Last Friday night I had the opportunity to meet-up with Alder Yarrow of Vinography for a glass of wine and discussion at San Francisco’s VinoVenue. I put the subject of wine blogger ethics on the table and we discussed it while enjoying an unremarkable, but still very nice Mosel Riesling.
I wanted to have this discussion face-to-face and not via email because the subject is nuanced and I wanted to somewhat debate the issue in real-time. I’ve always been on the side of transparency, so I’ve disclosed I’m in the wine trade and who pays for the wines I review for some time now. As long as I continue to do this, I reasoned, readers and listeners would take this into account when evaluating the recommendations I make here.
But Alder questioned whether or not a member of the wine trade could actually be objective no matter how transparent the writer is. At the time I — somewhat naively in retrospect — shrugged off this position as a difference of opinion but this idea has continued to reverberate in my head for nearly a week now.
Can I truly be objective about wine here if I make my living marketing and selling wine?
To avoid any conflict of interest I do not review the wines I am marketing nor do I blog about the business of the winery (not directly, anyway). But I am aware that should I review another Napa Valley wine and rate it lower than say, 85, it might appear that I am trying to benefit the brand I am working with. No matter how much I assure you that this is the farthest thing from my mind, I know that some will assume an ulterior motive.
So the only solution here is to stop reviewing Napa Valley wines or give up wine reviews altogether.
I don’t like either of these options simply because wine reviews and recommendations have been a part of the DNA of Winecast from the very first post and podcast. From incoming links and search engine referrals I know that these reviews are popular draws to this blog. Further, I have never considered myself to be a wine critic but a wine lover who writes about wine. It’s just a subjective opinion and readers can judge for themselves.
But Alder’s words are still ringing in my ears. Before doing anything rash I’d like to hear from readers and other bloggers about this issue. Shall I stop reviewing wines that could be considered competitive with my day job, stop reviewing wine altogether or hang it up and stop blogging and podcasting? I know that any of these will hurt a lot because I really love doing this but ethics are very important to me and if what I write here is considered tainted by my association to the wine business then I would be willing to take this course of action. It’s really up to you.
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