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08.31.2006

My Ethics as a Wine Blogger

In the past, I've talked a bit about the mechanics of how I review wine here at Vinography -- my use of a deliberately vague 10 point scale, a preference for tasting blind, etc. But I haven't talked a lot about the fuzzier side of wine reviewing. Like the cases of wine I get in the mail; the wining and dining opportunities; the press passes; the press junkets; the comfort women. OK, so no one has ever sent me a strip-o-gram. But I have been offered nearly everything else under the sun and I have some pretty strict rules for myself on how to handle it. I've never documented them before, though, so I thought I might capture them for myself, and at the same time share them with you.

VINOGRAPHY'S CODE OF ETHICS

Wine Samples
I get a lot of wine samples in the mail. I accept wine and sake samples from anyone who wants to send them to me. I taste every single bottle that I am sent, under controlled conditions (my kitchen, cellar temperature), and when convenient, I taste blind. I review only the wines that I like, and I always disclose as part of the review if I have received the wine as a press sample.

The wines I get that are nasty go down the drain after tasting. The ones that are decent, I try to give away to friends or bring to my book group or a party. Sometimes, if I get a really great bottle, Ruth and I will throw it in the fridge and enjoy it over a few days.

Product Endorsement
I accept wine related products for consideration of review, but I will never accept payment for the endorsement of a product and will only ever recommend products that I have tried myself and think are great.

Advertising
I accept advertising on Vinography, because, hey, no one else seems to be paying me for all this writing. It helps cover the cost of hosting.

I do not and will never accept advertising from wineries or conglomerate companies who own wineries. I take what I do seriously enough to want to avoid any and all potential conflicts of interest of the sort that tend to plague the glossy magazines.

I may elect to take advertising from wine marketing bureaus that represent an entire region, provided that they do not have any financial interest in any of the wineries they represent.

Affiliate Programs
I participate in affiliate programs through which I offer links to products, including wines, that I have chosen to review. I receive fees when users choose to click through these links and make purchases. I consider such links to be a public service to my readers, and another miniscule way of getting paid something for the hard work I put in here.

Winery and Winemaker Events and Meals
Like many journalists, I get invited to a lot of meals on the town, from individual lunches with winemakers to lavish press dinners, to VIP open houses at wineries. These are one of the most attractive and pleasurable parts of being an underpaid journalist, or so I imagine. My personal rules for such things are as follows:

1. I will meet a winemaker for lunch or dinner only if I have previously tasted and reviewed their wines on my own terms in a public or anonymous setting, and I will always pay my own way, including my portion of any corkage should wine be opened at the meal.

2. I do not attend VIP or press events at or thrown by any individual winery. The only time I have ever done so was in order to report on what happens at the individual winery parties as part of Auction Napa Valley. I imagine that will be the only case. I will attend events that involve a significant number of multiple wineries.

Winery Visits
I will visit individual wineries on my own terms, and nearly always anonymously. Sometimes, anonymity is impossible, however, as I'm becoming more of a familiar face in the wine world. There are times when I must disclose my name and sometimes my affiliation with Vinography in order to get access to certain wineries. I consider to be a regrettable, but necessary evil in order to inform my readers who likely would not have a chance to experience the wines of certain producers.

Press Passes to Public and Trade Tastings
I regularly receive and solicit press passes (i.e free tickets) to large public and trade tastings for multiple wineries.

Press Junkets / Trips
I have never and will never take a trip anywhere that is paid for by an individual or group of individual wineries. I have never been offered, but would consider should the situation arise, accepting an expense paid trip (to someplace I wanted to go in the first place) that was sponsored by a regional marketing organization, like the Australian or Chilean Wine Bureau, by way of hypothetical example.

Scores and Prices
My wine reviews and my wine scores do not incorporate any notion of the wine's price in the score. While I will occasionally point out the extreme value of a wine in my commentary, I leave it up to my readers to determine their own sense of what represents good value.

Linking, Credit, and The Blogosphere
I will always provide links to the sources for stories, ideas, and content I discover on the web. If I read a news story on someone else's blog, I always place a link to their blog thanking them for the tip in addition to linking to the original source. I accept and provide trackback links to other blogs, and for the time being, I will link to any wine blogger who has a blog and would like to be listed on my site.

Editorial Control and Comments
I exercise editorial control over the comments that appear on this blog. In particular I edit (and often delete) comments which are purely self promotional, whether they be for someone's personal blog or for someone's wine. There is a gray area when it comes to people making wine recommendations in the comments, and I deal with those on a case-by-case basis. If I ever suspect anyone of shilling for a wine I will likely delete the comment, rather than let Vinography become a free-for-all of self promotion. I also edit or sometimes delete comments to excise personal and ungrounded attacks on winemakers or on other commenters on the blog. Apart from the above, however, I welcome, encourage, and tolerate all opinions, including those which may hold me to be an idiot.

General Disclosure
I will attempt to be as open as possible in identifying any issue which might lead anyone to wonder about possible conflicts of interest between myself and the wines I write about. If I review the wines of someone who is a close personal friend, I will disclose that fact, and other such things as they arise.

No Bullshit
Finally, I commit to keeping this blog and the writing I do here a true expression of my opinions, feelings, experiences, thoughts, ramblings, and learnings. I will never put forth content or opinions under my name that are not my own. I take responsibility for everything here on this site.


I hold and observe these ethics with the care and consideration of hoping to be a reliable and trusted source of objective advice, free from conflicts of interest that might bias or even seem to bias the recommendations or opinions I may offer to the public.

What do you think?

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.