Home Wine News Articles Shop for Wine Accessories About Links Downloads Contact

Good Grape Wine Company

Left side of the header
Right side of the header

2005 Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon:  One Year Later Pt. 2 of 4

The end of August quietly came and went like any other week in the online wine world—a stark contrast to the fiery events that occurred just a year ago in what some called the, “Rockaway Follies.”

Last year at this time a marketing experiment in conjunction with the launch of an allocated brand from Rodney Strong Vineyards created a tsunami of attention online with bloggers and observers taking sides about the correctness of bloggers engaging in coordinated activity even if under the freedom of their own editorial choice.

One year later, what was learned, what has changed and how can the Rockaway skirmish act as the proverbial “canary in the coal mine” as online wine media continues to evolve?  Provided in four parts, this is part two.

Part Two: Blogger Selection

After Robert Larsen, Public Relations Director at Rodney Strong, and I determined a path forward for the blogger sampling program with Rockaway, I reached out to bloggers to participate.  Larsen, not quite sure what he was in for, not completely in tune with the online wine community, figured it was all relatively benign.  He agreed with my plan of action that encompassed hand-picked bloggers, sampling and then a finite blog posting window, free of editorial restriction.

While it wasn’t his preference, my motivation was clearly to have an allocated wine sent out to bloggers at the same time as mainstream press, and I wanted bloggers to create a wave of awareness ahead of mainstream press.  Simply, I wanted to steal mainstream wine press thunder—nothing more, nothing less.  I wanted to at least create a ripple for the launch of the brand, before Wine Advocate or Wine Spectator could release their ratings.

This selfish indulgence was a litmus test to me – a counter to the frequent questions of credibility that occurred amongst more traditional wine media types regarding wine bloggers.

The irony of the situation is this was clearly a test, a toe in the online wine media water for Rodney Strong.  However, a bit more immersed, and as a marketer by day, it wasn’t a test with bloggers in my eyes, it was a test against mainstream press.

I’ve never been a fan of throwing spaghetti against the wall to see if it sticks.  Given that, I wanted the sampling program to be small and manageable – five or six people at most.  Sampling to a great number of people, in my mind, equated to throwing spaghetti and created an opportunity for the program to be diluted online.  Keeping the program to respected, credible bloggers allowed more concentration and control.

The plan was always set-up for me to act as the proxy for the winery.  This would accomplish two goals, first I would be reaching out to people I was friendly with neutralizing Robert’s relative newness to online wine media and second it would insulate the winery from the notion of any untoward activity based on the editorial stipulations I put in place regarding coordinated posting.


Simply, neither a winery nor a public relations representative can request a timetable for a blogger to post, however, as creator of the program and a fellow blogger, I can.  And, absent an editorial calendar, advertising close dates and print runs, it’s really a matter of small consequence to request a blogger post within a weeks’ timeframe.  What prevented them from doing so?  Nothing.  What are the ethical implications?  Not much.  Certainly there are no more ethical implications than a critic posting their movie review when a movie opens.

In my mind, it was the best possible scenario, Robert would be available to answer questions, provide information and give winery background, yet he would remain neutral from any real or perceived activity in engaging in promotional activity directly with bloggers.  If anything, I was subjecting myself to potential backlash, a notion I wasn’t concerned with given I was working with peers and there was no stipulations on content.  Bloggers could write anything they wanted – good, bad or indifferent.

The entire sampling program was predicated on editorial freedom – writers could write anything they wanted, and assuming the worst in backlash, that would always be the fallback.  Nobody was required to say anything nice.  The only other outlier was the aforementioned posting timeframe – a conscious decision because, again, an uncoordinated posting schedule would dilute any value of the blogging program, and certainly nullify the notion of reviewing the wine ahead of mainstream publications.

I also bet that the pedigree of the winery and the position of the wine as allocated would mean that, having not tasted the actual wine ahead of putting the program in place, I was in good shape on the personal risk that the wine wasn’t any good, a worst case “egg on face” scenario.


I also wanted to have credibility built into the sampling program, people who were respected or brought credibility based on credentials.

I had made the acquaintance of Arthur Black, a Wine Educator for a distributor in Indianapolis, the 2008 recipient of a national Young Sommelier award and a Master of Wine candidate.  If nothing else, Arthur, guest blogging on my site, could not have his palate or his credibility discounted.  He was my ace in the hole, and would lead off the program.

I also chose Renee Wilmeth from Indianapolis-based food blog Feed Me/Drink Me.  Renee, to me, would ensure that the program wasn’t just wine bloggers in the same jet stream, providing another level of reasonable neutrality, if not a multi-faceted nature.

I chose Kori from Wine Peeps because her blog was becoming increasingly popular and she and I had exchanged notes after my “Wine Blogger Review Coalition” series of posts in which she offered to help me if I got the idea off the ground in any form.

Deb from Good Wine Under $20 was a natural choice, as were Megan from Wannabe Wino, and Tim from Wincast, all well-regarded reviewers of wine amongst online wine media types and they are folks I have a rapport with.
The only blogger who declined to participate in the program was Tyler Colman from Dr. Vino.  He was slow to respond to my initial email inquiry and upon follow-up indicated he didn’t wish to comply with the timeframe for posting.  I thanked him for his consideration before touching base with Joe from 1WineDude who agreed to participate.

In my next post, I’ll review the launch of the program when content and reviews started publishing and the backlash started.  Pt. IV will be a brief retrospective and lessons learned.


My intention with this series of posts isn’t to conjure up hard feelings or to validate the “correctness” of any one opinion.  Instead, I want to get the narrative down and, perhaps, put it into ebook form on my site as a case study.  That said, I expect any comments to NOT dredge up mud-slinging about any one particular viewpoint.


Posted in, Free Run: Field Notes From a Wine Life. Permalink | Comments (7) |


On 09/07, Dr. Horowitz wrote:

Thanks for sharing/reviewing what happened in Rockawaygate!

If you want to publish this case in I could help you.  Armand Galinsky at Sonoma State does a lot with case studies too.  I’ll email you.

On 09/07, Dylan wrote:

That’s an interesting bit of information regarding Tyler Colman. I never knew he was the original selection. I wonder how things would have been different for him and Joe.

On 09/08, 1WineDude wrote:

The fact that you jumped so quickly to me after Tyler declined is proof of how desperate you were. grin

On a more serious note, I find it amazing that one year ago when we tried to explain that you were acting as editor, no one wanted to listen and they harped on and on about how we accepted samples directly from the winery in agreement to write about the wine, which clearly isn’t what happened.

People hear what they want to hear, I suppose :-(

On 09/08, Charlie Olken wrote:


I am unclear about your point. Clearly, the deal was that a select group of bloggers would accept samples against a guarantee to write whatever they wanted.

Are you suggesting that having a go-between changes the ethical equation? I don’t see that it does at all.

But, so what? There is nothing at all unethical about accepting samples and writing about the wine free of editorial restraint. That is what we all do—with the one exception that we do not “guarantee” to write about the wine. Rather, guys like Heimoff and myself have shown over the years that we review certain types of wines. It is why Steve and I get samples of CA wines. We cover that waterfront. It is also why I do not get samples of Aussie Shiraz, Rioja, Bordeaux, etc.

And for the record, I received a sample of the Rockaway wine in question and reviewed it. It would have come as a giant surprise to Rob Larsen if I did not review it as I have rarely missed a vintage of Rodney Strong, going back to the start of my rag decades ago.

With Rob’s unfamiliarity with the blogosphere set against his recognition that something of value was happening there, it made all the sense in the world for him to seek reasonable assurances that the wine would get reviewed.

Thus, I don’t get your angst on this point. I am still waiting to hear the end of the story because so far all I see is a well-orchestrated idea to get publicity for a new wine from a new source. That is what wineries are supposed to do. It is what they do in fact. It is what they will continue to do using every venue that makes sense.

Unless we hear that there was money changing hands, I see nothing wrong in the set-up. And as I say, there is nothing wrong in receiving wines directly from the winery in any event. I don’t receive my samples from R. Strong any other way than directly.

On 09/08, 1WineDude wrote:

Charlie - where were you a year ago!? smile

We could have used your reasonable viewpoint in the back & forth back then!

On 09/08, Charlie Olken wrote:

I had just traded in my typewriter for a computer.

Just kidding. Fact is that I was blissfully unaware of the blogosphere, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Not sure when it all opened up for me but not long after that.

I liken the blogosphere to the all of the wine discussion groups that sprung up years ago. What Robin Garr is doing, has been doing for years, and making money at by the way, is directly akin (not identical, buy akin) to the more agressive parts of the blogosphere. He writes; people listen and comment.

Back about fifteen years ago, when AOL had very active wine boards, I was asked to moderate those discussions. It is true that the focus of the folks involved at that time was to keep the conversation going, not to lead it the way the bloggers do. But Garr both leads and keeps things going, and frankly, and with all due respect to you, Jeff, Tish, Alder, Tom Wark, Ken Payton, Sam Duggan and every other blogger who space I invade from time to time, the initial blog ia only half the battle. It is the conversations, like this one, the creation of community across state lines (I guess that is not illegal) that to me is the most interesting part of the blogosphere.

So, yes, Joe, it is fair question to ask which rock I was hiding under a year ago. All I can tell is that the rock has been there for years, and it has been fun coming out from under it. Folks of my generation are going to have to give way soon enough to a new generation. Think about it—Parker, Laube, Olken, Shanken and lots of others of us are nearer to the end of our careers than the beginning.

I don’t mind standing up and speaking the truth about all this. I am still waiting to hear more about it, because I can’t see so far that there was much to complain about. Hopefully, we will hear more of that story as well, especially if this is to be a case study and not just a one-year old justification of past practices.

On 12/09, pandora wrote:

I expect any comments to NOT dredge up mud-slinging about any one particular viewpoint.


View More Archives