Writing About Wine: What’s Right? What’s Wrong?
Wine Writing Ethics. It’s a topic that comes up now and again in the blogosphere as well as in the real world. Some go as far as to suggest that writers who accept press samples are violating they kind of ethics that should govern wine writers.
Below is a reprint from the "WINE FLASH" an email newsletter written by W.R Tish. Tish (as nearly everyone calls him) is an accomplished wine writer who has worked on staff at the Wine Enthusiast, as a freelancer and as a consultant. He’s also a very funny man as well as an excellent, insightful writer. A visit to his website, Wine For All, is well worth a regular read.
Tish has a unique take on the issue of wine writer ethics that should be of interest to writers and readers:
I have six-bottle wine bag from Cambria Vineyards and a leather backpack from Piper-Sonoma. My post-it notes say "Think Red. Think Cotes-du-Rhone." My kids have gone to school with pens from Rioja, notepads from Sterling Vineyards and flashing pins from Georges Duboeuf. The cherry tree struggling to survive in my front yard came courtesy of Sebastiani Vineyards. And if you really want to know, I have silk boxers from Clos du Val.
Should I feel uneasy about any of this? I think not. It’s just the usual schwag (as they call it in media circles)–publicity-driven tchotchkes. Then again, in wine the schwag extends to, well, sample bottles…and tastings and dinners and wine-country accommodations and even all-expenses-paid trips.
Naturally, as the value of the perks rise, so do the ethical stakes. Perhaps even more critical, over years of being a wine scribbler, I count dozens of winemakers, winery principals, marketing executives and PR people as friends. It is part of the terroir–er, the territory. The real question is: Is it possible to remain objective when one is on the greasy end of wine freebies large and small?
My simple answer is: No. But the situation demands more than a simple answer, because I would argue that objectivity really has no place in wine writing. I meet people, go places, try new things, learn…and in the process, I can’t help but make connections to the people and circumstances related to specific wines. But it is often precisely through these connections that I gain the insight I find invaluable to my craft. And when you stop and think about it, unless someone lives in a vacuum (or an impenetrable Ivory Tower), how is it possible to remain perfectly objective? On top of that why would anyone care to hear the opinion (and let’s face it, wine writing always boils down to opinion) of someone who claims to have no personal connections to his/her subject?
To me, wine should be personal, and wine writing demands not objectivity, but rather purposeful subjectivity. I am constantly aware of my responsibility to report only what I believe to be honest, true and worth telling. And the vast majority of wine writers I know approach the task with the same mindset.
In my particular case, because I devote more of my time (and gain most of my income) from wine events, as opposed to wine writing, I have the benefit of operating more as a consultant than a journalist. And in that role, I buy a heap of wine. Do I buy friends’ wines? Sure, sometimes. Do I buy wines from producers or importers who have wined and dined me? Sometimes. Wines I discovered via free samples? Sometimes. Do I talk about these connections? When it’s relevant, absolutely. But usually the connection that originally turned me on to a wine is not nearly as important as the reason I have chosen it for a specific tasting or dinner. As with wines I write about, I only buy wines I believe are worth sharing. And the bottom line is that I am ultimately accountable for those choices. If the wines don’t work, neither do I.