Final thoughts — I promise! – on the Wine Writers Symposium
I returned home in a euphoric state of mind. (My therapist had to explain the difference to me between “manic” and “euphoric.”) All this stuff about monetization and ethics and “blogs into books” may be boring inside-the-beltway fare for 99.9% of the wine-drinking public, but it’s the meat-and-potatoes of the writer’s life, and it was so educational and pleasant to be able to explore these issues with our own kind.
Alder Yarrow did a yeoman’s job at coverage on his blog the other day. I had noticed him more or less continually pecking away on his laptop (Joe Roberts, too) and wondered how a mere human can be in 2 places at the same time, i.e., listening and paying attention to the intellectual give-and-take of a panel discussion, while at the same time twittering and/or blogging. But, as Alder and Joe and the others seem to be able to get away with this balancing act quite well, who am I to say it can’t be done?
I do take some — not a lot, but some — issue with Alder singling out Heather John’s statement
“Wine writers have some of the worst reputations for bad ethics in the business”
as “The most interesting.” After all, there were dozens of interesting, compelling and wise things said throughout the symposium’s three days. I could, for instance, cite Michael Bauer, to the effect that “A paid wine writer can afford to be ethical.” Heather may have simply been reporting on what she’s told by P.R. people, and I don’t doubt that the bad behavior Alder itemized is rampant among a certain class of “writer.” But the implication that malfeasance is more widespread among print writers than bloggers made me squirm. Well, of course it would be, for now; there are a lot more employed print writers than bloggers, they’ve been around for a longer time, the wineries have long histories with them, etc. So it’s not because print writers are sleazier or less ethical, it’s a question of numbers. There’s been this suggestion that bloggers are somehow purer and more noble than print writers; less capable of sin; less self-interested, and more interested in the greater good. That’s piffle.
Not piffle is this sentence from 1WineDude: “Both Eric Asimov and Steve Heimoff are practical, warm and charming in person (meaning that I have lost at least two bets and the week isn’t even over yet).”
Why would Asimov and Heimoff not be charming and warm? I don’t know what “practical” means, though. (And, by the way, nobody is more charming than Mr. Dude himself!) Somebody (okay, not just anybody, but the estimable Tom Merle) wrote in to the Dude’s website that:
“Of course your hosts would ~say~ this. They can’t ask you point blank to shill for them, even though…they expect it. Just as all entities who sponsor press junkets are morally right to expect coverage for their product, service of client. This is planet earth. If someone scratches your back, you better scratch back or you have violated the protocol.”
So let’s take a minute to talk about gratitude, and back-scratching, and who-owes-what-to-whom-for-what, and all that good stuff. The late, great California Secretary of State, Jesse Unruh (yes, the same guy who said “Money is the mother’s milk of politics”) once remarked, of lobbyists:
“If you can’t take their money, drink their whiskey, screw their women, and vote against ‘em anyway, you don’t belong in the Legislature.”
Those are words of wisdom, Mr. Merle, which I would paraphrase thusly: “If you can’t take their samples, eat their food, stay in their lodges and then trash their wines, you shouldn’t be writing about wine.” (I have deliberately omitted any reference to SWOTJ, or “screwing while on the job.”) I don’t mean “trashing” gratuitously, only as needed. It’s also, I may say, a little unfair to “them” to imply that “they” expect good coverage in return for their largesse. In my long career, they don’t. They hope for good coverage. They may even pray for it. But it would be tacky for them to expect it, and most winemakers — at least, in California — aren’t tacky. As for Mr. Bill Harlan, who, as the managing partner (or whatever his title is) of Meadowood and the proprietor of Harlan Estate, if anybody thinks this man needs to have his back scratched by a blogger, you don’t know him.