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Ethics and Wine Blogging (or "Ouch! I've Got a Neck Cramp From All This Navel-Gazing!")

Oooooooooooooohhhhh boy.

Seems I can't go a week these days without getting embroiled in one wine blogging controversy or another.

Let's see... how do I recap this so it's not mind-numbingly boring for people who came here thinking they might be reading about wine?

See, apparently, that's not what wine bloggers like to do anymore (I know... I didn't get the memo, either!). Instead, they talk about themselves... which will be cool to do during the upcoming Wine Bloggers Conference in Sonoma, but isn't so cool to do on wine blogs themselves.

Where readers come to, well, read about wine stuff.

And not to read about wine blogger navel gazing stuff.

But... in this case I will need to talk a bit about wine blogging because it actually involves YOU - the readers of wine blogs (I know this is difficult now... but someday, I think you'll forgive me, and our relationship will grow stronger... and we'll finally take that get-away-from-it-all trip to Vancouver tat we've been planning... just the two of us...).

Whoops. Sorry, got distracted.

Let's recap: Regular 1WD dot com readers will recall that I was part of an innovative blogging experiment, headed up by Jeff over at GoodGrape.com, to be among a select group of bloggers to taste the innagural release of Rockaway Vineyard, a new allocated California Cab.

Apparently, a bunch of other wine bloggers didn't like that.

Tom Wark (fermentation.typepad.com) and Steve Heimoff of Wine Enthusiast (www.steveheimoff.com) in particular both questioned the ethics of the experiment participants for agreeing to write about Rockaway as a condition of taking part in the experiment (and receiving an advanced sample of the wine). Tim over at Winecast.net has a great summary of the whole thing, which you can check out here.

The funny thing is, no one who's written about the ethics of the experiment has yet to validate their assumptions with either Rockaway or the participants.


I tried to clear things up on Tom's blog in his comments, but let's just say it ain't easy convincing a group of green cheese lovers that the moon is made of rock. Even when you've got a sample stone in your hand.

For those of you who still care (sorry, I'm trying to make it as "non-boring" as possible), I actually have a Code of Ethics that's been posted on my site for well over a year. As far as I can tell, it wasn't violated by me taking part in this experiment. Sure, I agreed to write an article, but I agreed that with my editor (Jeff at Good Grape), not with a winery. And I didn't see anything wrong in an editor stipulating receipt of an article as grounds for participation.

I mean.... DUUUUUUH.... wouldn't a journalist get fired for consistently not producing articles for an editor by a deadline? If not, then I've changed my mind, and I really do want to be a journalist! Sounds like a sweet gig!

Instead of talking about ethics, maybe wine bloggers should be talking about Journalism 101 and Reading Comprehension? Or (egads!), wine?

Anyway - now you've got the background, and you've got my take, and you've got my Code of Ethics. And that is important, to me at least - I'm writing this blog because it's fun, but mostly because I genuinely love sharing wine knowledge with you. I'm certainly not writing it for other wine bloggers (though they're more than welcome to participate).

I trust that you're smart people, and all-grown-up adults (at least, I hope so considering you're reading a blog about an alcoholic beverage...), and therefore I trust that you can make up your own minds about my ethics.

Which reminds me...

THANK YOU to those who have contacted me with your words of encouragement and support. It's literally kept me from hanging up my bloggin' spurs these past couple of weeks. And for that, you have my (possibly non-journalistic and unethical) gratitude, always!

(image: calgarysun.com)


dhonig said...

The bottom line? Tom and Steve are wrong. Neither can explain what the ethical violation might have been, other than that it was an ethical violation. Pure bootstrapping.

Ashley V. Routson said...

Cheers to this latest post!

You chose the most excellent and classy way to address the entire issue - YOU ARE ASKING YOUR READERS for THEIR opinions.

We are the ones that matter most. LET US choose whether or not we believe your actions to be ethical (which by the way I think that you did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING wrong and completely support your decision)

As for the slander from other bloggers and journalists around the internet, it happens. Jealousy can be a powerful ans dangerous thing. The media loves to trigger controversy.

My experience in the beer blogging world is no where near as dramatic as this. In fact, all I have ever gotten is support, advice, "props" and high-fives from others in my community. I know a very respected beer journalist and consultant who has gladly given me constructive criticism to help ensure my credibility.

Social media and social networks are about building relationships and communities. It is really sad to see a community of passionate individuals lash out on each other like this. Way too much ego bashing.

In any case, just keep doing what you do best. Blog about the wonderful world of wine. Us readers are smart - we can see through the bullshit. In my eyes, you are a very respected and trusted member of the wine blogging community!!!


Anonymous said...

I have read through a lot of the posts and comments on this ROcakway thing, and it is entirely new territory for all involved (and those who are not, as in the print media). I think you have presented yourself well in terms of your own rationale, and see this not so much as an ethical issue as growing pains for the blogging as media.

There are far more serious ethical issues in the wine world than this...

Joe Roberts said...

Thanks for the comments all!

tish - are you saying that I won't be able to evaluate McCain's or Obama's platforms on the basis of their stand on this issue?

Crap, there goes *my* plan for picking a new President...


Anonymous said...

This all seems like a tempest in a wine grape to me...

More than a year ago, I instituted a guest blogger/reviewer program. This "Wine Spy for a Day" program only required that the blogger meet a publication deadline - and an honest review of the wine. The deadline was necessary because we only sell one wine per day, and we integrated our guest reviews into our own on the day of the sale.

We provided links from our site to the guest bloggers site if said blogger also mentioned their participation as an Agent on the day of the sale.

Our program never raised eyebrows and it was great fun for all involved. Our program was transparent, but wasn't the Rockaway 'experiment'?

Being an admitted attention whore for my brand, I kind of wish that our "Wine Spy for a Day" program had created this sort of controversy. Maybe next time.

- Agent Red

Joe Roberts said...

Agent Red (if that is indeed your *real* name): You mean your program was fun, introduced blog readers to interesting wines, and didn't get embroiled in a mud pit of pedantic controversy with no basis in facts?

How **boring**...

Anonymous said...

Pedantic is the operative word about all this...how does any of this crap advance your audiences enjoyment of wine? Let it go Vin-dicator....or at least just give the facts on your blog...stay out of direct confrontation on theirs...and realize that all this sarcasm and confrontation hurts the entire blogosphere.

Joe Roberts said...

well spoken, willyboy... no karma available in negative-responses land...

Douglas Trapasso said...

As long as this convo goes on and on, here's a different angle to consider.

Suppose it wasn't Rodney Strong? After all, even non wine obsessives have probably seen this winemaker in their favorite wine store or restaurant (even fake ones promoted by Wine Porn mags).

Let's say the wine in question was a debut release from a nobody who invested in a dream, who maybe had a hobby in a past life as . . . a wine blogger.

Let's say this winemaking newbie couldn't get the Wine Porn community to take notice, so he/she decided on a different strategy to give his/her wine a fair chance.

I'm just suggesting that the Dr. Lauras of the wine blogging world might be a little more forgiving in this case, if some of their bretheren/sisteren agreed to this winemaker's terms.

Dr. Debs said...

Perceptive comment, Chicago Pinot. Especially since the same week of Jeff's cooperative experiment, a group of bloggers accepted samples of Hugel and a wine company in exchange for reviewing them at the same time on Twitter. Nobody raised eyebrows there, and in my opinion they behaved appropriately because they said they were samples. So did we.

So yes, I think "size" matters, or at least it seems to have in this case.

Dr. Debs said...

should read from a wine company--sorry about the typo.

Joe Roberts said...

Wow - amazingly, this thing *still* has legs...

Some interesting discussion going on with Tom over at GoodGrape.com :


The pot is really callin' the kettle black now.


"Jock strap delivery for Mr. Wark..."

Anonymous said...

If we are calling into question the ethics of bloggers, why not address the biggest offender of them all, GARY V. who claims to be objective when he reviews wine but happens to directly profit from any review he makes by virtue of owning Wine Library. How can you objectively review the product you are selling?

Would we trust a car dealer to objectively review the cars he has in inventory? Or a restaurant to review its own menu?

I am really excited that there is an alternative to traditional media when it comes to learning about wine and BLOGGERS are that alternative, all I ask is that I know in what capacity they may be involved with the wine or winery that they review.



Joe Roberts said...

Hey Jon - thanks for the comment! You raise an interesting point, but I doubt Gary's alone in that, and he openly discusses his potential conflicts of interest.

On the website for the Society of Professional Journalists (as far as I'm aware, neither Gary or myself are members), they have a CoE:
http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp .

It includes this interesting tidbit:
"Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived." (emphasis is mine)

That's a tough call for *anyone* to do consistently in today's media!

Joe Roberts said...


And with this comment... I put a final close to all things "Rockaway-gate" related (at least, from my perspective anyway).

The most civil and interesting (not to mention well-stated) restatement of concepts and events can be found here:

What did I learn from all of this? Quite a bit:

1) It's not OK to make your point by throwing people under the bus. It's also not OK to retaliate by throwing the guy who threw the guys under the bus under the bus.

2) I miss wine. I love wine. I love talking about wine. And I really, really don't love talking about talking about wine.

3) Hyperbole and Gonzo are writing styles, not everyone will dig them, to some if will look like I'm pandering, etc.... but I don't really have enough talent to try another style, so we're just gonna have to make due with what we got!

Be good to yourself.

Be good to others.

And build the wine community!


Anonymous said...

Interesting point about Gary V. At least every timehe does a video, everyone KNOWS he is in a position to profit from his opinions.

My problem with Gary is that he has become soe reliant on RP and WS scores that the only way he can toot his horn for wines he simply loves, he has to resort to his own "GV" rating. That undermines his authority, IMHO, whereas I have great respect for retailers who can just say to me. "If you like X, you gotta try Y or Z". No numbers needed.

Anonymous said...

Joe -- Thanks for making this whole ordeal known to your readers. As a newish wine blogger and new reader of yours, it's nice to have your story as a reference point for what to potentially expect in the future.


Joe Roberts said...

Thanks, michael.

It's important to note that this is the first time anything like this has *ever* happened to me in the wine blogging community, which for years has been nothing but fun, supportive, and welcoming to me.

I am *positive* that this experience is the exception, and NOT the rule for the community.

In fact, my understanding is that on the www.winebizradio.com taping today (to be aired and podcasted tomorrow), Tom Wark offered an apology to me and the other participants on how he handled this. I am sure that I will be accepting Tom's apology and likely will offer one or two of my own his way as well.

The future of the community remains bright, and vital. DON'T let this experience taint that perception for you if you can help it. I think you will find a great group of people out there willing to support you along the way!


Joe Roberts said...

Amazingly, there is *still* discussion in the wine blog-o-land about this topic.

Listen up, peeps!

For the record:

Tom Wark has officially apologized for how he handled this topic (he did this on his WineBizRadio.com appearance this week).

Since my only beef with Tom was *how* he treated me and my fellow 'Rockaway 7' bloggers in raising his point on blogging ethics, his apology is ACCEPTED by me.

In fact, I am right now extending Tom an apology for my "handing him is jock strap" comment on his blog. It was funny, but totally ungracious of me to discuss my follow up comments like that.

It's so OVER - let's pick up the pieces worth keeping on this (furthering the wine blogging community through progression of ethical standards) and leave the rest!


Anonymous said...

The only leap I don't quite follow is the suggestion that Jeff is somehow your "editor." I dunno. The fear, I'm sure, is that people might perceive a slightly fine line between "editor" and "unscrupulous winery patsy who uses his position of acclaim in the blogosphere to force strings-attached sample bottles on his compadres."

Or maybe he's actually your editor. I don't know the ins and outs. Sorry if I'm out of line.

(Also, I wish I was up on this back when it was happening. What a controversy! Just what the doctor ordered for the tired world of wine blogging, says I.)

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