WineBlogEthics?

The following were posted online by two separate wine bloggers.

“Wine consumers basically want to know two things: which wines they should buy and why, and which wines they should not buy and why.”

“I blog to have fun, get some freebies and maybe meet some cool chicks.”

I hope the first one is not exactly the case. I have to hope that, since I don’t tell other people what I think they should or should not buy or why they should or shouldn’t buy the wines.

My aim for this blog was to dispel as many vinofictions as I could, because having been in the wine business for 25 years, I know that many fictions float about.

I’ve always believed, and practiced my belief as a wine salesman, that information is much better than opinion; it builds confidence in both the informer and the informed by establishing a give and take relationship. Opinions often boil down to a give relationship without much care on the part of the giver for what the taker gets—and of course, this is only my opinion.

As for the second blogger comment, I do hope it was posted in jest, but the context in which it was posted leads me to believe otherwise.

How can you measure whether or not wine has made it into mainstream American culture?

You measure by the level of media coverage wine receives, and lately that coverage has been a sorry affair.

In the last few months major wine frauds have been uncovered and explained. Frauds are always with us, in or out of the wine world, but since wine is now a mainstreamer, the fraud is blown into a major media frenzy, with a book already out and, I’m sure, a potential movie in the pipeline.

More recently, the Wine Spectator made news after someone scammed the magazine and exposed what many perceive as the magazines’ own scam.

The Spectator has had a program for years that accepts on good faith the faxed copy of a restaurant’s wine list, accompanied by a check for $250, for consideration of that wine list for the magazines Award of Excellence, or some such lofty title.

Many of us in the business haven’t given the program much credit, since we knew how it worked, but consumers didn’t seem to understand how it worked. Many of them assumed that the restaurant earned rather than paid for the award. And so, a gentleman scammer created a phony restaurant with a phony wine list that included wines the Wine Spectator had earlier decided were mediocre. Yep. He got his award.

The scammer did a few things that weakened his case in my view, but he did create a story that enlightened consumers.

In the hullabaloo over the incident, I don’t think anyone commented on the complicit nature of all those restaurants over all those years who paid their dues, got their award, and proudly lied to the public about the stature behind the award, but that’s a story on which only someone with a brain like mine seems to focus.

More recently than the Spectator fiasco, blogger Tom Wark, a PR specialist, took some other bloggers to task for reviewing wines after agreeing to preconditions. This incident is where the two quotes above can be found among hundreds of other quotes—the link is below. Wark’s initial comments about journalistic ethics began a torrent.

My view is that bloggers (or anyone) who review wine under preconditions may in fact be sincere, and they may even have a readership that doesn’t mind; they also may have valid or invalid opinions. What they don’t seem to have is an understanding either of journalism or of ethics.

If you follow the link (two links, actually), you don’t need me to recount what was posted or a he said/she said play by play. Still, I want to tell you what that thread has made me think about.

Back in the Stone Age, when the new invention of television was being sold to consumers, the major promise being made for the medium was that it will be the most innovative force for imparting information since the written word. The famous newsman, Edward R. Murrow, warned that is what television can be, but only if it is handled correctly. He warned what it would become if handled incorrectly.

Needless to say, Murrow was prescient, to a fault. Today, the words television and information hardly belong in the same room, let alone the same sentence.

Can anyone recall the promises being made when the Internet made its splash in the world? It was something along the lines of the greatest source for information ever invented. Well, yes, it is, but what’s the value of much of that information? As an author who must do a lot of research, I never trust the Internet alone as a source.

Wine blogging may have become another one of those information sources that must be taken with a large grain of salt, at least that’s how I’d feel if every blogger told me what the second blogger quoted above posted online.

I want to believe that wine blogging can be an alternative to the many bloviators that have infiltrated the wine magazine world. But I am slowly coming to the conclusion that I may be suffering from a case of wishful thinking.

In the course of that thread in the link below, I watched reasonable dialogue be overcome by pride, fear, defensiveness, childishness, and even a certain bloviation of its own making.

My position on journalism and blogging is made plain with my posts, so I won’t go over that now. But the whole affair certainly makes me wonder how long it will be before the slackers, PR stunt people, and overall opinionated children will leave the blogging stage and professionals will take over.

As long as wine blogging is a self-appointed profession, odds are that professionals may never take over. Maybe what is needed is a task force to develop criteria for creating not only a wine blogger’s professional code of ethics but also a market for wine bloggers so that those of us engaged in it can be paid as professionals rather than have to do it for love and small perks.

Newspapers and magazines have of course made that attempt, but those venues are failing at their main business; newspapers may not be around much longer and wine magazines long ago abdicated their earlier position as sources of information. Today, they are mainly lifestyle periodicals almost completely in thrall to their advertisers.

The crash of newspapers and magazines isn’t entirely their fault. Consumers, it seems, don’t have much attention span for information. They want quick and easy advice, and adding a celebrity crack up, to spice it up, doesn’t hurt the periodical.

Maybe the whole concept of informing the public has run its course. Maybe people don’t want information—they want to be led.

Maybe I would have more fun with my blog if I start accepting free wine—maybe I’ll even meet a few cool chicks, although my wife might have something to say about that.

Maybe a code of ethics for wine bloggers is a waste of time against the forces of the marketplace.

Maybe wine really has made it into mainstream America—maybe it’s time to move on.

First link


Second Link

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
August 2008. All rights reserved.

2 Responses to “WineBlogEthics?”

  1. Stu says:

    Bravo. Everyone needs to chill out and resolve this as a wine blogging community. Way too much mud slinging in a public forum. If wine blogging is going to evolve and achieve even a drop of the credibility desired, then ethics and rules need to be put into place for ‘everyone’. As jeff at Goodgrape suggested, perhaps some sort of certification or “registered” wine blogger distinction.

  2. Thomas says:

    I’m not certain what the fix is, yet I am certain that ethics is and should be a concern–but I feel that way about life in general, which may be why I am a political cynic!