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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Rarely does a day go by that I don’t get an e-mail or two from a winery quoting a review that I’ve written, for either the Seattle Times or Wine Enthusiast magazine. Since I score wines as well as review them for the Enthusiast, it’s not surprising that those scores and reviews are used by the wineries for marketing purposes. That’s fine by me; I am never happier than when I can write a really positive review of a well-made wine.

But what rubs me the wrong way is when the publication is credited but not the writer.
Of course the publication should – must – be named, and it is extremely important. But the fact is that the writer – in this case me – has worked his butt off to get that review in print. The amount of time and energy spent just opening boxes, sorting wines, setting up tastings, recycling shipping materials and bottles – never mind the actual task of tasting, re-tasting, writing notes, etc. – is huge. And if I don’t do a good job, the writing assignments go away. The pressure is relentless and unforgiving; that’s the freelance life.

There is also a larger question, that does not impact me, but is certainly germane to the discussion. When a review of mine is quoted and attributed to the publication, with no mention of the writer, it is at best an oversight, at worst an insult, and in any event a missed opportunity for self-promotion. But when a “Parker” review is quoted and was not in fact written by Parker – that’s a bigger problem. In fact, it’s right on the edge of being a lie. How many wines have you seen promoted with “Parker” reviews and “Parker” scores that the man never tasted? Those should always carry the writer’s name, in the interest of full disclosure and honesty.

But back to my own gripe. Here are excerpts from three e-mails I received on Monday:

Winery #1 – “In the world of wine, the 100 point score is as illusive as the Holy Grail--searched and longed for, but rarely found. It means perfection, or as close to it as the human palette can discern without suffering serious injury. So when the word came that [our wine] was awarded 100 points… it was the first perfect score from the… AVA, and the first for an estate-grown, vineyard-designated wine from the valley. You can read the glowing review in the February 2011 issue.”

Winery #2 – “The December 31, 2010 issue of the Wine Enthusiast wrote…”[the e-mail then reproduced the score and review, but deleted my name].

I assume that in both instances – indeed almost always – not naming me is simply an oversight. But if you are reading this and are connected with a winery, or a distributor, or are in a position to market or sell wine, and you would like to quote one of my reviews, please please please include my name! In fact, when quoting any review, by anyone, please consider the writer and give him or her a helping hand when using their work to help sell your wines.

Here’s an example of what I take to be a fair and friendly approach. An importer whose wines I recently reviewed sent out this notice to customers:

“IN THE NEWS: Several wines from Mística Wines have recently been featured in Paul Gregutt’s column “The Wine Advisor” in the Seattle Times!” The e-mail also included links to a pair of columns on the newspaper website.

Credit where credit is due. No more, and no less.


Michael Davidson said...

Issues of Wine Enthusiast writing themselves! You'll be out of a job in no time.

Cabfrancophile said...

I hate that wine writers generally are not cited. The Parker attribution thing is especially annoying. Parker's employees have differing preferences (and differing skill levels, IMO, but I don't want to get you in trouble). A P.G. attribution means to me the writer in an expert on PNW wine. No knock on S.H. or other WE staff, but P.G. is the person I want to read for that region, just as I'd look to S.H. for most of CA.

Jared said...

In your example from Winery #1, if you click on the link in that email, it leads you to a page with the WE logo at the top, your note, and your name! Cheers in the new year!

PaulG said...

Jared, yes, the winery made the correction after I requested it. So I am simply using this as an example of something that happens constantly. Kudos to them for fixing it promptly.

Sean P. Sullivan said...

Paul, I think we've got a far bigger problem here in Winery #1. There is no human palette! I'm seeing stacks of bodies on wooden crates...

The issue is a significant one not just for the wine writer but also for the wine consumer. The example you give of Robert Parker is certainly the most common one. Parker's name carries recognition and cachet in a manner that Wine Advocate (or other Wine Advocate writers) might not for some consumers.

However, in the Wine Advocate and elsewhere, wine writers often change. Consumers might find themselves agreeing with one writer's palate but disagreeing with another's. While this is somewhat insider baseball, people who are into wine take this stuff pretty seriously as the differences between palates can be significant.

The only way for consumers to be able to tell who they are getting the score/recommendation from is for the writer's name to be listed alongside the publication. To do otherwise is bad for the writer, bad for the publication, and bad for the consumer.

1winedude said...

This is the kind of thing that riles me up a bit, because it's lazy marketing. For consumers, it's important for them to know who is making the call on a wine, because they might not be in tune with that person's palate!

Rand Sealey said...

Yes, a lot of this is lazy marketing. When I owned Esquin, I found it particularly annoying when distributor salesmen gave me quotes from reviews which were often for different vintages, or attributed to Parker when the actual review was by one of his staffers.

On the subject of attribution, nearly every winery that has quoted my reviews has mentioned my name. Winery #1's lack of full attribution is particularly egregious.

PaulG said...

Sean - you point to a larger philosophical conundrum Which is more important in winemaking: a palate, a palette, or a pallet? Hmmm...
Dude – I agree completely. It is a consumer issue as well as a writer issue.
Rand – I can see that at Esquin you were on the receiving end of the sort of duplicity that is still ongoing. I imagine it has only gotten worse, especially with the 'Parker' reviews.

Rand Sealey said...

It seems as though most "rating" marketing takes the easy shortcut. Simply quote the publication as though the reviewers are just faceless. One exemplary marketer, though, is Paul Zitarelli who, in his Full Pull offerings quotes the reviews with the author's name - yours, mine and anyone else's - in parentheses. These quoted reviews are written by real, live wine tasters.

Sean P. Sullivan said...

Paul, alas, I should have been seeing winemakers on easels instead of on wooden crates!

David Larsen said...

Paul, Thanks for mentioning your concern. I'm sure we may have been quilty of omitting your name when referring to your reviews of our wines in the Wine Enthusiast magazine. I think one reason is that you have become synonymous with the Wine Enthusiast's reviews of Washington wines. So it would be redundant to mention both the magazine and your name. Now I know better. Conversely, Robert Parker is synonymous with the Wine Advocate magazine. So "Parker" is short for the "The Wine Advocate magazine". It's easier to say "Parker" even though its incorrect. Of course, two wrongs don't make a right.

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