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Do bloggers have an obligation to wineries that wine and dine them?



When I was a working critic I was very particular about not letting wineries spend money on me. I had the reputation of not going out to lunch or dinner on the winery’s dime. I did it every once in a while, but tried to keep it rare. I also was extremely fussy about letting wineries spend money on me in other ways. This was only partly because of Wine Enthusiast’s policies; it also was because it didn’t seem right to accept favors (food, travel, etc.) from a winery if I was going to say critical things about their wine. That would have seemed rude and ungrateful. On the other hand, if I said nice things about their wine, it might have given rise to the appearance of a conflict of interest. Better, then (in my judgment), to keep wineries and their money at arm’s length (the sole exception being, of course, that I did accept free samples of their wines!).

Now, it appears that the issue of bloggers accepting freebies from wineries, and then not even bothering to write about them, has risen to prominence., out of the U.K., has written a scathing editorial piece decrying bloggers who accept a winery’s hospitality and then claim that their “freedom of speech” gives them the right to not even write about the winery. One Italian producer told Harpers, “If I invite a blogger to my winery, and after I have paid for all of the costs the blogger still thinks I am not worth a mention, it is his/her right to do so. [But] it is also obvious that I, the producer, will never again pay a cent for his/her freedom not to write.”

The producer’s umbrage is completely understandable, isn’t it? The point I want to make here is that there are certain unstated but widely accepted rules in wine writing that include the notion of fairness. If a writer is to succeed longterm at being a success (not just a flash in the pan), the writer has to build up trust and affability among the wine producers she writes about. A wine writer with a bad name will find herself not accepted into the circle of wineries she hopes to cover. To get a good name in wine writing is the same thing as getting a good name anywhere and everywhere else: You have to play nice in the sandbox with the other kids. And if you take somebody’s money, and then insult them—either through silence, or by excessive criticism—you’re not playing nice, and word will travel, in this small playground we call the world of wine.

My generation of wine writers (whom I exult in running into whenever we’re at an event) understood the etiquette of wine criticism. Nobody had to explain it to us; somehow, we just knew that it was wrong to accept a winery’s largesse and then bite the hand that had just fed us. Since my main objective as a writer/critic was to tell the truth, I found myself decreasingly accepting largesse of any kind, because I didn’t want my hosts to feel that I’d been an ungrateful little so-and-so.

Too many bloggers, however, apparently don’t suffer from these inhibitions. They leave hurt feelings in their wake. This is why the Harpers article calls them “an endangered species” and adds this warning shot fired over their bow: “[B]loggers need to stay relevant just as any professional in the sector, and producers are starting to question whether the wine bloggers is, indeed, relevant.” Finally, the writer states something I personally know to be true: “Wineries are beginning to distinguish the difference [between informed and relevant bloggers and those who are not], and are analyzing closely as to where they should spend their few available euros.” Yes, marketers are drawing up their “A” list and their “Everybody else” list, and the A list is getting harder to get onto.

It’s all about being professional, and not just have power because you can push a button on a keyboard and self-publish. The wine press has always been a place of politeness, decency and respect, and blogging hasn’t and won’t change that.

  1. Wine and dine them, no… fly them all expenses paid to their region, yes.

  2. Bill Haydon says:

    If the blogger accepts only an offered (not solicited) sample bottle, I don’t think he’s required to do any follow up writing. If, however, he accepts anything beyond that ranging from a free dinner to an expense paid trip, yes he is obligated to write about the wine/winery. Should he not want to make that commitment, his choice is clear: act like a professional journalist/critic and pay his own way.

    FWIW, I’d say less than 10% of bloggers are worth dropping any marketing budget whatsoever on.

  3. If they are worth their salt, wine producers and wine press both share a deep love of wine and curiosity about it. I love visits from good writers, because I learn so much – they sweep into the constrained world of my vineyard and cellar with a comet tail of other experiences, and in the process leave a few meteors behind for my enjoyment. But can a wine writer ever be truly friends with a winemaker, and still continue to write about their work? Probably not; their appraisal of the wine becomes labored by trying to parse their personal regard from their opinion of the wine. So writers and makers conduct themselves with wary goodwill, when more profound friendship is so readily at hand. It’s a shame, but that is one of the consequences of mixing vocation with avocation.

  4. 100 points for Jason Lett.

    There is no obligation to write about anything if one is invited on a trip or to a dinner. It is all about familiarization and the exchange of ideas.

    In general, I do not accept individual lunches/dinners with folks I do not know because I don’t want there to be any misunderstandings about what I do and do not do when it comes to what I write about.

    But, I do not mind getting together with folks whose wines I like. I want to know them better and to hear their philosophies and approaches.

    As for foreign trips, since I write about CA wines, I don’t get to go on those. But when I was doing newspaper columns, I did try to find a topic that I could talk about. How does one do justice to Sicily if one does not go there? And to this day, I will often choose a Mt. Etna Rosso in an Italian restaurant because I liked what I tasted there. On the other hand, regardless of how many Grillos I was shown, I have yet to say a word about that grape in print because I had nothing helpful to say to my readers.

  5. doug wilder says:


    This issue has been on the minds of wineries for some time and is now finally bubbling to the surface. Back in early 2011, I was talking to a friend, a woman who was the VP of Marketing for an established Napa producer. This was shortly after I decided to stop writing a blog in favor of publishing in a different manner. The conversation turned to writing about wine and my friend mentioned how often her winery was contacted by unfamiliar bloggers who asked for guest houses, lunches with the winemaker, vertical tastings, etc. I asked her what they do about it, and her answer was they said no as there was no way to decide who mattered beyond those they knew about (who happened to conduct themselves professionally).

    The panel at the DWCC in Switzerland covering this issue was also discussed in another article on Harpers from the perspective of panelist Louise Hurren, a PR professional in Europe who essentially spelled out the economic realities faced by wineries who task agencies to bring bloggers to them. Conduct yourself professionally. Airfare, lodging, transportation and meals as part of media junkets is not a trivial cost and wineries have a reasonable expectation that they will receive some coverage out of it. When I read (usually on FB) that a blogger is heading to Europe and they have demonstrated little in the way of interest or understanding of the regions they will be visiting, I wonder what the Agency who invited them is thinking. Are the wineries satisfied by a few pictures of vines and toasting over dinner? I fully understand and agree that a journalist needs to maintain their credibility when it comes to writing about an experience. However, I do think there are some bloggers who use the boilerplate in their policies reserving the right to not write positively as a way to insulate them from the responsibility of saying anything at all. People who pay the ticket for that begin to notice and the agency responsible for putting the experiences together ultimately needs to justify the value of the results.

    Personally, apart from attending a general trade event, or receiving samples I request, I pay all my expenses while doing official outside work as a writer and in those settings don’t generally need to be concerned about a lavish meal being part of it. A rare deli sandwich provided by the winery may be part of a quick bite during a protracted session. I recognize that for every wine I taste in my office, or at a winery, someone has made the conscious decision that on some level my opinion is relevant to them. I view it as my professional responsibility to write about every wine I taste as part of my publication. Some is excellent, others not so much. Fundamentally, it doesn’t matter if it is a $20 Pinot Gris or a $300 Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery, or PR has a reasonable expectation to get some feedback. Writing about wine is not as easy as it appears from the outside. Those who approach it with the expectation to always be on the receiving end won’t be viewed as professionals. The wine industry is a relationship business and the currency is reputation. As Gary Vaynerchuk said during his keynote at the first Wine Blogger Conference in 2008, “90 percent of you should just go home, now”.

  6. Mary-Colleen Tinney says:

    Interesting topic. I have taken press trips/lunches before and not written about the wines or experience. I don’t feel guilty, and I’ll explain why below. My ability to write about the experience depends on the trip/lunch/whatever, the goals, my upcoming stories, etc.

    I would caution wineries when they are cutting people off. I have logged all these trips/lunches/dinners and memories and do, in fact, look for appropriate opportunities to build on or share that experience through my writing. For example, I visited Missouri many years ago (2006, maybe?) on a press trip. I never wrote directly about the trip, but through the years have used several of the contacts for information, story sources and the like. In fact, I just recently wrote a Missouri wine-focused piece for my (very new) blog. So, from the Missouri organizer’s perspective, their trip did not pay immediate dividends. But here I am eight years later and they’re still on my mind. Maybe my method gets me knocked off lists. Such is life. Eventually, though, I’m going to call upon those experiences for my work. Personally, I’d rather it happen organically than it be forced by guilt or quid pro quo.

  7. This evergreen issue on “wine whores” was covered by the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist David Shaw in the Los Angeles Times back in 1987.

    Yes, 1987!

    Excerpt from the Los Angeles Times “Main News” Section
    (August 23, 1987, Page A1ff):

    “Wine Writers: Squeezing the Grape for News”
    (Series: First of Two Articles)


    By David Shaw
    Times Staff Writer

    Two years ago, Craig Goldwyn — publisher of International Wine Review magazine — spoke to a couple of East Coast audiences about people who write on wine for American newspapers and magazines.

    Goldwyn, who also writes a monthly wine column in the Washington Post, began by asking, “What is a wine writer?” Then he answered his own question:

    “A wine writer is a physician or a lawyer with a bottle of wine and a typewriter, looking to see his or her name in print, looking for an invitation to a free lunch and a way to write off the wine cellar.”

    Colman Andrews, who writes about wine for Los Angeles magazine, offered an even more acerbic observation in a recent interview:

    “Any jerk can call himself a wine critic and get published.”

    Andrews and Goldwyn may have been indulging in a bit of hyperbole–but not much, judging from recent Times interviews with more than 40 wine writers and 15 editors nationwide, as well as with about 90 other people in the wine industry — wine makers, winery owners, importers, retailers, wholesalers, distributors, publicists, restaurateurs and representatives of French, Italian, German, Spanish and Australian wine, trade and tourism agencies.

    Most wine writers are genuinely enthusiastic proselytizers for the wines they like–so aggressively so that some seem to “forget this is not liquid gold, this is simply . . . grape juice,” says Gracelyn Blackmer, a publicist who represents several Sonoma County wineries.

    Few wine writers are either experienced, professional journalists or knowledgeable students of wine; most are wine hobbyists–lawyers, doctors or others who can afford to drink good wine regularly — or free-lance writers eager for all-expense-paid trips to the vineyards of Europe.

    ‘By and Large Obligated’

    “Most . . . people who are involved in . . . wine writing . . . are . . . by and large obligated to the people who are producing the product,” says John Tilson, editor and publisher of the respected, Seal Beach-based Wine Journal newsletter (formerly called the Underground Wine Letter).

    Ethical standards in the wine writing field are virtually nonexistent. Most newspapers tolerate behavior from their wine writers — most of whom are free-lance contributors, rather than staff members — that they expressly forbid in other areas of the paper.

    Most respected newspapers in major cities have policies, for example, prohibiting staff members (and, at a few papers, free-lance contributors as well) from accepting any free gifts from news sources or from taking any free trips or from engaging in any other activity that could be construed as even a potential conflict of interest.

    A few papers apply these standards to their wine writers, too. But most wine writers are allowed to accept free lunches, dinners and junkets to the famous wine regions of the world, all fully paid for by individual wineries, groups of vintners or foreign trade and tourist organizations.

    . . .

  8. Steve,

    Now that you work for Jackson Family Wines, what is their corporate policy on hosting wine writers on visits to their properties?

    Do they underwrite round trip airfare to the West Coast? Ground transportation? Lodgings? Meals? Tchotchkes and swag bag material?

    And when you were writing for Wine Enthusiast, did you accept any “largesse” from Jackson Family Wines beyond reviewer samples?


  9. If you are being wined and dined, then I don’t think you should be obligated. There is no contract and essentially you are being hosted. You are a guest. However, nothing that irritates me more if a winery (or wineries/restaurants/chamber) have hosted you for a couple of days with lodging and meals and you cannot show up to their functions/meals they have planned for you. I was hosted for a weekend with a dozen other wine bloggers and one blogger in particular was rude to our hosts by not eating at the same table with the rest of us (bloggers and hosts), he would venture off to flirt with the catering/winery staff, was drunk and obnoxious, tweeted profanity while including the hashtag of our hosts, and basically treated the weekend like it was his personal bachelor party with his rude and sophomoric behavior. In the mornings, he couldn’t get his ass out of bed to promptly meet our hosts as per their schedule. To me, that kind of behavior makes the rest of us wine bloggers look bad. If you cannot behave and be gracious towards the people who are hosting you – – stay home.

  10. If you are being wined and dined, I don’t think you should be obligated. There is no contract and essentially you are being hosted. You are a guest. However, nothing that irritates me more if a winery (or wineries/restaurants/chamber) have hosted you for a couple of days with lodging and meals and you cannot be a gracious guest and show up to the functions/meals they have planned for you. I was hosted for a weekend with a dozen other wine bloggers and one blogger in particular was rude to our hosts by not eating at the same table with the rest of us (bloggers and hosts) and flirted with the catering/winery staff, instead. He was drunk and obnoxious, tweeted profanity and about visiting strip shows while including the hash tag of our hosts. He basically treated the weekend like it was his personal bachelor party with his rude and sophomoric behavior. In the mornings, he couldn’t get his ass out of bed to promptly meet our hosts as per their schedule. To me, that kind of behavior makes the rest of us wine bloggers look bad. We get criticized enough by the old guard writers. But it goes for everyone – – if you cannot behave, follow the hosts schedule and be gracious towards the people who are hosting you – – stay home.

  11. As the European PR cited by Doug Wilder, I’d like to add a comment. Yes, I spoke on a panel about bloggers at this year’s Digital Wine Communications Conference and I spelled out the reality of what it costs to organise a press trip (FYI in my part of France, at the lower end of the scale, around 1000 euros per participant). That money comes out of the producers’ pockets. I work with wine growers who expect return on their PR investment: they pay fees to me to organise press trips, and they pay travel, food and accommodation costs for the wine writers I invite on their behalf, so yes, they expect (quite reasonably, IMHO) to see some media coverage, and within months (not years), while the information provided and the vintages sampled are still relevant. They also expect the coverage to be specifically about them, rather than about (say) the general area in which they are making wine. After all, they have funded the trip. What some bloggers fail to appreciate is that the wine industry is structured like (guess what) a business: if you’re invited on a press trip by the wine growers’ association of a particular area (or appellation), then an article that fails to mention that area, or which mis-spells its name, or which cites wines and growers from outside that area, is a total no-no. Another point: as PRs and wine communicators, we’re in the business of reporting news and sharing up-to-date information. I’m inviting writers to come see what’s currently happening and new in the French wine areas I represent, so they can report on this. So my trips are tailored accordingly, with a focus on providing news hooks and stories that are specifically relevant to the writers and their outlets. When I reach out to invite writers on such trips, I make it clear what the context and content of the visit will be, and I ask if they feel such an itinerary will give them the right kind of information to be able to generate coverage. If they say no, that’s fine; the fit is not there, and I don’t want to waste their time, or my client’s budget. If they say yes, we’re good to go. The expectations have been clearly spelled out: parameters have been set. I’m amazed that in this day and age, the debate about “obligation” still exists. Act business-like and you’ll be treated in a business-like fashion. It works both ways. PRs who don’t clarify the guidelines from the get-go are as much at fault as bloggers who accept trips and then don’t write about them. As I said at the DWCC: go pro or go home.

  12. Let me throw a question out to Steve’s readers.

    If any of you work in PR for Silicon Valley companies such as Apple, Google, Oracle, Intel, Cisco, Facebook et. al., and you arrange general business press and trade press visits to your employer, do you implicit expect those members of the touring press to write a news brief or article on you?

    To those who work in PR in other communities and other industries, when you arrange general business press and trade press visits to your employer, do you implicit expect those members of the touring press to write a news brief or article on you?

    To those who have news reporter backgrounds, and who go (or have gone) on press junkets, do you implicitly assume press coverage should come out of it?

    The issue of quid pro quo needs to be addressed. By both writers (citing any historical standards for journalism ethics) and PR representatives.

  13. Perhaps PR people and wineries need to start thinking of new ways to present their wines and ideas. I don’t like the term “wining and dining” to be used here. For me it conjures up ideas of horrible dates with men wining and dining women. Is the woman then obligated to sleep with the guy because of the expense put out, that seems to be the expectation. What if the blogger in question just really thought the wines were awful? In the case of not writing anything, perhaps they were just being polite, knowing that there was an expense and to write something nasty would just be mean. I am a business owner and have been in this situation many times. I don’t give my product out for free any more.
    One option is for wineries to work with local agencies such as Ministry of Tourism or a board of Agriculture. They can help mitigate costs y combining trips with a number of different wineries and experiences so that writers are more likely to produce content. There is the likelihood that each person on the trip will have a different experience to draw from. While one person might not love one winery maybe they like the next and they won’t have to feel pressured to write favorable content that is clearly a conflict of interest. I have started working with governmental agencies and larger corporate agencies for this and it has been a much better approach for us. Small businesses can’t always justify the costs.

  14. PR people or wineries that invite bloggers should try to look at a more holistic picture as well. For me nothing is worse than reading about a press trip that 12 people were on and they all write the same day by day account followed by tasting notes. It is 2014! We need to consider social media, social influence and other factors as well. I have a blog. I also use social media. I also own a company and talk to about 100 new people each week about food and wine. I am also a professor of wine. I was on a press trip to Georgia in March. I love that place. I wrote a few blog posts and got good hits on it and shares but my social influence on Georgian wine and wine travel to Georgia is much bigger than my blog. All my clients (wine and food tourists) know about Georgia as a country now, they are curious about the wine and food, and I am sure about 10-20% will be visiting the country for wine and food within the next 5 years. I poured Georgian wine at DWCC to a very eager crowd. My students are in their 20s. They all know Georgia, qvevri and even some grapes. They will be future consumers.

    I guess it all depends on the outcome wineries want. Future loyal consumers or a short buzz created by a blog for a short amount of time just to get your name out there?

    Personal experiences really do pay in the end.

  15. Whilst none of this is wrong per se, we need to examine the very first sentence of this article:

    “When I was a working critic I was very particular about not letting wineries spend money on me. I had the reputation of not going out to lunch or dinner on the winery’s dime.”

    No, you did it at your magazine’s expense or out of the salary they paid you, who in turn were paying you out of the money they raised from the wineries who advertised. … Oh look – you were dining out at the wineries’ expense after all!

    The difference was that you had several other people acting out the roles of Editor and Publisher, so you could afford not just to pay your own way, but the luxury of not attending these events and visits because there would be more in the pipeline.

    I’m afraid this does not give you the right to compare bloggers, usually unpaid, almost always unsupported, to your situation and to the wine market as it was.

    “It is all about being professional” – maybe. Please define what you think that means for wine content creators in 2014.

    I’m not saying there is a moral issue here, but you can’t argue that issue from the experience you describe.

    Now, maybe we can get back to the issue of “How should the wine industry be structured so that a new wave of critics using a multitude of platforms, who often have to finance themselves, can afford to learn about wines and experience wine stories so that they can be shared to the mutual advantage of creator, consumer and producer?”

  16. There’s another issue here, as well, which is that the opposite situation also occurs – that writers, particularly inexperienced writers, or those who have never written professionally about anything but wine – get ‘captured’ by the people who give them hospitality and so go on to write unthinking PR for them. My job as an editor is to serve the reader, and this occasionally causes angst when writers feel they have an obligation to a particular winery/region and get nervous when I cut out what is clearly PR, or information that the winery has requested be in the piece, but which doesn’t serve the reader.

    The ideal solution would be that no writer ever accepted hospitality from people they were reporting on. But those days when publications paid for everything are gone. The next best solution is for writers to be very clear about what they’re going to do when they go on the trip – to have a story already outlined in their head, so they have a clear purpose and angle, while still leaving room for serendipitous discovery.

  17. To Robert McIntosh:

    I am nobody’s shill. I publicly applaud those who wear the “white hats” in the wine industry . . . and publicly vilify those who wear the “black hats.”

    And in the interest of “full disclosure,” I am an ad agency professional who researches, conceived and implements ads campaigns — including consumer and trade print media.

    If you subscribe to the notion of a proverbial “Chinese wall” separating the editorial department from the ad sales department/publisher’s office, then it shouldn’t disturb you that a wine magazine – acting like a business, not a non-profit foundation – actually strives to generate sales revenue (from subscriptions, single-copy newsstands sales, display ads, private party classified ads, and special event ticket sales).

    And if that proverbial “Chinese wall” is managed ethically, the editorial department would never know if wines submitted for review and sampled “single blind” come from paid advertisers.

    When you consider that only the very largest nationally distributed wineries have consumer print media ad budgets, but the number of domestic wineries is north of 8,000 and counting, the vast majority of reviewed domestic wines will never be advertised . . . will never have any economic sway / “leverage” over a wine magazine’s editorial content.

    So your swipe at Steve (and by extension all advertising-supported wine magazine writers) with its tacit implication about favoring advertisers is unfair and betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of ethical print publishing.

    Wine magazine publishers, editors, art directors, columnists, “beat” writers, proof readers and – yes – ad sales reps all need to earn a decent living to incent them to churn out a publication on a consistent frequency.

    No one needs to defend or apologize for getting paid for one’s “human capital” (i.e., educational attainment and knowledge and skills and experience) and sweat of one’s brow.

    ~~ Bob

  18. I would like to thank Steven for his thoughts on the topic after reading what Damien Wilson, the author of the Harpers article, and I, the Italian producer in the article had to share.
    The question is not so much, how ethical it is for a blogger to write or not write after he/she has been paid a nice trip to the so many wonderful wine regions in the world. The question that we believe should be addressed is that it is time that we all evolve and find a constructive and profitable way of working together. It is not about obligations, in the end who are we to tell others what they are obliged or not to do. It is a question of knowing how to work for the mutual benefit of all, as Robert McIntosh said.
    I also agree with Louise Hurren, that the intentions and expectations should be clear and transparent upfront. If a winery happens to have a budget to spend on marketing and communications, then I should hope that the managers of the winery know how and why they are spending that money. They should have objectives they want to reach with their marketing activities. In every normal business, some marketing activities are a hit and some are a miss. What has come to surface lately is that many wineries are questioning how much of a hit or a miss are their expenditures on bloggers. I strongly believe that bloggers should not only write about the winery, its story, its wines, and what else, but know they have power to influence businesses. I think this is a great time for bloggers to differentiate themselves and understand that if they don’t, they will remain irrelevant. A quick consideration in support of this is that many wineries are going through generational changes, and the new generation is digital native. I am witnessing many of them taking control of their own communications, including blogging. They are targeting their consumers using cross platform communications and are slowly making the difference in wine comms. Consumers love being in touch with the winemaker, which means disintermediation from bloggers and journalists.
    I personally know many bloggers that understand what influence they have on businesses, not only with their writing. There are many examples of successful bloggers’ trips with clear objectives being reached. Those who know how to keep up with the changing times will stay relevant, those who think everything should stay the same will be left behind, and it is the natural evolution of the species. The same applies to wineries, wine trade, publishers, and every business involved in the sector.
    Therefore, to respond to Steve’s initial question, no, bloggers do not have an obligation, they are their own bosses and as with any other profession, the good ones will know how to stay in business.

  19. doug wilder says:

    @RobertMcIntosh said”Now, maybe we can get back to the issue of “How should the wine industry be structured so that a new wave of critics using a multitude of platforms, who often have to finance themselves, can afford to learn about wines and experience wine stories so that they can be shared to the mutual advantage of creator, consumer and producer?”

    I think this is accomplished through establishing credibility. As I said previously, the wine industry is a relationship business and the currency is reputation. Where is there an imperative that a business (winery) needs to engage with a ‘new wave of writers’ regardless of abilities, or relevance? I hesitate to think you are suggesting a ‘Blogger Welfare Utopia” program where all young writers get their noses wiped and are placed on the same step as critics who have spent years at it, and have their own byline, or in some instances, self-publish.If financing yourself isn’t working, find a better way, if you think it is worth reading – sell an article to a magazine, write a book, put up a paywall.

  20. Dear Bob, I was not having a swipe at all advertising funded media at all. Quite on the contrary, I’d love to have “bloggers” funded by advertising too.

    I was not accusing anyone of being a ‘shill’, but rather that those who judge the new media solely through the lens of the old media are missing the point.

    Structures existed that took money from the wine producers (as a whole) to fund the activities of the wine media. It was thus possible for individuals, funded by that wine industry, to be able to pick and choose their interests. They were still funded by that wine industry. If the team as a whole didn’t play ball, no matter how good the writing, the magazine died.

    Steve (and others) probably didn’t go to these dinners, but what about the many undocumented occasions where editors, publishers, ad sales staff etc… met with representatives of the wineries and wine trade (at the dinners, awards, tastings, etc set up for this purpose)?

    Let me give you a very simple example:

    Publisher: “Region X wants profile and we can sell many pages of advertising if we run a report on them”

    Editor: “If we are to create a report on Region X we should look at these issues I consider important”

    Journalist: “The people I will meet with are A,B,C, because they are independent voices on the issues we are including in our report on Region X”

    The journalist was independent and objective in their reporting, but the subjects were decided by others with their own agendas, and the efforts funded by the wine producers.

    An independent blogger has no such separations or structures. Every meeting (and dinner) with them should actually be seen in the light of not just the journalistic output, but the editorial and publishing research they need to do.

    If you want “bloggers” to be “more professional” then we must also work out how to fund them so that they can afford to make those decisions. That wine trip and dinner may very well have cost the winery $1000 per participant, but the blogger didn’t see a single $1, and not only that, had to take 3 days away from finding any other way to make money. If you want them to create something, then you need to appeal to them with a story for the journalist, with audience appeal for the editor and with the value for the publisher, not just assume they owe you something.

    All this to prove that while there are many issues to address with regard to the ethics of content creation in the era of independent blogs, assessing them against “how it used to be done” is not helpful. Saying things like “less than 10% of bloggers are worth dropping any marketing budget whatsoever on” (as in one of the comments) may possibly be true, but it is also a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  21. doug wilder says:

    @RobertMcintosh said” If you want “bloggers” to be “more professional” then we must also work out how to fund them so that they can afford to make those decisions. That wine trip and dinner may very well have cost the winery $1000 per participant, but the blogger didn’t see a single $1, and not only that, had to take 3 days away from finding any other way to make money”

    I think you are leaving out an important distinction here. As a professional, you do work for your client (the entity that “pays” you). If you are invited by a winery that covers your expenses and you write nothing? As someone else compared it to stealing it is hard to come up with another name for it. What you also forget is publications that are self published, don’t offer advertising (and don’t accept travel, lodging or meals).There is no buried agenda there. Bottom line is if a winery pays $1000 so that a blogger can visit them, and results in zero coverage yet the same information going to another writer (who travels on their own funds) publishes a multi-page feature, who would you think they want back?

  22. The short answer is, No.

    No person working in media has any obligation whatsoever to write anything about anyone, no matter what has been given to / done for that person.

    If PR folks don’t like that, they can easily find someone who will commit to coverage (personally, I’m probably not going to be reading/watching those folks).

  23. No.

    If there is such an obligation, there is a quid pro quo, and that is a clear ethical violation.

    If somebody invited a Palate Press writer or editor (or sometimes even publisher) on a press trip, there is a clear understanding up front that there is no obligation to write anything specific. We refuse all invitations that come with an obligation. Wine travel is intended to educate about the region, not to flack for specific producers.

    Of course, if somebody goes on a trip and finds a story, they write it. A well-organized trip should lead to stories. It should educate and fascinate, inspiring the writer. After the trip, the writer should have a greater appreciation of the region, which will pay off in the long term with better coverage.

    That is what is professional. The idea that being “polite” means offering a quid pro quo is about as far from professional as I can imagine, unless you’re talking about an entirely different profession.

    PS – Kudos to Robert McIntosh for stating the obvious – Steve, you were getting paid by wineries in the past, there was just a pass-through.

  24. Oh lord, this topic really is the gift that keeps on giving, isn’t it? I agree with David’s point, “A well-organized trip should lead to stories. It should educate and fascinate, inspiring the writer.” But I would suggest that it’s possible to identify and develop a story BEFORE taking the trip, thus avoiding the awkward post-trip conversation that goes like this: PR person – “so, do you think you’ll be writing something about XYZ winery, now you’ve got back from the trip?” Writer: “nah…. I didn’t really find anything to write about.” I don’t know how other PRs operate but if I contact a wine writer regarding a press trip, I’m not doing them a favour, neither are they doing me one by accepting, or by writing something, post-trip. It’s not about favours: it’s about figuring out a win-win situation for all parties. It goes like this: the writer gets access to the specific information, wines, producers etc that they need to be able to write a story. If they can pitch that story to a media outlet that will PAY them for it, that’s obviously great for them. If they can’t, but they are happy to write the story and publish it themselves, that’s great too: it’s their choice. There could be a number of reasons why a blogger would chose to do this (eg. they have another income source; they want content for their blog to raise awareness of what they do; they feel it might lead to paid work of some kind further down the line….). But one way or another, there needs to be a “win” for the writer, and also for whoever is footing the bill. And for the latter, that “win” is very often considered to be coverage. That’s why I always have a conversation up front with writers about what the possible story angles could be: if we cannot find one that works, then we drop the whole press trip idea. I’ve had writers decline trips because they feel they can’t write anything, based on the stated content and itinerary of the trip. Another point: no-one is invited on a press trip (well, not one run by me, any how) just because they’re smart/fun/passionate about wine/a well-known name. And what sort of wine writer would waste several days of their valuable time coming on a trip, if they didn’t see some kind of real (business) benefit (beyond the obvious fun of wine drinking and travel) to themselves?

  25. I’m not sure it is the wine industry’s responsibility to work out how to fund bloggers. Or that the wine industry and bloggers/writers have to find mutually profitable ways to collaborate.

    Who is being served by a blogger/writer? It should be the reader. If a blogger/writer/critic can find a way to connect with enough readers who value the content, then they have a business. If they can’t, then they have a hobby.

  26. This nd topic certainly has been covered before, but it’s always fun to see where folks stand on it.

    I have no horse in the race even though I am winery. My budget is such that there are no junkets associated with my brand; no guest houses to stay in (unless you want to share my doghouse!); etc etc.

    Do I get contacted by bloggers wanting wines to review? Surprisingly less and less each year. Have I sent wines to bloggers looking to review them? Yes, on occasion – but only after I’d researched them and had a decent idea ‘what to expect’.

    But let’s be serious here – how many folks out there call themselves ‘wine bloggers’ or the ‘wine press’ that really honesty have very little or zero impact on potential sales or exposure? To me, there are quite a few – and yet these are some of the folks being invited on these all-expense paid junkets. As someone said above, there has to be better vetting on the part of the Agencies putting these junkets together – or you’ll get what you ‘pay for’ so to speak.

    I am on the Board of an organization that puts together larger tastings, and we are very careful about ‘opening the doors’ to anyone and everyone when it comes to comp tickets. We DO try to make it somewhat of a ‘quid pro quo’ with regards to free entrance, but this is quite spoken, not unspoken. We do not expect ‘biased’ reviews of the events, etc based on ‘getting something’ – but we feel that it is one way to ensure that the organization and the wineries that are footing the bill for the organization and the event get more exposure. Is this ‘wrong’? Heck, I don’t think so – the idea of a ‘blogger’ is to ‘blog’ ie write. That is what is expected – but again this is understood from the get go and bloggers and wine media have a choice on whether to attend or not . . .

    But let’s simplify things here – if you are given a gift by someone, you thank them, right? Isn’t this the ‘courteous’ thing to do? I wonder how many bloggers on these junkets even do that . . .


  27. You take anything from a winery you’re co-opted; samples, dinner, FEDEX shipping charges.
    What’s wrong is not disclosing the relationship and its perks.
    We’re all big boys and know how the game works; ads for good reviews, freebies for good press. If all you ‘critics’ & bloggers paid yer own freight there would be much less wine writing.

  28. Giving Chris Kassel’s comment wider coverage on certain wine bloggers give all wine bloggers a bad name . . .

    Intoxicology Report
    (November 16, 2014):

    “Send Me Free Wine, But Only Stuff I Like. You’re Welcome.”


  29. Wow, we’ve had this same debate 3 years in a row and now it blows up?

    Interesting. To Joe Roberts: I’ll gladly read someone who agrees to write first, I’ll probably trust them more too. Odd, maybe, but honest. They are part of the value chain. NO one said they need to write positively, but they should write,video,photograph, etc. Who cares. I’ll read you if you prove your worth, if you are schill I’ll stop.

    Pay to play is standard in MOST industries(like it or not), this is not that direct, as having been on a lot of these trips, I would say most are hard work and headaches with backbreaking schedules and taking away from my real job. They would need to pay me a LOT to get me to be their schill.

    In travel you go on a trip to create content, you get paid often to, and you report on a place giving your impressions, often positive(amazing that they can find something nice to say about a whole city). In food, this is very common. In wine it is too. I’m not going to get into incriminating people, but we all have a story about a winery being told by a big mag they can get a better placement for a bit of money. Stop lying to ourselves, this happens all the time. We may not like it, but the mags keep selling. And this is not what the panel was about.

    All this panel was about was the fact that there are plenty of dead end bloggers, journalists, and others who get the free trip and don’t even bother mentioning where the bottle of ___x___ regions’ wine they are having with their dinner two weeks later came from. Asking that someone says something in exchange for your opinion in print, is not a crime. Nor unethical. The sky is not falling. Crimes have not been committed. The winery is not evil and the person who decides to take the trip isn’t either.

    This is wine. Seriously folks, it’s wine. Realize that the industy works on a flow of money from wineries to PR and Marketing budgets that eventually float over to Journalists/bloggers/educators and who then go out and buy wine, or encourage their readers to. Oh the humanity!

    All journalists in wine are paid by wineries as Robert points out.

    In the end what is the harm, outside of “pay to play” situations like the late Jay Miller found himself in, wineries deserve to ask for a return on their investment. This is not pay to play, this is come visit and take the time to sign the public guest book.

    Joe is right, if you can’t get an agreement to at least get something in return from said people, stop inviting those people. And if you can’t promise that you will write, don’t be displeased if you don’t get invited. I for one will continue to seek out people whose palates I trust, and whos’ reputation show’s that they can stay “uncorrupted” by a trip or a free bottle.

  30. What 1WineDude said.

  31. I spoke to an ‘adventure travel writer’ who wrote for major print publications. He always received $1.00 per word payment from the magazines for his work. He also had the locations pay for airline tickets, hotels, ski passes, snowmobiles, etc…

    His policy was that the reviews would be honest, but positive. If for some reason, he couldn’t be positive, he would contact the location and specifically let them know that there wouldn’t be an article and why.

    That is probably a good rule for bloggers to employ when brands or locations pay their way.

  32. Anyone receiving 1 buck per word is being paid like H. L. Mencken (without the inflationary adjustment).

    To the larger question: should any “journalist” pledge in advance to write a “positive” story about any subject?

    What do the members of the Fourth Estate who read this blog have to say about that?

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