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A hate letter from a winery owner over a review


Hey, I’m used to getting some tough reaction from wineries over my scores, but really, this is the most violent blowback I ever got. I’m not going to identify the emailer, but you can determine for yourself if it’s psycho talk. Read it, then I’ll continue with my remarks.

A Small Man in Many Ways

S-tupid, small minded
T-atooed like a fool
E-rectile inversion, get the pump
H-omosapien, poor excuse for one
E-xtra insincere
I-gnoramous, immature
M-ean, will someday meet his maker like all the rest of us but how will he explain the…
O-ff putting, odorous, bullshit he feeds people, his malicious intent reeks
F-oul  and…

The sender followed this up with a long email the next day. It was laced with obscenities and sexual innuendo. Here’s a taste: “FUCK YOU, YOU LITTLE PIECE OF SHIT.”

What happened was, I gave one of this winery’s wines a score they didn’t like (84). This evidently led to a situation with one of their distributors that was not in their favor. The writer also disliked the text part of my review. “The written portion of your reviews reveal your lack of tact, lack of poise and expose you as a bully,” she wrote.

I want to say something here about my written reviews. I taste a lot of wine that is mediocre and some that is outright bad. Long ago, I developed a philosophy I’ve hewed to for years. It goes something like this: If a wine is mediocre, give it the appropriate numerical rating, but write the review up in more positive terms, for the sake of compassion. There’s no sense kicking a man when he’s already down on the ground. There’s always a way to say something critical in a kind way, as opposed to being downright nasty.

Some other parts of the email:

Most of the wines submitted to you had received gold medals Do you expect me to be impressed that a wine got a gold medal someplace? Should that make me think twice about my impression of it?

[A friend] said:  Wow, what beef does he have with ___ Winery? I have no beef with any winery. Wine reviewing isn’t personal.

You’re one of those fame chasers, a popularity seeker Actually, it’s just the opposite. Ask around to find out how little I enjoy “fame.”

Your writing is mediocre at best. Now, that is below the belt! Give me credit at least for being a good writer, even if you don’t like what I say!

People are your ‘friends’ because they’re afraid of you I don’t know if she means my Facebook friends, or my actual friends. Anyway, if some people are afraid of me, there’s not a thing I can do about it. I tell them not to be. I hope no one is. I don’t know why they would be. I encourage people to call, email, whatever, and I tell them not to apologize for interrupting me, etc. When I’m on the road, I don’t throw any weight around. There’s no reason to be afraid of me. I try my best to let everyone know that I’m just this guy living in Oakland who’s paid to write about wine.

[You’re] just trying to get a free meal OMG! I hope all the winemakers and public relations people who know this isn’t true will write in! In the beginning, yes, I did accept every invitation to lunch or dinner. That was 20 years ago. The novelty wore off quickly. I go to about 10 lunches a year, max, and maybe half as many dinners. I do it for work, not because I want a free meal.

It’s funny how the writer uses the word “little” so much in both her emails. Yes, I’m short. So what? Do we have to resort to ad hominem attacks? She also called me “a trust fund type.” That’s a laugh, as my CPA will tell you. I’m “a bloodsucker.” An “oddity.” I “aspire to be accepted by the elitist pigs.” Really? Tell that to my friends in Occupy Oakland.

Okay, the emailer had to get it off her chest. I feel her pain. I need to vent, too, when stuff happens to me that I think is unfair. But really, have we descended so far down the etiquette chain that it’s now considered appropriate to send crap like this?

  1. Dennis Tsiorbas, comment #50

    Light hearted response, but still stuck to his guns. The finish had notes of sarcasm with a hint of humor. The reference to previous commentary was a nice surprise in this comment. A little short for my taste, but fairly concentrated. Nice effort…… 89 points.

  2. Wow. Total meltdown and totally uncalled for. Why take it so personally? Bully to you Steve for not publishing their name. There are a lot of people out there that wouldn’t have been so kind.

    Steve, you are one of the most professional and unassuming people I know. Whether they fault you for your political or personal views, nobody can question your professionalism and objectivity when it comes to wine.

    If winery owners don’t agree with the scores you’ve given their wine, why send them to you? As Albert Einstein once wrote, “Insanity – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Sounds pretty insane to me.

  3. vow. that’s some venting. i am shocked someone could react so violently to a score, fer chrissakes! but like Stu Smith mentioned, there is much stress underfoot.

    good that you did not publish the name: there are copyright issues involved since you published the letter. just sayin’, but this letter was personal between you and the queen “b” (fill in the rest of the word as you will!). that gal should have never sent it, but i don’t think it should’ve been published. it’s so tabloid-esque and unbecoming of you and your endeavors.

    it’s like the rather unfriendly comment i got when i first started my blog, by someone in the neighboring AVA, a winemaker — i’ve been DYING to out this guy, and one day when i see him i will personally tell him what i think of him, but until then, i’ve only hinted at in some of my writings the “warm welcome” we received by a neighboring wine maker of standing in the community. i know he’s a tosser, and that’s good enough for me.

  4. sorry – back again — forgot to say, despite the stress that surrounds, this in no way legitimizes that gal’s rant. totally unacceptable.

    and i’m with you, steve, about ideas RE etiquette. very disheartening, to say the least.

  5. May I say this is THE WEEK for wine psychos? Can’t believe the coincidence:

    A WSET classmate works in a wine shop and sold me a bottle of wine. I had questions — but not complaints — about the bottle, so I wrote the winery with questions, as I often do with small wineries (they generally care about their wines and are interested to explain about them). Winemaker diagnosed a fault and offered me a new bottle through the wine store (law doesn’t permit her to send me one).

    The WSET classmate intercepted our email exchanges when she contacted the shop. He began berating me through emails like a lunatic on how I had no right to contact the winery, that I insulted her (wildly untrue), and that I needed to buy a new bottle to try (he doesn’t even own the shop; just a clerk).

    He repeated the lunacies in the presence of other classmates (Diploma level). When I told him he’d have to stop the public lies he flipped out. Clearly he’s influencing any communication with his boss and with the winery; so I’m taking the high road and will avoid both the shop and not bother trying to get the winemaker’s replacement bottle. And I’ll avoid crazy classmate like the Black Plague.

    No simple answers once you realize a person is CRAZY.

    What is this: International Wine Crazies Week?

  6. For the record, I am NOT expecting Steve to send me the name of the author of that letter!

    I was basically hyperbolic-ally expressing my shared dismay and indicating that I would take this seriously enough to not review wines from that producer if I did know who that person was – essentially saying that this type of behavior would warrant them being ‘blacklisted.’

    But I do NOT expect Steve to actually do that!

  7. Relax 1WineDude. Nobody expects me to tell you. It’s a compliment to you that somebody thinks I would.

  8. All in this not so small room concur Mr Heimoff operates with both sensitivity as well professionalism.
    Too, his books are on par with the man of letters, John McPhee (IMHO).
    Steve has contributed considerable to an audience with a serious love and interest for wine.
    Without that perspective we’d be less in so many elements to consider in the wine world.
    Nuff’ said.

    Best to YOU, Steve. Keep doing what you do so well.


  9. Bill Green says:

    Sorry, as a journalist I think you should be above all this. It takes class to take the high road.

  10. Wiremule, thank you. Made my day.

  11. Cabfrancophile says:

    SUAMW, would it really enhance a two-line review to provide specific cases of flaws? Or, rather, speculation? Sure, WE could send a sample of each wine to test for technical flaws, if cost were no object. Or some flaws will display obvious characteristics. But often it’s hard to tell if a wine is a little Bretty or a little bit reduced sulfide-y or has Mourvedre/Syrah in a funky state. Or if toasty aromas are from a barrel or a (different) reduced sulfide compounded produced in primary fermentation. The geranium taint you pointed out may have a single cause, but simply describing it conveys the message pretty well.

  12. WOW! I wonder what this guy did when a Teacher gave him a “C” Sounds like his Parents always praised and never found fault in Little Mr. Perfect!

    Parents should learn from this Nut!

  13. Unbelievable! But brings up something I’ve wondered; what is the proper protocol to say a simple ‘thanks man!’ when we are the recipient of a positive review? I know that reviews are best, and reader and winery are best served when the evaluation of all wines is impartial. But we as winemakers can’t help but be proud of our babies, and get a boost when others appreciate them too. Is a simple thank you note out of line? Cheers!

  14. My God! I am speechless.

  15. Nathan, a thank you note is never out of line. But as I always reply, Don’t thank me–I didn’t “give” you anything. All I did was acknowledge the quality of your wine.

  16. Its too bad Prince of Pinot won’t comment and share the almost same letter he received from this person.

    Unfortunately from syntax its pretty clear to many whom it is, but no one dares name them, as consumers, wineries, and writers/bloggers have all been on the receiving end of this communication, although the persons condition seems to be worsening. Having had to spend a fair amount of money replying via attorney, and final a letter to cease and desist on defamation of character, this bear is best left in its cave, trust me. Or the entire community needs to work together, combine the dozens of letters and threats, and start a class action.

    In my former tech industry life, this likely would have long been done, but the good souls of the wine industry, God bless them, are conflict averse and believe in the spirit of good harmony.

  17. Cabfrancophile, I one has trouble discerning “if a wine is a little Bretty or a little bit reduced sulfide-y” or distinguishing oak toast from mercaptans, they need to practice your sensory assessment skills. If that does improve, then there is a problem with the evaluator…

  18. David Vergari says:

    Whoa!…this serves as yet another reason why vintners should NOT drink and write. Can you imagine working for this individual?

  19. Obviously this was posted in a publiccation of some sort as the distributor got wind of it. Now I know I am gong to sound like the devils advocate here, and I do not, in anyway, agree with the way the winery represented themselves, but did you have to publish the score? It appears that the winery had alot riding on your review (although that is not your problem). Was this the only wine you have reviewed for them? Did they have a chance to send you another sample because perhaps the one you tasted was not representative of the vintage/winery/quality? Did you give them a “heads up” about the wine prior? Just some questions because I am naive and uneducated about how all this review stuff works. In either case the winery or winery rep is clearly in the wrong here. I am not sure if this is the wineries pricipals or owner who feel this way but I would never approve of this response. They should be doing damage control not makeing the situation worse.

  20. Dosage Dog says:

    I guess the winemaker never heard P.T. Barnum’s (or was it W.C Fields)quote, “The only bad publicity is no publicity” or something along those lines. When a winemaker asks me how to avoid bad reviews, I usually respond “Make good wine”.
    This lady would have been better off asking some of her fans to write reviews on her wine.

  21. I was just talking to a friend in the biz yesterday and, as Steve and everyone who posted knows, there are crazies everywhere (certainly in the wine biz) and I always wonder, in this case out loud, where the heck are they coming from… What has happened to them? How have they developed their lens on life? You don’t want an 84? Don’t submit your wine. Wait, no, don’t make wine.

    The upside… lots of great folks in this biz, too. Navigating the waters carefully to limit contact with crazy. Happy Friday, Steve and all.

  22. Gregg Burke says:

    Hey Steve as critical as I am about critics and point scores that person is Bat S**T Crazy. Also I did not know you are in the vertically challanged club. I missed you at the meetings.

  23. David Rossi says:

    Sorry you had to get that letter, but it is pretty hilarious. Wow what a total blow up. You should take some pride in having someone spend that much time thinking about you. Admittedly it’s also creepy, but flattering in a weird way.

  24. Manfred Esser says:

    Steve: I’m absolutely speechless. How can someone being so utterly upset and offending. Yes, this person should stop making wine. 84 is not great but also not the end of the world. Let’s tell him:

    Regards, Manfred Esser

  25. WOW! That’s insane.

    I understand a lot of people are under stress in this economy to sell wine but really…

    IT’S ONLY WINE PEOPLE. Get a grip. As much as we all love it we’re not saving lives here. No one should take it that seriously. If she thinks a single review has impacted her business that drastically she has WAY more riding on it than she should which leads me to believe that not only did you tell the truth about the wine in the review but that their consumers are seeing the same thing you did.

    Stay strong Steve!

  26. Wow, she clearly has a screw loose. All that over an 84? Sheesh, wonder what would happen with a 78?

  27. David V.

    Why are you assuming she was drinking? :-))

  28. similar experience with same person.

  29. Alan Goldfarb says:

    Steven: As a critic, I was always flattered when someone commented on my reviews; the negative ones, too. The latter, of course, can be disconcerting — and this one is waaaay over the top (see the Republican lineup).

    But you handled it just right.

    Now, as a flack, I can attest that I have to beg Steven to come to one of my clients luncheons/dinners. That’s because he’s at his desk seemingly 24/7, writing.

    Keep doing what you do, my friend; and don’t let ’em get away with nuthin’.

  30. Steve,

    Props for posting this. The upside is we all get to witness the vitriol (LOL at the antics? the presentation? the absurd extent of the hate?), and share in your pain. Being a critic puts you at a sometimes awkward crossroad between product and commerce. Would have been better if this winery owner had taken a bigger-picture view of the score, but that’s life.

    On a more personal note, as I move into production on my first batch of Hip Tastes wine, I am beginning to better understand the anxiety that grows out of the commerce side of the equation. But: no matter what you say about my wine, we can still be friends. 😉

    Cheers, CC

  31. journalists, HA!

    now that’s funny

  32. Megghen Driscol says:

    I was hoping this was an early April fool’s joke and sad to see that it’s not. May I just say that in the more than 20 years we have worked together, you’ve given my brands some very high ratings; you’ve given my brands some very low ratings; you’ve said yes to a small handful of lunches; and you’ve said no to dozens and dozens more (even when they were at very desirable locations). No matter the case, you’ve always been respectful, honest and humble. She should be ashamed of herself, I’m sure her mother raised her better than that! I wonder how she would feel if someone set her child a letter like the one she sent you. If we are truly One Village, then she is our idiot.

  33. Steve, you are a pro and a decent-to-his-bones guy. I wouldn’t have been so kind. I’ve had a few hate mails that come close to this – wish I’d thought to blog about them. Then maybe I could get 82 comments IN A DAY!

    Rock on, dude. No one said it was easy being an unpaid winery PR flack… oops, I mean a wine reviewer.

  34. Having been on both sides of the equation, submitting wines and reviewing wines,I completely subscribe to Steve’s philosophy and respect him for his keen palate, great writing and soft heart.

    When a winery submits a wine for review, they have to be prepared for anything that comes. Wineries hope for the 98 point score so they can shout it from the rooftops but if it’s an 84, just don’t broadcast it. The reviewer pay be doing you a favor. You may just be suffering from “House Palate.”

    Keep up the good work, Steve and when are we going to get you out here for dinner?

  35. There are so many dumb people that take it so personal. You are qualifying the wine. That’s it. It’s only your opinion. And she attacks you having no evidence of what she says. What a troll!

    To that kind of people you shouldn’t have resentment, but pity.

    Best regards from Mexico.

  36. I’d be much more likely to purchase an “84” scored wine, then I would a 90 pointer, from a nut job having a meltdown.

    I wonder what reactions she’s had when others respond to her question of, does my butt look big in these pants? Point is, she shouldn’t submit wine for scoring if she can’t handle the truth.

  37. 84? By definition, that’s a good wine, right? (Opening my February 2012 edition of WE right now… 83-86, Good; suitable for everyday consumption; often good value.) I’m with Cristopher… what if it were a 78? Or worse, I remember Spectator reviewing Gallo of Sonoma Chard a 55 (the 2002 Sonoma Reserve Chard)… now that could have warranted something resembling her breakdown, but an 84? You are a better man than I, Steve. My response would have two words: eat shit!

  38. Very embarrassed by her. So sorry it happened, but am glad you posted. A reminder of how important civility and respect are, regardless of the context. Sadlly missing in our national political arena too.

  39. Dear k2: You correctly cite Wine Enthusiast parameters. Obviously I will not say to anyone “Eat shit.” The person in question may have mental issues and I do not wish to add to her burdens.

  40. William Allen, I’m not conflict averse. But I don’t want to throw gasoline onto a fire. From personal correspondence I’ve learned more about the sender. She seems to have issues and we should support her conflict resolution.

  41. Rafa Ibarra, best regards to Mexico, a country I love and respect and have visited often.

  42. Wow. That is so outside the realm of things that are acceptable that I almost don’t know what to say. I guess the appropriate response would be something like “Thank you so much for taking the time to reach out to me. Your insight on my rating process is always appreciated. It’s always a pleasure working with you and getting the opportunity to review your wines. I can’t wait to review the (next) vintage.” =D That oughta’ get a lift out of them. 😉

  43. I must have been living under a rock to have missed this blog the other day.

    BUT, Steve, you show too much class. In the first place, if you do not post the score the wine deserves, your readers are being shortchanged. You exist because of them, not because of the wineries. They pay your bills.

    In the second place, the writer is dangerous and needs to be exposed. I suspect that there is something close to illegal in the kind of harassment and bullying to which you have been suspect.

    In the third, I missed the place at which you said what you would do the next time this occured. We all get this kind of outrageous mail, and, yes, we all ignore it, but I swore long ago that if I ever got another piece of mail from the winemaker that called me a “soiled sanitary napkin” (and I am paraphrasing here for the faint of heart), that I would speak to an attorney about it.

    Being a critic means people will disagree with us. Some wineries simply stop dealing with us–like the one whose woman owner (wonder if it is the same one) called up, ranted over the one wine I did not recommend out of ten and then hung up with “you’ll never see my wines again”. OK, I get it. Don’t send me your wines.

    But why did they arrive the otehr day after a couple of years of not being sent? Was it because you can’t sell you wines because of your personality?

    Turning the other cheek is noble, Steve, but be careful that the other check does not get hit with a brick from this possibly deranged person. Clearly, her response was irrational, and if it happens again, it should be exposed for what it is. Fight fact with fact.

  44. Charlie, from private emails people have sent me, I’ve learned that the woman is well known in her area for deranged behavior and is probably in need of treatment. I’m glad I didn’t say who she is, because it would have made the situation worse.

  45. I had a similar issue once. They didn’t curse but did go for personal attacks via FB and email. Then found my employer via my FB profile and contacted them. Apparently thought I should be fired if not silenced.

  46. The peculiar choice of an acrostic poem strikes me as especially clumsy. If her wine was anything like her writing, 85 was a gift. I am sorry you ended up on the wrong side of her poorly poisoned pen but the unhinged author/winery owner is to me the true object of pity, she must be utterly isolated and despised if this is her MO.

  47. Wow; I would hazard a guess that your review of the wine was only the last straw with this winemakers distributor relationship (Not that your words do not carry heavy weight). It would not surprise me to find out that the Distributor found the winery to be hard to work with and unable to meet the demands of the market. A market that is highly demanding, especially in these economic times.
    I hope that such a reaction to your review was only a case of temporary insanity and in the light of day a calmer, cooler introspective will prevail driving the winemaker forward.

  48. That’s really disgusting Steve. I’m sorry you had to put up with that kind of abuse. That person is a really miserable excuse for a human being. Fortunately most people are decent and reasonable. Keep up your great work and don’t let some sick person upset you! They are not worth the air you breathe!

  49. I read only now this post, a really disturbing reaction from disturbed people. But you are lucky (for that) don’t live in Italy; here people who don’t agree with a review has the bad habit to go to the lawyer

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