Wine writers without balls?
An article by former Decanter staffer, Olly Styles, on his no-holds barred website wine life has prompted me to write an article regarding his comments on the state of wine journalism.
In his column he says: “One thing is pretty damned clear however: wine writers lack balls. We all do. Perhaps it’s because the wine world is so small and any negative comments made about a wine invariably return to haunt the writer (this generally involves an importer shouting and gesticulating in your face during a trade show – and that’s only when they think your score of 17/20 was too harsh).”
First of all, do wine writers lack balls? While I hope the women do, the lack of opinion can be frightening. Regurgitating press releases and trying to please everyone was not part of good journalism last time I looked.
I have been told by several members of the New Zealand wine industry that I should not write critical things about the industry because it is small and I will get black balled. Hence why there are so many cheerleaders, afraid of being critical as they might not get flown to an all-expenses paid trip to a winery next year or God forbid, miss out on a free lunch. At a Jacob’s Creek launch, one writer told me she didn’t like the wines but had never been to the restaurant before and had come for the food! I almost choked on my canape.
In a recent column regarding lightweight bottles (or lack of them) in New Zealand, there was a backlash. Feathers were ruffled but the industry started to talk about the issue and consumers realised that heavy glass bottles might not be such a good idea.
I have also been told not to publish an article after interviewing a Kiwi winemaker and then being told that what I was told was ‘in winery confidence’. What did you think I was doing asking questions and writing down your answers? It certainly was not for the good of my health. There’s a thing called off the record which we journos respect but not if you freely tell us information on the record then back track.
Integrity is a key trait for journalists but I am not sure if it is universal. Recently, a New Zealand winery, who shall remain unnamed, sent samples for tasting and a member of the winery team emailed to say: “I’m sure x would be over the moon to have the editorial dedicated to her new range! Perhaps a wee wine bribe could be offered to ensure this?”
Members of the wine writing community need to be more professional if we are not to be tarred with one brush – and a bit more ballsy.