One of the pleasant side effects of being a wine professional is the opportunities that pop up involving our favorite beverage. Take, for example, one that arrived over the weekend.

A fairly large, fine-wine-oriented distributor was looking for volunteers to pour at their portfolio tasting on a Monday, in Manhattan, in September. Said the email:

“The work is pretty straightforward: They’ll need you from noon to 6:00 to pour wines; you’ll receive a fact sheet beforehand that will cover information about the region whose wines you’ll be working with. For your efforts, you will be compensated with a mixed case of their wines.”

Note that this email came to me under the auspices of a dues-driven association of New York wine media professionals, so my response needed to account for the fact that I am a member wine writer/blogger/communicator. That said, what do you think my reaction was? Here’s what ran through my head, roughly in order…

  • Hey, I’ve been to that tasting—it’s great. Mark down the date…. Would I really want to miss it by working it?…
  • Mixed case? What’s that…about $120 worth of wine? Guess it depends on whose table you’re at…
  • Is a box of wine worth driving in for and shlepping back?…
  • Six hours work? For the equiv of about $20 an hour. Ehhhhh….
  • Wonder if a bunch of people could split the shift, and split the wine….

Not for a fleeting moment did I consider the potential dark, Faustian side of this bargain… namely that of {potentially} appearing to be an official representative of the distributor or a specific producer. And yet, as this email seeped through the INBOXes of our several-dozen members of this group, the prevailing sentiment among REPLY ALL responses ranged from simple disapproval to outrage {replete with big words like “completely inappropriate,” “offensive” and “demeaning.”}

Holy Cuvée! And here I was about to ask if any of my wine-scribblin’ buds wanted to go Dutch. Am I that out of touch with what it means to be a wine writer? How is it that an upstanding and outstanding distributor came up with a seemingly bright idea to enlist the wine-knowledgeable assistance of local wine professionals… and it basically backfired?

In the aftermath, it is now understood that such propositions will no longer be passed along to the general membership of our group; so all is well. But the incident stuck in my mind’s craw. I wondered: what would bloggers say? Would this situation provoke agita or salivation?

It’s not worth speculating; if the past few months have taught wine bloggers and blog-followers anything, it is that there are as many legitimate perspectives as there are legitimate bloggers. I can not fault any of my media colleagues, who drew their line in the sand quite adamantly. 

On the other hand, it seems that such lines are being drawn with greater and greater infrequency…and for good reason. The exploding world of wine and the burgeoning desire to share and communicate about it has pushed the basic concept of wine-professional ethics way past the area of black and white.

The 21st century reality is such that there is no consistent code for what is proper, right, appropriate. It’s all up to us, individually as professionals, to set our own thresholds of industry involvement and ethics therein.

Personally, would have no problem appearing at any function on the pouring side of a table where fine wine is being enjoyed. I see that as a valuable experience. Fun, educational, interactive. And would I worry about being perceived as some sort of day-labor shill? Not in the least.

Interestingly, my mind-juggling over the ethics of this “opportunity” was also fueled by two other developments that arrived via email…

  • Via a comment left by at drvino.com (link here), the news director of KFWB radio in Hollywood  confirmed that Anthony Dias Blue’s “Happy Hour” broadcasts are 100% advertorial. Set up, signed and paid for. Which now gives ADB credibility that rivals World Wrestling Federation bouts, and makes his grandstanding about bloggers and ethics about as compelling as David Ortiz on steroids. {This news comes on top of Dr. Vino’s previous exposure of the “exposure package” that can be purchased from ADB’s The Tasting Panel magazine.}
  • I also recceived an extensive, rah-rah email from Wines of Chile USA, dishing out the names of 20+ restaurants and retail shops participating in the fourth annual Salud! Chilean Wine Fest in NYC and DC, set for Sept.18-30. The e-letter also announced an October “sommelier summit” to take place in Chile as well as a November media trip; names and affiliations were included for both {sorry, no Jay Miller this time…the Parker leash law is apparently working}. Do you think that the wine pros going on said trips are paying their own way? I don’t. And I don’t think there’s anything wong with that, presuming transparency about the trip down the  line.

In fact,  applaud the marketing efforts of www.winesofchile.org; no reason why Chilean wines shouldn’t be put right under the noses of important gatekeepers. As for Anthony Dias Who, I shake my head; he is shaping up to be on of the wine industry’s Great Imposters.

This is, fortunately, the Age of Transparency. Questions regarding ethics of writers can and will continue to ooze through the wine world, accelerated by the Internet and bloggers. The only certainty I see, moving forward, is that every wine-media professional—be they writer, blogger or jack-of-sundry-trades—is going to be compelled to develop and maintain his/her own standards regarding the perpetually gray area of relationships with wine’s commercial side.

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