Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Fallacy of Wine Journalism

Last week, Mike Steinberger led a debate about whether wine critics are journalists on his blog, WINE DIARIST.com. This debate was partially triggered by the words and actions of Wine Advocate reviewer Antonio Galloni and former Wine Spectator founder James Suckling. Each has started for-profit ventures that involve tastings with high-profile winemakers. Suckling in particular has caught flack for charging both customers and producers to attend his event and for advertising the event under the guise of a Decanter report on the state of Brunello di Montalcino.

Many of the commenters on Steinberger's post suggested that critics and wine writers are journalists and should be held to the same ethical standards as magazine and newspaper reporters. One of the common points was that wine critics should remain objective in their jobs and adhere to a set ethical standards that ensure consumer confidence and trust. Journalists disseminate information. Wine critics disseminate opinion. Wine is subjective and consumers want "expert" opinion on which they can align their palates and pocketbooks. While some wine writers may be journalists, the vast majority are nothing more than pundits. Just as with the well-known political pundits, the bigger the name (and Suckling and Galloni are pretty big names) the more rocks that are thrown at them. I am not trying denigrate these wine pundits. In fact, while I do not claim to be in the same class of pundits that I read most (Joe Roberts, Steve Heimoff, W. Blake Gray, Jeff Siegel, et al.), this blog does offer punditry like the others. I will make no claim for the opinions and agendas that other "writers" advance, but I do not hide the fact that I advocate for Colorado wines and not being afraid of what's on wine a label. While I focus on Colorado, I do not limit myself to only Colorado because I believe that it is important to reasonably place Colorado wines in the larger context of the wine industry.

Furthermore, the one agenda common to each critic, professional or amateur, is self-promotion. Whether he wants to make money by selling subscriptions to his website or she just wants to share her thoughts on wine with family and friends, we all want to be read and/or heard. Some writers focus on regions or wines dear to them (or their audience) while others mock those who attempt to be heard. Regardless, we all are promoting wine and all voices are welcome in the world of wine punditry. The greater the diversity of opinion, the stronger the debate about wine. If we debate enough, we might just break down the barriers intimidate the potential wine drinker.

Just as with modern "journalism" (see most major 24-hr "news" organizations), the reporting of simple fact is a minor component in the world of wine writing. Nevertheless, we can and should have ethical standards to which we are held. These standards will vary from pundit to pundit, but as Joe Roberts and others have so wisely advised is the need for transparency. Let the readers decide if they value your opinion. The explosion of wine punditry has allowed wine to be more popular and of a higher quality than any time in history. Keep up the good work, pundits!


  1. We think of ourselves as "writers".

    (What others think of us is probably unrepeatable...)

  2. "Writer" is such a middle of the ground word. I'm fine with terms writer and/or critic, but anyone who writes is a writer and anyone who critiques is a critic. However, wine writers are not necessarily journalists. That was the point I was trying to make.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!