Tag Archives: VinePair

Is “pay to play” wrecking wine criticism?

pay to play

Teeter: Pay to play is the scourge of beverage journalism.

VinePair podcast says wine criticism, as well as beer and spirits, needs more transparency and fewer free trips

We need more transparency among wine writers and wine critics – and I’m not the only one who feels that way.

“It’s something we’ve always been talking about, among the staff,” says Adam Teeter, the co-founder of the on-line wine, beer, and spirits magazine VinePair. “And we thought it was time to start talking about it again.”

Hence a recent VinePair podcast discussing what Teeter calls “pay to play journalism,” where wine, beer, and spirits and writers take samples, free trips, free meals, and who knows what else – and then write exactly what will make the producer happy. Because they want to keep getting the free samples, free trips, free meals, and who knows what else.

“We call it book report journalism,” says Teeter, who also teaches at Columbia University’s prestigious journalism school. “It’s like when you wrote a book report as a kid, and you just rewrote what was in the book. The writers just rewrite what they’re told on the trip.”

I called Teeter to talk about this because transparency has always been a problem in the wine writing business. Yes, there has been progress, like most sites and reviewers acknowledging when they’re reviewing samples. That’s something that didn’t happen when I started the blog. But as technology has evolved, so has marketing, and the problem may be worse than ever. On one of the last trips I took, I was told what I could write – something no one had ever done before (and which I ignored). But many others are happy to write what they’re told, and that’s probably why I don’t get invited on trips any more.

As Teeter noted on the VinePair site: “Well, there’s a scourge in the beverage journalism world, and it’s called ‘pay to play.’ Whether it’s brands getting guaranteed coverage or even inflated scores by taking wine critics on elaborate trips, or just a spot on someone’s [Instagram] story through sending them some sample bottles, it’s an ugly side to this industry that rarely gets talked about.”

So the podcast talks about it, in detail. “The amount of free stuff out there is insane,” Teeter told me, and he used the word insane three times during our brief conversation to describe a world where producers see an Instagram post as marketing nirvana. It costs nothing, save for the sample, and it makes the person posting the Instagram feel like a big deal. In other words, it’s infinitely more brand friendly than dealing with a cranky ex-newspaperman like me.

The good news for wine drinkers is that beer, which has almost no history of criticism, is probably the worst for pay to play. We may harp on the biases of the Wine Magazines, but it’s not like beer, where a beer company subsidiary owns a leading beer ratings website.

So the next time you see a surprisingly favorable wine review, don’t be surprised – it may have been pay to play.

Photo courtesy of VinePair, using a Creative Commons license

Winebits 433: Rose, cheap wine, direct shipping

roseImportant rose advice: Dave McIntyre at the Washington Post, a long-time pal of the blog who was drinking rose when the hipsters thought Zima was cool, offers some rose wisdom and five roses to try, all of which is much appreciated: “After all, there are delicious pink wines made all around the world” he writes. “Pour a rosé you like, shed the cares of the day and consider your true priorities under the setting sun.” Is it any wonder Dave and I get along so well?

Cheap wine wisdom: The VinePair website, which usually offers practical wine advice, is mostly on track with this effort about how to buy cheap wine. Much of it will be familiar to the blog’s regular visitors, including the admonition to look for wine from less expensive places. I was a little confused, though, by the part about avoiding closeout bins, not because it’s wrong but because of the reason: “These are the wines a shop can’t sell, and that often means there was no one at the shop who was passionate enough to sell them.” Which isn’t always true; I’m more concerned with the age of closeout wines, because if they’re too old, it doesn’t matter who liked them. The wines will have faded and not taste like anything.

Arizona allows direct shipping: You can now buy wine directly from wineries in Arizona, the 42nd state to allow the practice. That’s the good news. This is an informative piece from our friends at the Wine Spectator, complete with informative map. The bad news is that winery to consumer shipping, and not retail to consumer shipping. The latter is still illegal in many states and often incredibly difficult when it is legal. One other note: Two of the eight states that don’t allow winery shipping are Utah and Pennsylvania, about as odd bedfellows as one can have.

Cheap wine matters, says VinePair web power index

VinePairThe Wine Curmudgeon has made the VinePair wine web power index again, which measures the most influential wine sites on the Internet. This is always good to see, because it means my message is getting across: Wine is fun, it doesn’t have to be complicated, and anyone can enjoy it.

The irony about all this? That Google started taking an intense dislike to the blog about 15 months ago, and it only got worse when I changed platforms last fall. How this happened is a mystery, since I’m doing the same thing I’ve done for the past seven years. But Google, for whatever reason, rates the Wine Curmudgeon as less trustworthy than it did in April 2013 and is less likely to recommend the site when someone searches for cheap wine news, reviews, and the like.

Which means the site has an influence beyond Google, and I have everyone who visits here to thank for that. We’re going to get this cheap wine thing done, regardless of the obstacles in our way, whether the Winestream Media or a $50 billion company that controls two-thirds of the search activity in the U.S.