Like good wine, old and dusty journalism debates are still relevant and worth pursuing. Recently Christian Eedes uncorked one of these via @twitter, the topic being whether a wine writer and critic has an obligation to point-out sub-standard wines.
I found it ironic that Christian proposed pointing out poorer wines as unnecessary, he being one of few commentators ballsy enough to stick it to renowned producers once in a while.
As any opinion on wine, my thoughts on this issue are personal and influenced by the six years I spent as an arts and entertainment critic on a daily newspaper, a current gig as television writer for Media 24 and then the day job as marketing and media consultant to the wine industry.
The latter part of this persona leaves me with unquestionable support for my clients, their brands and the various wines they make. I am their strategic partner. Their joy is my joy. Their pain is my pain. And they give great office parties.
However, this position does not – and should not – question the loyalty I have to wine critics, writers, commentators or whatever each individual in this trade wishes to be called. Their recognition of and role in the wine industry ensures that there is one for us to be in. It is the media that, through various vehicles and in many guises, keeps wine in the mind of the consumer. And without the consumer, i.e. he or she who hands over money for a bottle of wine, there would not be an industry.
Whether one thus agrees with a critic’s comment on a wine or not, the right to make that comment is sacrosanct. This is one of the first lessons I teach a new client, as was taught to me by Danie de Wet: “People who buy ink by the barrel, have the final say”. Thus, if someone finds your Cabernet Sauvignon over-wooded or Chardonnay underwhelming, it cannot be reversed. Opinion and taste are personal and it is a right to be shared. Live with it.
Any PR who questions this should be shot at cocktail hour. I’ll arrange bubbly and canapés for the funeral.
However, with all this reverence accorded the media they, too, should not forget their obligation. And that is to inform the public, who also happen to be aforementioned consumer keeping the wine industry afloat. Therefore, unquestioning sunshine sycophantic gushing is not the role of the perceptive, informing and respected critic. As a consumer – and that I am too, check the credit card debt – I need to be guided to the good great bottles of wine. I need to feed from your journalistic wisdom, educated by your experience and refined perception. For this, I owe you.
But then I also require being guided away from the deep, dank pits dug by wines that are under-delivering in the all-hype-no-substance sphere. I need to know when an iconic brand has missed a beat and is now under-performing and living off its reputation instead of its quality. Tell me of wines that are continually faulty or that are passing off as Stellenbosch or Swartland while the origin of the grapes is Breedekloof or Paarl. Give me those life-affirming wine highs, but I need to hear the sobering lows.
I am not asking this. It is just expected.
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