Yesterday, ethics were represented by a big gray blob. Today I pry open the proverbial can of worms, replete with a Rockaway twist. Consider the following dilemmas:

Dilemma #1) In February I accepted a fellowship to attend the fifth Professional Wine Writers Symposium in Napa Valley, sponsored by Napa Valley Vintners and held over three days/nights at Meadowood (I am still using the soap I brought home). Moreover, the particular fellowship I won, through a “blind” (bylines removed) judging of three writing samples (not focused on Napa, in fact), was funded by a specific winery. I don’t believe they “chose” me, but somehow I wound up with theirs; and a dozen or so other writers earned other winery-specified awards covering the cost of the entire symposium, food, lodging and (naturally) swag. {Yes, my new favorite baseball hat has a NVV logo, cleverly designed to make people ask “What’s the ‘N’ for?”} We were told that our only obligation as recipients was that we had to sit with our designated winery’s representative at the closing dinner. Sounds kind of Sugar Daddyish, I know… but think about it—not a very tough deal, eh? Should I disclose my sponsoring winery here? Should I deliberately avoid writing about that label? How about other brands under the same ownership? And what about all my wine-scribe homies and their fellowships; should the public be wary of partisanship toward their begotten winery underwriters? Food for thought.

Dilemma #2) Can’t make this stuff up: I actually got offered a trip yesterday. Should I go? Will probably turn it down, but not for ethical reasons. It’s to a place I have already been, and strange as it sounds, it would probably benefit another writer/speaker more than me, so I am leaning toward passing, on that account.

Dilemma #3) I realized that I need a Sample Policy. I currently do not receive a ton of samples, but I would like to get more. At the same time, I want marketers and wineries to know how I plan to treat the wines. With that in mind, I hereby state that I welcome all samples and will consider them in three distinct ways:

  • for coverage on this blog, which may or may not be about how the wine tastes, as I am very interested in other angles like packaging, marketing and backstory.
  • for assigned print/web articles, with the understanding that when I write consumer articles, I try focus on wine styles and types rather than specific brands
  • for Wine For All events; wines I try that represent excellent typicity and value are going to be likely candidates for me to purchase, at retail, for future tastings/dinners.

Perhaps even more important, I will do my best to open as many samples as possible in group situations, such as with my local Guys Night Out tasting group; at Institute of Culinary Education, where I teach and do events; and/or at “wine bar”-style events, where opening certain wines makes sense to me based on the type of group.

All that said, and apropos of the topic of ethics, I did indeed receive a sample in 2008 of the (in)famous debut vintage of Rodney Strong 2005 Rockaway single-vineyard Cabernet, which at the outset was sent only to bloggers in a bold sort of PR experiment. {The affair played out flamboyantly on several blogs, most notably Jeff Lefevre’s, Tom Wark’s and} I poured my 750ml sample for a happy group of young attorneys on a retreat in New Jersey. (Note, I was also pouring mid-level Bordeaux for comparison.) Guess what: some people loved Rockaway, others didn’t. Personally, I usually don’t seek out the tall, dark and handsome Rockaway type, but as those well-groomed Cali types go, this one easily held its own easily in the lush texture, ripe fruit, high-pitch intensity and big-but-balanced departments; it was a perfect example of a high-end Cab. And I’m glad I had a chance to try it with fellow palates of varying experience and taste, not just at my kitchen table.