Free samples and free tastings – this thing with disclosure

One of the discussions that came up on the recent European Wine Bloggers Conference (#EWBC) was about free wine samples: should bloggers accept free tasting samples from importers or wine producers? It was debated in all directions. Some said that wine bloggers should not accept samples. Others meant that it was OK to accept samples provided you made ‘full disclosure’ (“this wine tastes excellent, and btw I’ve had it as a free sample”…). We don’t agree.

For us, this is rather simple:

1) wine bloggers (and we considers ourselves as such) are no different than others who write about wine in e.g. printed media,

2) it is impossible to write professionally (or on a certain level, even if not professionally) about wine without accepting various kinds of freebies,

3) what counts is the writer’s ethics and personal integrity and stringency.

Conclusion: wine bloggers (like other writers) can, or should, accept free samples and there is no need to ‘disclose’ that certain wines have been received as free samples.

If you write positively about a wine just because you have received it as a sample (perhaps in the hope of getting more?) you will with time loose your credibility as a critic and commentator.

To have a disclosure policy or at every occasion specify that this is based on a free sample is futile. What is the reader supposed to think? “Ah, this comment is based on a free sample so I don’t think it’s quite neutral and not as accurate as this critic’s usual comments”?

Either you have a good writer’s ethic and then disclosure does not make any difference, or you are a weak soul and corrupt (unduly kind to samples) and then it won’t make any difference to do ‘disclosure’ either.

Compare it to e.g. sports journalists or music critics who write in papers – should they specify in their articles that “I have had a free ticket to this event”? No, we don’t think so. Everyone takes it for granted. (In the US the FTC, Federal Trade Commission, recently published a recommendation that bloggers should be obliged to give disclosure for samples, and other freebies. The strange thing with this is that the FTC does not require the same kind of disclosure from the printed press. Incomprehensible.)

In other words: dear wine producers and wine importers, do send us samples, or invite us to tastings and other such things! In reality, with full disclosure, we receive very few wine samples (but a bit more often go to press lunches or tastings). If we like the wine we taste we will write a good review. If we don’t like it we will not review it or perhaps write something a bit critical.

Does this mean that we may be influenced by marketing efforts? Yes, of course but there’s nothing negative in that. If we do get a sample we are more likely to taste the wine and write about it (if we like it) than if we don’t receive a sample, which means we’re influenced by the marketing. Is it a problem? No, we don’t think so, as long as we are honest with our writing and don’t write up things positively just because we’ve had a freebie.

Actually, I very much doubt that any serious wine writer (or other journalist) can honestly claim to have a “no freebies” policy. One who never accepts samples. Never goes to free wine tastings. Never accept lunch invitations. Never travel to vineyards on paid expenses or accepts tasting samples at wineries, etc. I don’t think such a writer exists.

Read on:

So, what do you think?

This post is also available in: Swedish

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2 Responses to Free samples and free tastings – this thing with disclosure

  1. Mariëlla November 15, 2009 at 09:37 #

    Thx, I'm very glad with your view on this. I have been struggling with this too for some time. I accept sample bottles, but if they don't please me, I just don't write about them, or give a slight note of criticism. E.g. a bottle of St. Pourcain I had a few weeks ago was nice, but priced a bit too high in my opinion. I have mentioned that in my blog.
    I am very happy to read that there are more bloggers/wine writers that think the same.
    (A few years ago Alder Yarrow from Vinography wrote a piece explaining more or less the same view, but it is good to read this from more wine bloggers).
    Regards from the Netherlands!

  2. Per and Britt November 15, 2009 at 10:42 #

    Yes, but all the same it seems to be a bit controversial. There's been so much talk lately about that you have to diligently "disclose" just about everything.

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