The matter of disclosure of hospitality, gratuities, fees and payment is an important one, especially in the journalistic world. There has been some discussion on this subject of late in the wine world, and I wish to offer some thoughts on it. The main part of this article was posted with my article on the release of the new Church Road ‘TOM’ wines (click here to see), and I’ve adjusted it slightly, so as to make it a stand-alone article for posting in this ‘Blog’ section of my website.
Often there is free travel, accommodation, meals, hospitality and wine samples given in the cause of releasing or promoting a wine. The recipients are not only writers, but wine trade and hospitality personnel. An obvious interpretation of the situation is that by providing these freebies, one can sway the actions of the recipients, so that they will write more favourably about the wines, stock them in their shops, or place them on their wine lists. How does offering travel, accommodation, hospitality and a generally good time affect one’s credibility and judgement?
Maybe there is the tacit design by wine producers to influence judgement? This could and never would be confirmed, and denial is obligatory in the public arena. I’m certain that almost all wineries in New Zealand would not want to be seen ‘buying’ a critic’s appraisal, or a place on the shelves or wine list surreptitiously, as that would compromise both parties’ credibility and integrity. For the record, such things do happen, especially the obligation to stock certain amounts of a company’s wines in return for financial input in renovations, or the supply of equipment, such as refrigerators. And of course writers are engaged to produce advertorial material. But this is usually clear, especially if delved into, even shallowly.
However, it’s good to take a step back from the nitty-gritty and detail on the scenario. Most wine producers will conduct release events in situations to create an atmosphere that relates to the wine products. A flagship wine of magnificence and style, and one that is expensive benefits from the association of luxury and class. A good number of wineries have the budget to do these events, and often it’s a case of ‘use it or lose it’. Any influence on the recipients and participants is, as mentioned above, tacit, and an unexpected bonus. Such a result is as much a reflection on the recipient as well as the provider!
There are far many more factors that play a direct and stronger part in how a wine is perceived. The more immediate and physical ones of how healthy and aware the taster is. The temperature of the wine, and if it has been aerated, and for how long. The glassware it is served in can have a profound effect. The company around the taster, the on-going discussion as well as the demeanour of the presenter and the ambience from their presence plays roles. The discussion and interaction among participants, and importantly the environmental situation also affects perception of a wine. These are some of the more critical points. Among the less tangible, is the influence of hospitality and gratuities. Taking this into the realm of the fanciful for many people, what about whether it is a ‘fruit day’ or a ‘root day’ on the biodynamic calendar…
In the final analysis, an assessment and rating is the opinion of just one person. Surely it is the combined weight of many opinions and assessments that are a true measure of the quality and style of any given wine? All relies on the public and readers’ belief and trust in the critics’ honesty and credibility. If a critic’s judgements consistently seem influenced by such situations, then it’s the reader’s choice to take on board or disbelieve their opinions, descriptions and ratings.
Most readers will be aware that I try my hardest to be objective, and that my assessments are based on my experience in tasting, judging, and retailing wine for over two decades. I invite wine producers to submit wines to me for assessment and review on a professional consultancy basis, and of course, I charge a fee for my experience and expertise. I have stated openly that I take a positive approach, looking for the good things a consumer would appreciate. One of my roles is to bridge the gap between winemaker and wine drinker. I don’t think I could afford for readers to think my judgement was consciously compromised!
It is common knowledge that hospitality, travel, accommodation and meals are part and parcel of the wine industry and business. A number of writers have made the decision to make disclosures on all detail of hospitality, accommodation and travel received and I understand their need to do so, especially if they class themselves as journalists. Often such disclosure is absolutely necessary, but that is up to the conscience of the writer. Certainly, if I deem the circumstances of hospitality, travel, accommodation, meals etc. are significant, I will do so too, but I suggest that common sense should prevail.