Every writer works differently. Every writer has different ethical boundaries. Every writer has a unique relationship with objectivity and independence. What really matters is not the form of these functions, but their open declaration. Here, then, is an iteration of my personal methods and practices.
- I accept samples from any entity wishing to provide them. I have not, thus far, requested them, but am not averse to doing so should a specific need arise. “Samples” are herein defined as wine in any form: bottled and in finished form, a bottled barrel sample, or tastes procured from barrels, tanks and other containers at a winery.
- I accept meals from entities within the wine trade, provided that the meal’s primary purposes are to taste wine and learn from more informed sources. Were I to accept a dining invitation that did not meet those criteria, it would be because I was friends with the entity in question, and I would expect to return the favor in the future. Otherwise, I would decline.
- I am not opposed to trips paid for by some entity in the wine trade (or a national marketing agency like SOPEXA), though thus far I have only accepted one (to the Piedmont, to taste barbera and blog about it with no restriction on tone or content, for which I was not paid except with compensation for part of the trip; meals outside the event itself and other expenses not related to the purpose of the event were out of my own pocket) since I started writing about wine. For that and for any future such trips, there are two ironclad stipulations: 1) no guarantee of positive coverage, and 2) no guarantee that coverage will not be supplemented or contradicted by further research. As with meals, the primary purposes of the trip must be wine tasting and education; a trip dominated by sunning oneself on the beach is a non-starter, appealing though it might be.
- I have accepted gifts from wineries, of wine and (very rarely) of other products. I have also, on occasion, rejected such gifts. I view this situationally, based on an assessment of the gift’s value, purpose and intent vs. the benefit it will provide. If I think the gift comes with strings attached, I will refuse it.
- I do a lot of travel on my own, and visit wineries when possible. Sometimes, I will identify myself as an interested professional. Other times, I will not. I am not averse to writing about the differences that can result from these two approaches, and do not consider a truthful recounting of events to be unfair.
- I am not concerned with the modern redefinition of “fair” as “giving equal weight to all sides.” I am always happy to air contrary opinions if I think they have merit. But wine writing is a non-objective pursuit, and in the end my biases are inevitabilities. If any entity considers that to be unfair…well, tough. “Fair,” to me, is being as honest and professional as possible, not a futile attempt to be objective or positive at the expense of the truth.
- I have friends in the wine industry. I have enemies in the wine industry. I try not to let either affect my work, though from time to time intensity of feelings overcomes that attempt; a winery that feels offended by something I’ve written might not allow me to taste on their property, for example, or a particularly angry distributor might leave me off their contact list when winemakers come to town. I consider both friends and enemies to be an inevitable result of what I do, and do not modify my opinions – positive or negative – based on those relationships.