Isn’t it remarkable?
Some colleagues in the wine trade seem to feel the need to articulate their ‘state of independence’ – their independence as a wine critic, writer or wine adviser. Robert Parker Junior comes to mind, of course, but so do other, world-renowned as well as less reputed critics on the local scene in Malta and elsewhere, I’m sure.
There’s nothing wrong with that, were it not – as I feel – that often such an avowal is nothing more than a smoke screen to hide one’s reliance on several sources of income to pass off copy rather than a reassurance of objectivity.
What’s worst is that in proclaiming their so-called independence, they almost inversely accuse their colleagues of being prejudiced. Others are allegedly partial simply because they earn an income from other activities than just writing about wine.
Making an honest living above-board would by itself make their wine writing less objective! Just a couple of days ago, as a recent example, Blake Gray implied in his blog post that wine critic Paul Gregutt has crossed an ethical question with his new wine brand Waitsburg Cellars.
Is this founded?
As a wine writer, like many other colleagues, I am also actively involved in the wine trade. Wine writing is a compelling passion but it doesn’t pay the bills – at least not mine or those of most writers I know. It’s my day time job that does. So, financially independent I’m not.
But the fact that I also sharpen pencils at a winery doesn’t mean that I can’t have the professional credibility of Caesar’s wife when I put pen to paper. If anything, my hands-on wherewithal gives me a wealth of experience and insights to share with the wine-loving public.
In fact, as my colleagues tell me, this is how most wine writers manage to make their living. Only a very favoured few in the world of wine – perhaps a few dozen or so of famous names – are lucky enough or clever enough to gain their entire living from writing about wine. Even fewer are wealthy enough or connected enough to be free entirely from relying on any source of income whilst writing to their heart’s content about their vinous experiences.
However, no declaration of independence is a sufficient condition for guaranteeing an honest recount of wine. Neither is it the antonym for subjectivity or deceitfulness.
Only objectivity is a necessary and sufficient condition for achieving and maintaining reliability in fact and appearance.
As I was thought by Professor Marcel Liebman, a Jew not shy to lecture on Nazism, objectivity is not the same as neutrality. It is far better to be openly passionate and present facts than pretend to speak in a neutral way and try to mislead.
And, this is what irks. The so-called lonesome clean writers of wine often obscurely scrabble a living flogging bottles from many rather than just one clearly declared company. As such they write very little for free on their own account. And, it’s annoying when these self-proclaimed independent wine writers use their space in magazines, papers or on the Web as a platform to pass off commercially inspired column for so-called independent advice.
In these instances, the so-called writer’s ‘independence’ is a cover up to mislead those wine lovers who still believe in the emperor’s clothes and swallow whatever lines wine critics waggle in front of them. That is mocking the readership, especially the less informed reader who particularly relies on this information.
Wine is a vast subject and still confusing to many. A good number of wine enthusiasts has a need to entangle it and they do so relying on their newly gained knowledge and guidance offered by experts. This is the reason why wine critics should feel a collegial responsibility to the industry they seek to interpret or a journalistic conscientiousness to their readership.
Beyond drinking wine, one of few other ways to experience it is to read about it. No reader should have to suffer unwarranted gullibility. Granted, this makes the reviewer a very important person with a very important role to play. However, no wine writer should be denied the right to report passionately since neutrality in reporting is farcical anyway. As a critic, you ought to show the glasses through which you see the wine world so bias can be filtered out. Don’t pretend to be neutral because it is little shy of patronising. Transparency is what keeps your slate clean as a writer.
Followers ought to be careful and shouldn’t routinely take the ‘independent’ wine writer for the objective reporter – just as a wine personality’s celebrity status shouldn’t be mistaken for a guarantee for sound wine expertise.
If you are after information about wine, just keep looking for those wine writers that step up and tell the whole story, who debunk wine myths and seek to inspire you as well as guide you down the right aisle. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as they explain where they are coming from.