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09.29.2010

Winemaker Sues Anonymous Commenters on Wine Blog

Judge using his gavelAbout a month ago, my friend and fellow wine writer Blake Gray wrote a piece on his blog about a visit with Charles Smith of K Vintners in Washington. Smith is a larger than life winemaker with a reputation that is even larger (and more controversial). Several anonymous commenters on Blake's piece took swipes at Smith, and Blake announced today that Smith is suing those commenters and requesting that Google (who hosts Blake's blog) disclose the IP addresses of those anonymous commenters so they can be brought to court.

I don't know about you, but this is damn interesting stuff.

For starters Smith's legal action doesn't exactly dispel characterizations of what might charitably be described as his irascible personality. The lawsuit is likely to not only shine a spotlight of attention on the very comments he is upset about, but also to bring all the rest of his detractors into the fore, many of whom I assume will not be frightened off by the threat of legal action. My own experiences in Washington exposed me to a number of stories about him that make it clear he has made a lot of enemies.

Secondly, I believe the lawsuit won't go anywhere. Google is not going to cough up the IP addresses of the folks that commented on Blake's blog for the same reason they're not going to give up the IP addresses of the people who write blog posts alleging that our current President is a Muslim, foreign-born national (and much worse). The Internet seems to have adjusted the threshold for libel these days, and especially behind a curtain of anonymity, even outlandish lies about someone aren't really prosecuteable. Just ask all the businesses who agonize over very negative reviews on Yelp that aren't based on real facts.

Mr. Smith comes off quite badly in all this, and would be best served to drop the whole thing, though I suspect that's not necessarily in his nature.

Read the full story on The Gray Market Report.


Comments (27)

Jan wrote:
09.30.10 at 8:34 AM

Wow, after reading both blogs and comments to follow, this guy has already put a big target on his back by his outlandish comments at events like Hospice du Rhone why is he continuing the onslaught with a lawsuit that is unjust and even more ridiculous. I have not met the man so I can't speak for his character or any of the claims people have made. But I know this is true, if you can't handle what people have to say about you, don't put yourself way out there like you've clearly been doing since the start of your career.

Dan Sims wrote:
09.30.10 at 1:43 PM

Fascinating scenario and one more than likely aimed at publicity more than anything (you'd hope). What better way to annoy more people/create more enemies than by such a stunt.

Can you counter sue for being a _______ (ahem).

Jan wrote:
09.30.10 at 4:43 PM

@dan Good thing you left your name otherwise you might have mr. Smith pressuring google for your IP address lol

Brian W Love wrote:
09.30.10 at 7:09 PM

Total jerk. I dropped off his list due to this silliness. Plenty of other decent winemakers to support. if this is a pr stunt, it's failing badly. Sue me. full name above.

1WineDude wrote:
10.01.10 at 4:35 AM

I've been scratching my head on this one for a few days now. Seems it wasn't enough for Smith to dispel any false claims in the comments by correcting them in the comments of that same post.

Instead, it seems he wants to stimulate the economy by paying lawyers.

I can say one thing - while he's got every right to do it, he's probably never going to appear on 1WineDude.com because I don't want readers having to worry about that kind of crap.

Bill Wilson wrote:
10.01.10 at 8:25 AM

As a lawyer, I can tell you this will likely go nowhere. Hopefully Google will move to quash any subpoena or at least notify the anonymous commenters of the subpoena. Unless this plaintiff can show some actual defamation or other legally cognizable wrong, that subpoena shoud be DOA.

Randy wrote:
10.01.10 at 2:47 PM

Good to hear cowards who hide yet liable others are getting called out. How wimpy is one who rants without offering their name.

Hope Mr. Smith wins.

Brian love wrote:
10.01.10 at 7:57 PM

Then give your full name 'randy' and learn how to spell libel. Actually you mean slander.

Chris Mauzy wrote:
10.01.10 at 8:16 PM

Fascinating scenario and one more than likely aimed at publicity more than anything (you'd hope). What better way to annoy more people/create more enemies than by such a stunt.

Randy wrote:
10.02.10 at 1:56 PM

Brian,

First off smart guy, click on my name and you'll see who I am. The link was there from the first post. With some folks, I guess you n e e d t o s p e l l i t o u t.

Secondly, slander is when you TALK about someone and Liable is when you WRITE something unsubstantiated about someone. Here, the case is about people writing possibly incorrect things about another. Before you write about things you know nothing about, I recommend you get your facts at least semi-straight.

My point is hiding behind anonymous means is not the way to do this blog thing.

Randy wrote:
10.02.10 at 2:02 PM

Having done a brief search for "Brian Love" nothing pops up other than a Brina Love who's a prof in Michigan. Without a direct link from this blog as you failed to provide, one can only conclude that you are not Brian Love and in fact someone else... or you Mr Love do not have a single online thread anywhere thus the lack of "hits" upon a google search. But this is unlikely.

10.03.10 at 12:07 PM

If the standard for judgment is the preponderance of the evidence, then Mr. Smith it would seem that Mr. Smith is not a nice person. Undoubtedly, he greatly angered the person or persons who attacked him on the blog post about him.

But, there is a point to be made here, and Randy has made it. If someone has something nasty to say about someone else in a public forum like a wine blog, then they ought to have the guts to put a name/a real name on those comments.

As one who has clashed repeatedly with Randy over some of his comments about what is "the way" to make wine, I can say that Randy has never hidden his identity. I endorse his call here for transparency. Ultimately, the blog in question cut off the anonymous comments. No one wants to see censorship in the wine blogosphere, but it was timely and appropriate in this case. And the best way to insure against it to own up to your comments and keep them factual.

We can criticize each other all we want as long as we are civil, transparent and back up our criticisms with facts--as some on the blog in question clearly did while others clearly did not.

Christopher Robinson wrote:
10.03.10 at 10:45 PM

This is not going to go away. There was a report in the Financial Times this week of a bed and breakfast place in the UK bringing in the police over a comment posted by a Trip Advisor posting that said the owners were probably showing racism in their reaction to the poster. Let's face it lots of bloggers are getting away with murder in their commentary and quite often you wonder what motivates their destructive behaviour? And guys a bit of civility is expected on this site!

Bill Crane wrote:
10.03.10 at 11:18 PM


Why is wine writer two words, yet winemaker, one?

10.04.10 at 7:36 AM

I might have to tread more carefully in the future about my sometimes less than flattering comments on wines...

If a winemaker can sue a blogger (or blog's contributors) for not liking his wines (or the winemaker), it sets a very bad precedent. I reserve the right to say what I like, even if said winemaker has bought me a nice lunch.

10.04.10 at 7:38 AM

To answer Bill Crane's question:

It's to do with the number of brain cells typically found in either species.

10.04.10 at 10:42 AM

I agree that free speech rights of bloggers and blog commentators are sacrosanct, but the trend towards more uncivil discourse does bother me quite a bit. Call me old fashioned, but the reason I suspect most of us got into the business in the first place was because of the civilizing, socializing values we find in fine wine.

We can agree to disagree all we like about wine the same we can can disagree about music, literature, films, or any art or craft, but why spoil the fun by reducing discussions to the same type of name calling and callous personal attacks associated in, say, political arenas? Isn't "real" life bad enough?

As for Mr. Smith: obviously he reaps what he sows. I've loved some of his wines, and have despaired in many of them. I was just as uncomfortable as the next person observing his behavior at the last HdR; and someone (like his lawyer) should have advised him that if you can't take the heat, don't blow so much out...

But in the end I still say to everyone else: let Charles be "Charles." It's individuality, after all, that we love in wines worth talking about, and we can always love it or leave it. So let's leave it, and simply wait for the next installment... but in civilizing fashion, folks!

Pam T. wrote:
10.04.10 at 11:29 AM

Let me say first I respect & agree with the 1st Amendment but I am from the U.K. & they has very strict libel laws in place (there are arguments both for & against this which I will not elaborate on here). There is no law against eccentrics (of which there are many)but there are unwritten laws of 'common decency' & life is much more pleasant if people (including eccentrics)try to uphold those when in public + yes, they should remember that if you 'give it' you must be able to 'take it' in return, whether that's wine industry or whatever.

Jim Fiolek wrote:
10.04.10 at 2:51 PM

"Anonymity is the glass house in which we all throw stones." --Jim Fiolek

I'm with you, Randy. If you talk the talk - walk the walk.

10.04.10 at 6:29 PM

I always think it's funny that people are so brave on line because there anonymous .I believe there is a loss of civility and really don't pay attention to anything that is done in the ether.

Big Daub wrote:
10.04.10 at 10:11 PM

I find Charles' schtick to be a lot like a sore tooth. For the life of me, don't understand why I must constantly run my tongue over it to remind me it hurts.

As Nirvana gave glam rock a much-needed enema, for wine, the same can be said for Charles. There's always been this stuffy, stodgy, elitist intimidation that has prevented Gen X (and their younger siblings, the Millennials) to reach out to wine. It could be argued that (insert 'Dumb As A Fox' strategy here) formulating a pudgy-foulmouthed-drunk/creepy uncle (wearing a Ramones tee) is pure marketing genius.

I give you the clip below. Part John Belushi (Animal House: "They took the whole bar!"), part Master Po and certainly... part Chewbacca.

Warning: You may feel icky after viewing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NFOUVixo4Ek

vin cotto wrote:
10.05.10 at 6:21 PM

charles smith will go on doing as he always has and as a result, more and more of what he deserves will come his way. he is arrogant and i will shortly and thankfully have no more of his foolishly overmanipulated swill in my cellar.

Alder Yarrow wrote:
10.05.10 at 8:38 PM

OK folks, the point of this post is not to give everyone a chance to pile on to Mr. Smith. Please keep it civil with each other, and don't get insulting to your fellow commenters or to Mr. Smith.

Thank you.

Karin wrote:
10.06.10 at 11:56 AM

I agree with Alder. If we become insulting, arrogant jerks while stating our opinions, are we any better than those we criticize. I think that people who act in an abrasive manor (especially those in the public eye) should not be surprised when people make negative observations. If we all act with responsibility and kindness, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

Leah wrote:
10.06.10 at 11:58 AM

Thanks Alder for the reminder. It's too bad because Smith is undermining his own business by having people focus on his immature behavior rather than on the fact that some of his wines are actually pretty good ...

Deb Lapmardo wrote:
10.08.10 at 7:27 PM

This guy needs to get over himself. If he's willing to make co0ntroversial comments, he should be willing to accept controversial comments...

Stephen Weinberg wrote:
10.11.10 at 6:30 AM

I know Charles Smith, having introduced his wines into Florida about eight years ago. I always thought Charles was a lot like Randall Graham, being one of the more unique wine "personalities" in our industry. I have a bottle of Cab/Syrah that Charles made called "The Creator", with a very Jesus like rendition of Charles on the label. Humility is not one of his strong points!!
Charles was very successfull in the Music Industry prior to getting into wine and I think he brings a lot of that promotional aspect to his marketing.

PS--What ever happened to Lindsay Lohan's lawsuit against E-Trade because she said they called her a "Milkaholic"?

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