respect – just a little bit

Friday, May 18, 2012

Not long ago, I received a communication from a winemaker of long acquaintance, asking that my most recent reviews of his new releases not be published. Over the years, in many articles, reviews, and two editions of my book, I had singled out this winery for special praise. In the latest group of reviews, there were two wines rated in the mid-90’s and two in the high 80’s. These latter were the thorn in this winemaker’s paw.

Never mind that the notes were quite positive, indicating wines that were well-balanced, likely to improve over time, etc. Not a negative word to be found. But the scores didn’t please this winemaker, so despite a lengthy history, a track record of excellence, and current reviews that were clearly positive, a curt note indicating that no further wines were ever to be reviewed was what I received.

You are most welcome, sir!

Now, I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. I don’t expect a critic to be the most-loved individual at the party. But respect for the critic who does his or her job well seems like a small gesture to ask. In most fields of endeavor, expert advisors and consultants are paid huge sums of money. Wineries, however, receive very detailed and specific critiques on all their products FOR FREE! All they need do is send out a few bottles of wine, and back come the notes.

Rather than say thank you, or consider that maybe a professional journalist/reviewer of long standing might actually know what they are talking about, some – not all, but many – wineries simply look at the number and decide if it is useful as a sales tool. Worse yet, due to score inflation in many publications and influential newsletters, those critics and publications that hold to a tighter scoring standard get labeled as miserly, out of touch, or simply incompetent.

I am proud that the Wine Enthusiast rating standards are strict and set the bar high. I don’t care if some other publication has over-rated your wine. My publication, and reviews with the initials P.G. next to them, hold to a specific and demanding standard. That standard is clearly laid out. The effort to deliver not just a number, but a meaningful evaluation of your wine, is considerable. The pittance that such a review generates for the reviewer is laughable in relation to the quality of the work. And since the winery gets it for free, it would be nice if on occasion some appreciation was evident.

Am I always right? Of course not! An opinion is just that. You have every right to disagree, and in fact, I will listen to a well-reasoned critique of my critique. But just as a winery earns its respect by being dedicated, consistent, and quality-driven, so does a writer.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

Sock it to me sock it to me sock it to me sock it to me....

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sorry Paul..but winemakers have a right to decide who they think should be reviewing their wines if they are expected to provide the samples. When you start purchasing the wines you review, then you're welcome to review anything you desire. But don't expect someone who gets mediocre reviews to continue to send you free wine and "respect" your palate. I'm sure most of these winemakers believe their wines deserve better scores and the problem is YOUR palate not theirs. Many of these folks don't taste a broad enough spectrum of wine to have the kind of objective overview of where their wine fits. They aren't going to keep sending in wine to be told they aren't getting the job done.

PaulG said...

That's all well and good, Anonymous, except you failed to read what I wrote. These were not "mediocre" reviews by any standard. I never told this winery (or any others for that matter) that they "weren't getting the job done." Your assumptions are totally wrong. And your insinuation that somehow "free" wine is what makes it all worthwhile is ridiculous. There is nothing free about it - it's a stupendous amount of work to do what I do. Believe me, if wineries don't send wine, it really doesn't cause me to lose any sleep. Try reading the blog again, and perhaps make an attempt to actually understand what it says rather than making it up.

jscolas1 said...

As a consumer and reader of reviews, I would be disappointed if every review with P.G. next to it had a score in the mid-90's. I would feel misled, and I would look for a new reviewer to follow. Through reading and tasting, it is up to the consumer to decide which reviewer shares the same sensibilities and tastes, and use that as the starting point for selecting wine. For a winemaker to assume that every vintage will receive the same high scores, ignores the very basics that make wine so special. It should never be the same. Otherwise, all we'd be left with is Kendall Jackson Chardonnay, and when's the last time you needed to taste a vertical of that?

Anonymous said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzQKECQgjW8

PaulG said...

OK Anon, you get points for creativity. That said, it's an easy and cheap shot to categorize this post as whining or feeling sorry for myself. Neither is true, though some readers will inevitably take it that way. Too bad, so sad. This is the place I express my opinions unedited, and I stand by what I said. I never said I wanted anyone to feel sorry for poor little me. What little anyone outside of my intimate friends knows about my life – and believe me, it's very little – looks pretty good. I am blessed, and I give thanks every single day for all the blessings.

Chris Wallace said...

"I disaprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it" - Evelyn Beatrice Hall

Hopefully all concerned (winemakers and reviewers) realize the purpose here is to create a wonderful taste experience for the consumer. And since consumers have such varied tastes, you are going to always get some who like what you have done and some who do not. The winemaker makes the best wine he/she can in the style they have chosen. The reviewer helps us consumers by evaluating it before we do to let us know what we might be in for. The numerical score is one thing that tells us something about relative quality but the comments are every bit as important to tell us that if it will appeal to our palate. And we consumers learn to calibrate off of reviewers palates. All of this is very healthy for the wine consumer and helps us make better choices: a better choice being buying more wines that suit our palate, less that don't. I think it is unfortunate that winery does not want you to continue to review their wines. It just means the consumer has a little less info to make a decision with.

PaulG said...

Chris, thank you for putting a positive perspective on this post. You have captured the essence of what I was trying to get at.

Anonymous said...

"In most fields of endeavor, expert advisors and consultants are paid huge sums of money. Wineries, however, receive very detailed and specific critiques on all their products FOR FREE!"

I don't think this is a very relevant point. As someone else pointed out, reviews are useful to customers (who pay to read them, generally), but from a production standpoint the types of reviews offered by wine critics are pretty much worthless. They don't offer anything like the sort of input you would get from a quality wineMAKING consultant. Nor should they. My point is just that this is not really a service to the wine production team (unless a high score helps sell wine or introduce new people to the wine).

PaulG said...

A marketing consultant doesn't tell you how to re-engineer or redesign your product. Just how it can compete more effectively.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what wine critic offers is comparable to what a marketing consultant offers either.

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