I have no statement of ethics anywhere on my blog, but I'm going to add one today. What spurred this? Probably the biggest thing is the dust-up on Dr. Vino's site. Doc, as I affectionately call him, wrote a series of posts attacking Robert Parker and his employees. Doc is questioning their professionalism and ethics based on a damning email exchange and on what he says is a violation of Parker's published ethics policy. You already know about this, because the only person who reads my blog but does not also read Dr. Vino's blog is my father-in-law. And he probably reads Dr. Vino too.
Ethics is an important thing to talk about if you are going to operate a website that offers advice about buying products. Even though I think Dr. Vino's approach to the whole Parker thing is problematic, I'm glad he has brought the question of ethics to the table. And I'm not the only guy who has reacted this way. So what is the ethical code under which I operate? Here are some of the rules that I set for myself:
- If I do not know something, I say so.
- When I write about a wine or a wine-related topic (any topic, really), I first check around the blogosphere to see whether or not anyone else has already written about the same thing. If they have, and if my post will say some of the same things, I indicate this in my post and link to the other post. In other words - I try to give credit to others who wrote before me.
- I never quote people anonymously - no "unnamed sources." If they won't go on the record, then I don't use the quote.
- I don't write negative reviews about wine or restaurants unless I have enough context to be super-confident in my views.
- When I write about a wine I tell you where i drank it - I never talk about a wine as if I drank it at home, when in reality I tried a sip of it at a trade tasting.
- I don't write good reviews as a function of being friendly with people. I never let personal relationships play a role in recommending something.
- I happily accept samples, as long as the sender agrees to my samples policy: "you can send it, I promise to drink it thoughtfully, but I may or may not write about it, and if I do write about it, I write whatever I want to write." If I do write about the wine, I say that it's a sample.
- I happily accept freebies, if they appeal to me, using the same policy regarding samples. I write or do not write about it as I please.
Why is that the only sample I've written about? I don't write bad things about wine unless I feel that I have enough context to do so, and most of the samples I receive are wines that I rarely drink. I get wines from Washington State, Chile, Australia, New York (a load of them this winter) and more. I don't write about them because I rarely like them, and if I do like a wine, I haven't had anything interesting to say about it. If all I have to say is "I don't like that wine," or "I got a Cabernet Sauvignon from Long Island as a sample, and it was pretty darn good," I'm not going to waste your time with that. I try to make it more interesting around here (not always succeeding, I know).
I've never asked for, nor have I received a sample from Dressner, Jenny & François, Chambers Street Wines, or any of the retail stores, importers, or distributors whose wines I drink and regularly write about. Actually, Joe Dressner gave me a bottle of wine once, a 2000 Clos Rougeard Saumur Brézé. I was hosting a wine dinner and I asked him where I could purchase a dry Chenin Blanc with some age on it, and he generously offered this wine as a gift. When I wrote about the wine, I indicated that it was a gift.
I wish that importers/distributors would actually take a quick look at my blog, and then if they are inclined to send samples, send something that makes sense. Something that might fit in with the rest of the wine I drink. If I were an importer and I saw Brooklynguy's blog, I might say "I'm sending this guy my Beaujolais, my Sancerre, and my Provence red." Or "I'm sending this guy my California Roussanne that I think he'll find interesting, based on the other wines he likes." This, my friends, is clearly fanciful thinking on my part.
More on freebies - what is a freebie? A trade tasting is not a freebie because everyone is invited. A freebie is something I'm invited to do that some one else pays for, and where I am the, or part of the target. I sadly have not had to worry much about this, as I get few of them (so far, but I have my fingers crossed). But I've had some good ones: the lunch at Grammercy Tavern sponsored by the Portuguese Trade Commission, my recent dinner with Savio Soares, the tasting of 12 year old Long Island wines, to name the ones I can remember right now. In some cases I wrote good things about the wines, in others, not so good. But I am not so weak-kneed and without integrity as to write favorable reviews simply because some one takes care of lunch or dinner. That said, the one biggest ethical lapse I've had on the blog thus far, I would say, is that I didn't make it clear enough in the Savio Soares post that he sponsored the whole thing.
Am I completely independent and free of any outside interests? I doubt it. I try as hard as I can. I pay for everything I drink, and if I get something for free and write about it, I tell you. I now have friendships in the wine industry, although I don't think that this influences how I review or do not review their products. I am definitely predisposed to liking certain things though, and not to like other things. I wish I could do more blind tasting, and I think that the universe of wine criticism suffers from the relative lack of blind tasting. I think that the wine industry should sponsor two weeks of tastings (on the island of Crete or anyplace sunny and beautiful) and invite the Parkers and Tanzers, and also the Allen Meadows and Peter Liems, and also the bloggers like me. We could all sit together and blind taste a load of wine, discuss, and then write about the wines once they are unveiled. Talk about wishful thinking...
In the end, here is the thing: you are an important part of this too, reader. You are responsible for determining whether or not my reviews are meaningful to you, or Dr. Vino's, or Robert Parker's, or anyone else's. If you are reading for entertainment purposes, then please enjoy yourself. But if you make purchasing decisions based on what a writer recommends, it is your responsibility to determine whether or not you agree with that writer, and whether or not you would take their advice a second or a third time. Not to say that Parker and others should act unethically, but since we can never know with certainty what really goes on in the house of Parker, Dr. Vino, or Brooklynguy, it is merely good sense for a consumer to think critically about what they read.
I think that you have everything you need in order to do that with reference to my blog. If I am wrong, I sincerely hope that you will tell me so. Not so we can have an argument, but so I can learn from what you're saying, and make whatever changes may be necessary. Please ask questions, challenge me on this, offer your opinions, chime in however you see fit.