Natalie Maclean – whom I will henceforth refer to as NMA (for reasons that will become clear), is a pre-Christmas gift that keeps on giving.For anyone outside the incestuous wine writing loop, here’s a reminder.
1) she is accused by Palate Press of plagiarizing other critics’ words – by cutting and pasting them from the Liquor Control Board of Ontario Vintages Wine Catalogue, and inserting them into her – subscription – site – without the author, publication and date information that appeared in the Catalogue. Instead of these details, she provided initials. So the “JRO” following this note refers to Jancis Robinson…“Tank sample. Very rich and opulent nose. Great polish and just the merest suggestion of raisins. Big, dry and hot on the finish. Expressive of the terrain! Good for those who seek sunshine in a bottle. Drink 2013-2017. Score: 16 (out of 20) JRO”while the “TA” following this one is from NMA’s fellow Canadian critic Tony Aspler.
“Winemaker Deborah Paskus is on the top of her game with this wine. Deep straw in colour; spicy, minerally, apple and pear nose with a leesy lemony note; well integrated oak with a fresh, lingering finish. A triumph of terroir and technique. Score: 92 TA”
(both quotes from NMA’s site, provided by Michael Pinkus – another aggrieved critic – via Palate Press)
2) NMA is accused – again by Palate Press of requiring wineries to subscribe to her newsletter ($24 pa) if they want their wines to be reviewed. These accusations of Pay to Play have apparently been substantiated by (un-named) wineries in the form of emails from NMA saying (according to Palate Press) “the subscription fee would be “well worth [the winery’s] while” reaching the largest wine audience in Canada and the media exposure would be “worth thousands of dollars to you.”
3) NMA is then accused of asking winery PRs to populate her site with information that she might reasonably be expected to be sourcing, checking and entering herself.
4) Then comes another accusation (again via the comment section of Palate Press) – by Tyler Philp, author of 200 reviews “plus several educational articles” that appear on the NMA site that she includes “phony names” among the list of subscriber-reviewers (but fails to include him “to punish the one member who openly questioned the legitimacy of ‘Operation Peroxide’.”)
5) The reference to “phony names” takes on greater import when one encounters another accusation – from Wine Align which created an iPhone app that competed with NMA’s own offering. I think it makes most sense for me to include Wine Align’s comment in full: (except that they are unreadable, so you should probably take a look at them here.
So, here are the issues NMA has helped to raise:
A) What where and how can/should critics’ words be used; with or without payment?
B) Is there any legitimacy in linking payment to wine reviewing? As others such as Jamie Goode have pointed out, wineries actually do precisely this on a regular basis – every time they lay on a tasting and lunch or a press trip. They inevitably sit down with their PR and calculate the cost of the exercise versus the column inches (editorial and reviews) it has yielded. They pay entry fees to competitions whose organisers (and judges) may write about the wines they have tasted once medals have been awarded.
And, of course… they send them for tasting by magazines that sell advertising.
A PR with experience in the UK and elsewhere to whom I spoke yesterday said that they have email and printed evidence of the direct link many, many publishers establish between tasting reviews and advertising. Behind the scenes, there is no shortage of chat about this applying to at least one very well-known US publication. Is anyone (a former winery employee perhaps – or a former magazine employee or PR) prepared to throw any further light on this..?
C) What sanctions should be applied to individuals and companies that use reviews to undermine the businesses of their competitors?
Thank you again NMA for giving us all so much to think about over