There’s been quite a dust-up in the blogosphere lately about ethics among wine writers. The discussions have focused on what perks wine writers accept during the course of their work, and at what point these perks compromise the integrity and independence of the writers.
The perks under discussion range from free wine samples for review to invitations to meals or tastings with wine company representatives all the way to complimentary travel, accommodations and entertainment in faraway wine regions.
Perhaps it’s news to some of you, but these perks have been rather commonplace in the wine business for a long time, and that’s hardly a secret. And it turns out that many other critics—both in the traditional print media and the blogosphere—feel there is no problem inherent in accepting them.
They say they need the assistance in order to visit a region and learn about its wines. And the opportunities to taste a vertical of an important or expensive wine are rare, maybe even once-in-a-lifetime, so saying "no" can be difficult. In the end, someone can easily defend the position that taking the trip or accepting the vertical tasting is educational, and a necessary part of doing the job. Some even state that they can operate under these conditions and easily eliminate any bias or favoritism on their part.
I’m not surprised by this attitude, and I believe in most instances it’s far from Blagojevichian in initial intent or end result when writers take trips or dine out with friends they might have in the business. However, I do think it’s important that readers know how the information being given to them was gained. I’d like to know when I’m reading an article written by someone who combed the back roads of a wine region on their own, or if they were chaperoned and provided for by others. I like to know if a wine review is generated off of a blind tasting in a neutral setting, or from a friendly meeting over a meal. Transparency on the part of the critic is critical.
At Wine Spectator we have strict ethics policies. While we do accept samples from wineries, we always taste them blind to remove any potential bias, either real or perceived. And we do not accept any junkets—we pay our own airfare and accommodations when we travel, and set our own itineraries. That way we remain independent and avoid any conflicts of interest. You can read Wine Spectator's Statement of Ethics here. (To learn more about how we taste, read About Wine Spectator Tastings or watch Inside Wine Spectator's Tasting Department video.)
Working at Wine Spectator, I realize I’m provided with resources that allow me to keep to what may be a stricter code of independence than others. I’m lucky in that regard and I know it. But the company set those policies long ago, when Wine Spectator was still small and struggling. We have those resources today because 400,000 wine lovers trust our integrity and authority enough to pay for our magazine, and that’s a trust I don’t ever wish to lose.
The goal here is to earn trust by making the investment and effort necessary to eliminate bias. In the end, if you like and trust the critics you read, maybe none of this means anything to you, the readers. But it means a lot to me.
Brad Kanipe — May 6, 2009 2:03pm ET
Daniel Posner — New York — May 6, 2009 2:15pm ET
Chris A Elerick — Orlando, FL — May 6, 2009 2:27pm ET
James Molesworth — May 6, 2009 3:39pm ET
Robert Sutherland — Toronto/Canada — May 6, 2009 3:44pm ET
Karl Mark — Geneva, IL. — May 6, 2009 8:49pm ET
Fred Brown — May 6, 2009 8:54pm ET
Craig Mason — May 6, 2009 10:46pm ET
Morgan Dawson — Rochester, NY — May 6, 2009 10:55pm ET
Andrew J Walter — Sacramento,CA — May 7, 2009 12:00am ET
Sam Chen — The Golden State — May 7, 2009 2:19am ET
Michael Bonanno — May 7, 2009 4:58am ET
James Molesworth — May 7, 2009 9:22am ET
Tony Aukett — Chicago, IL — May 7, 2009 9:47am ET
Jason Carey — willow, ny usa — May 7, 2009 12:06pm ET
Brian Mcmahon — Voorhees, NJ — May 7, 2009 12:41pm ET
Hubbard Ogden Page — Illinois — May 7, 2009 12:59pm ET
James Molesworth — May 7, 2009 1:35pm ET
James Molesworth — May 7, 2009 1:42pm ET
Brad Baker — Vancouver Canada — May 7, 2009 2:33pm ET
David A Zajac — May 7, 2009 2:49pm ET
James Molesworth — May 7, 2009 2:54pm ET
Lorenzo Erlic — victoria canada — May 7, 2009 6:30pm ET
Scott Bailey — North Carolina — May 7, 2009 7:38pm ET
Jason Carey — willow, ny usa — May 7, 2009 9:16pm ET
David Frankel — boston — May 7, 2009 10:02pm ET
Patrick Steube — Thailand — May 8, 2009 1:05am ET
Brad Baker — Vancouver Canada — May 8, 2009 2:46pm ET
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