I do a little outside work in the wine industry for which I get paid, and in this age of transparency, it’s important for me to let readers know that, and to explain my ethical guidelines.
This work consists of public speaking, doing tastings and similar engagements. It can be for wineries or for winery associations. I don’t do it a lot — maybe 4 or 5 times in the last year. I’m always amazed and flattered when someone invites me. Of course, in the case of getting paid by a winery, this raises the question, am I able to be objective in reviewing their wines? With a winery association, I think this issue is less relevant, because the associations have so many members.
For example, a year or so ago I conducted a tasting at Fess Parker winery for their club members. For doing this, the winery paid me some money. Now, have I ever skewed a Fess Parker rating because of that? No. Never did, never will, and wouldn’t. The winery people understood that at the time we made the deal, and in fact I’d given them some low scores. Nobody pays me for a score. There is no quid pro quo. That would be as distasteful and sleazy on the part of the winery as it would be for me.
I should mention that I also do this type of function as an official representative for Wine Enthusiast. But in that capacity, I don’t get paid. It’s a pleasurable part of my job. I say “pleasurable” because I love talking to audiences. We have the performing gene in my family, and I love talking about wine and answering questions that make me and, hopefully others, think. The dialog between me and people who are interested in what I do is a critical part of our relationship.
If you believe me about my ethics, and I hope you do, I’m grateful. If you don’t, there’s no way I can convince you. It’s like this crazy “birther” movement of people who refuse to believe that Pres. Obama is an American citizen. No matter what you tell them or show them — even Obama’s birth certificate — they have their minds made up.
I’m hardly the only wine critic who does outside speaking. Everybody does — I could name names — and while I’m not privy to the details, it seems to me that no wine writer is going to travel someplace to give a speech or a tasting and not get an honorarium. It would be nice if all the wine writers of the world were upfront about their private, for-profit activities.
It’s a brand new world out there. We need sunlight to pour in and illuminate things that formerly had been done privately, one might even say clandestinely. I don’t think I need to make a list of everything I’ve ever done or will do in the way of private engagements. But I do want to put my cards on the table, so no one will be able to say they didn’t know. Now you do. I invite comments.