Should wine producers listen to journalists?

As I travel the world’s wine regions, I’m often asked for my opinion by wine producers.

What are they thinking? What do I know about making wine? Could I run a press cycle? Or transfer wine between tanks? Or clean a filter properly before using it? Or carry out a delestage?

And when it comes to marketing wine, how many cases have I sold? Have I negotiated a contract with a multiple grocer in a foreign country?

This begs the question: should producers listen to journalists? I’ve certainly been on press trips where my fellow travellers have offered unsolicited advice (I think that is just rude, to be honest, and naïve).

My answer would be a (qualified) yes.

A lot of it depends on the journalist of course, but many of my colleagues are smart, perceptive and well travelled. They’ve been to wineries around the world, and if they have been asking the right questions, then they’ll have picked up a really good perspective.

And perspective is important. It helps to be able to see the big picture; to be able to see things in their correct context.

It’s also good to listen with a selective ear. If winegrowers are smart, they can effectively pick up some consultancy for free when journalists visit. This requires them to have the ability to rapidly assess whether or not the journalist in question is smart and switched on, and then to filter the useful from the less useful feedback.

Some journalists are technically quite good and have an understanding of the winemaking process. Others have dug around a bit under the skin of the wine trade and have a good handle on marketing. They know the sorts of wines that different sectors of the market are interested in. Others are gifted and honest tasters.

The problem comes when journalists offer naïve or inappropriate advice. We have to recognize the reality of the wine market, and that different rules apply at the commodity end from the fine wine niche. Quality is best defined as fitness for purpose. Yes, a producer may be knocking out a simple tasty wine at €1.5 a bottle ex cellars, but if you encourage them to make a much better wine at €4 a bottle, or to experiment with exotic varieties, for example, they may end up with no market.

I really appreciate it when I visit a winery and they show me the full picture, warts and all. With this honesty comes a responsibility. If something is off the record, it is off the record.

Most of all, though, humility is required on the part of a journalist. It takes an awful lot of hard work to produce a clean, fault free wine – let alone something more exciting. Sometimes we can forget this as we taste a producer’s wine; that this is their year’s work we are assessing – and it deserves a reasoned, thoughtful assessment, not a snap judgement.

8 comments to Should wine producers listen to journalists?

  • Rod Smith

    You heard something “off the record” in Russia, and are now en route for Oslo (not the most noted viticultural paradise ).
    Come on Jamie, admit it, the mask has been lifted too much. You’re not a wine journalist – you’re a spy.

  • Ana Vieira Pinto

    Dear Jamie, I fully agree with your two last paragraphs. I also think this should work both ways: producers should also be humble when showing their picture. Cheers :)

  • As always Jamie another well-articulated piece of wine writing. You make a very good point, especially with regards to honesty, humility and ‘keeping it real’. However, everyone has their own point of view and to a certain degree their own ‘agenda’. I particularly like your point of considering that on tasting a wine it is important to keep things in perspective and to appreciate that it is the winemakers’ work, reputation and livelihood in question. As you know, some wine journalists have become extremely influential. Do you think that wine bloggers should be ‘classified’ as journalists in this context, as many of them are frequently targeted by wine producers.

    Kind regards

    Robert

  • Andrew Halliwell

    I have a lot of respect for anyone involved in the nail-biting and laborious process of growing grapes, then turning them into hopefully fault-free wine which some people enjoy drinking. Whilst wine shows and critics’ selections and evaluations seem to be of enormous value to many people, I think that to dismiss a year’s work in the vineyard and 1 – 2 years work in the winery in 30 seconds with something like a “14/20 Not bad, finishes a bit short”, before moving on to the next snap-judgement, is belittling the efforts behind the glass.

    I’m not anti-shows or critics and I continue to learn through these blogs and processes and I respect their thoroughness and impartiality. It’s just that sometimes maybe you want a 14/20 simple fruit red for £4.50, maybe you want it more than a “better” but more challenging wine that has scored higher. And maybe not everybody realises that. So I definitely agree with your 1.50 – 4 euro comment.

    Good for you for recognising a bit of humility and respect when evaluating wines. I’d hate to be in the position where I had to judge some old guy’s wine from Rioja or Sardinia, say, and it was a bit rustic and had some VA. Who would I be to tell him his wine was crap?

    Back to your main point, I’d say well-travelled journalists who’ve been around a bit could easily have plenty to contribute to producers, especially in areas such as where markets may be heading or whether a label looks good or whatever. Just, as you say, don’t offer advice if you don’t know what you’re talking about.

  • Sounds like excellent advice, which I’ll bear in mind for the day that a journalist or blogger come to visit me! :)

  • Yes…and…No.
    Journalists influence sales.
    I truly believe most of the popular sources are biased (intentionally or not). Actually, without naming names, I have seen firsthand some of the top critics taste non-blind and then score wines in the press without disclosure. Conversations about “taking a stance on winery x” have been made at trade events within earshot. Explain that? So, yes. Winemakers need to play the game because it is being played with or without their participation.

    No, because fashions change, sometimes by the time a wine reaches the market (to paraphrase J-M Fourrier). A winemaker should make wines according to his personal taste and vision or to a set strategy by a corporation. Look at the “Sideways effect.” Who knew!?!

    As a sports fan, I realize you do not need to be a pitcher, quarterback or star soccer player to make intelligent or insightful comment on a subject…so…Yes…and…No
    http://seasonofgrowth.wordpress.com/

  • Jamie (and anyone else), I would be interested to listen to your thoughts and comments on how you feel such influential individuals as Robert Parker, James Suckling and Gary Vaynerchuk would feature in this discussion?
    Thanks
    Robert

Leave a Reply

 

 

 

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

*