Here is the Ultimate Beverage Publication Conflict of Interest

CONFLICT OF INTEREST red Rubber Stamp over a white background.

The sine qua non of publications that review and critique wines such as The Wine Spectator, Wine & Spirits, Wine Enthusiast, Wine Advocate, Vinous and others is integrity. They must be seen as incorruptible. Readers must believe their reviews are untainted by conflict of interest.

So, imagine the following. One day you read that E & J Gallo Winery has purchased, say, The Wine Spectator. In the announcement by Marvin Shanken, who is staying on as publisher, we learn that “under the new ownership, nothing about the Wine Spectator’s ratings or the rating process will change and the same high level of integrity will remain in place.”

In the many years that the Wine Spectator has been a highly prominent and influential wine ratings publication nothing has tainted its integrity when it comes to ratings. But under the scenario laid out above, would anyone remain sanguine about the purpose and integrity of the publication? Would anyone continue to give the benefit of the doubt to the publication’s ratings and reviews after the largest private wine company in the world purchased the publication?

On February 3 it was announced that AB-In Bev (Budweiser) had purchased full ownership of Portland-based RateBeer.com, one of the most successful and well-regarded peer beer rating websites in the world. The purchase was made by AB InBev’s ZX Ventures, a company-held incubator and investment arm. Still…Budweiser.

This comes after AB In-Bev had purchased a minority stake in RateBeer.com in 2016, a fact, by the way, that was not disclosed for almost 12 months after the investment.

With AB-InBev’s purchase of the beer rating website, there is no question that visitation to RateBeer.com will decline. Folks who currently use it regularly to post reviews and those that read it periodically will migrate to competitors like UnTapped where the clear and obvious stench of conflict of interest is not so strong.

It’s practically a law of nature. In an environment where digital citizens can take their business and eyeballs someplace else in the time it takes to click a mouse, the slightest tainting of a trust-based business’ integrity will result in increased emigration to a more trustworthy concern.

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2 Responses

  1. Peter Ricci - February 6, 2019

    In the 1970s there was a big push by Gallo to put wine in grocery store in New York State. The action resulted in a lot of lobbying by both sides of the issue. One morning the lead lobbyist for the retail liquor stores received a phone call from the committee that would send the bills to the floor for a vote. It appeared that a last minute compromise was reached. Wine in grocery stores for tobacco products in liquor stores. The liquor store lobbyist was shocked to hear of the compromise. He knew nothing about it! The committee was told that Marvin Shanken had brokered the deal. Marvin Shanken, just failed to tell the liquor stores or the grocery stores. Why would a simple wine rating magazine publisher get involved in the politics of it all?

  2. Doug - February 18, 2019

    “Conflict of Interest” sums it up! Rate Beer is crowd sourced, so as long as no-one is playing with the results in the background … there is the trust issue. In-bev/AB could actually improve Rate Beer … they seem to attract more users and volume could be a good thing. However, there may be fewer beer-geeks, more mass produced beer drinkers and that would surly change perceptions of what’s good and bad. Hmmmm.
    As with all professional wine reviewers there are those that match your taste and those that don’t. Robert Parker, prior to selling, seemed to match my taste. Something changed post sale. Vinous seems to hit the mark more often for me today. Global Wine Score is a great resource. Wine-searcher also. Cellar Tracker gives the masses a voice. Gambero Rosso has a great tasting process that leads to a believable Italian wine hierarchy. At the end of the day there are those that love or are happy with a cheap beer or wine. There are those that want high end beer and wine and love the nuances, history, natural production of both products and will pay for it. Find your own taste, find resources you trust to lead you to more and embrace it!


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