Wine Bloggers Are Bought and Paid For

In case you didn’t know it…







How do I know all this is the case? I read it in an article published in a wine trade magazine.

I consume A LOT of wine media: magazines, newspaper articles, blogs, retailer websites, radio show, television. I have 3 separate services sending wine articles to me via email, and I pay for two of them— thousands of dollars of year in fact. I’ve been consuming wine media at this rate for more than 15 years. I say this to note that I have some bona fides on the subject of the wine media. I mention this in order to assert that if anyone is qualified to call an article about wine "CRAP", it’s me.


All the claims made above about wine blogs come from this article in Wine & Spirit, a UK trade magazine (NOT the outstanding American consumer wine magazine that operates in the plural). And with these serious claims not a single shred of evidence is offered. The author is Claire Hu. She should know better.

From the article:

"As well as major retailers and suppliers trying to get in on the act
with their own blogs, the bloggers are being offered cash in return for
favourable product reviews on their sites. And a US supplier that
regularly posts favourable reviews of its own products on bloggers’
sites is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s becoming increasingly hard
to distinguish which content is independent and which is commercially

Forgive me if I request a peek at the rest that iceberg.

Woops….I spoke too soon, here is Ms. Claire’s evidence a couple paragraphs down:

"Others, though, do accept cash from merchants and suppliers in return
for reviews. At great personal risk to himself (imagine hundreds of
wine nerds descending on your home), Charles Short, of, has decided to lift the lid on what he sees as
the hijacking of the editorial integrity of wine blogs. "You have a lot
of wine companies asking if you can write about products for £15 or
£50," he says. "You have to submit your piece for approval before it
goes up. Lots of companies are trying to do product placements on
blogs. But I don’t want to compromise my integrity for a bottle of

I’m sure we are all very proud of Mr. Short’s integrity in this matter. However, I’m still looking to see if we are talking about an iceberg or just an ice cube floating in the ocean. This is as close as Ms. Hu gets to backing up her claim that "Other…do accept cash from merchants and suppliers in return for reviews".

Now get a load of this little piece of disingenuous hackery. In advance of discussing Stormhoek’s use of blogs and the Internet to promote their brand, Hu writes the following:

"The more intelligent companies are starting to grasp how to use
blogging as a marketing tool themselves, rather than infiltrating other
peoples’ sites."

She makes it out to seem that blogs are "infiltrated" or used by wineries and retailers on a regular basis. Where’s the evidence? I dare say this kind of shoddy writing is what happens when you don’t have a press release from an advertiser or or supplier to rely on to help you formulate your thoughts in preparation for penning something that quite kindly might be called journalism.

This piece in Wine & Spirit is presented as "An Investigation" into wine blogging and is offered to the readership of Wine & Spirit that consists primarily of the UK wine trade. Maybe there is some sort of real investigative piece that I missed. Who knows. But, what a tragedy that what is probably this magazine’s first significant article on wine blogging is at the same time such a deliberate hatchet job performed by an agenda-wielding "writer" with clearly little or no understanding of her subject matter. What? You ask, "Tom, where’s the evidence Ms. Hu has an agenda?" Evidence? I don’t need no stinking evidence.

There are a number of really great wine magazines out there that serve consumers and the wine trade. And more arrive ever year. But even so, I’d argue that one of the reasons that wine blog readership is increasing is due in part to articles just like this one. You read something like this and you become disillusioned with the ability of traditional wine magazines to actually cover any subject with any competence. This disappointment doesn’t deter you from satisfying your interest in wine. But it does spur you to look for something with more credibility. And while there might be a certain amount of inanity masquerading as content on wine blogs, one thing that wine blogs do offer is honesty. They have to if they want any readership at all because they can’t rely on the perceived authority that is granted to writers who’s words appears on paper but who, as this article makes clear, have none at all.

(A tip of the hat to Robert at Wine Conversation for alerting me to this story and where he has some comments to make on the topic at hand)


24 Responses

  1. Robert - The Wine Conversation - April 8, 2008

    Wow Tom! It got you rattled.
    I must admit that I was disappointed with the tone of the article as I had what seemed a constructive telephone call with her when she was writing it – no mention at that time of the ‘infiltration’, in fact a much more interesting one about how to balance blogging and commercial interests if you are in the wine business yourself.
    I think that some of the misunderstandings are down to the fact that wine blogging in the UK and Europe is so much less established than in the US, and a traditional industry like wine can be quite dismissive.
    This is exactly why I am working with Ryan and Gabriella Opaz at Catavino to organise the European Wine Bloggers Conference. We want to bring wine bloggers together from across Europe to build the profile of wine blogging and find ways to explain to wineries and the media what we do and why we are a force for good.
    The biggest shame is that there are great bloggers out there who aren’t being taken seriously and struggle to make money from this work, and instead of promoting them, the industry views them with suspicion.
    Maybe what we need is to have you come over and give us your take on wine blogging and help us find ways to get this message out in Europe? How about it?
    If you haven’t seen it, there are details & dates on our site:

  2. Zinny - April 8, 2008

    Yeah – the internet is loaded with rubbish – this “article” included. I think they need to start teaching in schools, if they haven’t already, how to evaluate information you find on the web.
    If you have any critical reading skills at all . .red flags should be going up all over the place by the time she states
    “As well as major retailers and suppliers trying to get in on the act with their own blogs, the bloggers are being offered cash in return for favourable product reviews on their sites. And a US supplier that regularly posts favourable reviews of its own products on bloggers’ sites is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s becoming increasingly hard to distinguish which content is independent and which is commercially motivated
    A little further reading and we see she gives NO specific example of any blogger (let alone any prominent blogger) being paid for a good review – just 2 who say they don’t do that because it’s unethical.
    And, of course, the un-named US supplier who touts thier products on public forums. I’m positive that is going on because well . .this is the internet and that is what happens on the internet.
    As far as it being increasingly hard to determine which is real content and which is just advertising? . .I say it all boils down to reading skills. If you have them then you know you are reading an ad. Another benefit of having reading skills is that, if you have them, you stop reading Claire Hu’s article before you get half-way through it.

  3. Zinny - April 8, 2008

    Oh-I wish I had noticed this when I made my first post but if you haven’t checked out cluelessaboutwine – aka – the guy who blew the lid off blog corruption at great personal risk to himself – you need to.
    He actually does not blog about wine very much. He doesn’t mention his expose, either. He does have a nifty map of his wine consumption and a pretty cool site. . nothing against him or anything – he seems like a cool dude.

  4. ryan - April 8, 2008

    This appears to be an Opinion piece! 😉 I guess Wine and Spirit is moving to the “tabloid” section.
    Oh, though it might be true. Gabriella and I have noticed what appear to be “infiltrators” in our closet here at Catavino headquarters.

  5. Thomas Pellechia - April 8, 2008

    Reading this ruined my walk to the bank. The wheelbarrow of money from WSWA, KJ and Bronco, not to mention Decanter, all thanking me for my blog work, seemed heavy with guilt today.

  6. fredric koeppel - April 8, 2008

    it’s difficult to imagine the motivation of the author of the “article” and of the magazine in publishing such a spurious load of bullshit. it would be drummed out of any Journalism 101 class. and boy, Thomas, do i envy you! aim some of that graft in my direction, please!

  7. Dr. Debs - April 8, 2008

    Most wine bloggers have a statement of ethics and/or advertising policy somewhere on the site. Ms. Hu clearly didn’t “investigate” those statements, since they pretty much completely contradict what she says in her story.
    What a shame. But I know not to trust Wine & Spirit magazine anymore. I’d rather subscribe to The Wine Conversation and Catavino for a perspective on the European wine scene–they’re trustworthy, ethical, and honest.

  8. Nancy - April 8, 2008

    I trust your bona fides, Tom. But you want to take a peek at an iceberg, not a peak. Sorry. I used to be a librarian.

  9. Tom Wark - April 8, 2008

    Nancy: I stand corrected. Thanks!
    We can speculate on the agenda behind the Wine & Spirit article. And I think we should speculate. The wine blog world has to work hard to gain credibility simply because it is the wine BLOG world. Articles like this, read by folks who may not have looked into the wine blog world just encourage them not to make the effort and stay with print….OH…wait. Talk about agenda!

  10. Mary B. - April 8, 2008

    I agree with Fredric that this piece should have been scrutinized more closely by the editors of W&Spirit. What’s more, they undoubtedly paid her for it . . .
    To be fair, she does point to the growing influence of blogging, they have a list of suggested blogs and ‘blogging do’s and don’ts’ at the end of the article.
    Nevertheless, she only quotes two bloggers and as you have pointed out–a negative does not make a positive–just because offers are out there, does not mean that anyone is accepting them. Who is making the offers? Did she google for those specific wines and find paid claptrap reviews? Not even after ‘several hours’ of painful research?
    Which leads me to point out a few more things . . . if her attitude is that wine blogging is a ‘black hole’ that gives her a headache to explore she is obviously not that well-informed to begin with. She says that we are creating a blogger’s code of conduct because of “libellous content that goes up.” Facts, please? Stormhoek, and by extension other winery bloggers, engage in “stealth” marketing, and trying to “get down with the kids.” All that, coupled with misspellings and errors in punctuation point to a struggling publication with very weak control and supervision at the helm.

  11. Tom Wark - April 8, 2008

    It’s not just that a Code of Conduct is being considered, but it’s that: “PRESSURE IS GROWING for a bloggers’ code of conduct.”
    There’s no pressure growing for anything, let alone a code of conduct.

  12. Justus - April 8, 2008

    Attempting to damage the credibility of wine blogging with an article that is not credible makes no sense.
    It is interesting that in her damning article she gives instructions on how to blog and which blogs to read.

  13. Richard Smith - April 8, 2008

    This kind of thing really waxes my eyebrows. Nobody ever offers me cash incentives to review their wines. Hell, they don’t even offer me free wine to review their wines. If there’s some illicit wine reviewing action going down, i want a a piece of it. Where do i sign up? Or am I posting on the wrong blog?

  14. Dale Cruse - April 8, 2008

    Everything is crap except for what I say.

  15. Craig Camp - April 8, 2008

    I’m waiting for my first payola so I know I’ve made it. How else can you measure blogging success?

  16. Dan Cochran - April 9, 2008

    Thanks for the article, Mr. Wark. Truth is, I never have relied on bloggers’ opinions of specific wines. I just read blogs for the wine-related political and other news.

  17. 1WineDude - April 9, 2008

    So, uhm, where’s my check…?

  18. dp - April 9, 2008

    Yeah, no doubt Dan! It’d be nice to get PAID for blogging.. jeesh… lol
    Silly Brits…:P

  19. Francisco - April 9, 2008

    The author of that little jewel is well on her way to a prize in “investigative journalism.” Very sad that in recent times, the traditional wine media disparages online wine writers to such lengths…I’m lost here…What do they fear to espouse these attitudes? Life’s got to be better than the kind of childish pettiness Hu conveys. If ads from vodka-pushing conglomerates and makers of $84,000 SUV’s powered my “field assignment” to Burgundy during autumn, I simply wouldn’t have the time to make with all the unfounded whimpering.

  20. MonkuWino - April 9, 2008

    Are we sure that Budo Kun is not really masquerading as Ms. Hu in disquise, trying to stir up trouble? Haha, I found her article to be ridiculous. She might just as well have substituted any product in place of wine and said the same thing about the state of blogging.

  21. farley - April 10, 2008

    You, guys. You never tell me anything. I know I’m behind in my reading, but you could have shared the info about the fat stacks of cash.

  22. Wineass - April 13, 2008

    AHHAHAHAHHHHAAHHHAAAAHHAA! That is Wineass laughing at that article. We ain’t sponsored–and that’s why we are poor!

  23. Catie - April 14, 2008

    So I go on vacation to Switzerland to check out my bank account and come back to this?
    The irony of it all is that someone is actually paying Claire Hu!
    TTFN – I must go back to counting the kabillions of dollars I make from blogging.

  24. Golly - June 23, 2008

    Odd really that Wine & Spirit sends its magazine free to wine bloggers. No doubt this helps to make its advertisers happy that the circulation is large and goes to well informed wine consumers.

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