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Did Rodney Strong manipulate bloggers, use clever marketing, or both?



I found myself in a bit of a flap this morning. Yesterday, I made a comment on Mike Duffy’s blog, The Winery Web Site Report. He’d written about Rodney Strong sending preview samples of their debut 2005 Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon ($75) to “a select group bloggers” in advance of sending it the usual way to paper-based wine reviewers like me (although obviously I’m a blogger too!). I didn’t know about the program, not having been contacted, although I did know about the impending Rockaway launch because Rodney Strong has been aggressively touting it through press releases for quite a while. Over the past week or so, during my routine web cruising, I’d seen a spate of glowing tributes to Rockaway on various wine blogs. These were almost universally positive and had phrases like “Making History” and “bold and prescient” and “cool and revolutionary.” As I saw more and more of these postings, I thought, WTF? But I let it go until I came across Duffy’s blog. That’s when I wrote this comment:

“Maybe the early release to bloggers will prove to be a good move on Rodney Strong’s part. But when I started seeing all these online reviews of Rockaway I really had to wonder. Why did all those bloggers give it free publicity? Don’t they get free wine every day? So why write about Rockaway? I haven’t had the wine (plan to review it tonight) and I have no idea if it’s any good, but it shows how easily some parts of the blogosphere can be manipulated into providing free publicity to wineries.”

That comment stirred up something of a s**tstorm. One person said it “smacks of some old media arrogance…” Another asked, “How exactly is this any different from WE or any other glossy getting samples and writing about them? Isn’t that ‘free’ publicity for the winery?” 1WineDude, who participated in the launch, wrote: “I did ask RS why they decided to do this, and my take on their response was that their PR / Marketing dept. was the driver behind it…” while Jeff, at Good Grape blog, said my comment was “misguided” and “made in something of a vacuum.”


So let me spell out my discomfort with Rodney Strong’s approach, even while I concede it was clever marketing. Rodney Strong for years has been trying to get the High Scores and the resulting attention for their wines. Nothing wrong with that. My impression has been that, while their reviews (at least, from me) have been quite good, it’s never been enough for owner Tom Klein. I figure the order must have gone out to the marketing and PR people (just as 1WineDude surmised) to figure out a way around the mainstream wine media and garner some attention in a new way. And guess what? It worked! The problem from my perspective is that those who participated were manipulated, and happily embraced their manipulators. I don’t blame any of the bloggers for reporting on Rodney Strong’s unique marketing strategy, but the glowing, gushing and self-referential “Aren’t we special?” quality is, for me, a turnoff. As for WE getting samples, yes, I do all the time, but I don’t write headlines or columns or special blogs about them, I just review them along with everything else. And I note that quite a number of well-known bloggers, who must have been approached by Rodney Strong, evidently declined to participate. I think they saw the potential for themselves to be used and decided, wisely, not to allow it.

Update (Aug. 27) Apparently, the participating bloggers agreed in advance to write about the wine. If a winery told me they’d send me a wine only if I agreed to write about it, I’d strongly refuse.

  1. It’s an interesting point, Steve. There is no question that the winery is getting free publicity here.

    And yes, there is some smarmy “wee look at me!” factor going on about the fact that we bloggers were included in Rockaway’s inaugural launch. At least, I know *I* was going for a bit of the “wee look at me!” factor, if only to piss off the old farts at the WS forums (just kidding… sort of).

    It’s not manipulation, though – part of the pay off for Rodney Strong in this case is the near-instantaneous (and free) publicity, in exchange for the risk they take in involving the blogging medium.

    I think inherit in your take on this (correct me if I’ve gotten it wrong) is that one could argue that wine bloggers shouldn’t be trumpeting the fact that they got included in this type of review at all, and/or should already be charging for reviews, etc.

    I.e., if wine blogging (or an individual wine blog) is credible, just review the wine and get on with it.

    My approach: if I like the wine, they winery deserves any publicity they happen to get from exposure on my blog. If they want to advertise, now that’s a different story.

    This may just a case be where wine blogging and wine mags. differ, because the publication media are so different. But I certainly don’t feel manipulated.

    As for the well-known bloggers who didn’t participate… the explanation that one is actually a little more… well, *complicated*, but I don’t think it had to do with a sense of manipulation…

  2. No doubt there is long list of “mainstream” news outlets who have had been used, especially when advertising dollars or freebies are involved…something called editoral equity so why would not that be the same in the blogging world? I’m suprised that you’re suprised. Its funny though if you post enough stuff some people come to view you as an expert.

  3. 1WineDude: “I.e., if wine blogging (or an individual wine blog) is credible, just review the wine and get on with it.” Exactly!

    Frank: There’s a difference between being sent a bottle and reviewing it [on the one hand] and declaring “Isn’t it cool and revolutionary that they sent me a bottle” [on the other hand]. It just seems a little unseemly to me. See 1WineDude’s comment, above.

  4. Hello Steve-

    I am one of the bloggers who participated in the early release program from Rodney Strong. I can clearly only speak for myself, but I for one did not and do not feel manipulated by the release to bloggers.

    I take it as I do other samples: Any time I choose to review a sample, whether it came from a winery, from a store, or from an online outlet, I am giving free publicity to that organization. I am always clear to note when I have received a sample and from where I received it, since I review a lot of wine that I purchase myself as well.

    Reviewing the wine that I purchase myself, I am also providing free publicity. I also review wineries I visit, wine shops I frequent, restaurants I dine at, etc. All free publicity.

    How is that disimilar from any traditional media outlet that reviews a wine or a restaurant? The reviewed organization gets its name in print and gets publicity it didn’t pay for there as well.

    Of course many of us noted the unique element of Rodney Strong releasing to us first, and an element of excitement to be included in this effort. It was a first. Why would we not note that? A different approach to marketing a wine certainly seems newsworthy to me, whether or not I was included in that approach.

    Would you have preferred it be released on the same day to traditional media and bloggers? On a whole, with clearly shorter publishing times, bloggers still could have had the potential to review the wine before other media forms.

    In terms of the wine bloggers who did not particiapte, well, at my best guess there are over 200 wine blogs out there. This was a small, concentrated effort. You’d have to talk to Jeff at Good Grape, as he worked to select bloggers and coordinate the release, to get the details, but last I heard, only one person that he contacted declined to participate.

  5. Sonodora, thanks for your comment. I don’t really blame you or the other bloggers for being excited and flattered to be involved in the Rockaway thing. It was validation for blogging, and now that I’m a blogger, I share in that excitement and the possibilities that wine blogging opens up. I just found the tone of several of the bloggers to be a little overly triumphant. Maybe it’s just my style, but it just sounds to me like some of the posts read more like a press release from Rodney Strong than the kind of independent, skeptical reporting one expects from a blog.

  6. I wasn’t privy to all of the details regarding how the participating bloggers were chosen, but I do know that it wasn’t based simply on ‘who would accept’.

    To Frank’s point, certainly there are many, many blogs that imply expertise, but can’t back it up. But there are several others that can back it up, and others that, while they may not be trained wine experts or journalists, have no doubt tasted many, many wines and do have some skills when it comes to their palates. I think the Rockaway reviews represent the later. Some people who have wine expertise are *choosing* to blog.

    ***Potential Off-Topic Warning***
    It’s interesting that blogging is often thought to require journalism skills and topical expertise. Neither are required to blog, and neither are required for a blog to be good (or popular). It’s just a different medium than the world of print. Conversely, not every blogger is a topical neophyte that lacks writing and reporting skills. The canvas of of the ‘blogosphere’ is just too complex for either extreme to hold true.

    I target my blog to be somewhere in the middle. Sometimes I make the target, sometimes I don’t (the perils of being unedited…).

  7. Morton Leslie says:

    Was the manipulation the winery sending preview samples to bloggers making it clear to the bloggers they were given the opportunity to scoop the print media? If so, this could be the first time the wine media were ever manipulated by a winery. Usually they are so impossible to influence.

    I was looking at some wine futures at K&K and was struck about how the 2007’s all have Parker, WS and Tanzer scores. Already? They won’t go into the bottle for a year. This seems perfect territory for bloggers. How long will it be before all the bloggers are getting barrel samples from the wineries? Better yet, we send them a sample from the fermenter and get a published score before the must is actually wine.

    Steve, I can just see your comment. “Deep murky purple color, medium yeast, fruit forward Welch’s style, long prickly finish, one seed….tasted three times (between pumpovers)…79 -99 points. S.H.” 😉

    (Hint to winery….send Steve a sample from your best fermenter just like the best barrel you send to the Spectator.)

  8. Forgot to mention (and I promise this is my last comment for this post! :-), I think you’ll find that if wine bloggers continue to be included in similar future releases (i.e., premier of allocated brands, receiving releases alongside or before ‘mainstream’ wine media), the self-righteous volume will turn way, way down.

    I.e., you don’t need to be “validated” every time – only the *first* time.

    And while we no doubt cast a positive eye on RS / Rockaway for putting its faith in us, I can assure you if the wine had tasted like Yellowtail mixed with Petit Verdot, I’d have said it sucked and that RS needed to go back to the drawing board, and told my readers to steer well clear of it.

  9. Hi Steve, I understand the unseemly part. I suppose because the blogging medium is still in its infancy they do not expect to be used by the industry.

    I have meet more then my fair share of “traditional” wine journalists who have come to expect wines sent their way, along with dinners, events, hospitality, overnight stays.

    So when you’re talking traditional media, the unseemly is accepted….the bloggers are just starting to get a taste of the benefits. It’s really a symbiotic relationship. It’s funny, but my word spell check still trys to correct me when I type blogger.

  10. Now Morton, you’re not implying a winery would falsify a sample sent to a famous reviewer, are you? ; >

  11. Morton…..did you say this tongue in cheek?

    “If so, this could be the first time the wine media were ever manipulated by a winery. Usually they are so impossible to influence.”

    Thanks for the laugh! 🙂

  12. Frank, far from me to begrudge you a taste. Just be skeptical of carrying anyone’s water.

  13. I wasn’t even going to dignify this with a response, but I would just like to state for the record that I was not manipulated, that I engaged in the following experiment: what would happen if a group of bloggers reviewed the same wine the same week? The wine was Rodney Strong, it was the first time a winery had done this kind of coordinated release to bloggers, and it seemed to me like an interesting idea. Bloggers have, in fact, been kicking this idea around for a couple of years now, and this was the first time that someone successfully managed to do it. Another similar experiment happened with Hugel the same week–and I don’t see the flap directed at those bloggers!

    Not one of my readers complained. Many outclicked to sign up for the two allocated wines I described. I was clear about participation, and did a review post the Sunday following all the reviews. If this makes me seem gushing and over the top, you obviously don’t read your own publication very often, not to mention other wine publications.

  14. “I can just see your comment. “Deep murky purple color, medium yeast, fruit forward Welch’s style, long prickly finish, one seed….tasted three times (between pumpovers)…79 -99 points. S.H.”

    Morton, I can’t stop laughing!

    On another note, I’m questioning (and confused) by the “We’re making history” comment. As far as I know, I receive samples upon release and I don’t consider my site or myself a mainstream publication.

  15. Morton Leslie says:

    No, I suggest we just falsify what we send to bloggers. They are new to this and are just learning the ropes. It would be dangerous to try to fool the experienced, mainstream wine media with all their careful due diligence.

  16. Mainstream wine media and due diligence? 🙂 Did you happen to read about a recent Wine Spectator, (I would imagine they qualify as mainstream) Wine list fiasco? Perhaps about the Broadbent issue with conterfeit auction wines?

  17. Frank, I don’t normally explain someone’s comment to someone else, but I think we can safely assume that Morton’s tongue was firmly in his cheek.

  18. Thanks Steve, I have to remember not to be too literal when reading stuff, those emotioncons help. You have a great blog! Funny when reading this, no one so far has commented on the fact that Rodney Strong has a $75 bottle of wine. Ouch man.

  19. $75 is the new $40.

  20. It’s all pretty funny for me.

    I wasn’t even able to get their PR department/person to return a simple query Email when I was interested in their concert program. Actually wrote about their event, after having purchased a couple of tickets for Fourplay (the jazz band…). Then, I forwarded what was written about the event to their company, and still haven’t heard a peep!

    Now I know why… They were busy packaging Rockaway wines for bloggers’ publicity, with their backs turned to the walls. Too funny.

    The upshot?

    When I was working for Bill Hambrecht at Belvedere Winery, vineyard manager Hector Bedolla took me to an Alexander Valley ranch – undeveloped – called Rockaway. Hector drove me to the pinnacle, where we could see in the far distance the top of the Golden Gate Bridge. (It was a clear day.)

    I photo journaled the vineyards going in (still have the slides). My family was allowed to use an elaborate VIP picnic area for one of my daughter’s weddings, and I left a piece of my heart on that hill.

    I can now only wonder…

  21. Okay, folks…

    I would like to speak up about Rockaway a bit. I am the PR guy (name Robert Larsen) that initiated sending Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon to a handful of wine bloggers. I work for Rodney Strong.

    First, let me say that as a company, certainly as a communications person, we/I value all forms of media; traditional print, broadcast, and electronic. With Rockaway and all wines from Rodney Strong, we are excited to have people taste our wine and provide their opinions. Rockaway has now been sent to a number of traditional print journalists as well as the bloggers. The blogging community has demonstrated its credibility as a powerful communications group, one that can quickly get information to their audience. Lead times for most traditional media can be weeks, sometimes months. With something new, like Rockaway, it made absolute sense, with complete transparency, to send them samples and wish for the best. We were and are, after all, very excited about the quality we put in the bottle. And, admittedly, with genuine excitement about this wine, I wanted to get the word out.

    Working with the bloggers was not a form of manipulation, nor was it intended to show favoritism; rather it was a real opportunity, having confidence in our product, to introduce ourselves to a new and real group of influential media.

    The credibility of wine publications and wine writers is long established and recognized. They are, along with others (bloggers), arguably sommeliers should be included, part of a force that drives wine trial and ever-increasing awareness regarding the enjoyment of wine. The ways that people get information changes very fast, however, and sitting on the sidelines was not an option.

    Ultimately, what’s in the bottle is what counts.

  22. Steve,

    Seriously, I mean, how dumb do you think people are to be manipulated by a winery.

    I’m trying really hard to not hit below the belt here, but shall we talk about your employ, Wine Enthusiast magazine? This is the same magazine that named the Olive Garden management team as their person of the year for 2006.

    You’re going to call me out? Where are your checks coming from? I do this for free.

    To set the record straight, completely straight, one blogger, Tyler Colman from Dr. Vino declined to participate. He did so because he didn’t like the requirement to write. That’s fine. We moved on.

    If you want any more details, though you’ve never asked, I can be reached via cell phone at: 317-490-5637 or email


  23. If you want to check the facts why don’t you just contact Jeff, The Good Grape or call the winery?

    Why all the finger pointing?

  24. Jeff, Olive Garden was not my choice, although those who supported it made a compelling case for them encouraging millions of Americans to enjoy inexpensive varietal wine, which is a pretty cool achievement. At any rate, these decisions of awards are taken at a level well above my pay grade. I work for a very big company and there are some things that happen within it I can control and some things I cannot, and I don’t waste my time worrying about what I can’t. What I can control is the integrity with which I do my job in California. My criticism was not of the bloggers’ participation in Robert Larsen’s launch, and not of their reporting of it, and not of Rodney Strong’s strategy. It was of the hyperventilated way in which it was blogged. I think the bloggers were so thrilled and flattered at being approached by Rodney Strong that they were not as suspicious as they might have been at being used in a way that frankly in several cases is only one step removed from the winery’s press release. In my opinion if you’re going to be a wine writer/critic, you have to be incredibly skeptical and even dubious of wineries’ motives. I love all the wineries and the winemakers and everybody who works in the wine industry, but I guarantee you, they WILL use you if you let them.

  25. Based upon the intense amount of coverage for RS’ new wine, look for this trend to continue. And for good reason!!! Most of the time, the scoring media takes FOREVER a review to be published. But in this instance, RS is getting immediate and POSITIVE press on a wine that’s obviously very important as the new “halo brand” for the winery.

    As someone who’s in the industry, I say kudos to them!!! Typically, the industry either holds back a release until it’s reviewed or they release a new wine/brand with no third-party endorsements and has to trust (gulp) the distributor/wine buyer’s pallets to conclude that the wine is “worthy” without having a scoring pub give it a 90+pt review to sell it.

    Rockaway accomplised the following:
    *generated positive press from the outset.
    *created tons of free publicity.

    I genuinely hope that the mainstream press does not put them in the penalty box because they were not the first individuals to get the wine. Review the wine on its own merits.

  26. dmusing, you make some excellent points! Absolutely everything you say is true. I am just trying to encourage the new generation of wine bloggers (whom I respect and to whom the future may well belong) to be a little more skeptical. Just tell the facts and review the wine. No need for “revolutionary” and “bold and prescient” and “Making History.” Those are phrases from a P.R. release. If I’d written about this I would have said something like “Rodney Strong has done something interesting…” etc. I would have reviewed the wine and then I would have called Bob Larsen up and asked him some very tough questions. You can’t do this job if your inner investigative journalist is asleep at the wheel.

  27. Yes, you and I are in agreement here.

    But as a wine marketer, if I can generate a slew of positive (even if the press is “over the top” taking the marketing spin hook, line and sinker) I’m adopting that strategy.

    It doesn’t mean that the Steve Heimoff’s of the world are not important to the success of my wine (they certainly are) but giving the blog community a sneak preview of the wine with the promise that they write about it is a small price to pay!

    Interesting topic. Keep it up!!!

  28. dmusing, you’re just doing your job as a professional. But there is, or should be, a certain healthy mistrust on the part of journalists toward the P.R. profession. I say this even though some very dear friends in the industry are P.R. Maybe my error is to presume that wine bloggers consider themselves journalists. I would hope so…

  29. Teach, Dr. Debs, Teach!
    Everyone should follow R. Strong’s example.
    If they are brave….because the bloggers are individuals and could have easily panned the wine. Which would have been very bad PR indeed.
    Steve’s reaction seems to be the roar of an aging lion ( the old school print media, not necessarily Steve as an individual) about to be unseated as the tribe leader.
    Or just simple hurt pride that the bloggers were considered a more relevant contingent.
    They should learn to share the throne, with grace.
    To suggest that this was a ‘manipulation’ of wine bloggers is condescending.

  30. Steve,

    I think where you are going wrong here is in thinking that bloggers = pro wine reviewers, or that they will someday take up that mantle. A few might, but the vast majority are amātors (literally lovers of wine) and will gladly, perhaps even willfully, stay that way.

    It’s my contention that as long as a blogger is completely open and transparent about his or her conflicts of interest, they pretty much cease to be conflicts of interest. If that’s the case, and as a blogger you are excited about getting a nice bottle of wine that you genuinely enjoy, it would be UN-authentic and disingenuous to not let that enthusiasm show in your blog post. Being real about that is what connects them to their readers. To lose that is to lose all.

    Ultimately bloggers can’t be bought unless they want to risk losing their audiences. I don’t see that being the case here at all. Honestly I think people are smart. Given a set of facts they can calibrate their internal BS detectors quite well.

    And in the interests of transparency and full disclosure, Robert Larsen is a friend and a member of my monthly tasting group. I also happen to think this blogger experiment was brilliant. Bastard beat me to it.

  31. amy, I knew this “aging lion” thing was going to come up, and indeed it has. First, let me assure you, as an “old school print media” person, I could care less that I wasn’t included in the “select group of bloggers.” My pride has not been hurt in the slightest. It’s not about “sharing the throne,” it’s about the ethics of blogging. Let me repeat: The Ethics of Blogging. Wine reviewers must have standards or else the integrity of wine reviewing will perish. If you feel lucky or fortunate or blessed that some winery sends you an expensive bottle of wine, then your judgment has been impaired. Wineries know how to make you feel good. Your job — permit me to say it — is to be a JOURNALIST not somebody who passes along information from a press release. I’ll retire one of these days and I want the coming generation to be tough. The hunger for recognition on the part of some of them makes me worry.

  32. God did I really just write UN-authentic? Yeah, I did.

    That would be IN-authentic, natch. My Kingdom for the edit button!

  33. Josh, don’t sweat the small stuff. I got your sense.

  34. Ah, Josh had to come along and post a reply that sums up my thoughts more elegantly than I could myself. Curse you, Pinot Blogger! 🙂

    And I do agree with Josh that, as bloggers, it would be a disservice to ourselves and our readers if we didn’t reflect our enthusiasm in our posts.

    Steve, I think it’s less about recognition as it is a desire for credibility…

  35. 1WineDude, lord knows I have drank from the cup of the desire for credibility. Permit me humbly to say that the stronger the PR representation from the winery, the higher the BS radar should be on the part of the media. Credibility is a longrange game. Those who sell out for short term advantage will not get it.

  36. Totally agree, Steve – and your advice in terms of ensuring bloggers aren’t swayed by marketing is sound for any form of publishing / journalism.

    I think you’d find that the wine bloggers involved in the Rockaway reviews have probably been approached in the past directly by hard-sell PR campaigns from other wineries. I have, and my “Spider Sense” was on red alert from word go. And with good reason – those wines sucked.

    When I get invited to participate in a review process from a fellow wine blogger who is well-respected, I’m not on high BS alert. But that doesn’t mean the BS detector has been shut down altogether.

    Drat, didn’t I say about 5 comments ago that I wouldn’t comment again? Ok, time for bed…

  37. The real problem with this posting is that it assumes the positive reviews flow from the early release to bloggers. Tell me, Steve, how you would respond if people challenged your reviews by assuming advertising in Wine Enthusiast is worth an extra two points for every wine you taste? In effect, how would you respond if people simply called you a damned liar, a bought-and-paid-for shill, a whore for the advertising dollar?

    In the following quote you presume Rodney Strong can’t get good reviews from the magazines so it went to bloggers. The fallacy, of course, is that Rockaway is not just another Rodney Strong bottling, but a single vineyard reserve, more costly and more expensive. You fail to note that. That failure then allows you to combine lower Strong magazine ratings with high blog ratings for Rockaway and conclude the bloggers were fooled. Look carefully, because you left out what made Rockaway different, to make bloggers look the fools:

    ** “Rodney Strong for years has been trying to get the High Scores and the resulting attention for their wines. Nothing wrong with that. My impression has been that, while their reviews (at least, from me) have been quite good, it’s never been enough for owner Tom Klein. I figure the order must have gone out to the marketing and PR people (just as 1WineDude surmised) to figure out a way around the mainstream wine media and garner some attention in a new way. ” **

    I conclude with this thought. If you do review the Rockaway, please do so blind along with several other wines. If you do not, your presumptions, perhaps only made to allow you to continue to look down on bloggers, will inevitably bias your palate far more than Rodney Strong’s new marketing scheme. Heck, you are already committed to a “good, but not good enough for Tom Klein” rating. How can we trust anything you write now?

    The upside to all this? I expect we’ll get another shot at the Rockaway at The 89 Project.

  38. dhonig, first of all, I taste everything blind. Secondly, as I said, I have given high scores to Rod Strong wines and did again with Rockaway. Thirdly, as for your characterization of me as a liar and a whore, I will kindly assume that since this came in at night you’ve been drinking and may regret your remarks in the light of morning.

  39. Steve, read what I wrote again. I did not call you a liar or a whore. I asked how you would feel if people called you those names. You have answered the question. Why, then, did you feel free to (certainly a bit more gently) call bloggers the same?

    I am glad to hear you always taste blind. Did you not say, though:

    ** “I haven’t had the wine (plan to review it tonight) and I have no idea if it’s any good …” **

    Were you tasting that along with several others at the same time? Did you taste it “blind” all by itself?

    Steve, this is the second time in a week or two that you have blatantly misrepresented what blogs or bloggers were all about, keeping out or “misunderstanding” key points, essential and basic facts, to justify your approbation or outrage. Blogs are here to stay. They are also populated, not by the mythical nerds in pajamas in Mom’s house, but with wine consumers and wine magazine consumers. Why have you decided to go to war with them?

  40. dhonig, i don’t know that anyone who reads my blog is in pajamas in Mom’s house. I certainly try to treat my responders with respect no matter what they’re wearing and sometimes I actually post in my gym shorts! Anyhow for the enth time let me repeat I am not anti blog. I wish for bloggers to be suspicious of expensive winery PR campaigns. I tasted Rockaway blind, twice in 2 nights, and liked it considerably. That’s not the point. I’m not at war with bloggers, I’m holding them to a high standard they can disregard if they wish.

  41. You know something Steve, I expect you’re a terrific guy and that you really believe you are simply holding bloggers to a high standard. However, your biases are evident, not in what you write, but in what you leave out. Is it on purpose? Probably not. However, as somebody who blogs as a hobby, but who must by profession be able to step back an evaluate facts, argument, and analysis, I can tell you that you are doing bloggers, and ultimately yourself, a gross disservice. In two different posts about bloggers, this on and the one the other day about The 89 Project (, you left out or misunderstood the very heart of the matter. Did you do so on purpose? Unlikely. Did you do so? Clearly. If we start with the assumption it was not intentional, that you are truly a good guy, we only get so far. We still do not know the source of your failures.

    You call yourself “a blogger.” In that you have a blog, you are. But you are, first and foremost, a wine writer and reviewer. When you take on “wine blogs,” even if you do so on your blog, you do so as Steve Heimoff, Wine Enthusiast, not Steve Heimoff, blogger.

    Even your last comment drips with condescension. What makes you think bloggers were not suspicious of the PR campaign? That you presume they were not also presumes their tastings were biased, in effect bought by the campaign. Are you truly incapable to seeing why that is insulting and condescending? Heck, when I asked how you would respond to such accusations about yourself you presumed I was drunk (having, of course, failed to actually comprehend what I wrote).

    I have no desire to go to war with you. The very concept is absurd. I simply wish to point out that you have a tremendous blind spot when it comes to blogs. You will get in “a bit of a flap” whenever you write about blogs, until you come to grips with that weakness.

  42. Steve, we already operate to a high standards. Ours are the same as yours. Please check your facts.

  43. as a blogger i’m with you Steve! It’s not that the bloggers dont’ have credibility, just what is the big deal about this Rodney Strong thing? I’m with and El Jefe who has commented elsewhere, that this seems like a lot of praise for sending out a few samples. Whoo Hooo, they sent expensive wine, oh and they sent it to wine bloggers! Why do they get a pat on the back for this, when so many others have done it for so long?

    I work daily to make wine blogging more relevant, and I do not see this as anything more than another case of a winery waking up to the truth that wine bloggers matter.

  44. First of all, I am not a blogger. I do however, enjoy reading the various blogs and from a marketing standpoint, Rodney Strong used an absolutely a brilliant strategy. In my opinion blog’s will have an increasing role in disseminating wine information to consumers. Saying that, however, they must maintain their independence and truthfulness so they can considered to be trustworthy with their judgments. Many of today’s wine drinkers are also daily internet users. One of the reasons the newspaper business is suffering is related to fewer and fewer subscribers who are more dependent on the “net” for their daily news information. This will eventually show in magazines also. Why wouldn’t a winery sending out samples of their product to be rated make sure that a blogger who can review a wine and publish it electronically within days as opposed to a magazine review that might take 1 or 2 months to be posted will start favoring the blogger. Obama proved the power of the net this year in how he raised money for his campaign. I think what Rodney Strong did may be the tip of the iceberg.
    I have over 40 years in this business, primarily in the wholesale end and the one thing I have always liked was
    listening to how a younger person would approach a situation. Sometimes a new approach is the way to go.
    I know people in my senior citizen age bracket that have no clue how to turn on a computer and yet on other side of the coin my 7 year old grandson is a whiz.
    Maybe for wine blogs the future is now.

  45. dhonig, as I said in my Update this morning, apparently the participating bloggers agreed in advance to write about the wine. That was a pre-condition of their receiving it. To me, that is a violation of journalistic standards. I would never guarantee a winery that I’d write about their wine if they send it to me (much less give it a high score). Anyhow, when I blog at, I do so as myself, not a Wine Enthusiast employee. I have my own blog at the magazine.

  46. Hey ryan, just a comment on the perspective.

    Fundamentally it’s not a big deal that a wine is sent to bloggers for review.

    But it *is* a big deal that a totally new allocated brand from a fairly major winery is given to bloggers in a targeted effort, with open dialogue between the bloggers and winery, knowing that bloggers will be the very first to get a crack at reviewing the new wine. I don’t play up every wine sent to me, but I did play up this event, because it is a first.

    Steve, regarding journalism and integrity (and we know how I feel about that… I don’t consider myself a journalist ’cause I don’t get paid for it! ) – RS took a chance with this effort, they asked that we cover the release in some way/shape/form in exchange for us getting in on a first in the industry. There were no other stipulations – I could have panned them and the wine & still kept my side of the deal.

    So I saw it as a fair trade-off. I don’t think it calls integrity into question, really.

  47. First of all, Steve, thank you for all of the attention that you have given wine bloggers. You obviously view us a legitimate threat to traditional print publications.

    As one of the participants in the Rockaway release to bloggers, I take issue with your assertion that we violated journalistic standards by agreeing in advance to write about the wine. On the contrary, our agreement was the ultimate in integrity and transparency because we were committed to saying exactly what we thought about the wine…good, bad, or indifferent. And that is exactly what we did.

  48. Steve,

    The reason most magazines don’t guarantee anybody coverage is based on space constraints and/or interest based on their readership. Yet, you see sports teams brokering with their daily newspaper all of the time to get a beat reporter. In Indianapolis our newspaper does not cover the Triple A baseball team, much to the Indians chagrin. Why? Matter of reader interest and space.

    With a blog there is no such space constraint, nor is there the finite-ness of a paid subscriber base.

    And there is no violation of journalistic standards because there was no editorial restriction. As I noted on my blog and I would be happy to produce the same from email correspondence, the bloggers were free to write whatever they chose. Anything. If you hated the wine, hated Rodney Strong the winery, if they didn’t like anything they were free to do so with absolute liberty.

    The point is integrity is very much intact and accounted for when you can voice your opinion freely.

    Your points are many here, but in my very respectful opinion all of them are a bit leaky. In fact, I would posit that with your Wine Spectator defense and this post here that you’re doing a little yellow journalism pot-stirring, and that can be construed as a violation of journalistic integrity.

  49. ** “I would never guarantee a winery that I’d write about their wine if they send it to me (much less give it a high score). ” **

    Did anybody agree to give it a high score? Your parenthetical is quite accusatory. You do realize that, don’t you?

    How does ‘I’ll write a review, but I can’t make any promises that it will be a good review’ violate journalistic standards? That is a seroius question.

    As for the last comment, yes, I realize you are not officially blogging as a Wine Enthusiast employee. However, you are who you are, and are unable to separate your blog-self from your WE-self.

  50. Steve,Steve,Steve you have engaged in the internet no embrace it. Facebook, My Space, Google, You Tube, and Blogging among others are more important then ever. Put down your saber and congratulate the community which you are a part of for gaining momentum. Stop hiding behind the critic should be a skeptic mantra… it sounds as if you are from the Northeast. What`s wrong with here is a bottle you must review it. No one said you have to review it favorably. As noted earlier it does seem like the old lion is roaring…don`t worry print media is not going away yet…people still need somethjing else to do while they`re in the bathroom.

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