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On Glory Whores and Tom Wark Getting ‘Swift Boated’

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Abraham Lincoln

In between Steve Heimoff, Tom Wark and dozens of commenters, there has been vigorous debate about the Rockaway wine program that I coordinated.  The stuff hit the fan at Steve Heimoff’s blog, but really exploded at Tom Wark’s site.  See here and here.  If you are simply a wine reader that doesn’t care about this car wreck, I apologize, but this isn’t an issue that is dying, particularly with such dogmatic idealism occurring. 

In the wine blogging world, the house is divided.  People want to talk about this dissension and flap advancing the cause, toughening up skin, etc.  It’s all bull and justification.

It’s unfortunate, too.  Most of this flap could have been prevented if folks checked facts before hitting the publish button.  For an accurate near blow by blow account, I urge you to check out Tim’s post at

The net-net of the situation is that the bloggers that have participated in the Rockaway program that I created have been accused of some slanderous things like lacking integrity and ethics.  Yet, both Steve and Tom Wark and some of the vigorous early commenters like Ryan from Catavino are guilty of proffering inaccurate and erroneous opinions—if they would have checked the facts their opinions wouldn’t have been so inaccurate and polarizing.  To me, not checking your facts is a far more offensive notion than writing about a wine sample.  So far, Steve is back-pedaling, Ryan acknowledges that we, apparently, didn’t communicate well enough (though he doesn’t acknowledge not understanding well enough) and Tom is stubbornly clinging onto his inaccuracies that led to an opinion that nobody but a sycophant would agree with.  And, he’s also trying to hang onto whatever is left of his blog credibility.

In fact, as Joe from 1WineDude points out, Tom would appear to be guilty of many of the things he accuses us of doing, without having done a little thing like give full transparency, as Joe notes below.


Tom - this reviewer is *you*, right?

You don’t have to answer actually, because I checked the facts and it is actually you, as stated right here on your blog

I am correct in my understanding that the above is a program that requires you to -

1) ‘Write about this wine in exchange for receiving it’, and
2) Requires ‘the wine be written about within a certain time frame as a condition of receiving it’


You don’t have to answer that one either, because I checked the facts at for you. And that is, in fact, what you have to agree to do in order to participate in the program and receive the wine:

“Review a wine that we send you, in time for us to post [your review] on one of our 1 day sales”

What you might want to answer is -
How is the above different from what you and others here have been citing as a mistake? Or had you actually made the exact same mistake before any the participants in this study?

Your words:
“I think a mistake was made in demanding that bloggers write about this wine in exchange for receiving it. And I think a mistake was made in demanding that the wine be written about within a certain time frame as a condition of receiving it.”

I’m really struggling as to how to frame a logical interpretation of your two posts on this subject that isn’t somehow hypocritical on your part.

Also, my understanding is that it’s common journalistic practice to get the facts before publishing your writing.

We’ve established that you did not do that - according to multiple statements from the winery, the participants, and the organizer of the event.

Isn’t it also common journalistic practice to publish a retraction? From a recent correction/retraction policy I came across: “Retractions are judged according to whether the main conclusion of the paper is seriously undermined as a result.”


It’s a really nice bit of sleuthing on Joe’s part and certainly reframes this conversation AWAY from the Rockaway wine bloggers into an entirely different conversation—one about glory whores and those that use glory holes.  I won’t cast aspersions or pejoratives or knife people in the back the way that I have been treated this week, but I think we all know who the “glory” folks are here. 


Who Moved the Damn Cheese?

So, this Rockaway wine blogging program has ignited some passion, er, some watercooler chatter.  I guess it is politics season, might as well debate the issues … just the same, reading the posts and the comments you’d think somebody moved the cheese.

You can see a string of comments at the Winery Web Site Report, Steve Heimoff’s blog, Good Wine Under $20 and my post from last week.

Now, to be certain, it’s not all backlash, I think a lot of people dig the program, understand what we’re doing, recognize the transparency and see it for the genuine activity it is, and how legitimately groundbreaking it is for a large winery to engage in this sort of sampling program.

However, as the old management theory holds, if we all agree with each other than somebody isn’t needed.  The gist of the dissension around the Rockaway wine blogging program can be summarized in a couple of bullet points:

• Wine bloggers were too easily manipulated into giving free publicity

• Wine bloggers did this with too much hyperbole it’s not that big of a deal

• Rodney Strong is lazy and didn’t do their own homework to do direct outreach to a wide net of bloggers

• Wine Bloggers are not that different from traditional media and some bloggers get samples all of the time … this isn’t a big deal

• Wine Bloggers are eager for their own fame and don’t ask the tough questions

Here are truisms as I know them:

• Wine bloggers are a smart bunch—technically savvy, professional, above-average income, sophisticated and jaded alpha-consumers.  Manipulation is not likely.  And, even if there is manipulation, it’s with full transparency, so, uh, not much manipulation in showing your cards.

• Rodney Strong releasing a new wine allocated wine brand and including bloggers in the sampling at the same time as traditional media is groundbreaking.  New Brand from old winery.  Allocated.  Upon release.  Price point.  Yes, I get Stormhoek—$12 bucks a bottle and on end-cap display in the U.K.  Yes, I get Twisted Oak, a revolutionary in their own right for being the first winery to embrace, engage, and execute successfully using social media.  However, Stormhoek and Twisted Oak aren’t Rodney Strong.  Not a slight, just a fact.

• Why would somebody fault Robert Larsen at Rodney Strong for leveraging his strengths and engaging some help to do a sampling program.  Social media is forbidding.  I’ve been doing this for a while and everyday I feel overwhelmed, confused and inundated with social media.  Somebody not in it might feel the same way.  Did I mention I’ve been doing this for a while?  And, an ancillary point, if I’m doing a direct mail campaign, I don’t necessarily feel like I have to hand build the list myself, that’s just silly.

• Anybody who thinks wine bloggers are on par with traditional media has been sniffing their own exhaust for too long.  And, there are a lot of wine bloggers like that.  Get over yourself, accept that we are a pimple on the ass, and do something interesting.  You’ll enjoy yourself a lot more and yield better results if you’re not so serious about it

• Wine blogging isn’t journalism proper.  Sure I ask questions, but I also take a columnist approach.  I have an opinion and I don’t have to be balanced.  Newspapers are a dying medium and people scan the AP stories and read the columnists.  That is just the way it is and blogging is no different. Being interesting is far more important than being balanced.  That said, being interesting can also be being objective, which isn’t always balanced.  As my blog as stated from day one, my goal is to be pragmatically idealistic.  That is it. 

Overall, an interesting week.  There has been some good, there has been some ugly, but none of it has been bad, even if some folks act like their damn cheese has been moved.

As a side note, as I write this I’m polishing off my Rockaway, which has lasted 6 days in the refrigerator under a Vacu-Vin, over three drinking sessions.  It’s a beauty on day six with no degradation in quality. 


2005 Rockaway Cabernet

Imagine a chocolate covered black cherry fist enrobed in a velvet glove.  That begins to approximate the 2005 Rockaway Cabernet. 

The thing that I really like about this wine is what it isn’t.

*  It isn’t overpriced, relative to allocated wines

*  It isn’t all fruit and sweet oakiness

* It doesn’t beat you over the head and say, “Look at me”

*  It isn’t made for drinking tomorrow; a wine IV drip for an immediate gratification society

The fact is, David Ramey, consulting winemaker for Rockaway, has made something different, something you don’t see very frequently at an approachably priced $75 in the allocated Cab category.  He has made a wine that is forbidding, young yet integrated and balanced.  As something of a Ramey fan, I know he has the touch to make Cab’s ready to drink now, too.  It’s a delicate balance, for sure.  But, I’m glad to see a wine of this caliber that DOES NOT come straight out of the bottle ready for the straw to drink it with.  It needs air, but more than anything it needs time.

Today you see the acids, the medium small tannins that will mellow to a fine grain, the abundant fruit—kirsch liqueur, dark chocolate, a hint of coffee on the finish, an obvious pedigree that will make this wine a show stopper in a few years time.

Perhaps that is why Rockaway isn’t priced $50 more a bottle.  Patience rewards those that will to let a liquid asset appreciate in value, which this beauty will certainly do.

Drink it with a fine meal in 2011 and be thankful for signing up for the list way back in ‘08 when it was announced via some bloggers.

In a nod to Chateau Petrogasm, who, upon reflection, should have been a part of the Rockaway program, I offer up a visual identifier.  And, Joe from 1WineDude, who was a part of the program, gives his visual descriptor at Chateau Petrograsm, found here.



The Rockaway Wine Release Back-Story

Many readers of this blog may have noticed that there is an experiment underway in which Rodney Strong’s new allocated wine offering from their “winery within a winery” concept, Rockaway, is being introduced to market with some participation from select wine bloggers.

It is a bold move, coming from Robert Larsen, Public Relations Director at Rodney Strong.

One thing is certain; Robert is getting a lesson on this crazy transparency thing in blogging.  Before I review the wine on Thursday, I first wanted to tell how this mini-program came to be and what the guidelines are—in typical PR the journalist almost never talks about how the “sausage was made.”  Transparency is a fun quirk to blogging when done right.

In June, I got in contact with Carole Loomis, former colleague and friend at Inertia Beverage Group (RS is their client) and she mentioned that Rodney Strong had an allocated wine coming out and they might want to do some outreach to bloggers, could I get in contact with Robert Larsen to discuss?

This piece of interaction coincided right around the same time that I had some independent thought about a Wine Blogger Review Coalition.  You can see posts I wrote on this here, here and here.

In talking to Robert we talked about a number of different things—the first being just simply sending off sample bottles to bloggers if I could give some insight into bloggers who were doing good work.  I think most wine bloggers that have been at it a while forget or do not realize that this jet stream that we’re in is somewhat forbidding and not a little bit mystifying to others not in the loop.

I am, however, diametrically opposed to just sending samples off and cannot advocate that for a winery.  If the wine is a hand sell, then so is the work with writers.  Sending samples willy-nilly is not a model that really works for wineries and traditional media and it is not a model you really want to try to replicate with bloggers.

In my mind, and what I proposed to Robert is to get a small group of bloggers together, I would do the coordination, and solicit their interest in receiving a sample.  If interested, I would then do programmatic coordination.

Now, mind you, getting a $75 dollar bottle of allocated Cabernet is not a tough sell, though some did decline to participate, but the proviso with each of the bloggers participating in receiving the sample is you have to write about it.  However, the bloggers have full and free editorial control.  Nobody is going to ask you to write anything specific.  You do not have to like the wine, you do not have to say anything good, but in the give to get for the program, you have to write a post in length from 300 – 500 words and the timing would be coordinated to a set week on the calendar, this week, the week of August 18th.

Why do it this way?  Well, because blogs are not limited by space constraints so it is not like you can fall on the canard of their not being enough ink and space.  So, if you’re agreeing to accept a sample, it’s a small matter to write about the wine, particularly when you are free to say the wine tastes like twice filtered swamp water, if that’s if your opinion.

I think Robert and Rodney Strong were betting that the wine would deliver, and so was I.

I have been enamored by the way Cameron Hughes has handled sampling, and while they do not request posting, it is clear that their success rate in sampling to post content is stupendous.  And the deliverable as a result is very nice.  Check it out here.  So, that is kind of what I was thinking in terms of execution with Rodney Strong, albeit on a smaller basis.

Is this the correct model?  Bloggers have to write about a sample they received?  Take the specific winery out of the equation.  Is this a scalable model?  I am not sure, but I do know that experimentation has to occur and this is as fine of an idea as any.  Likewise with the experimentation, you have to have a winery willing to give it a try, and on that count regardless of what anybody writes about the Rockaway wine, good or bad, Rodney Strong has won for taking a risk.

Oh, and yeah, I will write about the actual wine tomorrow, somewhere in between 300 – 500 words.


A Master Sommelier Candidate Takes on the Allocated Rockaway Release

*Ed. Note* 

Guest blogging on Good Grape is Arthur Black, who occasionally, with lightheartedness, goes by the nom de plume, Arturo Negro.  Arthur is a Master Sommelier candidate well in tune, from his professional life, with Rodney Strong wines, the winery from which this new allocated offering comes.  Unbiased, cool with an insane palate, Arthur gives his take on the new Rockaway wine that releases on September 1 from RSV.  Find out more information at the web site, or sign up for the list.

Having the opportunity to assess Rockaway, a new endeavor of Rodney Strong, is an honor. Over the past several years I’ve had the pleasure of selling a lot of Rodney Strong in restaurants when I was still on the floor, in wine shops during my off premise retail stint, and I’m happy to say the wholesaler that I am currently a Director of Education for, National Wine & Spirits, is fortunate to be the purveyor of Rodney Strong wines here in Indiana.

Some may assume that I have an obvious bias, considering my history with the brand, but those that know me, would certainly tell you that my sincere appreciation of objective wine assessment has gotten me in trouble a number of times, because I am quick to speak my mind and am usually quite candid. The truth is I do not care about a wine producer’s reputation, whether they are “savvy” or trendy, the prices they may demand, or even if they have wines with multiple 90+ scores. To me, it is all about what is in the glass. Now, that being said, and in my opinion, Rodney Strong has continuously produced great, well-priced wines. They show the pedigree and class that California can yield, while deviating from increased industry trends of outrageous and undeserved price increases (thank you) and the growing tendency of many wineries to produce homogenous and monotonous wines that all taste the same and could very well be made from anything and from any where (thank you, thank you).


Since far too many people fail to appreciate the visual beauty of the things we ingest before swallowing them, let us start with how the Rockaway looks. To the eye, Rockaway, entirely opaque in its concentration, is like looking at a glass of liquid black, with a hue of aubergine (by using “aubergine,” instead of “eggplant,” the reader should assume I know ONE French word) that paints the crystal bulb of your wine glass while you twist the stem with your finger tips. Since the “tears” or “legs” snail pace their way down the inside of the glass and show an obvious blood-purple in their center, you can easily gather that this wine is not only high in alcohol and full in body, but will have plenty of extract, leaving whomever partakes of this bottle with some real purple lips.

On the nose, it shows ripe and fleshy primary aromas of dark currants and cassis with brandied black cherries, as well as soft notes of dark ground espresso, cocoa, and some sweet oak showing as vanilla extract, graham cracker cinnamon, and baking spices. Pretty cool!

Enough visual and odiferous meditation, lets drink this thing; assuming high levels of concentration from the look of the wine, one is certainly not disappointed when tasting this wine. I’m not typically in the school of “bigger is better,” but in this case I’ll make an exception because Rockaway shows what most “big” wines lack…..the concentration is well balanced by appropriate acidity, therefore the wine maintains strong structural integrity, as well as sound representation of fruits that parallel those perceived on the nose, and great tannins; sweet and ripe, coating the palate, as should be expected considering the grape variety’s nature, but not austere, unripe, nor aggressive.

I only have one criticism and it’s that a wine that shows and registers at 15%+ alcohol, whether or not it’s balanced by fruit and acid or is agreeable to this person or that critic’s palate, is not really showing Alexander Valley typicity (it also makes it hard to finish a bottle and walk a straight line….just kidding, in my case, my body’s resilience to ABV is legendary…or so I think).

For the most part, I am very pleased with the Rockaway and those I shared it with instantly noticed its obvious pedigree and multifaceted character. It certainly has layers, “like an onion,” or perhaps, “like a parfait,” depending on whether you like to quote Shrek or Donkey of course, and after all, who doesn’t like parfait! This wine is a solid, full bodied, California wine, that shows some wicked fruit and integrated oak, as well as considerable concentration in the right way {that is phenolically ripe tannins and not the mega-purple or stemish breed (look up adulteration and concentration to see what I mean)}, and definitely needs some aeration time and will most certainly benefit from some cellaring time. Point – buy multiple bottles and try one every 3-5 years to watch it develop. Rodney Strong, in the words of 2-Pac, “you are appreciated!”

Arturo Negro


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