Friendship, Blogging and Irony

I received a bottle of Rockaway Cabernet in the mail today, sent from Rodney Strong Vineyards. A big, heavy bottle. Big Punt. Cool looking label. I’m looking forward to trying it.

But, more important than the bottle’s girth was the opportunity it provided me to reflect on the nature of friendship, blogging and irony. All these things seemed to crash together a few days ago when I wrote on the details of a group blogging/review project involving Rockaway.

It’s Ironic that in accusing a set of wine bloggers, many of whom I call friends, of leaving their readers with an impression that could damage the reputation of  wine blogging, I did the very same thing.

My mistake was leaving the impression with you, my readers, that the bloggers involved in an experiment in group wine reviewing of one wine on several different blogs, were acting unethically. I should have known that sticking the caveat in the middle of the blog that they were not could never overcome the impression that the rest of my post left.

Of course it wasn’t just a simple mistake. The typos that regularly show up on this blog…those are mistakes. This impression I left that these bloggers were acting unethically was an insult and uncalled for. And, I should have known better.

On Randy Hall’s and Kaz Kasmier’s Radio Show "Wine Biz Radio", a little while back, I noted that wine bloggers find themselves at a critical and tenuous moment in their history. It is just now that wine bloggers are beginning to be shown a good deal of respect. Yet at the same time, they’ve not accumulated a sufficient cache of credibitly to easily overcome a credibilty or ethical crisis. This is all true. And this is why serious wine bloggers need to be very careful in the way they do the things they do. But this is also the reason my neglect and my mistake was was amplified: it could have easily led to the kind of crisis of credibilty that hurts people and, in this case, wine blogging.

To Deb at "Good Wine Under $20", Tim at "WineCast", Jeff at the "Good Grape", Joe at "1WineDude", Renee at "Feed Me/DrinkMe", Kori at "WinePeeps" and Megan at "WannabeWino", and to my readers, I offer my apologies.

FERMENTATION now attracts between 25,000 and 28,000 unique readers per month, a large percentage of which are involved in the wine trade . That’s pretty decent for a little wine blog. But it’s also a reminder of how careful we need to be if we take serioiusly this medium. I’m going to be more careful.

Despite my mistakes, I remain steadfast in the opinion that sound ethics of the type professional journalists have long championed must guide wine bloggers. And I believe it isn’t enough to simply adhere to those rules. It’s equally important to not even leave an impression, false or otherwise, that a blogger’s or, worse yet, bloggers’ ethics are compromised by them working on behalf of their subject rather than their reader.

I don’t believe any standardized "code of ethics" needs to be adopted by or foisted upon wine bloggers. The rules of the game that apply to those who write for an audience are well established, well vetted and in fine working order.

Simply, if wine blogging is going to continue down its path toward acceptabilty, influence, significance, and, most important, a high quality product, the trust of its readers will be the single most important factor in paving that road.

Posted In: Wine Blogs


15 Responses

  1. dhonig - September 11, 2008

    Well done, Tom. You are a mensch.
    I have given this whole kerfuffle a lot of thought lately. The heart of the “ethics” issue came down, as I read it, to a single point- that bloggers should not have committed to reviewing the wine. After a lot of thought, I respectfully suggest that journalism rules don’t work here and that the conclusion is exactly, perfectly, wrong. Please let me explain.
    Journalists at magazines like Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast get wine by the boatload. They don’t get it delivered at their homes, and they don’t see it as a favor to them, but as part of their job. For them, the rule works. But not that many bloggers get free wine, and when they do, there is a sense of appreciation in it. If the rule is, “drink it, but you don’t have to review it,” the result, perversely, will be that only the good reviews get posted, if for nothing else as a measure of appreciation. “It sure was nice of them to send me that,” the blogger might say, “so if I don’t have anything nice to say, I just won’t say anything at all. On the other hand, if the rule is you must review it, good or bad, then the blogger either must intentionally lie, a whole other level of malfeasance I’ve not seen from wine bloggers, or say to themselves, “well, they knew the rules going in, so here goes. …”
    I guess I’m trying to say the rules that apply to journalists can have a perverse impact in the blogosphere. If we hew to them simply because they already exist, we could do damage rather than good. In this particular case a “review if you want” rule might actually be MORE likely to skew to only the good reviews than a “you must review” rule is likely to skew the senses of the reviewer.
    Your thoughts?

  2. Erwin Dink - September 11, 2008

    Maybe I’ve had too much wine tonight but I’m not able to make sense of this post. You start by saying you’re sorry you accused bloggers of acting unethically but then you finish by saying bloggers need to adhere to the “sound ethics of the type professional journalists have long championed must guide wine bloggers. And I believe it isn’t enough to simply adhere to those rules. It’s equally important to not even leave an impression, false or otherwise, that a blogger’s or, worse yet, bloggers’ ethics are compromised by them working on behalf of their subject rather than their reader.”
    Which is it? Are you letting bloggers off the hook or not?

  3. ryan - September 12, 2008

    nice to see this post. the roundabout that has been this affair needs to end, and we all need to learn from it. Ethics matter, but what matters more are relationships and good content, something that this debate seems to have distracted us from.

  4. 1WineDude - September 12, 2008

    Thanks, Tom.
    I should also apologize for my “handing him is jock strap” comment on your blog. It was funny (to me), but totally ungracious (of me) to discuss my follow up like that.
    If I’ve learned anything from the brouhaha, it’s this:
    1) I love wine. I love talking about wine. And I really, really *don’t* love talking about talking-about wine.
    2) Be good to yourself. Be good to others. And build the wine community.
    *** To anyone out there who left snarky comments to/about me on Tom’s blog during this whole afair: *you* owe me an apology also – specifically, you owe me an apology for NOT leaving those comments on MY blog so that I could get the subsequent traffic spike!!! ***

  5. Dale Cruse - September 12, 2008

    I love a good punt.

  6. fredric koeppel - September 12, 2008

    Good post Tom, I think it will go a long way toward healing some hurt feelings.
    and dhonig, i think that bloggers should not regard samples as “favors,” or at least they should LEARN not to regard samples as favors but just part of the business and routine of writing about wine. That attitude change will held give wine bloggers the critical heft they need to be taken seriously.

  7. Lenn - September 12, 2008

    Well said (this time), Tom. I think the important thing is to remember that we’re all in this together, us bloggers. Whether we aspire to topple the glossies or just plain like keeping an online journal of our wine adventures, we shouldn’t let things like this get in the way…
    …of our friendships…or of our actual blogging.
    Looking forward to meeting so many of you in a little over a month!

  8. Tim Elliott - September 12, 2008

    Thank you Tom. I appreciate it. And let us know if you like Rockaway or not on Twitter.

  9. Tobias - September 12, 2008

    Nicely put. I’d think your community will benefit from this intermezzo in the long run, now that there has been hugging. You wine bloggers seem like a decent bunch.

  10. KenPayton - September 13, 2008

    No apologies will come from this quarter (except to Tom for weighing in on this matter).
    The subtext of this discussion, the id stuff, deep down, squirming under the mud and the muck, is the burning ambition of newbies to take down any and all.
    The downside of wine blogging is a newbies’ bald celebration of their face in the mirror. Narcissism=truth.
    Flaming becomes an art.
    I read a particularly ugly blog post today by one of the champions of the NEW way. It seems Parker is aging with his audience. Out with old, in with the new. No respect is due to the gentleman. Fathers and sons… Generational nonsense, as old as Oedipus. That newbies stand on the shoulders of giants is a matter of complete indifference.
    Wicked, ungrateful children.
    Gotta go do a punch down at the winery. Attend to our biodynamic Zin. Russian River Pinot needs a look. Pinot Gris should be chilled. Epernay? Viognier seems dark. Paso Mourvedre coming in the a.m. Santa Rita Pinot in less than a week.
    How can working at a winery compare to a blogger’s musings? Can’t.
    Makes me anxious…
    Think I need a blogger to make sense of my experience.

  11. KenPayton - September 13, 2008

    And this:

  12. CJ - September 13, 2008

    Ken – your comments sound a bit out of touch. Is Tom really saying that the “new kids on the block” are dealing with ego problems, or are trying to deliberately disrespect those that have brought wine writing to where it is today? I didn’t take those points from Tom’s posts on the matter at all.
    I’ve enjoyed blog posts about wine matters from established industry veterans (Tom, Steve Heimoff, others), as well as by newer (presumably younger) writers (Alder Yarrow, Tim Elliot, Joe Roberts). Stylistically very different, but therein lies some of the charm.
    The giants of wine writing have paved the way for these “new kids”. Admittedly, they could show more respect for their forerunners, but the same could be said of the forerunners having room to show more welcome to the newcomers.
    I’ve seen both the “older” and the “younger” writers quoted out of context by the other, and both parties guilty of casually glancing through each others’ articles, attacking but missing the salient points that each have to offer.
    I suppose it’s a two-way street – and a narrow one at that, so each side needs to give way once in a while.

  13. 1WineDude - September 13, 2008

    Hey Ken – thanks for reading!

  14. Dylan - September 14, 2008

    I remember when everything seemed to be coming to it’s final head on Tim’s comments at wine cast. I’m really glad to see this and think it’s a great step forward as a post.

  15. richard - September 14, 2008

    Regardless of how you accepted a free bottle of Rodney Strong , the fact that you look forward to having a wine from this producer casts more of a shadow over your blog than anything else. Rodney Strong has produced nothing but obvious and safe wine for the masses for over a decade. Rick Sayre may be a nice guy, but his boss demands run-of-the-mill wine for the lowest common denominator. Seriously, for someone who has been in the industry as long as you, why would you look forward to tasting something like this?

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