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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?

Comments (19)

christine lieu wrote:
09.01.06 at 12:04 AM

what do I think? Awesome! Fun! Just subscribed to your RSS feed and I look forward to learning more about wine like any good nerd would -- by reading about it ;p

Mariëlla wrote:
09.01.06 at 12:40 AM

Alder, thanks! Allthough I don't have your 'problems' and probably never will have at the same scale, occassionally conflicts of conscience begin to arise. You've summed it all up very well, and it helps me greatly in a few decisions I will have to make in the coming days and weeks.

brett wrote:
09.01.06 at 6:08 AM

Sounds good Alder. My only question: do you let the winery know what you thought on wines they send you that you did not care for (and thus do not publish a review)? I'm thinking constructive criticism here, not just you sending the winery a note saying their product stinks.

David wrote:
09.01.06 at 7:15 AM

I had not thought about publishing a code of ethics, or even writing it down for that matter. I also have similar situations across various product lines and your code is very similar to the process I follow.

Because I also write about places I do accept invitations but strictly adhere to "I will only write if I like it." I also avoid any negativity about products, places, and people.

I think I will follow your lead and try to actually write down the rules of conduct and publish them. Great idea!

beau wrote:
09.01.06 at 8:08 AM

Alder, I commend your statement of ethics. It's good for people reading your wine reviews to know where you stand w/r/t such things. I must however smile a bit as it seems many bloggers feel compelled to clearly state their ethics (well they should). On the other hand, I don't recall reading any statement of ethics from those in the mainstream wine press.

On a related note, I understand (believe me!) none of us are really making serious coin from wine blogging. Thus I put more stock in the reviews from bloggers I read regularly than mainstream pubs. In bloggi veritas (or something like that).

Alder wrote:
09.01.06 at 8:49 AM

Brett,

Good question. I do not, as a rule, send feedback to every winery that sends me a sample. Many of them don't even know that I have gotten samples of their wines, as they are sent by their publicists or marketing agents. Occasionally, however, individual winemakers will arrange send me their wines, and we will correspond about them. In many of these cases, I will tell the winemaker if I am not going to review the wines and why.

09.01.06 at 10:48 AM

Great writeup--it's cool that you have a code like this. I saw that you will ask for press passes to tastings, and that you accept bottles of wine for review. I was curious if you ever solicit bottles of wine for review. I'm curious because it relates to a review I read and a question I asked on Meg Hourihan's blog here: http://www.megnut.com/2006/07/grassfed-montana-beef-from-la-cense

Alder wrote:
09.01.06 at 10:58 AM

Thanks Sam.

I have never called up a winery or sent them an e-mail specifically requesting that they send me samples. However, I do interact with hundreds of wineries a year at major public and trade tastings where I spend a bit of time talking with winemakers, winery PR people, and owners, and sometimes if they express enthusiasm for what I am doing on Vinography, and I am interested in their wines, I will tell them that I accept samples for review. Which technically is a solicitation of a sort.

Per the very good discussion you reference on Megnut, I explicity tell wineries that my acceptance of a sample, even one that I solicit, is no guarantee of a review. I do not feel obligated to say anything publicly about a product that I have received, even if I have requested it. Though to Brett's question above, I would likely contact the winery and give them my feedback if I had actively solicited the sample and then decided it didn't meet my standards.

Alder wrote:
09.01.06 at 11:03 AM

Oops, you know, after I wrote that reply to Sam, I realized that I was in error. I have requested samples on a single occasion. Recently I was asked by an editor to write a piece on Kosher wines and had a very difficult time finding more than one or two in local stores (which I purchased with my own $$). I then did some resarch on the web and sent out some e-mails to producers and importers asking for samples for the story.

I didn't want to do it, but it was the only way I could feel comfortable writing about the subject, as I didn't want to base my opinions on the three wines I was able to find in San Francisco.

Jonah wrote:
09.01.06 at 1:47 PM

I think that this is an excellent outline of your ethics and a very smart thing to add to your site. Precisely because of my lack of a stated policy, we had a questionable incident recently where one of our authors reviewed a meal without revealing that it was comped by the restaurant. In the end, I removed the post entirely and wrote a brief note to our readers to let them know that we believe we should be upfront with them.

I hope you don't mind if I use your statment for inspiration to write my own!

Jathan wrote:
09.01.06 at 3:51 PM

Nice job as always. Perhaps this post should have a permanent link to it from your home page...

Anonymous wrote:
09.02.06 at 1:29 AM

Dear Alder, thank you very much for the writing of your rules. You are an under-payed journalist, BUT you have (because you are prepared, you write in English and you live in zinzabel's country!) a very important impact in the construcion of opinion concerning wine in the Anglo-saxon side of the Earth. And it's very important to know your statements about privacy and judgement's freedom. I'm a goog payed (in Spain, certainly, not in the USA) professor in an academic world not belonging to wine, but I wish to do something similar in this spanish-writing side of the Earth. I wish to move to your positions, even knowing that I never earn a lot of money. You are a really good model to me, Alder. Thanks, again!
Joan (just returned from a long Mallorca's holydays, with a lot of local wines commentaries!)

Terry Hughes wrote:
09.02.06 at 6:43 AM

Alder, this is quite a document. Quite comprehensive and a terrific model for all of us bloggers. (I like Beau's wry comment though.)

Now, I should have such ethical problems thrown in my face...please, someone, tempt me.

Alex Walker wrote:
09.02.06 at 11:04 AM

Great to see you making your ethical stance clear.

Lenn wrote:
09.03.06 at 5:19 AM

As always...Alder leads the way. This is a great post and something that I think I will borrow from heavily as I craft my own version. It's great to be so up front and "out there" with your own personal rules.

I do request samples regularly from local wineries but just as often they send them without me asking. Do people think it is less-than-ideal to be requesting samples?

Believe me, if I could afford to buy every wine that I review I would...

I do, also, attend winery events...but 99.999% of the time it is for one of my print outlets. I think writing for several local print pubs makes it hard NOT to attend some of these events, even if most of them are rather lame.

Mary wrote:
09.06.06 at 1:38 PM

I met you at the Food Blogger picnic.

This is relatively unchartered territory for food and wine bloggers, and you are putting thought and care into how you operate. Cheers!

Paul wrote:
10.10.06 at 2:43 PM

Hi Alder,
I totaly agree, we need to get this out into the open. No more snobery

Wonderful work! This is the kind of information that are
meant to be shared around the internet. Disgrace on Google for no longer positioning this submit higher!
Come on over and talk over with my site . Thank you =)

04.11.14 at 10:45 PM

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a great author. I will remember to bookmark your
blog and will come back later on. I want to encourage one to continue your great posts, have a nice
weekend!

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