January 19 2008
Now, a full two weeks after Alder, while adding his own inimitable perspective, created a wide distribution platform for Rich Cartiere’s reporting from the Wine Market Report, you would have to say that Wine.com has seen significant damage to its reputation online and offline.
That is what journalism does; it tells objective stories before those with opinions weigh in with the essential truth and let the chips fall where they may.
Simply, very few wine stories that are not lifestyle and consumer-oriented have had as much historical life, save for the completely boring and pedantic “New World vs. Old World” debate that pops up a couple of times a year with a new set of players.
As the wine.com story heads into the home stretch, as the fire gives way to burning embers, I think it is safe to say it will show up on year-end 2008 wine industry “notable stories” lists.
Classicwines.com announcing that they were removing all advertising from Wine.com from their site was simply a symbolic deathblow from the wine blogosphere court of public opinion. Persona non grata, if you will. Or, to be more colloquial, Wine.com has been Fredoed (see also here).
In the meantime, though, given we have 11.5 more months of ’08 yet to unfold, let’s give a little credit where credit is due before we pull the car past the accident site. Credit goes to Richard Cartiere for breaking the story from a reporting perspective and the Specialty Wine Retailers Association for hosting the Wine Market Report newsletter where the story first appeared. Credit also goes, significantly, to Alder Yarrow, for giving this story a voice with opinion that took the lid off the situation.
Cartiere, especially, should credit for breaking this and that has been a little bit lost in the shuffle. I’m not sure where he got the tip, but it was bold of him to go with it. However, he is a journalist, experienced in investigation. Having the story come from an exclusive newsletter like the Wine Market Report and subsequently using the trickle down effect to Vinography.com seems like it was smart in execution. If it had not started in the Wine Market Report, I am not sure if it would have picked up as much steam as it did when Vinography effectively “broke” the story wide open.
The interesting thing about the story starting in the Wine Market Report, because it’s subscription-only to an influential group of winery insiders, is the fact that it saw the light of day at all to a larger audience. Historically, Cartiere has not made the newsletter available for *any* public consumption outside of his email or fax subscriber list. I know he does not make it available for outside intercourse because I have tried.
In the summer of last year, I read a copy of the Wine Market Report that featured a very damning review of “The House of Mondavi” by Julia Flynn Siler. I subsequently had occasion to exchange a couple of emails with Cartiere. I asked him if I could post the newsletter because I wanted to do a counterpoint review to the book review that he did. He very politely and professionally said, within the context of a longer narrative about his reporting background:
My approach to wine business news is the same I had at The AP, etc:—investigate, verify, verify, report all the news fit for discussion. I do not receive any gifts or accept travel or accommodations from wineries, etc. I accept only a limited bit of ads (rarely if ever are they from wineries) and otherwise support the newsletter through annual subscriptions (roughly 1,000 executive types currently). That is one of many measures I have in place to ensure that editorial is never to be influenced by the wine industry itself.
This model is the same as has been used for decades by newspapers in the United States. My slight twist is that the newsletter is not posted online and is available only via fax or email and it focuses exclusively on the wine business.
As such, I must deny as I always do, any request to publish the newsletter on a web site. Copyright restrictions give you the opportunity to quote from it to a limited degree as long as it is with clear and consistent attribution.
So, again, as the story dies down, let’s give credit to the folks that brought this story to light—Cartiere for writing it and agreeing to expose his newsletter to everybody against his own strictly enforced policy, the Specialty Wine Retailers Association web site for hosting the newsletter, and to Alder Yarrow, of course, for giving an opinion that, once combined with careful reporting, gave the story legs to expose the scurrilous truth.