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My respectful reply to criticism of my reviews

59 comments

 

Well, it happened again. A winemaker took umbrage at the scores I gave his wines, and emailed me with all the reasons why I was wrong.

So let me take a few minutes to explain. As I told the winemaker, I never mind it if someone reaches out to me to complain about my reviews. It’s fine to call me. We can agree to disagree, and just because you disagree doesn’t mean you have to be disagreeable. (That goes for me as well as for winemakers.)

That doesn’t mean I like it when I hear from a disappointed winemaker. I’m only human. I’d much rather someone call me up and say, “Way to go, Heimoff!” than “You really got that wrong.” Usually, these unhappy winemakers have three “facts” they cite in order to prove I’m wrong. They’ll tell me that the grapes came from a great vineyard and therefore it can’t deserve a middling score. Or they’ll tell me that other critics gave it higher scores than I did, and so I must have missed discerning its true qualities. Or they’ll simply cite their sincerity and passion as reasons why their wines should have scored better.

To all of which I say: That’s silly. Just because a wine comes from a “great vineyard” doesn’t mean that it has to be a great wine. We all understand that, don’t we? I should think so. And don’t even get me started on comparing my reviews to those of other critics. That’s fine, if you want to do it, but it carries no weight with me if you point out that ___ and ___ gave your wine 90-plus points while I didn’t. As for the sincerity thing–“We work our tails off to make the best wine we can”–a score in the 80s doesn’t mean to suggest that you don’t care, or that you’re not trying hard. I assume that every winemaker in the business is working his or her tail off and trying their best. The point is that trying one’s best isn’t good enough. The resulting wine has to deserve a great score.

I guess I should add a fourth “fact” often given to me by unhappy winemakers. They’ll review their own wine, find qualities in it that I didn’t, and hope thereby to persuade me that I somehow missed all that good stuff. Well, I think winemakers are the least objective appraisers of their own wines! They’re like doting parents who can’t bring themselves to perceive all the qualities–good and bad–about their children. We all know parents like that, don’t we? The same thing goes for dog owners. I know certain dogs that are not very nice animals. They’re angry, they snap at people and other dogs, they bark when there’s no reason to. And in some of these cases, their mommies and daddies are clueless that their pet has an attitude problem. It’s that way with some winemakers, too. Of course they love their product, and it’s only natural they’d be defensive about it, when and if it’s criticized. But winemakers also need to stand back and at least try to be objective. If they think highly enough of a critic to be upset if that critic doesn’t fall in love with their wine, then instead of complaining to the critic, they should read his words and try to understand the nature of the criticism. On the other hand, if they think the critic doesn’t have the chops to understand their wine, then why would they care what he says?

In most cases when I don’t enthuse over California wine, it’s because it suffers from one or more of the following issues:

1.   too sweet in residual sugar

2.   too fruity-extracted, i.e. a fruit bomb

3.   too soft or, conversely, too tart

4.   unbalanced in alcohol. I don’t object to high ABV, in and of itself, but I don’t like a wine that tastes and feels hot, which even some wines in the low to mid-14s do

5.   an overall simplicity or one-dimensionality

Notice that I’m not even mentioning true flaws, such as excessive brett, TCA, botrytis moldiness, heat damage, etc. I’m talking about wines that are technically “good” (by Wine Enthusiast standards) and drinkable, but just don’t deserve high scores.

Every winemaker wants those 90-plus scores. A part of me deplores that selling wine has come down to that, in order to market wine. But that is obviously beyond my control. I wish it weren’t so (and I know for a fact that every critic who uses the 100-point system feels the same way). I think we were as surprised as anyone when, in the 1990s and 2000s, the situation reached that point. I, myself, often drink wines at home that I’ve scored (or would score) in the middle 80s, and I like them. They’re good, sound, interesting wines that just don’t happen to have the extra levels of complexity required to lift a score over 90.

I have the utmost respect for California’s winemakers. I understand their jobs, not in the technical sense perhaps, but in the applied sense of having to sell their products. Some of them don’t have to worry about what people like me think; most of them do. It gives me no pleasure to disappoint them, but that’s my job, just as making wine is theirs. It just doesn’t work to turn out average quality wines no matter what your excuse is, and expect them to get 90 points or higher, especially at high prices. That dog won’t hunt. American consumers have too many choices from around the world these days for that to work anymore.

  1. Very well said. I like that you point out you regularly enjoy wines scored under 90 points. When did it become SO bad to be scored in the 80′s?

    Everyone has a different palate. I would venture to say it’s rare that three experienced wine drinkers will agree on the ‘best’ out of 3 like wines (for instance, 3 Sonoma County Pinot Noirs all scored at 80+ by the legendary Steve Heimoff).

    I can tell you that almost all winemakers also deplore that scores equal sales in the modern market.

  2. I’ve had times when I have sincerely disagreed with a review of one of my wines (yes, perhaps even a review that you have given me, Steve). But I always have to balance that out by two things that have happened to me over the years:

    1) Sometimes I have received better reviews on wines that I anticipated/thought I deserved (once again, yes, even from you Steve). I cannot, in good conscience, shout to the world how right you were in giving our ?? Pinot Noir a great rating and then, in the next breath, say how you don’t know what you are doing when you criticize our ??? Pinot Noir.

    2) Over the years, as some of my wines have aged, I have found that various reviewers were right…and the wine wasn’t as good as I thought it was. Other times, I’ve found that I was either right or that a wine has aged better than either I or the reviewer imagined. But those surprises make it more difficult for me to criticize reviews of my wines.

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines

  3. “A part of me deplores that selling wine has come down to that, in order to market wine. But that is obviously beyond my control.”

    You are correct that you alone cannot change the influence of points. However, as the California Editor for Wine Enthusiast, you are one of the more influential wine critics in the U.S. You know this. You enjoy this. Case in point: “…a good Steve Heimoff review in Wine Enthusiast, and I would wager that a high score from me, printed in the magazine’s Buying Guide, and reproduced as a shelf talker at Costco, sells a heck of a lot more wine than a good 1WineDude or Vinography score” (3/30/12).

    If you decided to completely revamp your scoring system (maybe use something like three seashells…) you know that would cause a ripple in the status quo. Selling wine would involve more than just points (it already does, but let’s not make this too complex…) Throwing your hands up in the air and saying that you are completely powerless (though you sit in a position of power) sounds kind of foolish.

    Don’t get me wrong, Steve, I agree with most of what else you wrote. If a winemaker only wants to hear nice things about his/her wine, then ask their mother to taste it! As a critic, you are most definitely allowed to express your opinion (that IS your job). Winemakers should be telling consumers of the other positive reviews, not you.

    But I think the central point of your post can be summed up with: “We can agree to disagree, and just because you disagree doesn’t mean you have to be disagreeable. (That goes for me as well as for winemakers.)”

  4. For me, one of the problems with reviews is that if you believe the good ones you need to believe the bad ones. Scores are a lousy marketing plan.

  5. I’ll echo what both Cathy and Adam said. And Adam touches on something I learned long ago: if you pay attention to what reviewers say in “less than glowing reviews” it helps you look more objectively at your wines, and gives you data points that you can often use to improve what you do. As winemakers, we all develope a house palate, and we all need critical input to force us to look past that.

  6. Kurt Burris says:

    It really is too bad that a score in the 80s is considered a bad score. But when you see all the 100s Parker has given, that may cause some “grade inflation” and subsequent consumer attitudes. It was one up side however. Whenever I see wine discounted that got a score of 88 (and it’s in limited quantity and I won’t get to taste it) I usually jump on them. I’ve been right (or lucky) more often than not

  7. Sorry to pile on, but Adam, Cathy, and Brian all have said it well, and they all have the right idea.

    I think all of us can point to a specific review of one of our wines and think that we were ‘robbed’ . . . and yet point to others and can ‘laugh a little’ that they were scored as well as they were.

    If you can’t take criticism (or praise), I guess it’s best not to submit wines for review (and nearly every single review out there is due to wines being submitted). And if you are willing to risk this, then ‘deal with the consequences’.

    On a parallel subject, and I think you’ve covered this in the past but am curious, do ever retaste wines that a winemaker ‘complains’ about – or that scores ‘below’ or ‘above’ what you think it ‘should’? Curious to hear . . .

    Cheers!

  8. Grade inflation in wine reviews is perhaps the insidious, anti-consumer part of the whole wine review equation. But most reviewers simply do not have the cajones to give a majority of wines scores below 90 because their own popularity with wineries and retailers, not to mention their publishers, depends on those inflated scores.

    Frankly, when I see a headline that reads 80 Chardonnays over 90 points and it turns out that the total count of wine is not much over 100, I blanche in horror and run away.

    I understand why everyone likes higher scores, but, in point of fact, it is the wine consumers, not the wineries, who pay our bills, and it seems horribly wrong to engage is mindless grade inflation.

    Of course, it is interesting that the winemakers who have commented here are among those likely to have great success with all reviewers. They are also among the winemakers/owners who have been most objective over the years.

    But, given that we rarely hear from large numbers of ordinary (nothing pejorative meant) consumers as opposed to the pros and geeks, we simply do not know whether the bulk of our readers recognize grade inflation when they see it or just adjust their thinking to “95 is the new 90″ and anything under 90 must be lousy since only twenty per cent of wines get scores like that from too many sources.

    Tom Wark did a very specific count on this topic some time ago. It pretty much skewered the value of 90 points from some publications. If everyone can get 90, it no longer has any value.

    By the way, there is no grading scale or system not subject to grade inflation. When I went to a college not named back east, the median grade was C+/B-. Now, I read that the median grade is A-.

    Man, my grade point would have been a lot better and I would have got a lot less stick from my parents if I had only waited three dozen years to go to said university.

    I realize that this blog by Steve was not about grade inflation, so sorry for jumping on that bandwagon, but I have been wrestling with the idea of bumping up scores in my own publication as we are often three to five points below some oft-quoted reviewers.

  9. Charlie,

    Just keep doing what ‘feels right’ for you and your publication. Those ‘in the know’ certainly appreciate it.

    Can’t speak for the other winemakers here, but I have been ‘unfortunate’ enough to have received the following review from a very well known reviewer (not Steve in this case):

    Unscored. Lacking fruit and largely a mistake.

    Yep, not something that was fun to read, but that same week, a number of folks at a regional tasting pegged it as one of their top 10 wines at said tasting . . .

    There is no doubt that scores help sell. Consumers are simply ‘programmed’ to look for higher scores, more gold stars, more ‘best seller’s – it’s human nature and I don’t think the clock will be turned back anytime soon.

    And you are correct that if a reviewer consistently provides much lower scores than others, they probably will see the number of wines submitted to them go down – or you would expect that to be the case. And that may affect ‘their reach’ with consumers, which may affect subscriptions, etc . . . so it is a bit of a ‘nasty cycle’.

    Cheers!

  10. I’m with Larry here Sir Charles, hold on to those cajones…and integrity. I admire that about you, and your publication.

  11. Another thought on the 100 pt system: A score of exactly 90 seems to be the “witching hour” or “sympathy” score that more and more people tell me they are staying away from these days. They’ve been disappointed enough times by the 90 wines for one reason or another that when it’s time to buy a bottle for dinner, they’ve started reaching for the 88s on the shelf/website. Interesting, but not surprising.

  12. Larry, I do occasionally retaste, but only informally, since once the review has been published in Wine Enthusiast, it cannot be re-published.

  13. Jason Brandt Lewis says:

    By and large, I find the comments along the lines of, “How could you give our 2017 Chateau Cache Phloe Tribidag a score of 82?!?!?” to come from relatively new and inexperienced winery owners (and occasionally winemakers), rather than folks who have been in the business for awhile. I’m sure that every writer has gotten those sorts of comments, and without wanting to join the bandwagon, as others here have said, you can’t have it both ways — marketing by scores is a bad idea, and if you accept the 96.375, you need to accept the 82.683 . . .

    FWIW, I’ve even had to explain to winery owners how things like county or state fair wine judgings go — and how it made perfect sense for his wine, which received a Gold there to receive a Bronze here . . . .

    (And Charlie, you know how I love the flak bursts!)

  14. I just received scores from you on two of my wines to be published in the March issue. One you got right (92), the other you got wrong (86). Just joking of course but my first instinct was to write you and ask what your reasoning was.

    The lower score you gave to my higher priced, single vineyard bottling. You have written about that topic before and I am not too surprised but since we winemakers only get a numerical score in advance of publication I’m curiously waiting for your written comments to see what the scores are based on.

    Ted Henry
    PRIME Napa Valley

  15. Ted, send Steve some doggie treats for Gus and the scores can go up.

  16. Duck breast, please.

  17. Up to a score of 90?

  18. If Parker can get Amex, along with wineries, distributors et al to sponsor tastings around Asia and no one bats an eye I am sure Gus can coerce Steve to relax his standards for a duck breast or 2 … Lol

  19. Ted Sez: “…since we winemakers only get a numerical score in advance of publication….”

    I gather this is standard practice throughout the wine reviewing industry??? And the purpose of this practice is??? Maybe…..to sell advertising???? Yet we are told that all wine publications have a firewall between the editorial and business sides. Hmmmmmmm….
    Tom

  20. Heads up to Ted Hendry: did you happen to note when you received notice of your rating the wording that says “only a selection” of wines reviewed will actually appear in the March print edition? The backstory of what the criteria for that selection actually is based on is missing in this whole discussion of scores and how they are used for marketing. Perhaps Steve will jump in and fill that gap.

  21. Bill Dyer, I’m not sure of the specifics of the situation to which you refer. But in general I can tell you that there simply are not enough pages in the print edition of the magazine to publish all wines reviewed by all of the editors around the world. The New York staff determines which reviews appear in print. All others appear online, at http://www.winemag.com, in our free, publicly-accessible database.

  22. “The New York staff determines which reviews appear in print.”
    That is what interests me. What is the criteria by which they choose?

  23. Also interested if you (Steve) would agree that being in the print magazine is of more consequence than just being in the on-line data base.

  24. Bill Dyer, I really couldn’t say. That’s something for marketing managers to determine. Wineries are free to use their online reviews in marketing, same as their print reviews.

  25. No marketing manager here!

  26. Hi Bill,

    In answer to your question regarding “what is the criteria by which they choose” we publish ALL wines that are reviewed from highest score to lowest score. If we can’t fit all wines in our print edition we roll over the lower scored wines on-line. There is no criteria except that we want our reader to see the higher rated wines on a priority basis.

    Mostly wines that score 84 or above appear in our print and winemag.com web site and below 84 (depending on space) may appear only on-line.

    Thanks for your question to Steve.

    Adam

  27. Adam, thanks for checking in on what is an important issue for us winemakers, especially those with very small productions. I have been skeptical enough of the 100 pt system to generally not submit wines, but have yielded when directly asked to do so, which Steve did. When we received notice in October that our 2010 Dyer Vineyard Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon had been rated 96 points and was a Cellar Selection, I figured I might have to rethink my reluctance to submit wines. In December, the rating did appear in the online database, but I was disappointed not to see it in the December print addition. I noted that some other Diamond Mountain Cabs scoring 94 and 95 pts were among the highest scoring wines in that issue, and of course was disappointed not to see ours in their company. Going back to the e-mail I received, it seems that paying $1,195 for a label copy is the only way to ensure being in the print addition, and with only 225 cases produced this wasn’t viable for us. My assumption was that the neighbors made the payment. Your reply rather clearly indicates that wines 84 and above are likely to be in the print addition. If it is merely a matter of waiting for this to happen, we will be patient. We sent the same vintage to the Wine Advocate, and happily it was rated 94 points there, but it only appeared in their online database and not the print edition. This has made me want to understand the criteria for such decisions, as surely there is more visibility in print editions vs. online databases.

  28. Thanks for sharing that information, Bill. Kinda of the way I suspected the game was being played.
    Of course the wines reviewed in the print editions get a lot more attention than those buried on the on-line data. It doesn’t take a LosAlamos rocket scientist to figure that one out.
    See you up in Taos in a few weeks. Look forward to trying your 96-pt Cab.
    Tom

  29. Bruce Gutlove says:

    I fail to understand why a wine maker would be upset with a bad score. We know what’s in the bottle when it leaves the cellar. We’ve tasted the wine numerous times throughout the birthing process. We’ve had ample time to form an opinion.
    If the critic’s opinion is at odds with our own (and assuming the sample tasted was sound) then it simply means the critic got it wrong or is judging according to parameters with which we disagree.

    I understand why a winemaker might be upset if a critic’s differing or inexpert opinion impacts sales. But, as Cathy C. and others have said, live by the sword, die by the sword.
    The California wine industry has been complacent for far too long, allowing point-dispensing third parties to do the sales grunt work. Trying to communicate directly with your target audience is a far more sound long-term sales strategy.

  30. Tom – lest you think there are shenanigans in play…. there aren’t. Tons of reviews make the print editions without label inclusion. And if you think that label inclusion promotes higher scoring…not the case from my experience. I’ve gotten plenty of lower scores (which I probably deserved) which invalidates that theory for me. Steve and WE are very professional in their approach and actions.

    Also, I would imagine that in addition to the criteria Adam Strum mentions above, case production also probably comes into play. Frustrating for winemakers who make small lots, but totally understandable from a publishing perspective.

  31. It’s not clear to me why Mr. Hill would refer to online as “buried” when all we read these days is that consumers get their information online. This may reflect his own personal biases and practices.

  32. doug wilder says:

    “But in general I can tell you that there simply are not enough pages in the print edition of the magazine to publish all wines reviewed by all of the editors around the world.”

    I never understand this explanation. A magazine expands to fit the content (up to deadlines).

  33. Doug Wilder: that’s ridiculous.

  34. Brian, it is obvious to me that many reviews appear in the magazine without copies of labels. But I am left wondering if the purchase of label copy is being used to ‘ensure’ reviews are printed in the hard copy. Your speculation that case production is a possible criteria for appearance of a review in the magazine is perhaps a possibility, but my original question concerning criteria would be best answered by the magazine (I wouldn’t bother to send samples if my production was too low for them). I do not see evidence of that as there is a review of a wine in the December issue of WE that I happen to know is a production of only a few hundred cases. There must be some criteria behind such a choice, and I am just asking for some healthy sunlight to eliminate the shadow.

  35. Bob Henry says:

    Steve,

    In a comment I posted earlier this week, I inquired into you wine tasting regimen.

    This post begins that elaboration. I encourage you to continue on this subject for the benefit of consumers who seek a “paradigm” on critiquing wines at home and at public tasting events.

    As you observed with the 2011 California Pinot Noirs, the talents and earnest efforts of the winemaker, the reputation of the brand, and the renown of the property are all eclipsed when Mother Nature throws you a curve ball with moldy fruit.

    Flaw are flaws, and sometimes no heroic “intervention” will rescue a wine.

    Winery owners or winemakers or their marketing execs might “forum shop” for a more praiseworthy review/a higher score.

    But ultimately all reviewing operates in the realm of personal opinion, filtered through the prism of a critic’s experience and sensibilities.

    So I leave you with this non-rhetorical question: Have you ever been so persuaded by such an appeal that you voluntered to undertake a second review — to guard against an “off-bottle” misrepresenting the norm?

    And if “yes,” did the second reviewed bottle favorably alter your opinion of the wine?

    ~~ Bob

  36. Bob Henry says:

    Mea culpa on some typos above — comes with replying in the pre-dawn hours after a long business day.

    To Steve:

    Only now after reading through the 34 preceding replies do I see yours to Larry about occasionally retasting wines.

    To Mike Morton:

    “When did it become SO bad to be scored in the 80′s?”

    When too many wine merchants abandoned their historical role as “educators” and “taste makers” and “opinion leaders,” and relegated that function to reviewers like Robert Parker — allowing merchants to take the easy way out (no longer doing “hand sells”) and simply selling off of “Parker 90 points” review shelf-talkers.

    And to set the historical record straight, some reviewers aren’t particularly keen on having to “slog” through these wines . . . as Steve opined about his own preference in an earlier blog.

    Link: http://www.steveheimoff.com/index.php/2013/08/02/being-kind-to-mediocre-wine/

    Excerpt: “… under Wine Enthusiast’s rules … [a wine rated] 80 or 81 (barely drinkable) . . .

    “… In general you can say that any wine I review that scores between 80-84 points is not one I would wish to drink; yet such wines are drinkable, often eminently so, and, if priced right, can be bargains that receive the highly coveted ‘Best Buy’ special designation the magazine lists in the wine’s formal review in the Buying Guide. …

    “Is it my favorite thing to do, to taste through [‘best buy’ priced wines] …? I’d be lying if I said it was. …

    “… my preference [is] for reviewing the greatest wines in California …”

    To Kyle Schlachter:

    “If you decided to completely revamp your scoring system (maybe use something like three seashells…) . . .”

    The U.K. audio equipment/record review magazine Hi-Fi News & Record Review uses a twin rating scale for music recordings: one for technical excellence/audio fidelity; the second for the caliber of the performance.

    So by way of example, an old Enrico Caruso acoustic recording for a Victor Talking Machine player might rate poorly on audio fidelity, but highly on artistic interpretation.

    To Charlie Olken:

    See this 1997 Newsweek article titled ““When an A is Average;
    Duke takes on grade inflation.”

    Link: http://www.newsweek.com/when-average-170758

    Excerpt: “The average grade in the average course at Duke is now approaching A-minus — and, if anything, rising. When A stands for average, some faculty members are now asking, do grades mean anything at all?”

    And this 2001 Boston Globe article titled “Matters of Honor:
    Harvard’s Quiet Secret: Rampant Grade Inflation.”

    Link: http://steiner.math.nthu.edu.tw/usr3/note/harvard-grade.html

    Excerpt: “Last June, a record 91 percent of Harvard students graduated summa, magna, or cum laude, far more than at Yale (51 percent), Princeton (44 percent), and other elite universities, a Globe study has found. . . . Today, one-quarter of all honors go to these students who do not earn honors in their major. It requires only a B average overall, and not everyone needs a thesis.”

    And this 2001 Wall Street Journal article titled “To B or Not to B?”

    Link: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1008808906665607720.html

    Excerpt: “Harvard is now considering what to do about grade inflation. Having at last awakened to the scandal of giving its students 51% A’s and A-minuses and graduating 91% of them with honors. . . .”

    To Tom Hill and Bill Dyer:

    A former ad agency client of mine (Alize liqueurs) was being reviewed by Wine Enthusiast. The ad sales department contacted us to inquire whether the client wished to spend $1,000 to have their label reproduced in color and run adjacent to the review in the buyer’s guide.

    We politely declined. The review ran in the magazine.

    Wines & Vines covered the topic of the promotional nature of label reproductions in their July 2006 issue — part one of a two-part examination of Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Wine & Spirits.

    Link to part two: http://www.winesandvines.com/template.cfm?section=features&content=49232&ftitle=Dare%20We%20Critique%20The%20Critics%3F%20Why%20Not%3F

    (Sorry, I could not find a link to part one.)

    ~~ Bob

  37. Jason Brandt Lewis says:

    >>> I never understand this explanation. A magazine expands to fit the content (up to deadlines). <<<

    No, it doesn't.

    A magazine expands to fit the advertising content, not the editorial. The minimum number of pages most magazines can add by way of expansion is EIGHT. That increases paper costs, printing costs, mailing costs, and more. Ask Charlie if Connoisseurs' Guide can add eight pages . . . VOGUE can do it; Vanity Fair could do it; maybe even the Speculator could do it (especially around the holidays, but only by selling more ads to LVMH).

  38. Ordinary (enthusiast) consumer perspective on discussion started by Bill Dyer about print vs. online publication:

    1. My bet is the larger the production and wider the distribution of your wine, the less important it is to have your scores published in the print edition of WE, WS, or WA. To use WE as an example, quick internet research suggests print circulation/readership is maybe around 800,000. I’m guessing it’s really less than that. This number probably includes a lot of wineries and industry folks who aren’t reading to make consumption decisions. If you are a really high production/distribution wine, I’m betting you get a lot more from being able to market with the scores or have the scores used by retailers for shelf talkers. There just aren’t that many consumers who pour through wine review mags. (By way of example, my dad couldn’t be paid to read a wine mag. But he sure does incorporate scores on shelf talkers at Costco to help him make his buying decisions.) On the other hand, if you are a very small production/distribution winery, it is the kind of consumer who pours through the wine mags that you want. You don’t have the marketing budget to make a bunch of hay with the scores, nor can you be on a large number of retail shelves with shelf talkers. Therefore, it’s pretty cruel to hear suggested that a small production wine/winery could be excluded from the print edition on that basis. If that’s true, the big wine publications should reevaluate this criteria. As someone who buys a lot of wine direct from wineries, I’d be more interested in reading about unique wines from small producers than a great score for a widely available well-known wine.

    2. Regarding online review databases and Steve’s comments on that. As a consumer/enthusiast, I do use online databases frequently. But it requires me to be searching for a specific wine. What if I’ve never heard of Dyer or searching for Dyer would never occur to me? It would be MUCH more valuable to Dyer that I might see its high scoring wine when perusing the list of high scorers accompanying a feature on Napa Cabs. I don’t think there is any way that an online review is nearly as valuable as a print review for a small producer.

    3. Random comments on the WE online database. It’s a clunker. I use it, but not as much as the WS one (even though I’d give more credit to Steve’s reviews than those of some others to remain nameless) because it’s so clunky. Harder to search, harder to organize and review search results, etc. On top of all that, having tried from numerous computers, that DB will NOT save my login and password, nor will it save my password if I try to change it from the one randomly assigned, so every time I want to use it I have to reenter my login info, including the completely random password I can never remember that has been assigned to me by WE. Sorry for the rant, but since folks at WE are clearly reading this blog, maybe they’d be interested in the feedback.

  39. Brian,
    Depends a bit on what you call “shenanigans”. The days of British wine writers leaving their trunk unlocked when they visit a Chateau and, when they return home, mysteriously finding a case of that Chateau’s wine in their boot; or NateChroman strong-arming wineries for free meals & wines are (probably) long gone.
    We are repeatedly assured by the wine reviewers of various publications that wineries purchasing advertising in said publication has no influence in their reviews. I guess I’ll accept that at face value.
    What I understand, however, of how the game is played, is that the reviewer turns in his review/scores to the publication/business side of the operation. At this point, the advertising department then contacts said winemaker and gives him a heads up of a favorable review being submitted by the reviewer w/ the score. This heads up is accompained by a $1,195 “suggestion” that said winemaker can also have his label or mug-shot printed alongside the favorable review. Nothing is said as to whether the review will appear in the print publication or buried in the on-line tabulation of reviews/scores. I’ve heard this script related to me by a number of winemakers. This is just good hard-headed/heavy-handed business practices for a wine publication. No “shenanigans” are involved at all…no siree.
    Tom

  40. Mike, you get it: printing out shelf talkers from the data base to take to box stores is not so useful here at the Dyer Straits Wine Company LLC. However if we appear in the magazine as a Cellar Selection with 96 points, alongside well known labels from the same AVA rated at 94 points with much higher pricing, we might get some of those valuable mailing list subscribers who buy year after year. If as Brian suggested there is some level of case production below which the magazine chooses to not print a review that would be ironic. We generally make about 400 cases from our vineyard, but in 2010 we had to drop a lot of crop in response to early rains, then had additional losses with sorting, and finally we sold some barrels to the bulk market–this took our production down to 225 cases. This is the kind of narrative that remains as a backstory to a score, and can only be told in person–e.g. to a rocket scientist like Tom Hill while pouring at the Taos Winter Wine Festival. After which I can go skiing, which is the slippery slope I would prefer to be on. So in the end, if it is as Adam Strum suggested, that all scores above a certain number are printable, I will simply wait to see the review. If it does not appear, I will begin working on a wine that is big in style and big in production as well. Will I call it Biggy/Best, Firewall, or Shenanigans?

  41. Bob,
    Thanks for that link to the W&V article by Tish. It was an excellent (and revealing) read. Wish I could find the link to the Part I article. I was unsuccessful at that.
    Back when I first started reading wine magazines, back when JasonBrandtLewis was writing for them (PhilipSeldon’s Vintage, DickSherwin’s WineWorld, BobMorrisey’s WineSpectator to name the important ones); it was a whole nuther world. These publications were focused on educating the wine consumers (like me) and had well-written articles that were entertaining and informative. I have to say I learned a great deal from reading them and eagerly awaited their arrival in my mailbox (as in a box attached to a post out front of my house…very quaint) every month.
    Nowadays, the wine publications seem mostly focused on scoring wines (and capitalizing on the revenue that can generate) and the educating of the consumer w/ well-written articles is relegated to second tier status. As Jon characterizes it “readers forced to drink from the fire hose of wine scores”. I think Tish accurately captures the respective qualities of the 3 wine publications. I, too, find W&S has, by far, having the most informative/educational articles of the three..because they have a cadre of very good wine writers who write for them.
    It’s sorta sad. The state of today’s wine journalism would make HankRubin, Frank Prial, and NormRoby turn over in their graves, I think.
    Tom

  42. Jason Brandt Lewis says:

    Hey, Tom — I’m not even dead yet, and I’m turing over! ;^)

  43. doug wilder says:

    Steve,

    It is not ridiculous. Short of deadlines, there is no limit on the number of pages that can go into a magazine.

    JBL

    “The minimum number of pages most magazines can add by way of expansion is EIGHT.”

    By using a Perfect Binding the number of pages in a magazine can be increased by +2 pages, where a saddle stitch is +4 pages.

  44. Steve,

    Speaking as an ad agency veteran who handled countless print campaigns for clients, Doug’s quote is correct.

    You can “tip in” one two-sided page in a “perfect bound” magazine . . . or a folded four-sided page (“folio”) in a “saddle stitch” (staple bound) magazine.

    Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Folio

    The expansion of the magazine builds to accommodate the advertising.

    (Example: look at the “ad bank” that precedes the table of contents of high profile annual editions of “beauty” magazine — stuffed with ads from folks like Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein. Those “banks” can be nearly equivalent to a small magazine in and of themselves.)

    ~~ Bob

  45. Tom, et. al.:

    Persistence pays . . .

    Wines & Vines (July 2006, page 57ff) part one article can be found here:

    “Glossy Buying Guides: Smoke & Mirrors”

    http://www.wineforall.com/writing.html

    ~~ Bob

  46. “So by way of example, an old Enrico Caruso acoustic recording for a Victor Talking Machine player might rate poorly on audio fidelity, but highly on artistic interpretation.”

    Sounds like Olympic Ice Dancing!

  47. Jason Brandt Lewis says:

    I’ll stand corrected, but I have always been told — when a writer for Wine World, for South Bay, and by publishers Marvin Shanken and Robert Parker — the number was 8. Clearly I drank some Kool-Air along the way . . .

  48. Jason Brandt Lewis says:

    (Nonetheless, you STILL have to pay for it. Thus I will STILL stand by my comment that it’s advertising that expands a magazine’s pages, not editorial content.)

  49. Jason, advertising is the limiting factor only if you let it be the limiting factor. There are lots of publications without advertising that can publishes much is it wants. Two good wine publication examples are Loam Baby and Purely Domestic Wine Report. Of those publications is slowly dependent on editorial content…

  50. Bob Henry says:

    Tom, et. al.:

    Here are links to the Los Angeles Times two-part article on wine writers circa 1987:

    http://articles.latimes.com/print/1987-08-23/news/mn-3198_1_wine-writers

    http://articles.latimes.com/print/1987-08-24/news/mn-1965_1_wine-advocate

    “Full disclosure”: their Sunday Times magazine wine columnist Robert Lawrence Balzer was my mentor through enrollment in his twice-annual, eight consecutive Tuesday nights wine appreciation course in downtown Loa Angeles. The Los Angeles Times was a former ad agency client of mine. And Times investigative journalism David Shaw was a friendly acquaintance.

    Nathan Chroman’s Times obituary:

    http://articles.latimes.com/print/2012/mar/20/local/la-me-nathan-chroman-20120320

    Robert Balzer’s obituary:

    http://articles.latimes.com/print/2011/dec/09/local/la-me-adv-robert-balzer-20111209

    Robert Finigan’s obituary:

    http://articles.latimes.com/print/2011/oct/19/local/la-me-robert-finigan-20111019

    ~~ Bob

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