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Snooth User: Philip James

Blogger Objectivity

Posted by Philip James, Apr 9, 2007.

Tim Elliot over at Winecast has started an interesting post on whether people involved in the wine industry, particularly bloggers, can be impartial when giving reviews.

As I said in my response on his site, I think this would make the subject of a great theoretical debate. However, I wouldn't want it to ever be more than that. Just as financial analysts offer investment advice on companies their employers hold investments in, people in the wine trade should be allowed (and encouraged) to express their views on wines. So long as there is proper disclosure of any potential conflicts, it should be left up to the individual reader to decide whether to discount the advice, based on the source.

We make these decisions numerous times each day: you ask the waiter at lunch which special he prefers, the taxi driver which route across town is the quickest, or a vendor which product is best suited to your company. None of these people are truly able to give an impartial response, they are all incentivized to push the dish thats unsold, the route that will rack up the biggest fare, or the product with the highest sales commission.

Its ok, though. We already know that. As humans we've experienced this our entire adult life and we're innately able to take their words, see the biases and ultimately make our own decisions.

Its the same with wine reviews. I know Tim works for a Napa winery, I still want to hear which wines he likes.

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Blog comment by Paul Mabray, Apr 9, 2007.

I agree. I think Tim is objective despite working for a winery. I hope he still keeps sharing his thoughts about wine.

Inertia - Powering the Wine Revolution

---Paul Mabray - CEO

Reply by Mark Angelillo, Apr 10, 2007.

it seems to me that the best way to eliminate for sure the possibility of bias is to provide a number of trusted opinions. any false (or contrary) opinions will, at very least, be exposed as going against the popular opinion.

perhaps one's opinion is a different one merely because he/she has different tastes? given a large enough community, another similar community member might illuminate this nuance as well.

this model also allows the opinions of professionals to be given a greater weight. it is the type of system and community we talk about creating for snooth. i think its a good goal.

Reply by amour, Dec 7, 2009.

These people need to read EDWARD DE BONO ON LATERAL THINKING.
Right under their noses, they have a great free feedback mechanism. They need to assimilate the feedback, weigh it sensibly and act!
Surely it is telling them something valuable.
The world is changing, options are increasing in some cases, people have greater access to info and CHANGE IS WITH US.
CHANGE IS POWER....they must embrace change and put their houses in will be in the interest of all...will fill their coffers instead of preparing them for the coffin.

Reply by John Andrews, Dec 7, 2009.

I completely agree with Philip, I think the thing that should always be done is disclosure of connections. People within the industry have insight and knowledge to what is really happening that allows for a unique perspective. Disclosing your connections to the industry gives you more creditability in my opinion.

Reply by cigarman168, Dec 7, 2009.

Declare one's interests is important when some opinion or recommendations giving related to own connections or some sensitive issues. Giving reviews will be more or less subjective depend on people own past experiences but remember not to abuse use of their rights in public forum. Every games have its own rules.

Reply by ChipDWood, Dec 8, 2009.

Sunlight is the only cure ;). Look at the mainstream press, the vaunted "Third Estate" as a USDA Prime example of how objectivity is the ultimate goal, bias being the norm.

I'm wrestling with this question myself as we type and read. I've found a fantastic red, from a region that's been flying under the radar for some time (at least to some extent). I know the wine maker, their business plan, their goals- and it fits a narrative that I wish to write more about. I LIKE THESE FOLKS, want them to look good, and write well about the wine. I'm predisposed to being trapped in an echo chamber, with weeds growing at my ankles.

As a taster, I can check my subjectivity at the door, and as the wine hits the palate at least I know what's true and what's not about it. I've quit jobs because of differing opinions on what's in a wine. Sometimes folks have a tendency to over-extrapolate what a wine's flavors may contain or the body of it be comprised of- and that pisses me off when I see it... tricky not to do, one's self sometimes if pressed to "colorfully describe a wine". Exageration of this type of thing can lead to mistrust. And at the risk of sounding like Yoda; mistrust leads to lack of confidence, which leads to:

"...maybe I'll try that other store instead because these people make me feel kinda stupid. I can't GET 'saddle leather' OR 'whisps of white-hot volcanic ash, approximately emanating from the Cretaceous period in what's now modern day Chianti', from this $13 bottle of Sangiovese."

As the writer/reviewer, I've spent a lot of time thinking about how to curb any of what could be construed even as unintended bias by having friends over to get other opinions. Jumping out of the echo chamber of what I'd LIKE to be writing about something, and hearing the thoughts of others who don't share my perspective or potential biases towards a wine or a producer I may happen to like.

Sunlight brings reality to the echo chamber, and helps the truth to grow in the place of the weeds that are personal bias.

...My God I feel like the poet Algore.


Reply by cigarman168, Dec 8, 2009.

Lots of people do that to over-extrapolate what a wine's like while it will show that they are pros...

Reply by GregT, Dec 8, 2009.

"Tim Elliot over at Winecast has started an interesting post on whether people involved in the wine industry, particularly bloggers, can be impartial when giving reviews."

As if someone NOT in the industry can be more impartial and fair? Or perhaps more likely to be carried away by some romantic notion that has no basis in reality but keeps them going in the morning?

Who has the more realistic outlook? Somebody who knows the winemaker and knows that there's a little bit of the last vintage in the wine because it was a little riper or the guy who visits a winery once in a while and really really really can taste the stones from the hillside because he's really seen them and it was so romantic?

I'm drinking a wine right now. I even sell it. It's crap. Some people love it. I'm supposed to tell them they're stupid? They like it, they buy it. In a million years I would never have wanted to show it to anyone but they tried it and wanted it so while in my honest opinion it's short, bitter, and flavorless, who am I to tell them they're wrong?

If I have that kind of power I cancel all reality shows, execute all of the no-talents on things like American Idol, close fast food restaurants, outlaw packaged candy like Snickers, and shutter most of the Hollywood studios.

But people like those things and consume them. So who am I to tell them that their 50 point IQ is in adequate and that the sitcoms they watch are not funny? I have my own problems. If they're happy, what's wrong with that? If they ask my honest opinion, I'll still give it, whether it's my wine or someone else's wine.

Someone outside of the industry will be more honest? I just don't think so.

Incidentally, for the most part, bloggers are not "in the wine industry". They offer opinions just like people offer opinions about the repairman who showed up or the car they bought or the basketball game or TV show they just watched. Are those people in the construction industry, the auto industry, the sports business or in Hollywood?


How is wine different? Sorry but the fact that someone can offer an opinion does not make them members of an industry. In my limited experience, there are many really good bloggers. But the key is that there are MANY. And as a result, it's mostly noise. Who has time to sift through most of it? So while there are some outstanding writers, as a general rule, IMHO, bloggers are the least likely to give you a worthwhile opinion. Especially if they're trolling importers and distributors for freebies so they have something to write about.

Reply by ChipDWood, Dec 8, 2009.

Tell me: What's the crap you're drinking?

Reply by GregT, Dec 8, 2009.

I knew it!!!!

I'm almost tempted but I know I'll regret it in the morning!

I'm thinking I should go get some sherry. Maybe it will help my posts.


Reply by dmcker, Dec 8, 2009.

I figured you'd dodge that question. Assume what you'd be regretting in the morning would be the winery/distributor firing certain parts of your anatomy... ;-)

Reply by GregT, Dec 8, 2009.

Better believe it. I walked into a store today and they had magnums, then a restaurant and they had it lined up along the back wall.

"WTF?" thought I.

So I went home and opened a bottle. Wasn't the plan either - I was going to have something else. But I'm always one for research so I stuck it out. My wife on the other hand, went to the sink and poured it out.

Reply by ChipDWood, Dec 8, 2009.

...There-in lies the bias ;).

Reply by GregT, Dec 9, 2009.

My wife? She's completely biased! If it sucks, she won't give it a second chance.

I had some horrible stuff from Portugal someone gave me. I sat with it for two hours hoping it would turn into something good. Then some Argentine stuff. I thought my glass was soapy so I washed it out, rinsed it really good and poured another glass. A minute later, she's rinsing her glass.

"Why?" I asked.

"I think there's soap in it." she responded.

"No dear. That's the wine."

Then there was some Australian wine that just tasted like our sawdust pile. And some French wine that tasted like our compost pile. Each time she tossed it immediately and I tried to give it every possible chance. Came to the same conclusion tho.

And then we bought some French wine because even tho I don't like the importer all that much and really don't like paying full retail, the wine was just so good. We're into the third case right now.

Reply by dmcker, Dec 9, 2009.

OK, so what's the 'French wine'? Any problem with disclosing that name?

Reply by ChipDWood, Dec 9, 2009.

Color me intrigued too.

Reply by GregT, Dec 11, 2009.

I'll post a note on my next bottle. Was supposed to be last night but that turned out to be Italian, then it looks like Spanish tonight, Italian tomorrow and then CA cabs, then Spanish again Sunday, then beer Monday, so Tuesday or Wed will be the earliest.

Reply by dmcker, Dec 11, 2009.

You ever take a break, Greg? Or is beer the break? ;-)

Reply by ChipDWood, Dec 11, 2009.

...Beer's an awesome break. PALM, baby. The PALM.

Reply by Tamar1973, Dec 11, 2009.

There is no such thing as "objective journalism" and there's no such thing as an "objective blogger". The journalists and bloggers I respect the most are honest about that with themselves and their audience than I can decide from there what to do with the information they provide (whether it's about politics, religion, food, wine, etc.).

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