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The Truth About Sampling Wine Bloggers

Over the course of the last year the amount of wine samples sent to wine bloggers, as a complement to traditional media, has increased significantly.

Anecdotally, I know I have made my way onto some p.r. mailing lists while the UPS packages on the doorstep are happening with a greater degree of regularity.

Elsewhere, with increasing regularity, I have seen other bloggers note a disclosure in their wine review indicating they received the wine as a sample.

Usually, these samples are a single bottle, or, occasionally, two bottles – a red and a white.  Some marketing materials are included and, if done thoughtfully by the sender, a handwritten note is included.

Overall, I agree that it is progress for wineries and p.r. folks to view wine blogging with enough respect to consider it as a complement to Parker, Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and other media outlets, but that does not mean I think it is an effective way for a winery to spend their money or their public relations people time (and consequently money).

I am not complaining about the receipt of wine samples, but as a marketer in real life I can’t help but look at sampling with a critical eyes towards efficacy and wonder if the current form + function of sampling to bloggers is an effective strategy for a winery—especially because many of these bottles are higher-end, smaller production bottlings—$50 bottles and up.  After a while, sending out UPS boxes of full $50 + bottles of wine by a hired p.r. hand adds up.


Not only that, but fully 90% of the wine I receive as a sample has already been reviewed by mainstream media, and most often very favorably.  I’m simply not getting bad wine in the mail.  My taste buds know it is good, reviewers know it is good and the winery knows it’s good.

So, really, what is the point?  It has already been confirmed in the court of opinion. 

That aside, mostly, the problem I have with samples to bloggers is, well, blogging is different and needs to be handled a bit differently, but more on that in a second. 


With Spectator, Wine Advocate or Wine Enthusiast, the rules of engagement have long been established.  Send wine, hope for the best.  Taste at your winery, worry what they thought, and hope for the best.  Overall, a winery hopes that they receive a high enough score so they can use it all over the place for marketing purposes, arbitration on taste for people who need an arbiter, usually at point of sale or as an incentive to make a purchase.

I mean, that is the purpose of sampling to Parker or Laube, right?  To get a high score so you can use that score to sell wine to those who value those scores.

But, blogging is different.  Wineries do not care about my score of the wine.  Readers of blogs or those that happen across them do not care about my score of the wine.

Let me restate without equivocation – nobody that reads wine blogs gives a damn about the rating of the wine by the blogger.  I have read thousands of wine blog ratings over the course of the last four years and I can scarcely remember any of the actual ratings.  But, what I do remember is a wine and a positive impression from that blog post.  The actual score that a blogger gives it is wildly immaterial as long as it made a positive impression on the reader. 

The Caveat

Now, this isn’t to say that there aren’t wine reviewers online who have a reputation, or a developing reputation for possessing a discerning palate, those whose scored reviews can be trusted and mentally noted.  I think Alder Yarrow from Vinography and Lenn Thompson from Lenndevours certainly fall into that developing category for next generation wine reviewers.  But, if we’re talking in explicit and frankly pragmatic terms, their influence is nascent and not close to market-making, yet.

On Blogging:  Awareness and Mindshare

Just to be sure I have made the point, sampling to wine bloggers is NOT ABOUT A RATING, it is about the hope that they create AWARENESS on your behalf and your winery gains their long-term MINDSHARE.


Blogging creates awareness for the public that may search for a wine via Google and stumble across a wine blog post about your wine.  That Google search result for a wine review of your wine is the equivalent of inexpensive advertising because a winery is getting the same exposure as a magazine ad, an impression; it is just in a different venue.

If a winery spreads enough seeds out, you are bound to get a flower patch, which is the general analogy for why I believe sampling out to bloggers is a good idea, in the hopes of gaining content, in order to be found in search results for awareness and an impression.

The mindshare part of the equation comes into play with the actual blogger, and this is where I have a real bone to pick. 

While I appreciate getting a full bottle of a $60 Pinot, the fact of the matter is I am not an arbiter of taste.  I am not Parker, I am not Laube – these are folks with reputations that have been built over 25 + years. 

The Real Value

The real value a winery gets from engaging bloggers, aside from potential content that creates a flower patch in Google, is the fact that you want me to become NOT a TASTE ARBITER, but rather a BRAND AMBASSADOR.  You want me to become a champion for your winery, an influencer.

Personally speaking, I am a self-proclaimed Brand Ambassador for Crushpad Wines, Twisted Oak, Caparone, Cameron Hughes, CellarTracker, Robert Mondavi, and many others –these are all of the things related to wine that I am an advocate for; the things that I have a personal affinity for that I have come to trust and have affection for.  I write about them naturally because they make up that collection of things that make up my consumer imprint, just as I buy Nike shoes and wear Gap jeans.   

The reason this is important is because in order for me to become a brand ambassador for something new, I am not interested in the big bang theory – I do not want a lone bottle of $60 Pinot.  What I really want, if you are going to sample me, and more importantly, if you are going to sample other bloggers, is to help them/me/us taste a representative sample of wine from your winery and build affection for your brand, your story, your winery.

You need to treat a blogger as if you intend for them to become that top 5 percent of your wine club, somebody who buys for the love of the wine and affection for your winery.

I have scores of information to synthesize on why I believe this to be the case instead of considering a blogger like a traditional media outlet, but that’s a post for another day.  To net it out, it’s because the best bloggers in wine and other niches have a sphere of influence now and in the future and will come to act as proxy endorsement agents very similar to an athlete like Peyton Manning or Michael Phelps who have a roster of endorsements.

Stop Sending 750ml Bottles

I do not expect, nor do I want full bottles of wine.  I know this practice of sending full bottles is wasteful for THE MAGAZINES because the majority of those bottles get dumped after getting spat, and for bloggers a full 750 ml bottle feels like a trifle much. 

What a winery should consider doing, given that supply-side inventory seems to be plentiful given that distribution is trying to draw down their inventory as pull consumer demand softens, is re-bottle a line-up of wine from your winery – not one or two varietals, but a representative sampling of wine, and re-bottle into 375 ml bottles. 

Give me less wine, and give me a greater sampling canvas.

I would much prefer to get samples from a winery that traversed a few reds and a few whites then receive the showpiece wine for the winery that has been reviewed well by other folks.  Pure and simple.

In doing so, and with some thoughtful one-to-one contact, you are creating currency in a word-of-mouth way, online, and, perhaps, a Brand Ambassador. 


* Wine sampling to bloggers isn’t about their review or score of the wine, it’s about their content and that subsequent content being read by their audience and even more importantly by being found in search by a much larger pool of people searching for wine online

* Precious few wine bloggers will ever achieve a mainstream reputation for their palate

* Wine bloggers are influencers and though we follow generally accepted common sense practices of ethical decorum, we are not practicing journalists with a compelling need to be objective – as such, we need to be treated differently than traditional media sampling practices. 

* It’s about you working with me to become a Brand Ambassador for your wine.  Maybe I will, maybe I won’t, but even if I don’t become a Brand Ambassador, then the potential content lives on in Google for others to discover.

* Winery sampling to bloggers needs to be in smaller bottles with a more diverse sampling across your product line-up


Posted in, Good Grape Daily: Pomace & Lees. Permalink | Comments (2) |


On 03/01, rjh wrote:

great write-up.  as a relatively new wine blogger, about 6 months now, i’ve already started receiving wine samples from wineries and this post is a very clear and concise summary of the practice.  i could not agree with you more about the winery needing to establish a relationship with the blogger and for them to send us potentially smaller samples across a broader spectrum.

love the blog - really well done and thoughtful posts.  thanks!

On 09/05, Lara wrote:

Great post, and I totally agree on the half bottle idea. It’s too much wine for a blogger when they receive an entire bottle. I’ve had to throw out some remaining wine because quite frankly I didn’t want to 1) get drunk, and 2) drink old wine (it just doesn’t taste the same.)


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