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Brooklyn chutzpah, or just good, clean ambition?

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Oded Shakked, at Longboard Vineyards, shared the below email with me yesterday. He thought I’d get a kick out of it. I’m reproducing it here, because I think you’ll get a kick out of it. (I’ve edited the email a little, and also removed the sender’s name.)

“My name is M.___ and I am reviewer of wine. I live in Brooklyn, NY and I am meticulous with keeping a record of every wine I drink. I am one of the highest sheer volume reviewers on wine social networking site Snooth (I am not an employee of Snooth)…and I have synched up my Twitter account to automatically post any wine I review on Snooth. (I have over 1,300 Twitter followers)

I would love to be added to your mailing list for sample bottles. I can GUARANTEE an online review of any bottle you send me. I realize that there are many wine bloggers out there and you must be inundated with requests, but I don’t know how many bloggers can guarantee a review (along with any descriptive info you send along). If a bottle is flawed or oxidized I will email you before I write anything about it. I also generally wait at least month from receiving the bottle to account for travel or bottle shock.

I just would like for you to think about the percentage of the bloggers you send samples to that actually give you coverage…i know for a fact that many bloggers out there simply write about a few of the sample bottles they receive and either re-gift or drink the rest without any fanfare…I can guarantee a review on a website that is almost always on the first page of natural search results on Google when someone searches for a particular wine.”

Oded used the word “chutzpah” to describe M.____. Chutzpah, in case you don’t know, is a Yiddish word, derived from the Hebrew, and is used with reference to people who are so audacious in their approach as to approach insolence. It can be used positively (e.g., George Steinbrenner was said to possess chutzpah, which is a quality New Yorkers like) or negatively, in the sense of tasteless self-promotion.

Let’s look at this from M.____’s point of view. Of course he would “love” to be added to Oded’s sample list. (And how many other vintners did M.____ blast his email to?) Think of all the free wine! I can’t say for sure whether or not M.____ is correct when he accuses “many bloggers out there” of not even bothering to write about the samples they get. Maybe some P.R. and marketing people who read my blog will write in and let us know how they determine which bloggers to send samples to, and how they follow up to see if the wines are actually written about.

I did a little Googling on M.____ and found that he’s been sending this same email out for more than a year. He seems to be a young guy; his Facebook page (at least, I think it’s his; all the clues add up) says his interests are “poker, TV, red wine, live comedy, live music, Sirius satellite radio” and he’s married. M.____ and I have 14 Facebook friends in common, all from the wine industry.

Actually, I can’t get too upset about M.____ and his email. He’s just using today’s technology to bust into the industry. When I was busting in, I used the telephone and the U.S. Postal Service, and I was pretty aggressive in my own way. I knew what I wanted, I knew whom I wanted it from, and I pounded on their door until I got it. I had, in other words, chutzpah. So does M.____. I don’t know what else he’s doing to become a wine critic, other than sending out blast emails. I would hope he has a few other tricks up his sleeve. But you know what? I wish the guy luck.

Dept. of Oops!

“Napa Wine Co., which annually crushes 7,000 tons of grapes for more than 60 wineries, apparently contaminated some wine with cleaning detergent, the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat is reporting. The paper says Jayson Pahlmeyer’s Pinot Noir “was being tested to determine how much, if any, was impacted by the accident.”

  1. I had received this same email from M.___ – - I admired his audacity, assumed he would receive wine(s) from somewhere or other, and discarded the email. If M.___ wished to visit to taste, we would comp that and thank him for the effort to show up. Given the “sheer volume” he says he tastes, and the fact that he lives in Brooklyn (I got no problem with that), such an odyssey would seem expensive and impractical.

  2. Ah, sample bloggers. You give me a drink, I’ll give you a nice review. He’s got the right idea, though. Some of the most read blogs are the sample blogs. People think getting samples equals credibility. I tend to see a pattern of sample bloggers being less critical, but maybe that’s just me. It makes sense to send samples to critics who will give you a good write-up, though.

    Maybe if M._____ promises Helen Turley a good review, he’ll get a sample!

  3. Greg: Ha ha I doubt it.

  4. I’m with you, his approach is a little cheeky, but the receivers of his emails can just ignore them if they so chose.

  5. Every one of our clients has received this email (some multiple times), which is a pretty good indication of how unrelenting M.___ is.

  6. True enough, Vinogirl.

  7. That’s pretty sad.

    I can certainly say that I don’t write about every sample I receive, but it’s mostly due to a) the volume I receive, much of which is unsolicited, & b) I tend to write about wines that somehow ‘float my boat’ or that I feel have an interesting story to tell.

  8. “…I don’t know what else he’s doing to become a wine critic…”

    God forbid any twit of a wine critic (a pun, a pun) get off his fat ass and do some work first, like, maybe, study wine instead of just drink it and then blab ill-informed impressions in under 40 characters, all guaranteed in advance.

    In my book, a winery that sends wine out under those conditions has as much credibility as the critic, which isn’t much at all. But I’ll bet this fellow plays a mean Texas Holdem.

  9. Dude, I do review everything. I feel obligated to, even wines that don’t float my boat. I feel like if these people are taking the time and money to send to me, it’s the least I can do to taste. So far, I’m not overwhelmed. In fact I’m right in my comfort zone because I really like reviewing wine!

  10. Well Steve – if I can make it my full-time job (which is what I’ll be attempting to do in 2011), then I have a chance to taste everything that I receive. So, I hope I can join you in that! :)

  11. Hi Steve:
    This is just the latest incarnation of people looking for freebies from the wine industry. You might remember Beverage Testing Institute. For a small fee, they would award your wine a gold, silver or bronze medal. If I’m not mistaken, these scores were used by the Wine Enthusiast before you were hired. Chutzpah in this industry comes in many forms. A zealous kid (young adult) from Brooklyn is only the latest player in this game.
    Cheers,
    George Rose
    J Vineyards

  12. Hi George, yes Beverage Testing Institute was a sorry part of our past, but it did enable the magazine to get where we are today.

  13. I’ve received and ignored this email three times in the last year (for three different brands). If that was really what we (PR) were looking for we could simply take the samples home and review them ourselves.

  14. Got it about a year ago, with my Diaz Communications hat on. He was looking for wines from my clients.

    When I checked, he was someone who was enjoying wine and using a public site to post his thoughts.

    I thought, “Well, that’s pretty interesting.” That’s how Parker started his newsletter (The Wine Advocate), tasting and letting a circle of friends know what he was up to… Law turned into wine reviews. Mr M._ is off on the same tangent, social media style.

    Life’s funny, isn’t it?

  15. Kelly, lol! The P.R. professional’s dream.

  16. Yes, Jo, all you have to do is proclaim yourself a critic, and if you can write coherently, are persistent, and smart in your marketing, who cares whether or not you know anything about the product that you review? If you are any good at it, you’ll learn over the years–something.

    Life is indeed funny, but the process of becoming a critic is a joke.

  17. Well, I am glad no one is bashing M__ , like Steve said, he might just be an ok guy looking to leave a day job and make a living tasting wine. I hope this discussion thread is not the break he was hoping for to make him famous… What really gets to me is going on some of these sites and reading the reviews, talk about LOL (or LO HURL….)! Maybe I am just super-naive, but I expected that if someone is going to spend time documenting a wine experience, they would at least put some effort into it. Most of the stuff in those sites is not even worth the ink they don’t use, just complete nonsense. I guess that is to be expected in an era when people boast having 1,750 “Friends”.

  18. Jo–

    We all started as amateurs, but I am not sure that Parker started by requesting samples from the world.

    Connoisseurs’ Guide started by buying everything we tasted. It was the way wine criticism was done in those days. Even the Spectator under Bob Morissey (anybody around here remember him besides me?) bought their wines.

    Later on, when the slick paper mags gained credibility, they were able to limit themselves to what comes in over the transom. Connoisseurs’ Guide now accepts samples, but does very little to encourage them. In this day and age, with 3000 bonded wineries in CA alone, we now get samples from many folks except King Freddy of Franzia and the limited production guys who insist that we taste at the winery (we don’t). I am sure that we do not get as many samples as Steve, but then he is STEVE! and his hard work both at WE and here has earned him his standing.

    Steve, do you or the WE solicit samples broadly? Such as sending out a tasting schedule to 3000 bonded wineries several times a year?

    As for unknowns soliciting wine, it is the wineries that are fleecing themselves if they send out samples to all one thousand bloggers who exist. You have beaucoup readers and great credibility. What does an unknown have? A few hundred readers if he is lucky, none of whom pay anything for his opinion so we do not know what it is worth.

    There are obviously bloggers (as opposed to writers who also blog) who have good followings and wineries often choose to recognize their standing. We have heard that the number of newspaper journalists has shrunk so the blogosphere is a natural outlet as the alternative to the loss of print opportunities.

  19. Charlie: I solicit no samples. Cannot remember anything in years. If somebody calls me to offer, I say, sure, go ahead if you want to. Sometimes someone will send me a press release announcing a wine, without actually offering it, and I’ll say, Hello, I don’t write about wines unless I taste them. If you wish me to consider this wine, you’ll have to send it to me. But that’s all I do. I have no interest in reviewing anything that somebody does not actively want to send me.

  20. Oded, we are entering a different era, but hopefully, ethics and professionalism will endure.

  21. JD in Napa says:

    Echoing a few comments above, the boy’s persistence does not make him a viable critic. I’ve followed a few bloggers off and on, and have found them largely unremarkable (except for Alder). Maybe because I’m older I prefer the consistency and knowledge behind the glossies (and Charlie’s not-so-glossie), made better by their web presence. This of course infers that those younger don’t care about consistency and knowledge….oh, well. The blogs have a ways to go to get me into their camp.

  22. Charlie asked: “Steve, do you or the WE solicit samples broadly? Such as sending out a tasting schedule to 3000 bonded wineries several times a year?”

    In my time in wine PR (2001-2009), Wine Enthusiast annually sent out a tasting schedule with instructions on how to and to whom to submit samples. As did Spectator. What differentiated WE from Spectator was WE’s pursuit of paid label placements to accompany reviews. Wine & Spirits operated similarly.

  23. “Even the Spectator under Bob Morissey (anybody around here remember him besides me?) bought their wines”.

    Why, of course, Charlie. Used to write occasionally for Bob. Little newspaper tabloid that came out of SanDiego. It had wine content then…not a life style mag. Bob was great to work with. He died a few yrs ago.
    Tom

  24. BTW, I am a reviewer of Ferraris and I guarantee an online review…

  25. Pete, I personally do not ask wineries to send me samples. WE does in fact send out instructions to wineries who may wish to send us samples, but WE does not very often solicit the wineries to send. Knowing that many wineries want to send us samples, the magazine simply makes it easier for them to do so by emailing a how-to list. Do you think that every winery that wants to send me wine should phone or email me to ask how to do it? That would be silly. It’s much easier to let people know what the procedure is. They can then decide whether they want to send me samples, or not. Many chose not to; more chose to send. As for paid label placements, see my post from the other day called “Advertising, sponsorship: Not dirty words.”

  26. JD: Some among the bloggers are learning fast. You have to start somewhere.

  27. Tim: That’s exciting. Would you mind if I send you a case of 599 HY-KERS for review? You can keep them when you’re finished.

  28. Lisa Mattson says:

    Steve,
    I have received this same email from the same person four times (twice at my current job and twice at the previous). I was polite in my responses and told him that we’ve chosen to focus our online review community samples on the editorial directors. Greg Dal Piaz of Snooth or Jon Troutman of Cork’d get samples. It seems to be a reasonable place to draw a line in the quick sand.
    Lisa
    http://blog.jordanwinery.com

  29. Lisa, those quick sands keep shifting, don’t they.

  30. We are ready for the next generation of wine writers. The current list of significant writers has so many of us who emerged into the biz in the ’70s and ’80s and are now in our sixties. That makes us about 210.

    Let’s try that again. The current generation of writers has many folks who are 60+ years old. I have provided that list here before so no need to repeat it. We are all going to get out of the way sooner or later, and a new generation will be needed. Some will come out of the retail trade. Some will be journalists who will transition into wine and some will come out of the blogosphere.

    The standards for entry have changed, of course, because the day when folks with an interest in wine could simply become paid writers of one sort or another is now behind us. The space has been filled by folks who now have years of experience and are smart enough and write well enough to be solid professionals. Thus it is that the new entrants to the blogosphere have to be looked upon as apprentices to some extent.

    The word apprentice is not to be sneezed at. There is a long tradition of learning through apprenticeship, and it is still practiced today. Sometimes those apprenticeships are called entry level jobs, and, now, in today’s world, some of those apprenticeships are found in the blogosphere.

    JD openly states a preference for folks who know their onions. One does not come to the point of wisdom without knowledge, and knowledge is hard won over time. The days when a guy like me with thirty cases of wine newly purchased over the first three or four years of my wine collecting history can simply become a full voice in the biz by saying so and finding thousands of paid followers is over.

    I am encouraged by the emergence of the blogosphere. It assures us that the next generation of professional winewriters is going to arrive far better schooled than my generation was when we started.

  31. Charlie what you say is true but there’s another aspect to it. Just as a younger generation of wine writers is emerging, so is a younger generation of wine consumers. They are as ignorant of wine as the younger writers, if not more so — and so they need Wine 101 Basic Info. The “wisdom” of the older writers is in many cases wasted on them. That’s as it should be, in the scheme of things. When Wine Spectator started, it was basically the blind leading the blind. The WS writers hardly knew what they were talking about, but as long as they were one step ahead of their readers, it was cool. (I know, I was there.) Same with the bloggers today. Blogger “X” may not know 1/100th of what you know — but when he’s your age, he will. Meanwhile, the best of the younger bloggers and writers are busy learning now. Again, just as it should be.

  32. Hi. I am here to answer questions from anyone who has them. This article just came to my attention. There has been some flaws in the assumptions about me. I am extremely learned in wine (self taught). I have been keeping this database of reviews for years. And it’s growing every day. My reviews are not 140 characters. I tweet out links to my reviews, I don’t write the reviews in twitter. I try to infuse everything I know into every review. I don’t write only glowing reviews although most of what is sent to me is excellent because the wineries want to put their best foot forward. If someone responds to me and tells them not to email them again, I do not email them again. If there is no response, they will surely get an email from me again in the future.

    Ultimately the future of wine is on the web. When someone walks into a wine store they don’t grab the newest issue of Wine Spectator and page through it to see if the store carries the bottle. They see something interesting, go on their smart phone and look it up. It’s actually quite simple and no Chutzpah is involved.

    Snooth just happens to have excellent SEO on their site and they continuously appear in the first page of search results. Anyone can join Snooth and start reviewing wines if they want, but I feel like I have an interesting perspective on wine and that’s why I have over 1300 followers.

    Flame away…

  33. Well said Sir Charles.

  34. Samantha don’t go calling him Sir Charles. Next thing you know it will be King Charles.

  35. M.___, thanks for weighing in. I don’t think anybody flamed you. Some of them expressed strong opinions, that’s all. I myself felt like I supported you and wished you good luck.

  36. In this conversation two things seem to be getting lost:

    1. the lack of ethics behind blanketing wineries with a request for free wine that includes a promise of a review; the guy doing that is not “busy learning.” He’s quite settled on what he knows.

    The acquisition of knowledge requires more than just a UPS address.

    2. if “busy learning” means drinking wine then every wine consumer in the USA is a bona fide critic; unfortunately, some of them have found blogspot.com.

    The capacity to understand and to know requires more than the ability to swallow liquid.

  37. Well said Sir Thomas.

    So just wonderin’ is anyone gonna drop the name of this guys blog or what? I am all curious and junk…..

  38. Thanks for the positivity Steve. I just wanted to explain to people like Thomas that I am not a blogger. I have no blog. I am a reviewer. If my reviews sucked, I wouldn’t be a Hand of Snooth and I wouldn’t have 1300+ twitter followers. My credentials are pretty solid I would say. I, by no means, “swallow liquid”. I care about wine.

  39. OK, M…let’s say I accept your credentials. What about the ethics of your method? Most of us sorry journalists of the long gone dead world had to follow some rules of ethics; one of them is you don’t make promises in return for product, because that’s a “quid pro quo.”

    We can chat offline if you want, in email, you have my name and a way to reach me; I have nothing of the sort on your end.

  40. Thomas. I don’t think ethics are involved here. I don’t guarantee a good review. I a guarantee a review. I have plenty of bad reviews. Which is more than I can say for most wine publications actually. When is the last time you read a negative review in Wine Spectator? They simply do not review the ones that are terrible. Also you only read about the good vintages. You never hear a publication say “this vintage was absolutely the worst, buy nothing from it”.

  41. M.___, you really are doing yourself no good by saying false things like “When is the last time you read a negative review in Wine Spectator? They simply do not review the ones that are terrible.” That is so untrue, it’s not even funny. I’m not here to defend Wine Spectator, by good lord, what a ridiculous thing to say.

  42. “I don’t think ethics are involved here.”

    Obviously, you don’t, but that doesn’t persuade me.

    According to Steve’s report on your request for wine, you say that when you have a bad review you will let the winery know in advance. If that’s true, why?

    Most reputable reviewers don’t talk to the wineries at all, let alone warn them about a bad review in advance.

    What is your name and where do you review wine, so that I can read your reviews?

    Incidentally, I was born and raised in Brooklyn. I know chutzpa intimately, and I know even more than that.

  43. Oh, and as I said before: by guaranteeing a review, good or bad, you cross an ethical line–quid pro quo. It means I’ll give you something for something, you grease my palms and I’ll grease yours, one hand washes the other, etc., etc.

  44. Samantha, the first blog that comes to mind is The Wine Whore, but the evidence doesn’t add up despite his premise of soliciting samples. I guess one could always dig here http://www.snooth.com/social/ and look for people who have a lot of reviews. Not worth my time, though.

  45. Greg,
    Yeah I thought M might be a blogger but it sounds as if he is not. The blogger side of me was semi-curious, (almost like bi-curious but different) but the retail wine buyer side of me has absolutely no interest in fishing through a bunch of “reviews” on my time off. Thanks though!

  46. Steven Mirassou says:

    Thomas:

    Isn’t it reasonable for a winery to expect to have a wine reviewed (good or bad), if it takes the time and expense to send out a sample to a writer/magazine?

  47. Steven: You would think so. I review everything that comes in.

  48. Expect?? Nah.

    Wineries can hope that such is the case, and they can chose to whom to send their wines, especially if they are in search of pollyanna reviews.

    But, if wineries accept that reviewers are independent brokers on behalf of their readers, the wineries should not EXPECT critics to do their bidding.

    OK, so that said. It is pretty clear that most of the “comprehensive” critics are going to review most of the wine sent to them. Some will not review wine that is made in miniscule amounts. Others will not review every inexpensive wine since their readers want more guidance at the top end of the scale where La Rochelle and Steven Kent (Steven Mirassou’s labels) live.

    But, expect. Nah. Steven, as much as I find you a smart, good guy and as much as you find me less than an ogre, we cannot have any expectations of each other. I do not expect you to send me wine, and you should expect me or anyone else to review your wine–even though we (I) are almost certainly going to do that.

    Maybe it is just semantics, but it is an important bit of semantics.

  49. Steven,

    No, a winery shouldn’t send wine expecting a review–it sends wine hoping for a review.

    But that isn’t the issue we have been discussing.

    The issue here is the credibility and ethics of the reviewer who promises a favor for something of value. You give me something and I will produce something for you, but if I can’t produce it for you (a positive review), we can talk about that in advance. The second part seems to me like a form of blackmail.

    In this world of questionable credentials joining the cacophony of the Internet, I realize that ethics is becoming one of the casualties, but I’ll cling to the moral high ground until I’m gone–it makes looking in the mirror much more pleasant, and when you start growing old, that’s important ;)

  50. Thomas/Steve/Charlie:

    Quite a difference of opinion. I find your argument Charlie, thought provoking, if not compelling. And, yes, you are far less than an ogre. :)

    Thomas, in reference to your statement “but if I can’t produce it for you (a positive review), we can talk about that in advance” I read M’s email to state that if the bottle was defective…corked or oxidized…he/she would talk to the winery ahead of the review…not simply if the review was bad.

    If I send a bottle of wine into a reviewer with the HOPE that the wine will be reviewed, isn’t it still a quid pro quo, if only one with less certitude? And if so, then the only way around this, given the present system, is for the reviewer to buy every single bottle?

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