On Press Sampling—Giving and Taking and Ethics

I am absolutely fascinated by the initial discussions that have resulted from Rodney Strong Winery’s program of sending samples of a new wine to a selection of wine bloggers. The PR initiative is described here by Dr. Debs, here by Tim Elliot of ACAN Media, and here by Jeff at The Good Grape, and here by Mike Duffy of Winery Website Report.

What appears to be different or unique about Rodney Strong sending samples of its new Rockaway wine to wine bloggers is this:

1. It was sent to wine bloggers before the traditional wine review publications get theirs.
2. Bloggers would only get samples if they agreed to publish a review and to publish their review within a small window of time.

The first of these two things is notable, but I’m not sure it’s as groundbreaking for the credibility of bloggers as some have suggested. Anyone who hasn’t understood for at least the past year that wine bloggers will in time draw equal attention with traditional publications from wineries and wine companies that want to manipulate and use the media to the advantage of their bottom line simply hasn’t  been paying attention.

As for the second point (bloggers agreeing to recieve the wine sample under the condition that they review it and do so in a particular time frame) I see the value of insisting on this in terms of trying to measure the impact of blogger reviews (and I hope that impact will be measured and reported). However, I’m not sure bloggers shouldn’t be ashamed of themselves for agreeing to these terms—assuming they want to be seen as part of the long tradition of independent journalism and professional criticism that strives to maintain a measured and necessary distance from their subject that allows them to entertain and inform their readers through the appearance (and reality) of not being unduly influenced by their subject.

That said, someone needs to give an award to Rodney Strong Vineyard’s PR department. If you know you have a wine that is better than average, it should only be a lack of resources and budgeting that prevents you from sending out press samples to anyone who will take them. The odds of getting a bad review are so low today that one risks very little.

I’ve overseen sampling programs for wineries for almost 20 years. Almost every list of journalists I recommend receive samples that I’ve sent to clients has been pared back by the client. I always make my case to them as to why they have nothing to lose and everything to gain by seeking 3rd party endorsements. But all too often that list of 80 or more journalists and bloggers and editors seems a bit too long to them.

However, one thing I’ve never done is offer a sample to a writer or blogger or journalist with the caveat that they must review the wine and must do it in a particular time frame. The reason I’ve never insisted upon this is because I wanted to get the wine reviewed. I’ve known hundreds of wine and food writers, wine reviewers and editors at wine publications over the years. I honestly can say I’ve ever known  one that would agree to these kinds of conditions. That’s not to say that all of these people embrace the full load of ethics that that a  writer or reviewer could possibly embrace. Rather, it’s an assumption on my part that the writer or reviewer does, at least, embrace the bare minimum of ethics and self respect.

I’m not sure the explanation for bloggers accepting Rodney Strong’s conditions for receiving samples is a testament to the brilliance and persuasive power of the Rodney Strong PR department, the gravitas and influence in the blogging community that Jeff at the Good Grape, who helped Rodney Strong organize this project, possesses, or the desperation among bloggers to want to claim legitimacy and parity with the traditional wine media.

But let me be clear about what I’m saying, from a publicists perspective. We (wine publicists) are required to do anything in our power to advance the bottom line of our client or employer. We don’t break the law. But sometimes we look for cracks in the system to advance this cause. We look for novel ways to overcome what we assume is the desire of the media to do their reporting free of influence from the object of their reporting. We don’t succeed at this very often, which is credit due to writers; and maybe it’s unexpected credit due to publicists too. This is me talking with my publicist hat on.

But to put my blogger hat on, I think it’s important to reiterate that while there are substantial differences between bloggers and the traditional media, there are also reasons for bloggers to adopt the conventions of traditional journalists—at least some of them.

The differences between bloggers and traditional media are obvious. We don’t have teams of editors to satisfy. We don’t have investors to take into consideration. We don’t have quarterly profit reports to issue. We don’t, generally, have advertisers that we don’t want to offend. We don’t, generally, make our living by blogging. Due to all these differences there is an perceived independence that accrues to bloggers that doesn’t so automatically accrue to the traditional media. This is an asset of extraordinary value that can’t be overestimated. Whether or not its appropriate for a wine publications to be accused of kowtowing to its advertisers, they will be accused of this because the circumstances for it occurring are all in place. However,  this accusation can never legitimately be aimed at wine bloggers simply by virtue of the architecture of their medium.

But this isn’t a reason for wine bloggers to stridently disassociate themselves from the traditional wine media. There is a great deal in the traditions of journalism that should be recommended to the wine blogger. The most important is not just the appearance of objectivity, disconnect and distance from your subject matter, but the reality of it too.

While there is such a thing as an “embargo” in world of journalist/PR interaction whereby the journalists agree not to report a story until after a specific time, and while their is such a thing as agreeing to “talk off the record”, I’ve never encountered a reviewer who agreed to train their eye on a product under the condition that they write about it and that they do so within a specific time frame.

Do you know why this is?

Because it requires the writer to work on behalf of their SUBJECT, rather than on behalf of their AUDIENCE.

I have no doubt in my mind that the various reviews that different bloggers produced under these conditions were honest assessments of the Rodney Strong wine. None. I know most of the bloggers that took part and I can’t imagine any of them skewing their review of the wine just for the sake of being a part of the Rodney Strong experiment, to be on the inside, to assure future samples of wine or for any other reasons. And as I said above, I do appreciate the experimental quality of this program; the attempt to guage the impact of wine reviews in blogs.

I do think, however, that by agreeing to work on behalf of their subject they risk compromising the inherent independence that wine bloggers possess. I’m not sure I’m altogether qualified to make the points I make above. Lord knows, I’ve done unethical things in my life. My glass house is pretty damn breezy.

But I just might be qualified, sitting as I do at the juncture of PR and Blogging, and having sat in both places probably longer than most folks at any point at the intersection. So what I know is this: Compromise begins by tilting one’s head toward the devil on the other shoulder.

114 Responses

  1. Ryan - August 27, 2008

    Great post, glad more people are seeing both sides of this story.

  2. Tom Wark - August 27, 2008

    Thanks. There are indeed serious issues involved in this.

  3. Michael Wangbickler - August 27, 2008

    I was struck by this very thing Tom. While I may not have been doing this for as long as you (8 years in wine as opposed to 20), I also send my client’s wine as samples to journalists and bloggers on a frequent basis. In my experience, there is a kind of unwritten rule that the reviewer will give the sample a fair assessment, but there is NO obligation on their part to publish a review. I would never ask such a thing. I may poke and prod to see if I can move them in that direction, but I would never come right out and make it a caveat for receiving the wine. Most, I think, would be offended by the very notion.
    Kudos to Rodney Strong for having the cajones in taking this risk. It will be interesting to see whether it pays off. I wonder, however, whether it will hurt the credibility of wine bloggers as a group.

  4. Tom Wark - August 27, 2008

    To answer your last question, I think it probably should.

  5. Lenn - August 27, 2008

    Tom, as always, great insight and perspective on this…. I think you make some great points here.
    I accept samples all of the time, but I never ever EVER promise to write about any of them. Heck, wineries probably benefit when I don’t write about some of the wines I taste 😉
    One thing that I think is important to keep in mind as we look at the main street media vs. bloggers comparison is that bloggers are a diverse lot. Extremely diverse.
    In my case, the “journalist” comparison is apt. I see myself as a wine journalist who happens to publish his writing via a blog. BUT, not every blogger is like that.
    Some are just hobbyists who write their blog in place of a tasting notebook. Some are bloggers purely for the “community” aspect of it I think, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Still others blog to market their wares (wine, PR services, web 2.0 consulting, etc.)
    This diversity adds another layer of complexity to this discussion I think.
    That all said, reading all of the chatter about this, I think I agree that it does creep close to a credibility problem for bloggers once they promise to review something (regardless of timeframe). I know and am friends with many of the bloggers involved here and I know they don’t sell reviews, but to those outside of the community, it could certainly look that way.
    Great post, Tom. Really.

  6. David Zeitman - August 27, 2008

    You raise a lot of great points, Tom. It’s an interesting time in the wine blogging space – a time where care must be taken to avoid becoming ‘wine establishment 2.0.’ Or worse yet, a source of inappropriate publishing…

  7. Stu - August 27, 2008

    Great post, as usual Tom. I think the key thing issue is that subconsiously, and I don’t care who you are, if the “client” makes you feel special you will have a biased opinion. Not to long ago there was a huge firestorm on the blogosphere about Objective vs. Subjective tasting. The RS example is as subjective as you can get. Not only was the wine not blind, but the bloggers were fluffed by RS before even tasting the wine. Before uncorking the wine they already ‘knew’ they were going to like. No objectivity here at all. I love GoodGrape and 1WineDude but don’t agree with this and will wait for a more objective tasting review before purchasing.

  8. Tom Wark - August 27, 2008

    Thank you. Indeed there are all sorts of wine bloggers. I think it’s true however that the art of wine blogging is still at that stage where the actions of one can reflect on the many.

  9. Tom Wark - August 27, 2008

    I don’t question the objectivity of the reviewers. In fact, if you can’t take a bit of “fluffing” by the likes of me or a winery or another PR type without being still able to write a mediocre review, you should stop what you are doing and slowly back away from your computer.
    In fact, I’m willing concede that despite the psychological influences, which do exist, reviewers are capable of bending themselves toward general objectivity.
    But there should be lines.

  10. Carol - August 27, 2008

    Excellent points and certainly some food for thought.

  11. Stu - August 27, 2008

    Thanks for the feedback Tom and I certainly agree that a ‘professional’ must maintain objectivity even after some fluffing. But what concerns me are some bloggers like Alder at vinography who has a policy not to post a review if he doesn’t like the wine. I would assume that RS approached him as well and he turned it down knowing that he might not be able to post the review and thus go against the RS terms. Also Goodgrape and winedude are two of the top advocates for wine blogging and getting it on par with print. They were both a little too ‘excited’ about getting the samples before print and praised RS for this PR tactic. Hence, lots of positive biased for the brand before doing the tasting.
    As the blogosphere grows, these issues will be worked out. There is great potential in blogging, but it is still extremely raw.

  12. 1WineDude - August 27, 2008

    OK, I’ll be the voice of dissent here (sort of).
    Tom, this – and the reaction of many others who’ve covered this – is OVERBOARD. Well written, though-provoking, insightful; and overboard.
    The concerns are legit, but I don’t think the reactions are commiserate with the scale of the event or its germination.
    It was a first – exciting stuff. To get in on the first, we had to accept to write *anything we wanted* about the wine. That’s it.
    I don’t see at all how this questions integrity, self respect, or ethics.
    Now, if I do that 5 more times, come talk to me, because you’d be onto something!
    I’m not the smartest guy you all know – not by a long shot – and my glass house as at least as many breezes as Tom’s (or more, probably!).
    But… read my RS post, and then tell me I didn’t have my readers in mind when I wrote it.
    It just doesn’t make sense.

  13. 1WineDude - August 27, 2008

    Should also add (told you I wasn’t that smart! 🙂 that none of us involved in this effort would have agreed to anything that we thought would set the wine blogging world *backward* in terms of credibility.
    The day you see me reviewing a wine and that same winery is advertised at the top right-hand side of my blog, then you should worry because I’ve clearly lost my mind…

  14. Stu - August 27, 2008

    dude, i think that this was a great ‘experiment’ and bloggers should learn from it. the beauty of blogging is that you can try these new methods and get instant feedback. I love your blog and know that you had absolutely no intent on being biased. you sound like a cool honest guy and i respect that. my only concern was the ‘subconscious’ adding that subjectivity into your opinion of wine. The wine always tastes better in the winery, with the winemaker talking to you and eating it with the perfect pairing. i.e – the means by which this wine tasting/review was conducted definitely lends favor to RS and not the ‘unbiased’ consumer. Just my two cents. I appreciate you guys taking the risk to do this. I would just rather see more separation between tasting notes, and press coverage (i.e – way too many posts touting the great PR tactic before the tasting post). P.S. – aren’t you supposed to be on vacation with the family?

  15. Josh - August 27, 2008

    I think the subset of blogs that aspire to the level of credibility mentioned in your post are the great minority. Moreover, I haven’t seen anyone but bloggers themselves self-criticizing. Which, by the way, is the mark of a remarkably healthy ecosystem. That is the benefit of transparency and a community of heterogeneous thinkers.
    From what I’ve seen normal blog readers have been remarkably silent, which isn’t proof that they weren’t put off by the posts, but it certainly cast doubt on the idea that Good Wine Under 20, Good Grape and others have lost credibility in the eyes of their audience.
    So I guess my point is that this is simply so much navel gazing. If blogs and bloggers get to the point that there *audience* expects even the appearance of impropriety to be wiped out from blogs, the medium will have changed so much I’d scarcely recognize it.
    People don’t mind bias, as long as you are up front about it. In fact people *appreciate* the fact that you aren’t giving them some snow job about objectivity. We all know that everyone in the wine industry is open to influence and has been influenced. Better to have a public paper trail instead of a shadowy insider one.
    Anyway, all that said I think it was probably a mistake to require a review. If you put your faith in the bloggers and the quality of your wine RS likely would have gotten the same result and there would be no controversy.
    But here’s the question, would that really have changed anything ethically? My contention is that the answer is no. And I think most blog readers share my view.

  16. Julie Ann Kodmur - August 27, 2008

    Tom—great contemplative & provocative post and it’s great to see the comments & discussion. As they say, ‘may you live in interesting times,’ it’s not easy being in the paradigm while it’s shifting!

  17. Fredric Koeppel - August 27, 2008

    Tom, what bothers me in this innovative bit of marketing, is a. the bold (and successful) demand by Rodney Strong that the bloggers had to publish their reviews within a certain timeframe and b. the fact that most of these bloggers seem ticked pink to be at the forefront of what is basically a PR experiment dictated by a winery (it’s all for the sake of bloggerdom, of course) and c. that most of these bloggers don’t mention the caveat about the requested reviewing period in their posts. I would say that this experiement does not represent a coup for wine bloggers; i mean, come one, who cares, really, if WS receives or reviews a wine before we bloggers do, it’s mainly a different audience. Rather, this little experiment represents a victory for pr/marketing. I think 1WineDude is wrong: this experiment HAS damaged the credibility of blogging.

  18. Tim Elliott - August 27, 2008

    As usual, you have brought up some good points, Tom.
    Let me break this down to it’s essence. The sampling program is not that innovative except it was a new brand, at a high price point with an established (shall I say “traditional”) winery. Jeff, not Rodney Strong PR, contacted us and asked us to participate with only the unusual condition of posting our reviews within 4 days last week (yes, I was late due to some problems getting internet access where I was staying). I almost turned the request down for this condition, but since I trust Jeff, I agreed (actually I also thought Jeff was very naive in his request; I certainly would never ask for this on behalf of any of my clients). All but one blogger in the program joined me in accepting.
    In my review I pointed out that I took a skeptical approach to this wine. It’s big at over 15% ABV, packed in heavy glass and carries a high bottle price. Some of the wines I’ve had that are in this price range or higher have been disappointing. This one was not but I was ready to point out any flaws and give the wine any score I thought was deserved.
    So I don’t think any harm was done to any of us who participated. We were free to write whatever we wanted about the wine. But I will never accept samples under the condition of posting a review again.

  19. 1WineDude - August 27, 2008

    Just want to say that I *am* tickled pink, but only because Fredric Koeppel thinks that I’ve got anywhere near enough influence to have *any* impact at all on the credibility of wine blogging! 😉 ‘Cause Fred’s blog kicks all kinds of a–!
    And all this controversy is coming just a few short days after my discussion post in the OWC on the growing credibility of wine blogging…
    *The irony*….!

  20. Ken Bernsohn - August 27, 2008

    Back in 1948, when my father went to work for the Chicago Tribune, he was given a list of names he could only mention favorably, a list he could only mention unfavorably, and four he couldn’t mention at all. When I was working at a newspaper worked by Conrad Black, writing an article slamming a car dealer, grocery chain, Realtor or other heavy advertiser required a court cast where the was was on trial for criminal offense. Let us talk about the credibility of the tabloids, magazines that do reviews intended to confuse, and automobile mags that give their heaviest advertisers annual awards for cars that are rabid. better yes, let not talk about these things and enjoy some wine instead.

  21. Ryan - August 27, 2008

    Ken, thanks for that. Your right, this is not a topic that is confined to the medium of wine blogging. This occurs in other places butt o the credit of all involved, while this may have been ethically unsound, all parties have spoken openly about the problems.Wine blogging(and all blogging) does allow for a open and honest dialog to take place after the fact. Hopefully this will lead to us becoming stronger as a group.
    For sure the WBC and EWBC will help to further open channels of communication.

  22. Strappo - August 27, 2008

    It’s funny, I’ve been pretty oblivious to this controversy, thinking it wasn’t so controversial. I didn’t realize the terms were so specific and actually rather constraining. I don’t get offered samples of anything to review, so what did I care.
    I am surprised at Tom’s hard line on this, but the reasons seem sound and Koeppel’s addendum hammers that nail all the way in.
    Still, I wonder at the dominant assumption here, that we wine bloggers want so very much to be regarded as valid peers of the mainstream wine press. Do we really? Is that the future of wine blogging — to be in the gentle vinous grip of a relatively small number of large wine producers/distributors/importers? Junketed and fed in far-flung places? More of their house “journalists” — just in a different medium?
    There’s actually a lot at stake here. Tom, I don’t know how I’ll finally come down on this RS initiative, but you’ve done us a service by highlighting the issues.

  23. 1WineDude - August 27, 2008

    Love this question from mondosapore.com:
    “Still, I wonder at the dominant assumption here, that we wine bloggers want so very much to be regarded as valid peers of the mainstream wine press. Do we really?”
    The answer for me is a firm **NO**.
    Not saying I speak for anyone else but me. And that is my final answer.
    I don’t know where wine blogging is headed. I’m happy to be along for the ride – it’s a blast and the company, for the most part, is *superb*.
    If the destination is mainstream media land, then I might consider gettin’ off the bus early…

  24. Tom Wark - August 27, 2008

    “Love this question from mondosapore.com: “Still, I wonder at the dominant assumption here, that we wine bloggers want so very much to be regarded as valid peers of the mainstream wine press. Do we really?”
    “Do We Really?” is the wrong question. The right question is “What are the implications of when this eventually does occur and when it comes to pass?”

  25. Fredric Koeppel - August 27, 2008

    well-spoken, Dude, and thanks for the nod.

  26. Strappo - August 27, 2008

    So, Tom, based on your last, we as a group WILL eventually become their external PR departments, all bought and paid for? That’s the implication of the “acceptance” of wine bloggers as really legit. Or do you foresee another, unprecedented paradigm coming into play? (Assuming the current blogging paradigm dies a death, as did the early, uncommercial and totally uncensored internet.)
    I admit the signs for “pure” blogging don’t look too promising now. And maybe the caution you advocate in taking part in future marketing initiatives is the right approach to take. But I do think we need to ask ourselves if we want to go down that slippery slope to acceptance. It isn’t too late. Is it?

  27. Mark Wallace - August 27, 2008

    Freebies — be they a bottle of wine, or dinner in the media lounge before a ballgame — can’t help but give reporters a warm glow, even if any quid pro quo is poohpoohed. It’s any reporter’s duty to fight feelings of gratitude, and claim the high ground of objectivity. It’s any good PR shop’s duty to shine the apple as best it can before handing it to any and all interested reporters. So, as an ex-sports journalist, here’s my take.
    On first read, I thought a time frame was just RS’s way to winnow the wheat, and generate a list of serious bloggers who would be sent wines in the future.
    But if this is truly an experiment, asking for a short turnaround is the only way to get anything approaching useable data. I may be applying more serious thinking than really exists here, but, to me, the first need is get the bloggers’ reviews in hand, then send samples to the usual print-media suspects, get those reviews, compare and contrast, and finally, make some judgements as sales numbers start to come in.
    For such a test to be as clean as possible, RS will want to avoid cross contamination between the two media. But print critics must get bottles quickly, because they’ll pick up on the plan, and some will get their knickers in twist thinking about whether or not it’s a threat to their livelyhood as print journalists. (Are there any professional wine writers making a living solely in the bloggosphere?)
    If RS gets some measurements saying this is the way to go, should they loosen the time frame up? I don’t know. I just think they deserve a bit of slack for keeping a tight rein on things this time around.

  28. dhonig - August 27, 2008

    A quibble, if I may (and I was not one of the bloggers involved in this). No promises were made about the content of the review, only the timing of it. The whole point of certain journalistic “ethics” is that they have underlying reasons. Wine Spectator, dealing with the whole universe of available wines, can not promise to give a review, good or bad, because doing so means treating some other wine unfairly, letting the new wine “cut in line.” Bloggers, not burdened with Wine Spectator’s embarrassment of riches, need not worry about the “cut in line” problem. With that issue gone, where is the ethical dilemma? Is it the timing? Again, bloggers do not face the same publication restraints of a magazine and therefore do not have ethical issues with timing.
    Before somebody talks about “journalistic ethics,” I would like to see the underlying reason for the ethic before applying it to a new medium. If the reason lacks the same validity in the new medium, why should it apply?

  29. Tom Wark - August 27, 2008

    No, I meant to say that bloggers will eventually find parity with traditional publications when it comes to influence on wine buying and setting the agenda for what’s discussed in the world of wine.
    You’re being kind of cynical. I don’t think wine writers and wine publications are bought and paid for. Were they bought and paid for I’d have been doing lots of buying and paying beginning many years ago.
    Bloggers can maintain their unique voices but also accept the coming influence with panache and seriousness.

  30. Tom Wark - August 27, 2008

    I take no issue with what Rodney Strong did. In fact, I think I said they should get an award.
    However, if Rodney Strong finds themselves satisfied to only send wine samples to that group of bloggers that agreed to play by their rules then I retain my option to take back the award…Because that would be stupid.

  31. Strappo - August 27, 2008

    OK, I did overstate to make my point. I like the “panache and seriousness” phrasing. Nice cap.
    Anyway, some of us just have to mouth off, so there will always be that wild-and-wooly element in blogging, I hope.

  32. Tom Wark - August 27, 2008

    The WS indeed could promise to give a review in a certain issue if they wanted to. That’s no problem at all. They are under no obligation to keep their line nice, straight and tidy.
    The point is that a good critic or reviewer does not work based on the rules set by the subject of their critique or review. Such a thing puts them in the employ of the subject. Once that happens, the reviewer can not object to accusations that they are not compromised.
    The wine blogging community, though it has a really remarkably bright and important future, can not afford to be seen as compromised or in the employ of its subject. This episode gives that impression even if it is far from the practical truth. My case is made on behalf of the future of the wine blogging community. Maintaining an ethical stance is something once does for the benefit of their or others’ future, not the for the present.

  33. Thomas Pellechia - August 27, 2008

    I have no opinion on this matter, mainly because I don’t know all the facts.
    How’s that for ethics?
    In any event, Fred’s post seems to me to be right on, if his post illustrates the facts.
    Wines sent for review are sent–end of story. No strings, no requests, no surveys either.
    But then, I don’t do surveys for anything. I figure if a producer needs to know something, either pay me as a consultant or pay a staffer to go find out.
    One of you guys posted that if you were to do this thing five times then we should worry–what’s the difference between doing it once or doing it five times, and why would you need the three times in between? That comment baffled me.

  34. dhonig - August 27, 2008

    I understand your concerns. What I truly do not understand is why it is unethical to say “I’ll review it, but I can’t promise I’ll like it.” I am not looking for an argument, merely an explanation. IMHO, agreeing to give an unbiased opinion does not put you in another’s employ. Please help me understand what I am missing. I say that because I really do respect what you have to say, and can’t help but think I am missing something here.

  35. Tom Wark - August 27, 2008

    Nothing unethical about saying, “I’ll try it and if I review it I can’t promise anything.”
    The problem, in my mind, comes when there are strings attached to even receiving the sample. When you agree to strings you are fundamentally in the employ of the subject.

  36. Michael Wangbickler - August 27, 2008

    I think the issue here is that you wouldn’t have gotten the wine if you hadn’t agreed to their rules. I think therin lies the rub.

  37. 1WineDude - August 27, 2008

    All – has anyone ASKED Rodney Strong if they would have given us the wines if we’d not agreed to the deadline (which I thought was asked of us by Jeff, not RS) or the article…?
    Just sayin’…
    I have a blog post planned for Monday on this. It’s going to be called “Steve (Heimoff) & Tom (Wark) Stole My Traffic”!!!

  38. Mark Wallace - August 27, 2008

    Okay, I’m a bit confused. Other than the time frame, what rules, if any, did Rodney Strong lay out or imply? Is the real fear that a winery could use this model to create a circle of sycophantic bloggers able to influence the rest of us, and more importantly become a nearly free marketing machine?

  39. Sonadora - August 27, 2008

    I, like 1WineDude, was also under the impression that Jeff asked us to review the wine within a certain time frame, not RS. Maybe my impression was mistaken, but I thought Jeff, per his post a few months ago, was interested in demonstrating or measuring the influence of wine blogs. And one way to do that was to do this in a concentrated effort in a set amount of time.
    Additionally, to address Mark’s point, RS gave us no rules about what to write nor did they imply any. We could pan the wine or praise the wine, write about the wine in light of what an allocation program is, simply talk about Rockaway, etc. anything we wanted…so long as we wrote something. We didn’t even have to review the actual bottle of wine.

  40. Agent Red - August 27, 2008

    For nearly a year now, we’ve been inviting guest bloggers to become a “Wine Spy for a Day”. I have always asked bloggers to meet a publication deadline – so that we could include their review with our own on the day of a sale, but never exerted any other sort of pressures.
    My only regret is that our program (still running if you are interested in reviewing along side us) didn’t generate the sort of buzz that the RS promo has!

  41. fredric koeppel - August 27, 2008

    Agent Red, you were acting as a publisher or editor asking a writer to meet a deadline; that happens in journalism a million times a day. And that’s not what Rodney Strong (or Jeff) did. The assertion was, according to the accounts we have read on the participating blogs, that if you want to taste our great new wine, you have to agree to write about it (not necessarily a review) within our specified time frame. It’s as if Random House told newspaper book reviewers that they could get copies of a new novel only if the reviews would appear when the author was touring in their town. Mark, the danger is the precedent (and let me add that I know RS meant nothing nefarious in this experiment) or the implication. If bloggers are seen as susceptible to the wishes of wineries, what’s to prevent a producer from saying, “We’ll send you a bottle of our new limited production, $150-cabernet, but please don’t use the terms ‘holy shit’ or ‘what the fuck’ on the page.” Most of us depend on sample bottles from producers or importers for the wines we review; we accept those samples on the understanding that we may or may not write about the wines and that we may or may not write positively about the wines and we’ll write when we have the opportunity. There can be no other attachments or caveats to the relationship.

  42. Dylan Klymenko - August 27, 2008

    I don’t look at this as an attack on the credibility of blogging. As many have said above, all that was issued was a time frame. Which albeit an odd request for the sampling world, it never said it had to be a positive review.
    What’s interesting about this was the proposition. As bloggers you have the opportunity to sample this wine before even traditional press in exchange for the fact that I can count on a ANY kind of review from you in that time. For those who accept, it gives them a great opportunity to be the first source on the subject, which is a huge win for a blogger.
    If this method were to catch over traditional sampling, giving bloggers priority–it would, in effect, make the blogging community the first source for information.
    Frederic, as far your concern goes on how far this could be taken. It’s my belief that bloggers wouldn’t censor themselves for a special sample of wine. The blogging community has something worth protecting. This was an innocuous case which didn’t cross that line. When that line is crossed, expect the only written statement on bloggers sites to be an ALARM to the community. They won’t need time limit for that post.

  43. Dr. Debs - August 27, 2008

    I would like to set the record straight. I was NEVER contacted by Rodney Strong. I was contact by Jeff Lefevere who floated an idea on the OWC and on his blog about a coalition of bloggers who reviewed the same wine at the same time to answer the following question: would wine bloggers have more of an impact if they worked on the same wine together, rather than working as 100s of individual voices.
    Interesting question. Jeff decided to try to bring such a band together. Jeff secured a wine. Kind of an interesting wine, and one we were going to get before there were other reviews. As a blogger, we are often criticized for being “behind” and “parroting” print critics.
    So I said yes. I was free to write anything I wanted. To do my job properly, I drank my way through several $75 Napa cabs over several weeks. I found two allocated wines through that process that I could recommend. One was the RS bottle, another was not. I wrote what I thought was a responsible piece on both. After the week’s reviews came out. I asked my readers whether or not it made a difference to them or not whether my voice was combined with other bloggers.
    This was a blogging experiment that was organized by a blogger. Jeff Lefevere was our “editor” for this coalition in the sense that he set us a deadline, arranged for the wine, and gave us complete freedom to write what we wanted to as long as we wrote something. That’s the deal I get from editors all the time.
    People are behaving like Rodney Strong engineered this and foisted this plan on a bunch of stupid wine bloggers. That was not the case. We engaged in a blogger-organized experiment in collaborative work, much like dhonig’s 89 Project.
    And by the way, I see no flap about the Bin Ends-Hugel-Wine Blogger Twitter tasting last week, where (as I understand it) participating wine bloggers were sent samples provided they tasted the wines and participated in the collaborative review on the same day. Why is the RS case getting all the attention? There were two similar experiments in the last two weeks.

  44. Thomas Pellechia - August 27, 2008

    With all respect, Dr. Debs, if producers want to experiment for the purposes of establishing their PR programs in the future, I don’t think it’s a good idea for bloggers (or journalists) to be the subjects. It smacks of establishing a method by producers for weeding out the uncooperative and potentially unflattering bloggers or journalists.
    If you review a product, you should be arms length from the producer in all respects. I say this without understanding or knowing the extent of these samples and their reviews, and for this very reason I am glad that I don’t accept free wine.

  45. Dr. Debs - August 27, 2008

    With all respect, Thomas, I was at the same arm’s length from this wine producer as I am with any other wine producer. I have always accepted samples on my blog. That hasn’t changed. I know some don’t but I do.
    Again, this was a BLOGGER experiment. If it dovetailed with an RS “experiment” I am confident it is not the first time in the history of wine that such an overlap has occurred.
    Please reread what I said. I had no contact with Rodney strong other than what I normally have with a producer. They sent me wine, a tech sheet via Jeff, and a number to call if I had questions. If anyone weeded out bloggers, it was Jeff. And I don’t think that’s what he did. Instead, he asked a group of people who had expressed interest in the question of collaboration in order to to test collaborative blogging.
    Thomas, you don’t accept samples; fine. I do. That is stated clearly on my blog, in every post where I receive wine, and in my ethics statement in my profile. I also believe I do it with ethics and transparency to both the producers and my readers. Finally, I would ask those of you criticizing my ethics to please check your facts and make sure you actually understand what happened, and not just assume that you know what happened from reading the blogs of those who also haven’t checked their facts.

  46. 1WineDude - August 27, 2008

    Agree with dr debs. I feel like I took part in a great soccer game, and everyone else somehow saw a baseball game. Somethin’ just *ain’t* right here.
    I love me a good discussion, but the fact-checking isn’t happening at the level that it should. I know because, well, *I was there*.
    I’ve read every comment on every blog post that I know of about this event, and having done that, I wouldn’t change ONE THING about the way I participated in this event.
    Whoever is cool with that is welcome on my blog anytime.

  47. fredric koeppel - August 27, 2008

    1winedude, you’re welcome on my blog anytime whether you’re cool with what i say or not.
    Good Doctor, thank you for your clarifications; i didn’t mean to impugn your integrity. Of course there’s nothing wrong with a collaborative or simultaneous tasting and blogging; what I’m worried about is what this example (however benign) proves, along with the incident of the fake blog responses from the “Bottle Shock” pr people: that blogging has the POTENTIAL for being manipulated as a marketing device, whether we bloggers are conscious of the devices or not. One could see how easily such an “experiment” could become not about legitimizing wine blogging — people, we ARE legitimate, it doesn’t have to be proved! don’t be so eager! — and about marketing and manipulation. I think that’s what Tom is getting at in his original post here and in his reponses, and as a veteran of the business, he knows that even better than we do.
    & Doc, I agree about the Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet 2005.

  48. jbh - August 27, 2008

    As a ****-PR refusenik, I agree with Frederic’s most recent post. I’m intrigued (to put it gently) that a publicity-seeker can get away with imposing such a condition on a publicity-giver.
    Unless you have a rare slam-dunk product that’s going to get major positive attention one way or another, it makes minimal business sense to demand a promise of coverage in exchange for a freebie that costs relatively nothing to you. The risk of pissing off a media outlet that could become a carcinogenic free radical to your public image doesn’t seem worth it.
    Granted, virtually any wine blog is microscopic potatoes compared to Wine Spectator, particularly since it’s going to be one more generation before a plurality of wine drinkers are blog-literate. I suppose that’s why RS was willing to indulge in a little arrogant carrot-dangling in this interesting case. Hell, I would have gone for it.

  49. jbh - August 27, 2008

    (I was referring to FK’s post stamped August 27, 2008 at 04:54 PM–hadn’t noticed the one after that)

  50. Ryan - August 28, 2008

    Thanks Debs for your clarification, but this is the first time I heard it said this way. A blogger experiment is interesting. Samples with deadlines is not.
    As to the twitter tasting you have a point. And it was in someways like the Stormhoek tastings before them. Can a winery plan anything that involves “press” and be considered “moral”? I’d hope so. But conversations like this will help us all define those parameters.
    Oh and Thomas, your policy of not accepting samples is great, though is no more morally correct than choice to accept them. Samples make it possible to try the wide breadth and span of wines out there. Unless your idependantly wealthy or have a corporate machine buying them for you, this is not a reality. That said, I have no clue how a free sample can effect a review. I get so many samples, that it’s enough to get through them, let alone care who sent them.
    I have to say overall this discourse has done a ton of good for wine blogging community! The conversation is being had, questions are being raised and people are figuring out what matters when it comes to giving bloggers authority. I think this will go down as a small turning point of sorts.

  51. Kori - August 28, 2008

    Just last week you wrote that you didn’t think there was a real problem with WS giving an award to a fake restaurant but somehow by participating in this, we’ve jeopardized the credibility of the blogging community. Give me a break!
    As one of the participants in the Rockaway release to bloggers, I take issue with the assertion that we violated journalistic standards or blogging credibility by agreeing in advance to write about the wine. On the contrary, our agreement was the ultimate in integrity and transparency because we were committed to saying exactly what we thought about the wine…good, bad, or indifferent. And that is exactly what we did.
    And just like WE and WS have editors that impose deadlines for reviews, our “editor” on this blogging experiment (Jeff at Good Grape) set the deadline for our reviews. I’m truly amazed at how this whole thing has been blown so far out of proportion.

  52. 1WineDude - August 28, 2008

    What’s bakin’ my noodle is how no one seems to be connecting the date directly with the “blogger exclusive first crack” aspect of this.
    Think about it: If I don’t post about the wine during that time frame, then I could be too late – it gets covered in the traditional media and I’m no longer part of a first for wine bloggers.
    I didn’t compromise anything, because I never said I was a journalist, don’t wanna be a journalist, and I’ve got me own published CoE that weren’t violated by Jeff’s conditions of the coverage.
    Violation of ethics, selling out, etc. – as far as I’m concerned that argument is without merit.
    This brings us to the ‘slippery slope’ concern, which, while conjecture at this point, is a discussion worth having, I think. If I’m on a slippery slope, time will reveal it.
    I can take the heat (see WS forum posts! :), but I blog for fun primarily. Sure I wanna make a buck or 2, but mostly I wat to have fun.
    So please, please, please don’t make this “unfun” for me – I’m not trying to make it unfun for you!
    BTW, I will give Tom some props, he’s brought out some amazing writers and minds with this post.
    Still think you’re stealing my traffic though, Tom…

  53. 1WineDude - August 28, 2008

    One more thing (sorry coffee has kicked in now):
    I hope it did not take this event to demonstrate that bloggers are carbon-based life forms (humans) and thus susceptible to the temptation to sell out?
    I am a blogger. I am (choose ONE answer only!):
    __ Ethical beyond reproach, with sh*t smelling of roses.
    __ An unethical sell-out who’d pawn my mom off to the highest bidder.
    I don’t think it’s black & white. We’re on a continuum here folks…

  54. Thomas Pellechia - August 28, 2008

    Dr Debs,
    This was my first post on the matter, and it stands:
    “I have no opinion on this matter, mainly because I don’t know all the facts.
    How’s that for ethics?
    In any event, Fred’s post seems to me to be right on, if his post illustrates the facts.
    Wines sent for review are sent–end of story. No strings, no requests, no surveys either.”
    On this matter, I am making no judgment, because I really have no idea what the hell was going on, even after the few explanations on this blog. It seems awfully confusing to me.
    Also, I am NOT impugning your integrity–geez, you accuse me of not reading your post, read mine over and you’ll see that I never question anyone’s integrity.
    I do, however, say that as far as I’m concerned, a journalist or reviewer should simply review wine–no surveys, no participations other than reviewing the wine.
    Again, if producers want to do surveys or tests, let them do it on their own dime and in their own environment.
    Doesn’t the fact that you guys feel the need to explain yourselves say anything to you about why you shouldn’t get involved in such happenings?

  55. Tom Wark - August 28, 2008

    Color me blind, but with regard to the Wine Spectator, I’m pretty sure they treated the Fake restaurant exactly as they treated all other restaurants. My main concern in that whole episode was the additional fraud it will inspire.
    However, you may be right that this whole thing has been blown out of proportion. But as I said, I have zero doubt that the reviews you, DR.D and others produced were sincere and accurate portrayals of your assessment of the wine in question.
    And, again, I appreciate the experimental quality of the program.
    But, agreeing to review a wine within a certain time and agreeing to receive the bottle only if you review it, does indeed violate the conventional responsibilities and ethics that critics have attempted to live up to for as long as critics have been reviewing creative works.
    But this sort of thing happens and the critics keep going and the people and arts they cover keep producing works.
    The problem is this: The medium of wine blogging is in a very precarious place. While it has the reputation of being an honest alternative to the mainstream media, it is not itself mainstream and can be damaged far more easily than the mainstream media by unfortunate impression produced by unintended lapses in what by all measures are called “ethics”. Wine blogging is in the middle of building its reputation as vital and important. The mainstream wine writers and publishing formats built their reputations long ago.
    This precarious position that blogging finds itself in may or may not be important to one person or another. I personally think it should be important. I believe if I do a good job at writing about wine in this new format, if Sondora does, if Dr. Does, if Tim Elliot does, if Jeff at Good Grape Does and if the person with a readership of 10 people a day does, then everyone else enjoying writing a wine blog benefits—as do the readers and the wine blogging format in general.
    It may be that I have entirely too much time on my hands and spending so much time thinking about this issue is evidence of that (my wife and kids would argue otherwise). And I’m in no way thinking of myself as the “wine blogging police”.
    But I do have an idea and a feeling about the radical kind of change that blogs will help bring to the way wine is bought, sold, enjoyed and understood in the U.S. And even though it’s an idea and a feeling that hasn’t been confirmed, I’m pretty confident that it won’t be if wine bloggers get the reputation of being led around by the nose by the industry.

  56. Tom Wark - August 28, 2008

    I saw your comments at the Wine Spectator Forums. I think you conducted yourself wonderfully. It’s not easy to jump into a shark tank without thinking your life is in jeopardy and still survive unscathed while even scarring the sharks in the process. Well done.

  57. 1WineDude - August 28, 2008

    Thanks, Tom – I think I’m just as incorrigible as you ;-).
    “I believe if I do a good job at writing about wine in this new format, if Sondora does, if Dr. Does, if Tim Elliot does, if Jeff at Good Grape Does and if the person with a readership of 10 people a day does, then everyone else enjoying writing a wine blog benefits”
    Aw, man, you couldn’t resist putting my visitor stats in there, could you?
    As Joel over at OWC pointed out, blogging is built on the individual reaching out to the individual. So, it could follow that our individual choices in this matter, our ethics, and credibility will be judged individually and differently by different individuals reading our blogs.
    In other words, we may not actually benefit or harm each other that much as a collective.
    It’s not clear that how far and wide the effects would ripple either way in this unique on-line universe.
    This kind of instant, global, and pervasive interaction is precarious at times.
    But it’s also extremely resilient.
    We live in interesting times, indeed!

  58. John - August 28, 2008

    As I read your response to Kori, it made be think that the problem here may be the so-called “conventional responsibilities and ethic….” that you referred to, which contain an obvious loophole for someone not so ethical to operate within.
    When I worked at Merrill Lynch many years ago, they used to talk about the Chinese Wall between investment banking and research, just like WE and WS and others talk about their Chinese Wall between their wine reviewers and their advertising departments today. However, I discovered (and so did a major magazine in an expose’) that Merrill’s Chinese Wall was just so much marketing talk at that time. So when I read the recent defensive comments of Steve Heimoff and others, it sounded to me like Merrill’s bravado so many years ago.
    When a writer for a publication, a PR person for a publication, or anyone else says with righteous indignation that they would never agree in advance to publish a review of a certain wine, the cynic in me says “I wonder why not?” Could it be because their Chinese Wall may be about like Merrill’s was? In other words, they may not want to or be allowed to publish a terrible review on the wine of a big advertiser in their publication. In fact it makes me think that may be why you, Tom, make the statement that “the odds of getting a bad review are so low today that one risks very little.”
    We found that transparency (full disclosure) was the real key to having your opinions respected, not some archaic code of ethics written by the wolves guarding the henhouse; and I believe transparency is what the bloggers in the Rockaway tasting have going for them today.
    *In the spirit of full disclosure, you need to know that the Kori I referred to above is my daughter, and that I am a member of the WinePeeps team.

  59. Thomas Pellechia - August 28, 2008

    You are probably correct, but the wider issue has to do with credibility of the function–wine reviewing–not of the individual.
    I agree with Tom that certain agreements as a condition for reviewing, even when seemingly harmless, still are conditions, and they have no place in the relationship between the reviewer and the reviewed (or the representatives of the reviewed).

  60. Thomas Pellechia - August 28, 2008

    How does one know when transparency isn’t just another smokescreen?
    True transparency requires a statement of intent and methods before something happens, not after the happening.
    By not getting yourself into a position where you must explain your actions, you don’t have to explain your actions.

  61. Mary B. - August 28, 2008

    Whoa, 60 posts! Mia mama.
    As both a winery and a blogger, Rodney Strong’s approach tells me one thing: they don’t know the good wine bloggers. Ergo, they haven’t read, studied, and selected their review market. They’re just sand-blasting the milieu. At Dover Canyon, we have sent samples to key wine bloggers without any expectations, and we’ve been very pleased with the reception of our wines. (Okay, one site reviewed us FOUR YEARS after submission, but they admitted they were blown away by the wines, which is a nice boost for our longevity.) I selected the blogs based on the quality of the writing and the acumen of the reviewer. (If we have not submitted to you it does not mean anything! I only submit to 2-3 bloggers each year.) Strong would make greater headway a) targeting influential bloggers, b) submitting samples as professionals do, without demands and c) complementing their outreach with interesting media bytes designed for blogworld.

  62. 1WineDude - August 28, 2008

    Alright, folks.
    I’m going to come clean here.
    I never dreamed that this would happen… I thought that we had the perfect plan… but you’ve all be too clever and too damn persistent… and have seen through my ruse!
    I am, in fact, an employee of Rodney Strong! I am a mole who was sent to go deep undercover in the wine blogging world, beginning the 1WineDude.com blog 1+ years ago, all in anticipation of this Rockaway event!
    Rodney Strong top brass contacted the Roberts family almost *30 years ago* to have them subtly influence my upbringing so that I would reach some level of wine professionalism, and would be approached exactly when the time was *perfect*.
    [ We should stop a moment at this point to applaud Rodney Strong for inventing the Internet, and wine blogging, in anticipation of this event! What visionaries… ]
    AND… I would’ve gotten away with it all too, if it wasn’t for you meddling kids!!!
    OK – now I’ve got to get outta this thread before the sh*t storm hits over Mary B.’s “they don’t know the good wine bloggers” comment…

  63. Thomas Pellechia - August 28, 2008

    Who makes up Dover Canyon’s “key wine bloggers” club?
    Is there an initiation and how do I join?
    Keep in mind that I don’t take kindly to paddling. 😉

  64. el jefe - August 28, 2008

    Dude, Tom – I think you missed Mary’s point, and it’s the same point I have been making in other forums. Rodney Strong made no real investment in seeking out and evaluating the appropriate bloggers to review their wines. They outsourced it (to Jeff@GoodGrape, who did a great job I think.)
    Nothing wrong per se with outsourcing – wineries outsource this job all the time with regards to traditional media – but like with traditional media, a drawback to outsourcing is that you don’t make that direct contact with the media.
    For print media perhaps this is no big deal, but for blog media it means that RS is disconnected from the conversation enabled by blog media.
    I would go farther than Mary and say that RS would be better served to be seen as a contributor and participant in the wine blogging world rather than just a user of the channel. As they say, any publicity is good publicity, but I suspect they were hoping that it would be more about the wine and less about the PR methodology.

  65. Morton Leslie - August 28, 2008

    In the year 2000 my distribution system balked at the release of a new $100 Cabernet. They couldn’t sell it they claimed. I got a couple token orders the first two months. Then it got a 95 from a single taster in the print medium. Within two weeks all 5,500 cases were sold and within another month we had banked over $3 million from that wine. I would be very surprised if this PR effort generating positive reviews in the blogosphere sold a hundred cases of that wine.
    This is all about the perception of the wine buyer on what is the best source of information about what they should buy. It’s obvious many bloggers aspire to this. For those that do, they should realize that it will be a long, uphill road if they allow themselves to be obvious tools of winery marketing efforts.
    Any critic who takes anything from a winery is compromised. Any critic who agrees to do anything in exchange for anything from a winery is compromised. Print has been pretty successful at hiding these influences. It seems that some bloggers have a bit to learn.

  66. David Cole - August 28, 2008

    “They don’t know the good bloggers” that is some funny $%^& right there, I don’t care who you are!!
    The fact is the PR department at RS is being taken to lunch and give an atta boy! Nice work! Now that we all have heard of this wine, some folks will be curious and buy it!!
    Good for RS to ask for a review. That’s what the winery wants that’s what PR folks are paid to make happen, SO ASK!! It doesn’t matter to me if it was Jeff or RS that asked or why they asked. Someone said earlier they give samples all the time and hope they get reviewed but would never ask. I’m sorry to hear that, start asking!!
    But the funnyest thing, Tom writes this blog, then says maybe he isn’t qualified to do so. Then comes back on the comments and suggest maybe this is all overboard. LMAO!! It’s overboard all right, it’s WINE PEOPLE!! Drink it with family and friends, enjoy the moment and quit taking yourself so serious!
    ETHICS? They took free wine as everyone else has and does. What they agreed to write it by a certain date? So what!! It’s called a deadline.
    Tom, thanks for the entertainment. You did what a blog should do, make us all think, add some comments and drive traffic. Nice work!

  67. 1WineDude - August 28, 2008

    Next topic.
    Can someone pass the popcorn?

  68. Fredric Koeppel - August 28, 2008

    haha, 1winedude, but would you just go ahead and write “shit” instead of this wussy “sh*t” crap?

  69. Strappo - August 28, 2008

    I saw on Twitter that one of the “Best Wine Blog[gers]” is going into early and I hope temporary retirement over this brouhaha. But this is the fun part!!

  70. 1WineDude - August 28, 2008

    Fredric Koeppel – An upstanding and serious guy like me would *never* do that…. 😉

  71. Tim Elliott - August 28, 2008

    David: Yours is the first comment that makes sense here; seriously. This entire thing has been so overblown and used to advance various agendas it’s ridiculous.
    The story here is the hypocrisy of some in the trade who have used this to temporarily divert the attention from the real story which I will be posting on my blog today. Hope it generates as much discussion and traffic as this post has done for Tom.
    Strappo: What is being lost in this discussion is the integrity of some of us who take ethics seriously is being questioned. Even by other bloggers who should really have some context for the situation. Unfortunately it looks like we have lost one of the leading voices in wine blogging as a result. Hope everyone who judged before learning the facts is proud of themselves. And, no, this is not fun.
    Tom: How many of the participating bloggers did you interview or email before posting this? Your email to me must have gone into my SPAM folder.

  72. Jeff - August 28, 2008

    Interesting the amount of digital ink this thing has inspired. Likewise interesting how much of it is wrong in speculation and facts!
    It’s like a bunch of blue hairs kibitzing at lunch; not a damn thing will get solved and nobody seems to care to check the truth.
    Let me be absolutely clear on one point. This program is mine. I created it, I engineered it, I presented it to Rodney Strong.
    It is mine. Mine. Mine. I created the pre-conditions. Rodney Strong did not.
    Yet, throughout all of this, not a single person has contacted me to ask me my opinion or my thought process on rationale. Nobody. Not Steve Heimoff, not Tom Wark, nobody. In fact, both guys would appear as if to not even read my blog because surely they would have a better grasp of the facts.
    In fact, people are completely getting the facts WRONG. If anything RS got a whole lot more than they bargained for (not in a good way) and I’m culpable based on some real insular, leaky and unvalidated opinion-mongering. Robert Larsen didn’t come at this with any notions on how to execute. I did.
    Everybody wants to put on their gas bag and speculate, but the fact of the matter is there were well-founded reasons for me to do the program the way I engineered it, for reasons that are entirely legitimate, completely ethical, full of integrity and exhaustively explained on my blog and other places I have commented.
    Did I mention I engineered the whole darn thing?
    Do I sound tired, and exasperated? Yes, I do.

  73. 1WineDude - August 28, 2008

    I feel bad for the wine.
    The poor, poor, neglected wine…

  74. Jeff - August 28, 2008

    And, thank you to Mary from Dover Canyon for backhand slapping the people that I selected for the program, as well.
    Nothing like somebody telling you that you suck on top of the vitirol.
    I like my blog just fine, Mary.
    Jeez-louise … I need a drink.

  75. Strappo - August 28, 2008

    No, Tim, it is fun if
    1) you don’t take yourself or your sphere of influence too seriously, a failing that is common whether or not you bloviate about ethics
    2) you don’t have an excessively thin skin (a trait “real” journalists quickly lose)
    3) you think that conflict is often necessary for things to progress
    Anyone who thinks that blogging is all about community and camaraderie isn’t paying attention, and I don’t just mean to this stink.
    A lot of good points have been raised by both (or more than two?) sides. But there’s been a ton of posturing too.
    Sorry, ladies & germs, it’s still just blogging, for the vast majority of us a not-for-profit activity, an avocation, a hobby. Since I’m not beholden and make not a dime off my blog, let me assure you that if I’m displeased with some one or thing, I’ll be prompt in telling them to fuck off, and have been on several occasions. I’d suggest that those with hurt feelings do likewise and end their contribution to this drama.

  76. el jefe - August 28, 2008

    Dude – me too. I’m looking forward to trying it someday!

  77. Catie - August 28, 2008

    So Jeff, in essence if writers would check their facts first and not behave like “bloggers,” who have been accused of late as being “lazy person’s journalism,” this controversy would not have happened in the first place?

  78. The Beer Wench - August 28, 2008

    You have all spent so much time talking about the company and the blogger – but what about the readers? The end consumers?
    Since I am neither in the wine industry nor a wine blogger, I would like to add some outside opinions to this argument.
    Do not underestimate the intelligence of the blog readers. We are not mindless robots who are believe everything that we read. Trust is a CHOICE.
    Blogs are rapidly increasing in popularity with consumers. We no longer want brands and companies to dictate our purchasing behvaiors. We want advice from “peers” and other like minded individuals.
    Brands make promises, bloggers make observations. Readers/consumers have the CHOICE of who to trust and what to believe.
    Establishing trust and credibility can be a daunting task. Especially in a pretentious and old world community like the wine industry.
    So what if a blogger agrees to accept a free product in exchange for a review. If the blogger is genuine and credible, I will respect their review – regardless if it is solicited. If I believe the blogger to be honest and passionate about the subject in which he/she is writing about, then I will trust them. Period.
    I compare this to drinking wine in a restaurant. Let’s say I have a favorite restaurant with a Sommelier. And the Sommelier chooses the entire wine list. He is trusted by the owner to select the best wines for the restaurant I trust him to give me honest and genuine recommendations. But I can only select a wine that he has – right? Because of the 3-tier system, he relies on distributors to supply his wine. They give him free tastings. He tastes the free wine, brings it into the restaurant and then recommends it to me.
    Wine reps are biased, yes? They have a job in sales, after all. The goal is to sell sell sell. BUT, I TRUST that my Sommelier will not be false with me. I trust that he will only recommend the best of wine. Because this is his passion. His raison d’etre. So regardless of how he acquired this wine, even if he was solicited by the winery itself, I know that his review will be valid.
    This is exactly how I, a reader of wine blogs, feel about this situation. If I trust the writer, the circumstances behind the blog post are irrelevant.

  79. Thomas Pellechia - August 28, 2008

    Ah well, I wish I knew more about this whole thing, but it seems that I probably don’t want to know any more than I do now, which isn’t much.
    I only know the result, which seems to indicate that whatever took place probably wasn’t such a good idea in the first place. I assume that Tom posted his thoughts on the matter because he foresaw the results.
    But are you serious? A blogger has quite blogging because of this situation?
    Now that sounds absurd to me. I don’t see this particular incident as being anything more powerful than a bad idea that has sparked other people to express an opinion.

  80. 1WineDude - August 28, 2008

    Aw, man… here I was napping & thought maybe this whole thread was just a bad dream… wake up and check… dammit!
    Beer Wench – THANK YOU for bringing up the readers! What a concept… wine and readers…
    This discussion had great potential, but the initial post is not based on the facts as they actually transpired.
    SO… can we let this thread die now please, and start up a Forum post over at the OWC to delve into the Ethics questions, etc., in more detail, in a framework that is not tied into this (now slightly poisoned) thread?
    Pretty please?

  81. Strappo - August 28, 2008

    Great comment, Beer Wench. Clear-eyed and practical. You have to know by now that we wine bloggers are a notoriously self-referential, pierced-navel-gazing bunch.

  82. 1WineDude - August 28, 2008

    p.s. – Tom you look pretty tough in your blog pic, so let’s agree now we won’t be arm wrestling at the WBC…?

  83. Brian - August 28, 2008

    “Unfortunately it looks like we have lost one of the leading voices in wine blogging as a result. Hope everyone who judged before learning the facts is proud of themselves.”
    Ummm…I think I’ve had plenty of opportunity to read my share of posts and comments on this topic and still conclude unethical behavior for those who participated. Also, I would expect one of your leading voices not only to understand the ethics subject but to lead by example. Doesn’t seem to be the case here.
    Jeff, its nice that you are trying to take the blame, but writers and bloggers are responsible for their own actions. If I worked at a magazine and my editor asked me to do something that was unethical, I would refuse. All bloggers have the responsibility to question authority and make their own decisions when it comes to situations like this.

  84. David Topper - August 28, 2008

    I may be dense but I really don’t get this entire thread, why throw all wine bloggers under the bus? This seems to be a big to-do about nothing.
    Is Tom purposefully inflaming to bring page views to his site or is he trying to bring forward the positive ethics of wine bloggers into the open for all to see through discussion – getting the “objection” out of the way?
    Bottom line is; We’re dealing with real people here that have real feelings and great pride and passion in what they do… wine bloggers.
    A little sensitivity and understanding of the facts before presenting might go a long way (that’s for sure). To damn all wine bloggers is to damn the wine press in it’s entirety. You can’t call one into question without calling in the other.
    Nothing unethical about sending out wine… it can be poured down the drain. Nothing unethical about asking for a review within a certain period of time… nobody needs to comply. No blogger was approached to give a positive review. The wine could have been panned if it deserved as such. No payment was made, no advertising was provided, no gain for the blogger, (except potential increased page views of their blog… Tom?).
    I own a winery and I don’t believe in submitting our wine for review because I don’t care about their opinions. I care about the opinions of the people that buy my wines… and I listen to those opinions very carefully (funny thing, they pay my bills).
    Wine bloggers offer their opinions, just like Parker, Enthusiast, and others. If you don’t like Parkers opinion, don’t follow him. If you don’t like the opinions of a wine blogger, don’t follow them either. If you don’t want their unbridled opinion… don’t ask for it.
    What… wineries don’t send Parker and Enthusiast wines for review? Oh, there was a “timeframe” placed on reviewing this wine? Oh, bloggers “got it before the print press”. So what?
    At the very least, let’s be polite and recognize that that some of these folks (if not all) have great pride in what they do and how they do it. Let’s share ideas how to benefit everyone rather than insulting and calling ethics, integrity, and truth into question.
    What’s the beef? I must be dense.

  85. Mary B. - August 28, 2008

    Sheesh. Slow day, or what? Thanks, Tom, I certainly didn’t mean that the bloggers they’ve contacted AREN’T good, just that they are happy with a blitz. If Good Grape is taking care of their PR, then I am confident the PR offer is going to fine bloggers, and GG has no control over RS’s requirements. Believe it, I get PR releases, DVD’s and WINE SAMPLES! (I pass them on to Laura Ness.) All because I am on a media list. So all I’m saying is that it looked to me that RS was doing the same kind of mindless media blitz instead of getting involved in the wine community. But again, if the guy’s at GG are taking care of the program it’s probably more targeted than it initially came across to me.
    Thomas, I usually just close my eyes, take a deep breath, and send out some wine. Any encouragement and I’m there! Watch your mailbox, I’ll send you something unusual.

  86. The Beer Wench - August 28, 2008

    In my opinion, there is no question of ethics here.
    Wine bloggers are not aware of EVERY single wine in the world. Rodney Strong wanted to create awareness about a product. They wanted honest feedback from respected members of the wine community and a little viral PR in exchange for a free sample of the product.
    BIG DEAL. This is actually really cool for bloggers. It is just another opportunity for bloggers to engage in their hobby – aka blogging. They get to taste a product in which they are passionate about and then write about it.
    It is also a very smart viral marketing tactic. Everyone wins in the end. The winery gets to tell people about a new product. Bloggers get to sample and review a new wine. Awareness is generated and the blog reader has become a little more educated on wine.

  87. The Beer Wench - August 28, 2008

    PS: I will gladly accept free wine, thank you.

  88. 1WineDude - August 28, 2008

    Mary B. – Thanks for the clarification. I’m relieved that the storm I had anticipated did not come to pass!
    Anyone who is still claiming unethical behavior – you’re NOT paying attention.. tsk-tsk…
    Rodney Strong (that’s,like, the winery… remember, like, 12 yrs ago when this post started? there was actually a *wine release* that we were all talking about….)…
    Anyway, RS did not – that’s NOT as in, it was NOT the winery – impose any conditions that I am aware of, for receipt of Rockaway.
    Jeff (goodgrape.com – that’s, like, the editor in this context), provided the following terms:
    – “In agreement for receipt of the sample you agree to write a blog post on or around the week of August 18th. You do not have to write anything favorable”
    – “You can choose to write a review on the wine or if you choose not to review it you can write around any number of story angles about the wine/winery/concept, etc.”
    That’s it.
    So, I only had to agree to write a blog post about something connected to the experiment of RS sending a previously unreleased wine brand to bloggers before the big boy wine mags.
    I was SOOOOO in on that, it took me about 12 seconds to respond Yes. No alarm bells went off, no Spider Sense went tingling.
    Now, if that puts me in RS’ back pocket, then I am a stoopid MoFo’ because I can’t imagine *how*.
    Aside from the fact that I’m a doofus for continuing to try to convince everyone about this, do I at least have enough credibility and tenure now in the wine blogging space that you will consider, just for a wee small minute, that I might be giving you the facts of what *actually happened*?
    Because, like, I *was* actually there…

  89. The Beer Wench - August 28, 2008

    1WineDude is my hero.
    I would have done the E X A C T same thing.
    Absolutely ethical.

  90. Brian - August 28, 2008

    RS wanted a “little viral PR in exchange for a free sample”. ?????
    This isn’t the way it works – writers cannot accept a free sample in exchange for PR and coverage cannot be a condition of the receipt.

  91. Robert Larsen - August 28, 2008

    Wow. This is a heckuva read! Sorry I missed this site (there’s a shame on me). However, as I said in a post somewhere… Not hiding and happy to engage. To this long list of comments I say the following…
    There was never a requirement to “review.” There was a participation requirement to “write” and that’s taken on a whole life of its own. The “writing” could be anything, including a complete panning of the product or the company, and the requirement was agreed to by Jeff and me.
    I did outsource, but did homework on that. Jeff was/is a great resource, just like Tom is in the world of wine PR.
    I will happily take the slap on the back and the free lunch from those that offer that sentiment.
    I will offer lunch to all on the other side of that sentiment, cuz, frankly a group hug is NOW required.
    The traditional vs. bloggers question is answered this way by me. Not really a topic when you consider timing. Both are great, required and supported by me and Rodney Strong and that will certainly continue.
    Ultimately, the driving factor has always been, we are VERY excited about the wine and we believe in what’s in the bottle!

  92. Thomas Pellechia - August 28, 2008

    I don’t know most of the players in this scenario, which I guess might be a good thing. But winedude, I don’t think you get the point at all, and trying to belittle those who make the point is not a winning tactic.
    If you read Brian’s post, therein is the point:
    “RS wanted a “little viral PR in exchange for a free sample”. ?????
    This isn’t the way it works – writers cannot accept a free sample in exchange for PR and coverage cannot be a condition of the receipt.”
    This is of course the case when the writer is a professional journalist (not that all are squeaky clean). In any case, it likely does not hold true for blogger hobbyists. But I do believe that Tom’s original point had to do with bloggers wanting to be taken seriously. If they do, they should re-read Brian’s comment.

  93. Morton Leslie - August 28, 2008

    I think there is a danger in someone getting a mis-impression about a wine review if after paragraph after paragraph of superlatives about an “amazing” “incredible” “dream team” taking grapes from an “amazing” “ultimate” spot producing a “pioneering history-making” “stellar first effort”; and after making it clear the wine is allocated and only available from a mailing list… you put a link to sign up on that mailing list.
    Maybe it’s just me stuck in the old school, but it might be hard for some readers to distinguish that from advertising. At least there wasn’t the offer of a discount or a chotchke for mentioning where they read about it.

  94. David Cole - August 28, 2008

    RS wanted a “little viral PR in exchange for a free sample”. ?????
    This isn’t the way it works – writers cannot accept a free sample in exchange for PR and coverage cannot be a condition of the receipt.
    WOW! Brian, what planet are you on? Look at any magazine, newspaper and they do stories on stuff they got FREE!
    In the automobile section of newspapers when the writer does a review on a Porsche. Did the paper go buy a porsche? No Porsche paid for the writer to come out, drive the car, interview other drivers, etc, etc.
    In Magazines that do product reviews, did they run out and buy all that stuff? NO! Take Outside Magazine for example, when they review tents, backpacks, clothing etc. It was sent for free.
    But because another blogger wanted to show the impact that bloggers can make or whatever experiment he want the outcome to be getting free stuff is wrong?
    This is my last comment on this blog about another blog that got free wine, promised to write about it by a certain time, that I didn’t get and now I want to try! Nice work Jeff and RS!!

  95. Catie - August 28, 2008

    >>writers cannot accept a free sample in exchange for PR and coverage cannot be a condition of the receipt.
    So if that is true then writers would be buying their own books for review and movie passes for review and even a few free meals for a restaurant review.

  96. 1WineDude - August 28, 2008

    I’m outta here as well.
    Tom W. – I think (just my opinion) that I’ve endured having my ethics questioned with a decent amount of grace (well, a decent amount of grace for me, I know, but still…).
    I’m all for enduring that, if that’s what is takes to be a part of the great discussion and give and take that was part of the early comments on this thread.
    But things are turning too nasty for me now (i.e., suggestions that I’m attacking – I’m not – and critique of my blogging style – which truth be told I’d rather have sent to me on my blog, not here).
    It’s been a bit exasperating and I need a drink now.
    I’d suggest (humbly) that you lock the comments before things turn sour (I don’t want to have to compare you to the WS forums, after all! :).
    I have appreciated most of the dialogue here.

  97. Brian - August 28, 2008

    I’m from Neptune, and you? Nice to meet you David.
    David: “Brian, what planet are you on? Look at any magazine, newspaper and they do stories on stuff they got FREE!”
    David, let me say it again: Writers cannot accept a free sample in exchange for PR and coverage cannot be a condition of the receipt.
    PR can’t blatantly come out and ask someone to provide coverage in exchange for a free sample. PR might expect and anticipate a review in exchange of the gift, but it’s never a guarantee made by the writer. Let me put it a different way:
    PR letter: Hi Joe, I’d like to give you a free bottle of wine but only on the condition that you write about it and promote it. If you don’t want to guarantee you will write about it and promote it, I will not give you the sample.
    What don’t you get? Preconditions like this cannot exist.
    …and you are mixing apples with oranges by bringing in that automobile example.

  98. Tom Wark - August 28, 2008

    “>>writers cannot accept a free sample in exchange for PR and coverage cannot be a condition of the receipt. So if that is true then writers would be buying their own books for review and movie passes for review and even a few free meals for a restaurant review”
    There is a difference between having a book, wine, or pass to a movie sent to you then deciding whether or not you want to write about it on the one hand, and agreeing to write about the book, wine, movie as a condition of receiving it.

  99. el jefe - August 28, 2008

    About every 20 comments or so someone needs to weigh in with hope that we can actually have a conversation about the wine.
    Oh, and Robert’s last comment was spot on.

  100. Tripp Fenderson - August 28, 2008

    I’m just here to help Tom win that commemorative pin. 🙂

  101. Samir Bhavnani - August 28, 2008

    We’re certainly navigating new waters and this experiment is surely a success. I’ve never seen the online wine insiders so engaged and polarized over an issue. It was a very informative day on twitter!

  102. dhonig - August 28, 2008

    I have commented on this thread and followed this thread, and the bottom line is that it all sounds like bullshit, painted with the thick veneer of respect Tom gets for being who he is. The whole thing boils down to an claim that it is “unethical” to commit to writing an unbiased review as a condition to receive a bottle of wine. When pressed as to exactly why that is unethical, how it devalues the unbiased review, the answer is, uselessly, “because it is unethical.” Sure, it is said in different ways, but those ways are nonsensical. “It makes you an Rodney Strong employee.” Really? How? Did Dr. Debs get a W-2? Did she get a 1099 as a contractor? Does her family depend upon her ongoing relationship? No? I didn’t think so.
    But if you are willing to cut through the smoke, and the bootstrapping bullshit, you get to the real accusation, and “accusation” is the right word. (Please note, this is not from Tom, but from the thread):
    ** “Hi Joe, I’d like to give you a free bottle of wine but only on the condition that you write about it and promote it. If you don’t want to guarantee you will write about it and promote it, I will not give you the sample.
    What don’t you get? Preconditions like this cannot exist.” **
    Read that carefully, because it contains the presumption which is not only a lie, but a defamation as well. Nobody, let me repeat that, NOBODY, promised to “promote” the wine, only to review it.
    You see, the assumption here is that some very good people have plainly been accused of being dishonest or stupid.
    Tom, you are wrong. You are not only wrong, you are hurtful, condescending, and even pedantic.
    Fix it.

  103. Brian - August 28, 2008

    If you’d like, I could simply revise the comment for you and remove the “promote it” piece and the REVIEW they agreed to would still be A CONDITION. Coverage=Review. Get it?
    Writers cannot accept a free sample in exchange for PR and coverage cannot be a condition of the receipt.
    …and what’s so wrong with holding bloggers to a higher standard? It will only increase their credibility.

  104. Brian - August 28, 2008

    Oh, and by the way, that example you quoted of mine was simply that – a fictitious example that one might expect from a PR rep. I simply used it for folks that had a hard time comprehending “writers cannot accept a free sample in exchange for PR and coverage cannot be a condition of the receipt”.
    The sentence is not a lie or defamation of character because I wasn’t referring directly to the RS situation. It was simply an example to clarify my point. Duh.
    …and I’m still sticking to my guns that agreeing to do a REVIEW (good or bad) still constitutes A CONDITION.

  105. Tish - August 28, 2008

    This thread is threatening to bring down the entire Internet. Definitely a case of real growing pains for wine bloggers and wine-blog watchers… and the entier wine trade and traditional media. It may take weeks to gauge the lasting effects.
    It is no doubt a tribute to the vibrancy of the wine blogosphere. It’s here, it’s strong, let’s get used to it… and use it for focusing the collective energy of the people who write blogs and read them.
    Both the WS “award” scandale royale and the Rockaway release experiment have shown how important CARING about ethics is in the wine scene. I think caring about ethics is an important prerequisite for defining and embracing ethics. Anyone who has been around wine for a number of years knows that there are a lot more alarming things happening around us than these incidents; perhaps it was mostly a matter of timing that these sort of blew up.
    But I do think the reputation of bloggers has been greatly enhanced in the past couple weeks. No reason why that won’t continue either, as long as the people dedicated to blogging remain dedicated to ensuring a respect for ethics and decency in their posts and comments alike.

  106. ginevra (typepad community manager) - August 28, 2008

    you should totally get a t-shirt for reaching your 100th comment. send me an email and I’ll make it happen. 🙂

  107. Heloisa Fialho - August 29, 2008

    I’ve only read your twitter now and it seems I’m late: you’re over 100 already 🙂
    Anyway, I wanted to say thanks for giving us things to think about. In every field there are people who get too excited and, worst of a all, get personal. Apart from that, great discussion.
    Cheers from southern Brazil!

  108. St Vini - August 29, 2008

    The rationalization is so heavy in here you could cut it with a knife….
    There is a contimuum here, at one end you have totally blind reviews, never tasted twice, with the reviewer buying the sample. At the other end you have non-blind wines, supplied by the winery, poured at the winery during a three-course meal, with a check under the napkin, none of which is ever disclosed by the reviewer.
    This episode strikes me as somewhere in the middle, leaning toward the former as long as the relationship was fully disclosed.

  109. Marco - August 29, 2008

    All of this is enough to make me want to drink some red wine cum Humboldt tonight followed by some Passito de Pantelleria.

  110. Craig Camp - August 29, 2008

    There’s plenty to question about ethics when it comes to wine “journalism”. What about accepting trips, dinners and advertising? The acceptance of advertising from wine producers is one of the main ethical issues in wine writing today. It seems to me that getting upset about this issue with Rodney Strong seems a bit ridiculous when major wine publications accept $20,000 checks for full page ads from wine producers. If reviews can be taken seriously in publications accepting millions of dollars in advertising from wineries it seems taking a $75 bottle of wine is small potatoes.
    I’ll admit it seems to me that good judgment was not used here. Taking samples is one thing, but accepting any other kind of control over how and when you publish is a bad idea that can only undermine the writer’s credibility. Wine blogging is still new and such growing pains will happen, but it still pales in comparison to the ethics issues in the traditional wine press.

  111. Tish - August 30, 2008

    Craig’s point is right on. This $75 sample-for-review experiment is small patoots in the big picture of the wine media. Maybe the fallout of this will be e reminder of that fact. There are MANY ways in which influence is exerted on editorial content in the traditional media, and it is never as blatant as higher scores being given to advertisers.
    There are other, subtler but nonetheless significant ways of stroking those brands that support magazines. The best bloggers, fortunately, are not playing those games, which is why I tend to trust them way more than magazines these days (Wine & Spirits being a notable exception).

  112. Jon - August 30, 2008

    If we are calling into question the ethics of bloggers, why not address the biggest offender of them all, GARY V. who claims to be objective when he reviews wine but happens to directly profit from any review he makes by virtue of owning Wine Library. How can you objectively review the product you are selling?
    Would we trust a car dealer to objectively review the cars he has in inventory? Or a restaurant to review its own menu?
    I am really excited that there is an alternative to traditional media when it comes to learning about wine and BLOGGERS are that alternative, all I ask is that I know in what capacity they may be involved with the wine or winery that they review.

  113. Brian - September 1, 2008

    Jon, it’s about time someone addressed the Gary V. situation. I love his passion for the industry but we shouldn’t lose site of his objective(s) which is to sell [his] inventory. Food for thought.

  114. Joshua Smith - October 14, 2008

    Glad I found this post- albeit a little late- because this is something that I’ve questioned in taking a hard look at the differences between bloggers and traditional media as a PR maniac. I hope that blogs remain true to the game, and I see no reason that they wouldn’t, but that also doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t consider emails and suggestions from PR peeps trying to give them/suggest quality content.
    There’s always that fine line and I think a lot of uninformed PR people are trying to exploit bloggers as just another form of media without taking the time to understand the real deal things going on in these wonderful communities. Many are cutting corners without actually diving in and it’s a shame because they could be learning a great deal, while also giving clients really great feedback.
    It’s also wild that Rodney Strong is doing the same thing that Stormhoek did under Macloed. Pretty much exactly the same thing. Great thing to do, but not necessarily new.
    1WineDude has a point- do we really want to be on par with these media (probably not) and what happens if/when it does happen?
    I’m fascinated by this craziness. It’s unreal to have so much great information available all day, every day because others are taking the time to share. Right on to all of you out there.

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