Monday, December 24, 2012

The Critical World of Wine

December 19, 2012: released a salvo with the lead 'Natalie MacLean: "What I am doing is legal and right"'  joining the PalatePress and a few other wine critics in what appears to be an exposé of Natalie MacLean's publication practices.

The reaction has been surprisingly personal in response perhaps to how aggressively and self promoting MacLean's personality is and the perceived aloofness she has shown for mainstream wine consultancy in Canada. However, a discussion of 'copyright infringement' is not a discussion point here.

For the most part, wine critics live parasitically on the product of wineries, individual and collectively, to support the expense of a multitude of activities: touring wine regions of the world and their vineyards, interviewing winemakers and affluent owners, and participation in tasting events that fill their days, weeks and months. Each activity is dependent in a variety of ways to pay the way whether it be through book and newsletter publishing, contributing to magazines, scheduling fee-based wine tours/cruises, radio spots or subscriptions to websites and/or blogs, etc.. There are many successful critics either generating their own 'intellectual property' or becoming part of an organization to which they contribute and draw a stipend or commission. And in a positive way if it weren`t for wine critics much of what is available wouldn`t exist. You and I as consumers would miss the colour and dynamic of a rapidly growing industry.  Each critic adopts their own personal approach as to how to Market wine products on behalf of clients and how to package and sell their consultant services. At times their personalities are entertaining. At other times the extent of their egos and self promotion become distracting if not annoying. 

Check out the Youtube selections from Natalie's website - do you have a reaction to either, positive or negative?  Personally I think they have a professional polish compared to many others.

Setting aside for the moment wineries as the primary benefactors of this focus, consumers, ie. wine collectors or imbibers, also benefit... and the benefits increase if a history with enough wine critics is established in order to understand where their allegiance is.

Collectively wine critics are the marketing arm of the Wine Industry and every recommendation should be read with the same caution as an LCBO ad or Vintages Panel note. By methodically understanding which critics among the enormous number of 'masters' of this trade exaggerate, have a nepotic relationship with wineries or simply a personal bias for a particular wine style consumers can get to the nut of tasting notes and avoid much of the plonk brought into Ontario by the LCBO and its Agencies. In today's world 'media is the message'. Being able to distinguish between the 'entertainer' and 'consultant' is knowing when to 'buy' and when to be part of a 'tour'.

This is more than a North American phenomenon.  The article 'Hype, Hype, Hooray' is worth the read as it describes today's publicity around higher priced brands as 'bamboozling, pretentious and definitely overwrought' and achieved through 'waves of gimmicks and marketing ploys'.

One criticism of Natalie's approach with wineries is something called 'Pay to Play'. This approach asks a winery to buy a subscription to a website in return for reviews of their wines. Whether true or not what's the big deal? It's a simple 'yes' or 'no'. If it's against a winery's policy to recompense a critic for the work involved and track what is said about its products in order to provide a more complete marketing cycle then say 'I won't Pay'.  

An option is to sponsor an event inviting one or more Wine Critics - who may charge an appropriate fee. There are also services from event convenors that guide wineries through a single or complete season of events. Businesses such as 
@The Wine Ladies offer events for local Wine Regions. 

And how many times have I been asked to pay a subscription fee when attempting to followup a Wine Critics Tweet? Perhaps because of my built in resistance it doesn't occur to me that asking either a winery or a consumer to pay a subscription fee is 'unethical' - it's a question with an answer I control.  How many times have I acted on a professional Wine Critics wine recommendation only to find the notes are not the Critics but those of fellow bloggers, ie. people I don't know from the plummer next door.

Several years ago I was asked to review and give recommendations on changes proposed for Natalie MacLean's website .  I was given a free subscription allowing me to become a contributor to the development process. All correspondence came to me by e.mail undersigned 'Natalie MacLean'.  After several days of back and forth I recognized a difference in 'language' one e.mail to another. This prompted me to ask how many 'Natalie's' there were? The answer was 'several'. It took me two seconds to realize, although a surprise, it was perfectly reasonable. My main correspondent was a programmer. My opinion is that this person would not consider the act of transferring text, if indeed it happened, from a purchased Vintages database as 'copyright infringement'. 

The value assigned to each tasting note as 'intellectual property' is largely the personal disposition of its author. My own tasting notes are fleeting opinions in time driven by my long time interest in wines and are offered freely to those readers choosing to visit here.
So much for my thoughts... Ww

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