Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Throwing up a roadblock for certain cars... (Why Wine Spectator's change in policy is bad for the industry)

The Wine Spectator has never been a big proponent of regional American wines. This is not news. In the past few years, New York wines started to get more coverage, but that was due more to the hard work of the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance and its former executive director Morgen McLaughlin than an inherit interest from the Wine Spectator. The occasion review of wines from Arizona, Colorado or Virginia would appear at times in the past few years as well. But for the most part, coverage of wine from the other 46 states was virtually non-existent.

Then, this past year, Colorado wineries started submitting more wines and started getting more coverage. James Molesworth wrote a blog post on Colorado wine and stated "some of them are worth your attention." Faint praise, but praise nonetheless. I even tasted some CO wines with Harvey Steiman in Aspen this past summer, which he wrote "the state may have something." Colorado vintners were excited about the increase in coverage, praise and helpful feedback they were getting from the, arguably, most influential wine publication in the United States.

Sadly, this progress hit a roadblock last month when Colorado wineries' samples were rejected by the Wine Spectator tasting department due to a change in sample submission policy. Wineries were told that Colorado wines would not be tasted any more and their wine was returned to them when just months prior they were welcomed.

I contacted Tom Matthews, executive director of the Wine Spectator, and he informed me that the magazine was "in the process of instituting a policy that requires wines to be pre-approved by us before we will commit to tasting them." I understand and accept their position because they can't obviously taste every single wine made on the planet. The Wine Spectator should have say over what wines they taste and do not taste. Mr. Matthews stated that part of the criteria for selecting which wines to review is "wines that are of high quality, reasonably priced and widely distributed." I would have no problem with those criteria, if they are enforced across the board. But is this policy the same for every single winery and wine region?

I wasn't going to write this piece because I didn't want to come across as whining (which I still might...). But while reading the Wine Spectator Insider (October 23, 2013) I noticed that the first four wines listed were all over $88 per 750 mL bottle and all were imported in quantities of less than 10 cases to the U.S. Now that doesn't sound like reasonably priced or widely distributed to me. The André & Mireille Tissot Arbois La Tour de Curon Le Clos 2010 earned 92 points and costs $100. The 24 Americans (only 2 cases were imported) that are lucky enough to get a single bottle allocation might find the review important, but this review doesn't seem to meet the criteria set forth by the Wine Spectator editors. Have any wineries in California been rejected because they did not receive written prior approval? I really want to know.

I'm not one to tell the Wine Spectator what their policies should be, but as a subscriber (it was a gift...) I would much rather read reviews and stories on wines from Maryland, Michigan and Idaho than a Jura unicorn (nice piece by Jennifer Fiedler, by the way). I think Wine Spectator's readers across the country would also find those wines of more interest. Wine Spectator could take the lead in the wine writing world and support and seek out regional wines. Can you imagine what that support would do for the American wine industry? The popularity of local wines is growing and it will continue to grow with or without the Wine Spectator. I would think that the Wine Spectator would want it to be with.

Unlike many in the industry, I actually respect Wine Spectator (for the most part). Wine Spectator is free to decide how to most efficiently run its tasting department. Changing a policy is one thing, but making one policy for small wineries and wine regions when producers from France and California get to play by different rules is just unfair. But hey, life is unfair. If the Wine Spectator isn't going to review Colorado wines any more, it is up to the Colorado wineries to make wine that Wine Spectator (or any other publication) can refuse to review. So, I ask the local winemakers (in every state) to take this slap in the face as motivation for making the best wine you can. I know you can.

Disclaimer: I helped facilitate the submissions through my position with the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board. This post is not in any way an official position of the CWIDB. In fact, I am sitting on my couch in my house while I do laundry and chase chickens off my deck.


  1. Kyle,

    Could you send some Colorado wines over our way at GAYOT.com? I requested samples from a dozen CO wineries recently and didn't receive a single response. While I typically have no problem getting California wines (GAYOT is located in CA), the same can't be said for wines from out of state.

    I couldn't agree with you more about increasing media coverage of Maryland, Michigan, Idaho, etc. You might appreciate this: http://www.gayot.com/wine/top10thanksgiving-wine/main.html

    Best wishes,

    Barnaby Hughes

  2. Barnaby, I can mention it to CO wineries, but I cannot make them send samples. Let me know if you do end up receiving any. Thanks.

  3. Thanks for this post! It's been interesting for the two Idaho wineries in the Precept family (Sawtooth and Ste. Chapelle). We have national distribution and I've submitted to all the "Wines." Wine & Spirits gave Sawtooth 11 Syrah 91 pts, and Wine Enthusiast rated Sawtooth's 11 Riesling 90 pts; BOTH landed respective spots on the Top 100 values of the year. Radio silence from Wine Spectator. I have had no wines returned to me but I do wonder when Idaho will have it's day in the Spectator sun! Thank you for publishing this tidbit. Harvey seemed to have open arms and a willing palate; it's my hope that's still the case.

  4. Also, I can attest that Barnaby has been a great advocate for Idaho!