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Are wine bloggers only telling half the story?

By Duane Pemberton

The wine blogging community has definitely stormed onto the scene, with folks coming out of the woodwork ready to share their own opinions and such. I’m a huge fan of that, on principle, as I firmly believe the more people talking about wine, the better it will be for the industry and ultimately the wine-drinker.

With that said, there is a trend amongst the blogging community that I find disturbing and that is this idea that if a particular blog doesn’t “like a wine” they won’t review it. To me, that’s only giving their readers half the story and doing a disservice to wine drinkers everywhere. This is like the little league teams that choose to not keep scores during the games and ultimately give every team a trophy at the end of the year.

I believe that honest criticism of wine is healthy for the wineries as well – even the smaller ones who might be afraid of it. I say, embrace it as it helps hone excellence. Could you imagine the world without the wonderful contrast of success and failure? How would we learn? How would we know what works and what doesn’t?

Personally, I feel that one of the things that makes wine so much fun is the fact that we don’t like everything all of the time – and we should all embrace that. It’s okay. It’s a part of winning and losing.

So when I heard that bloggers were being advised at the recent Wine Bloggers Conference to not publish reviews on wines they don’t like in order to keep getting “free wine” from the wineries – a huge red flag went up. Am I on crazy pills here or is that being dishonest to their readers?

What say you?

  • http://drinknectar.com Josh Wade

    I agree with you. If you are going to review wines then you owe it to your readers to talk about what you do like and don't like. I think it's important to add a caviat with all reviews that these are your personal prefernces because tastes do vary. Over time, your readers will come to trust you and your tastes.

    Good subject Duane.

    Josh
    drinknectar

  • http://twitter.com/loshel loshelrobinson

    Great subject to talk about, I didn't attend WBC10 but if that is the advice that is being given then I'm glad I didn't attend. Living here on the Central Coast has shown me you can like the winemaker but not his wine and it's ok to be honest about it. There are a few hundred wineries here now, I love some and don't care for others, but it's my opinion and to muzzle my thoughts would be dishonest to those who read my blog. The greater crime would be towards myself for not being honest. Is it that important to receive freebies or is it just bragging rights to claim your a wine blogger?

  • http://www.organicwinereview.com/ Brent

    Whoa, that is some badass advice bloggers were receiving. While many of us don't like to dish out criticism (“there is a wine for every palette”), the reality is that there are crap wines, decent wines and great wines. Not every single wine can be “above average” or some might not have any redeeming qualities. I love “top 10 lists”. Let's flip that idea on it's head and start the “worst of”. Here's the worse wines we've reviewed so far . . I expect there will be more!

    http://www.organicwinereview.com/buena-ventura-

    http://www.organicwinereview.com/almagre-rioja-

    Cheers,
    Brent “Avg Wine Guy”
    @OWineReivew

  • http://www.austinbeeman.com Austin Beeman

    I think bloggers should feel to rate wines the way the Michelin Guide rates French Restaurants. “If I talk about you, you are great, but there are levels of greatness.” You can say as much by what you don't say.

  • http://www.winecultureproject.com John Kafarski

    I did not attend WBC10, but I do look forward to attending next year since it is closer to home. I certainly hope that professional writers and bloggers do not heed the advice that was given since integrity is of crucial importance when building a reputation in any professional circle. There is absolutely nothing wrong with writing negative reviews. However, at least in my case, I hardly have the time to write about positive wine reviews on my site, so I have to come across an extraordinarily bad bottle of wine to pan it. I often do write about winemakers, trends, or aspects of the wine business that I think are ridiculous (worst wine ideas of the year, etc…), but since the world is drowning in mediocre wine, I sometimes feel that our time is better spent celebrating what is great about the wine world – including individual wines.

    John
    @winecultproject

  • http://www.thewinemonologues.com Mike

    Have to agree with you. Informing readers about not only what you like, but what you do not like gives them better perspective on your palate so they can judge better for themselves how they might choose. A skillful blogger can tactfully explain why he or she does not like the wine and remind the readers that all palates are different.

  • http://www.twitter.com/mweb Mike Weber (@mweb)

    I'm not a wine blogger (*yet*) but I don't have a problem with bad wines not getting a review. I would have a huge problem with wines getting scored better than they deserve just to appease the winery.

    If I were a blogger who is trying to point out good wine values and share what I've found and liked I may not want to take the TIME to write about a bad wine. There are enough good wines out there that I'd rather spend the time writing about what I think others may also enjoy.

    Perhaps, a happy median is a post every couple weeks to once a month that lists out the wines that disappointed and didn't make the cut? That way they are pointed out and also don't require a full review/post on why it wasn't up to par (it's a time allocation issue).

    On the other hand, if the Wine Bloggers Conference is giving the reasoning in order to receive more free wine and not piss off wineries… that's the wrong way to go about it completely and is on par with lying about wines to appease wineries.

  • http://twitter.com/swirlsipsnark Swirl Sip Snark

    Our whole blog is about pointing out the good AND bad local wines that can be found in Virginia. If we never talk about the bad, why should people trust us when we talk about the good? Of course people like different things, and we welcome that kind of discussion on our blog, facebook page, and via twitter. My husband and blogging partner and I often disagree about wines and talk about that in our posts and comments. We've also had the experience of opening bottles we really liked at the winery and wondering what the heck we were thinking. Of course, we also don't get samples often. We've received less than a dozen comp bottles in the year we've been blogging, and most of those came from a single NY tasting event we were invited to participate in. Our goal isn't to keep the free wine showing up – our goal is to highlight our amazing local wine industry (and have fun) – of course everyone has their own goals when it comes to wine blogging.

  • http://twitter.com/wineconnects Bowdoin Montgomery

    If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all! Aren't people getting tired of reading, listening, and watching one persons opinion. Wine is a exploration and everybody has a different path. Just give me the facts: the varietal(s), where it comes from, who made it, and the price. I'll make up my own mind if it is good or bad :P

  • WineBeerWA

    We didn't really write any truly negative reviews our first year and some of our blog's contributing authors still won't. The reason why we have multiple authors is because we want to represent and talk about different palates. You read the different authors you get a sense of who might like the same wines that you do.
    We don't review corked wines but now we have written up wines that have had other flaws. For me it is about integrity and frankly it got boring to read and write only glowing reviews.
    I certainly never heard any one tell bloggers to only write good reviews at WBC10. Since there were different tracks it might have been said in a presentation that I didn't attend. I can assure you that was NOT the message in the session about Wineries, PR firms and Blogger relationships. The message there was you are under no obligation to review unsolicited samples but that was the only time I heard anyone saying anything about not reviewing a wine.

  • http://twitter.com/VickyWine Anne-Victoire JM

    I was at the WBC and heard this talk. No one really said we had to do write only about what we liked, and we all agree that a constructive critic will do no harm. On my side, I have little time to write and take much more pleasure to express myself on what I like.

    Now I can also talk about what I don't understand or don't quite enjoy, but I will never put too many words on it. First because this is another way to make promotion, also maybe because my dad is a winemaker, and I know the critic can be harmful when done wrongly, and very easy.

    Are you going to Vienna. We can meet then !

  • http://www.winefoot.com duanep

    Good comments everyone – thanks for the feedback! :)

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_YEBEO64F5PXUP5N27IOVVMKUBI Walla Walla Wine Woman

    That is unfortunate that you are glad you didn't attend the WBC10 based on one piece of advice that someone said. It was merely someone's opinion. It should be known, and perhaps should be clarified, that piece of “advise” was not the premise of the WBC10, Walla Walla Wine Alliance and the Washington State Wine Commission.

    I attended WBC10 and I somehow missed that piece of “advice.” It wasn't written on posters or asserted in propaganda pamplets. There weren't any recordings constantly being audioed to us ” Do not publish reviews on wines you don’t like …” nor did I find any encrypted notes of the same stuffed in the burger sliders and tacos we had during our meals or written on the under base of our wine glasses filled with generous amounts of wine we were constantly being poured.

    And besides, just because someone gave that advice, it doesn't mean you have to follow it. That is the beauty of wine blogs, afterall. We can write what is on our minds without being edited. As for me when it comes to wines I don't like – – plain and simple – – my rule of thumb is I don't even give them the time of day. As it is, I can barely find the time to blog about the wines I do enjoy. Besides, the wine I may not like, someone else may really enjoy.

    Again, I hope you rethink your comment about being glad you didn't attend the WBC10 based on someone's one piece of advice. It was a great weekend full of learning and meeting up with old friends, making new friends and drinking some great wines.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_YEBEO64F5PXUP5N27IOVVMKUBI Walla Walla Wine Woman

    That is unfortunate that you are glad you didn't attend the WBC10 based on one piece of advice that someone said. It was merely someone's opinion. It should be known, and perhaps should be clarified, that piece of “advise” was not the premise of the WBC10, Walla Walla Wine Alliance and the Washington State Wine Commission.

    I attended WBC10 and I somehow missed that piece of “advice.” It wasn't written on posters or asserted in propaganda pamplets. There weren't any recordings constantly being audioed to us ” Do not publish reviews on wines you don’t like …” nor did I find any encrypted notes of the same stuffed in the burger sliders and tacos we had during our meals or written on the under base of our wine glasses filled with generous amounts of wine we were constantly being poured.

    And besides, just because someone gave that advice, it doesn't mean you have to follow it. That is the beauty of wine blogs, afterall. We can write what is on our minds without being edited. As for me when it comes to wines I don't like – – plain and simple – – my rule of thumb is I don't even give them the time of day. As it is, I can barely find the time to blog about the wines I do enjoy. Besides, the wine I may not like, someone else may really enjoy.

    Again, I hope you rethink your comment about being glad you didn't attend the WBC10 based on someone's piece of advice. It was a great weekend full of learning and meeting up with old friends, making new friends and drinking some great wines.

  • http://www.winefoot.com duanep

    Actually – I'm glad I didn't attend for a bunch of reasons.. .;)

  • Amy

    That's true. Hmm.. the tendency of being biased. Well, I understand somehow that because blogs are personal, we are entitled to write about anything we want to, and at the same time we have the right to not blog about anything we dont want to talk about as well. Blogs are our personal spaces where we can share our opinions and insights about a certain topic. However, purposely not publishing reviews of wines bloggers dislike for the purpose of getting free wines? That's just plain wrong. It's more of like..a question of integrity. Talk about blog ethics.

  • http://www.organicwinefind.com Matt

    Its particularly important if your're a niche site representing a particular perspective. Take us for example – at organicwinefind.com we're obviously pro organic wine but if we only say nice things about organic wines there's a credibility issue. We've got to be even more careful to be balanced.
    Can't say it tastes like sh*& but its organic! ;)

  • Jenniferheinecke82

    I’m glad to have come across this!  I’ve been kicking around starting a wine blog for sometime.  I’m reviewing a wine as we speak (it’s not terrible, but I’ll never recommend it), and thought of not posting this review.  We all need to know the good, and even the bad!!

  • Bob Andrake

    I would agree more about what is said, if wines were tasted blind and against other winners and purchased not asked for from the winerys.  When you get it FREE your already biased for that wine. Besides how do you don’t have a “special blend” made up from the winery? You don’t think they do it?