died, there’s been a flurry of obits in the media. I never knew Balzer, although I’d certainly heard of him. His heyday was before my time, and in my considerable library of wine books I have none by him, for some reason; I certainly never avoided buying them.

    Then yesterday I was reading the New York Times and came across Frank Prial’s obituary of Balzer, in which Frank wrote, concerning Balzer’s stint as the Los Angeles Times’ wine columnist [a post Frank held at the Grey Lady before Eric Asimov took over], “His own newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, mildly criticized him at one point for being too close to the people whose wines he judged.”

    Suddenly the memories came back. I vaguely recalled the L.A. Times firing a wine columnist for being too cozy with winemakers, demanding expensive wines from them at expensive restaurants…but, no, that wasn’t Balzer, it was Nate Chroman, whom the late reporter David Shaw wrote about in the L.A. Times more than 24 years ago, in his six-part series, “Wine Critics: Influence of Writers Can Be Heady.”

    It brought back pleasant memories of David, whom I knew briefly in L.A., when he’d invited me to his home in (I think) Silver Lake, where he had just installed a wonderful wine cellar.

    I read all six parts of the series, which covered Robert Parker, Robert Finigan (whom I also hanged with back in the day; we were part of the little group that helped Gavin Newsom put together the wines to sell at his first PlumpJack store), The Wine Spectator, Connoisseur’s Guide to California Wine (hello, Charlie Olken!), and Gerald Asher, then still at Gourmet. (I fancied that, had David written his article a few years later, I might have crashed the party.)

    All the young bloggers should read this series. It’s the best analysis of the impact of wine writing that’s ever been done by a journalist, and the fact that David wrote it 24 years ago makes it even more remarkable. The same things we obsess with today — ethics, pay to play, accepting freebies, the abuse of power, conflicts of interest, the relationship between writers, editors and publishers — make appearances in David’s series; like the Ghosts of Christmases Past, the flit across the stage, each more disfigured than the last. One cannot read this thing without coming to the realization that some things never change, because the world remains essentially the same place it’s always been.

    David, who died at the age of 62 in 2005, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1991 for his coverage of a sexual abuse scandal at a California preschool [ McMartin ] that turned out to be a witch hunt.

    David was a helluva writer: careful, observant, intrepid, passionate. Unlike some today, he got his facts straight (helped, no doubt, by the L.A. Times’ fact checkers), but even if it hadn’t been for fact checkers, I’m sure his many articles would have been correct anyway, because David placed that demand on himself. He was proud of his Pulitzer, but he also was proud of his series on wine writers.

    He was a wine guy, bigtime — food, too — and re-reading the series, after all these years, leaves me breathless that David had the instincts to write it. Twenty four years ago, nobody spoke of such things as the ethics of wine writers. It wasn’t considered important.

    David realized there was something going on; he spent a long time researching his series, talking to everyone from Randall Grahm to Harvey Posert, then Mondavi’s mouthpiece, now with Fred Franzia, at Bronco. He put together a splendid tale that raised more issues than it answered, issues that we’re still talking about today, and that still have not been answered.

    Was it legit for Chroman and his wife to accept a junket to France, Italy, Germany and Spain? Unclear; Chroman was a freelancer, not an employee of the L.A. Times, which in any case had no policy about freebies at that time. Was it inappropriate for Chroman, who’d been asked to lunch by a wine importer, to demand the importer bring him to Scandia (the most expensive L.A. restaurant back then) and also bring along $1,000 worth of Burgundy? That seems like a stretch to me, but letting somebody who wants to get to know you pay for your lunch, I have no problem with that. I do it, not because I need another fancy lunch (I’m trying to lose weight, not gain it), but because it’s important for me, as a Wine Enthusiast editor, to form good relationships throughout the industry.

    So you see, we’re still struggling with the same issues David highlighted in 1987.

    POSTSCRIPT. Here’s how David Shaw’s two-part article began:

    From Los Angeles Times “Main News” Section
    (August 23, 1987, Page A1 ff):

    “Wine Writers: Squeezing the Grape for News”

    (Series: First of Two Articles)

    [Link: not available]

    By David Shaw
    Times Staff Writer

    Two years ago, Craig Goldwyn — publisher of International Wine Review magazine — spoke to a couple of East Coast audiences about people who write on wine for American newspapers and magazines.

    Goldwyn, who also writes a monthly wine column in the Washington Post, began by asking, “What is a wine writer?” Then he answered his own question:

    “A wine writer is a physician or a lawyer with a bottle of wine and a typewriter, looking to see his or her name in print, looking for an invitation to a free lunch and a way to write off the wine cellar.”

    Colman Andrews, who writes about wine for Los Angeles magazine, offered an even more acerbic observation in a recent interview:

    “Any jerk can call himself a wine critic and get published.”

    Andrews and Goldwyn may have been indulging in a bit of hyperbole — but not much, judging from recent Times interviews with more than 40 wine writers and 15 editors nationwide, as well as with about 90 other people in the wine industry — wine makers, winery owners, importers, retailers, wholesalers, distributors, publicists, restaurateurs and representatives of French, Italian, German, Spanish and Australian wine, trade and tourism agencies.

    Most wine writers are genuinely enthusiastic proselytizers for the wines they like — so aggressively so that some seem to “forget this is not liquid gold, this is simply . . . grape juice,” says Gracelyn Blackmer, a publicist who represents several Sonoma County wineries.

    Few wine writers are either experienced, professional journalists or knowledgeable students of wine; most are wine hobbyists — lawyers, doctors or others who can afford to drink good wine regularly — or free-lance writers eager for all-expense-paid trips to the vineyards of Europe.

    . . .

    Ethical standards in the wine writing field are virtually nonexistent. Most newspapers tolerate behavior from their wine writers — most of whom are free-lance contributors, rather than staff members — that they expressly forbid in other areas of the paper.

    . . .


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