Public Relations, Media & Wine… A Tricky But Necessary Relationship.

To put it bluntly, wine guys like myself and others that write about it, rarely buy a bottle of wine to review. No matter how much Robert Parker Jr. liked to bloviate about buying most of the wines he reviewed, it has been proven that this is not true. We get samples, because PR companies that represent wineries want the wines reviewed by the likes of Parker, The Wine Spectator or a blogger such as myself. Because I am small potatoes, my samples are fewer. However, a blogger such as Joe Roberts or Blake Gray receive many samples a week.

Jo Diaz recently published an article featuring the dos and don’t s for PR companies when dealing with the media people. Have you ever heard the term “getting too big for your britches”? After reading this article, I have to say that I think there are some writers out there suffering from this problem.

PR companies send free wine. They are looking for a write-up of some sort, and they follow-up not only to see if we received the samples, but also to see if we wrote about them. I think it is only fair that they do that, since there is a bit of an investment on their part. I think it is both polite, appropriate and easy, to give them a simple, forthright response.

I have another layer to my sampling issues that most media guys and girls do not experience. I work in a retail store where up to 10 different sales reps. call on me with samples to try on a weekly basis. They will often drop off bottles for me to review on my You Tube channel, Stan The Wine Man TV. However, most of them will bring open bottles for me to try to take notes while I sit in my office and they stand over me waiting. Although I am a big customer for most of these salespeople, I know that they need that bottle sample to stretch to many other accounts. I could be a jerk and tell all of them that I don’t have the time to sit there and taste their wines while I’m working and that if they want me to try it, they need to drop a bottle off for me to taste in my leisure. That would be “too big for my britches.” Believe me when I tell you,there are folks like that on the retail side.

I look at it this way: If they are taking their time to visit me with free wine to try, and my job is to find wine that is a good value for the store or for my readers…It is a no brainer. I am doing what I do, because I love the subject of wine, the ins and outs, the stories and the beverage itself. The sales rep. comes with all of these for free. Because of this, I welcome them to my tiny office and taste whatever they have to offer up, give them my opinion, treat them with the respect they deserve and move on. It’s pretty simple courtesy 101. That same courtesy should be shown to all the PR companies out there working hard to get the wines in front of the media. If they are persistent in getting a response from us, I understand. It’s their job.

One area in which I am becoming the exception, rather than the rule, is that I review all wines on my blog…Good or bad. It has become the in thing for writers to only put the positive reviews out there and skip any negative ones. What good is that to the consumer? For example: Let’s say I taste a $30. bottle of wine, and it does not even come close to the quality expected for this price range. I’m not talking personal preference here. I’m talking over-priced wine for what you get. I believe that it is our responsibility as the media to let the consumer know, so they can save their money. Granted, my reviews come with some detailed descriptors. This way, the reader can at least see why I grade a wine low. However, there might be some things in my description that appeals to the reader and they may decide to go ahead and buy the wine. Fair enough. At least I gave them some educated guidance, and I can sleep better that night.

If the PR person doesn’t like me putting out a negative review of their wine, they don’t have to send me samples…It’s that easy. So far, that has not been a problem, either with them or sales reps. The bottom line is trust. I give fair reviews and they understand and respect that. I have a retail palate, so it makes it easier for them to take what I say about their wine. I am also not influenced by graft…Free trips to wineries or other countries etc. Trust me, it happens. We as the media, must remain objective in our writing or videos. If we start depending on PR companies or wineries for trips or accommodations, we risk losing objectivity in our reviews.

I will be the first to tell you that I like some wineries more than others, and it is a tough thing to give a bad review of their wines. I can still remember the time I gave a negative review of a chardonnay produced by a winery where I am close friends with both the owner and the wine maker. I have to see them on a regular basis, so I just sucked it up, gave my review, and knew that I would have to hear it from them. There were a few awkward moments, but since they know I do my best to be fair, we got through it without damaging our relationship. Thankfully, that situation doesn’t happen a lot.

To be fair, I know that most media folks are totally honest with their reviews, I just wish they would publish all their reviews no matter how time-consuming or painful it is. It would be a heck of a lot easier for me to tell PR companies that I didn’t write-up a review, because it didn’t make the cut. Just think of all the free wine I could enjoy without reviewing them. I’m not calling anyone out here, I’m just saying.

I appreciated Jo Diaz’s article on how PR companies should treat the media. This piece is the flip-side…How should the media treat PR companies. The answer: With respect, understanding and courtesy. Like Jo said on FaceBook…If you don’t like the way they do their job, then go out and buy your own wine (not a quote, just the substance of what she said). I don’t think there are a lot of media folk out there that like that option.

Stan The Wine Man

About Stan The Wine Man

I am a blue collar wine guy who has been in the biz for over twenty years. I work at a store in a tourist destination stop. I work hard at finding the best wine for the money. I love the challenge of learning my customer's palate so I can find the best wine for them, whether it is Petrus or white zinfandel. Cheers!
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