Yesterday’s blog post conjured up some great questions of this wine blogger. In the answers, I’m speaking for many of my wine blogging colleagues, too, but mostly from my own perspective.
They’re questions many people wonder about, I’m sure, including trade people. So, here are some insights into my honesty.
Great questions, Debbie. One by one:
1) Will you be able to give unbiased reviews of free wine samples?
My day job is a wine publicist. I avoid tasting notes on my own brands, because I’ve already written them for the clients tech notes. I do write about newsworthy activities, just as I do with other wine brand activities. Example: Ron Rubin Winery is giving away 450 Automated External Defibrillators to every winery in Sonoma County. Each one costs $1,700 to purchase. The math on that is very formidable and newsworthy. The only “catch,” if you can call it that, is that the winery must have an American Red Cross training. The price for that is greatly reduced. Imagine two people being trained for $120, and they get an AED free of charge. That’s big news, and I don’t mind sharing for the benefit of all.
2) I can think of other publications that have crossed the line with companies that have bigger budgets and can pay for advertising.
It’s a really great question. I refuse every attempt to advertise with companies that write the story and provide a link to products that I don’t know, haven’t tried, or don’t want to encourage this kind of advertising. I DON’T get paid to write what I write on my wine blog. I spend about five hours on most blog posts. Five hours to hire a publicist; imagine that cost, now imagine a $20 sample. Who’s winning here? Me, or the brand who sent the sample?
3) There are many smaller importers of smaller wineries that don’t make enough to provide everyone with free samples. Should they be penalized, ignored?
I reiterate, because I’m also constantly having to find ways to get in front of writers with my clients, if I haven’t tasted it, I can’t endorse what I don’t know. (I have a wine reputation of 25 years behind me.) This is simply a fact of brand building… that reviews help to build brands. Invite a writer to visit the winery, build the bonds that way. Brands have to invest in some marketing, because we can no longer just put our wares by the side of the road for sale, and think we’re going to become famous. It’s not penalizing, it’s brand building. In my world, it’s always been: I give and if I get something in return, I’ve achieved something for someone else. If I don’t get something in return, I had no expectations, so I’ve still won, because I gave and move on. (My grandmother told me that I wear my heart on my sleeve, when I was a child. She was right. I am who I am.) I just keep my nose to the grindstone. Every little recognition is to be celebrated, but I have to work for it.
4) Should the wine-drinking world never hear about them?
I do understand your frustration and urgency. It’s very hard when there’s no budget. The brand has be able to take on some marketing, even if it’s only to target one wine writer and work it into a solid relationship. The wine drinking world will hear about them, with maybe just social engagement, for starters. That’s the job of a publicist and/or marketing company. This is what my company offers. And, Just know WHAT TO tell about the clients to wine writers. Gold medals and scores don’t cut it. I learned this the hard way, too. Each writer has his or her own palate. They have to taste it to advocate for it.
5) You have chosen to do what you do. I hope it is not just for free product.
I think by this point you know it’s not for free products, but you still may not know WHY. Why I do this is because receiving samples of wines coming from all over the world is an education for me. It’s an opportunity to sample wines from around the world. I learn geography, history, terroirs (unlike my Sonoma and Napa counties, where I live and learn in the process). I learn about different varieties, too… I’m a member of the Wine Century Club, where we document each variety of wine tasted… So far I’m at 175 different varieties. I do it to learn… and I love it.