The Ethical Dilemma of Wine Writing

While it’s hardly a new topic, as of late many wine journalists and publications have been under close scrutiny by their peers concerning the ethics in their field of writing. Many high profile critics determined to draw a line between themselves and other writers who do not adhere to their particular journalistic practices are heated over comments, criticism, and accusations on whether accepting perks compromises the integrity of their profession. These free gifts can range drastically in size and import, and usually come in the form of wine samples, invitations to meals or tastings, and complimentary travel and accommodations.

Perhaps you’re wondering why this issue is striking a chord for wine writers and not restaurant critics. The answer is simple— once wine is bottled and corked, it becomes a fixed substance (so long as it’s not exposed to high heat) that can be consumed anywhere, while a restaurant’s success is determined by a series of variables such as service, food quality, and ambiance. Yet as accessible as wine reviewing may appear, to become an expert in the venerable art of viticulture and winemaking, one must partake in tastings and food pairings, interview winemakers, and visit far-off regions.

In theory, all wine writers should operate in an ethically responsible manner by being financially independent from those they choose to write about. However, given that the profits of wine journalism do not always align with the substantial expenses attached to the job, the argument is often that one might be compromising their expertise—and the trust placed in them by their readers—by operating on their limited funds.  Many writers justify their behavior by contending that without free samples and invitations to junkets or far away destinations, they would be unable to experience the full range of the world of wine. Nevertheless, this acknowledgement comes with a strong responsibility to do this not out of personal gain, but rather in an eagerness to develop new content and serve readers.

Ultimately, journalism is about experiencing and gathering information to accurately convey to the readership. It has yet to be determined whether a clear standard as to what is appropriate when accepting unsolicited freebies will be agreed upon by an informed group, or if writers should continue to work under guidelines set by themselves and their publishers. In the meantime, it is up to the public to decide who they trust, or distrust.


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