Friday, May 15, 2009
THE BUSINESS OF SAMPLES
Ever since I began blogging last spring (which sounds a bit dirty don't you think?), I have heard about the controversy surrounding wine samples. It is the practice that many critics do or do not engage in, where a winery/importer/etc. will send you - the reviewer - wines to critique and review. Many against the practice feel this invokes the same kind of problem payola has in radio. Many of my wine blogging brethren receive samples from wineries, as do many of the traditional print media (such as Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and Wine & Spirits).
Purists believe this taints a reviewer's perspective, creates a more bias attitude toward the winery/importer in question, thus creating a "deceptive" review.
I really don't have issue one way or the other with the acceptance of samples when it comes to my fellow bloggers - many of them are writing blogs simply for the love of it, which means they aren't making any money off of their blogs. I do take exception with the magazines solely because advertising is involved, and wineries can "influence" the reviewers simply by increasing their advertising spending with a particular magazine. Even if it doesn't actually exist, the "air" of its existence is there, creating a sense of skepticism amongst their readership.
In my case, it's a bit out of the ordinary.
For this blog, while I do get samples, they aren't really for review in the journalism/blogging sense of the word. I receive samples to determine whether or not I will carry these wines in our stores, so the determination I make is not to give the wines some arbitrary numerical score, but whether or not my customers will want to BUY the wines in question. It's quite simple. My reviews are born more out of the necessity to provide some extra information to our customers in store about wines that may or may not have traditional print reviews or other types of point-of-sale references. The fact that I post them online is just extra exposure for the wineries themselves (another Google hit online perhaps?).
I have had people contact me, wanting to submit wines to review, but I think that due to the legal intanglements that are presented to me by the Commonwealth of Kentucky, I would be prohibited from accepting these wines if they were shipped via the Postal Service, UPS, and the like. I have told some of them that if they wish to arrange samples to come via their distributors in the state, that would be fine, but the overall goal of my reviewing wines is more for my store's commerce than to just become the next Parker. The reviews available here at Grape Tree are primarily born from a passion for sharing tasting experiences with my local customers and my online audience, and are in no way meant to be anything more than my very subjective and often outspoken opinion.
By the way, to get a better understanding of wine reviewing, one of the premier wine writers, Jancis Robinson, has written a terrific essay called the Ethics of Wine Writing.