This has been the subject of much discussion in the wine cyber-ether, starting last fall. That ?s when Rodney Strong said it would send samples to selected wine bloggers before it sent them to the Mainstream Media, with the understanding that the bloggers had to write something, good or bad. That ?s because most mainstream types never get around to writing about all of the samples they receive, and they pile up until they ?re given away. This way, Rodney Strong would get some kind of publicity ? and, as we all know, some kind is better than none.
I thought that was much ado about nothing. Samples are samples, with all of the ethical concerns they entail, and it really doesn ?t matter who gets them first. But that doesn ?t mean that ethics aren ?t something worth discussing. I have written about this before, but it ?s worth clarifying and expanding on. After the jump, how I do this at the Wine Curmudgeon and how I avoid conflicts of interest:
I wrote, a couple of months after I started the blog:
This means that it's fair for readers to ask: Well, if they bought you a swanky steak dinner, how can we believe what you write? And my answer is that first, it takes more than a steak dinner to buy me. I'm more partial to French bistro than steak. Also, I even take some of the wine people to lunch every once in a while, for just that reason.
Second, I have a reputation for impartiality — not only, hopefully, with readers, but with the wine marketing world. They know I won't rip their wine just to rip it, something that happens all too often. And they also know that I won't praise a wine just to get on their good side. (And if any of them are reading this, they're probably laughing at the previous sentence.)
Since then, even Robert Parker has gotten involved in the ethics debate. So, given all that has happened, it ?s probably time to go into more detail, based on the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters ? code of ethics for online writers. Much of it is obvious ? giving credit to others when you use their material, linking to the appropriate items, and detailing potential conflicts of interest. All of which I already do. But I also want to explain a few other things, per the code:
? I accept wine samples paid for by the wineries, but I don ?t guarantee a review from the samples. In fact, about half the wine I review I pay for myself. And I turn down samples for wines that I know don ?t fit what I ?m trying to do here.
? I write about wines and events that involve people who are my friends. For example, I do home and corporate wine tastings with John Bratcher, who is a wine broker for a variety of wineries, including several in Texas. And John will be the first to tell you that there are wines he represents that I don ?t like. Which means I write nice things because the wines are nice, and not because of my friends.
? I accept travel paid for by wineries and trade groups promoting wine regions of the world. But, as the code notes, there is no quid pro quo. In fact, I took a trip to Chile courtesy of one importer several years ago, and I don ?t know that I ?ve written about the importer ?s wines since. And you know what? I don ?t think he cares either.
Ethics is not a difficult concept. Either you bend the rules or you don ?t. I don ?t.