Swirls: A modest proposal on writing about clients, samples and other wine-industry connections

As you may have noticed in this space in recent months, I am all about disclosure, disclosure and more disclosure when it comes to any connections I have with the wine industry (samples, press trips, speaking engagements) and believe it is incumbent on anyone claiming to be a credible wine reporter or reviewer to do so. As I’ve learned over several decades in journalism, mostly with national news organizations, integrity is just about everything, and I’ve tried to follow that principle in almost a decade of writing about wine.  If you’ve just tasted a “killer vouvray sauvignon blanc” and the winery is your client, I want to know that fact. Loved a rosé that you received as a press sample? Let me know that you acquired the wine that way. While most of us in the wine world know how the business works – it is driven largely by public relations and marketing – I’m not sure that the average wine lover who comes across this blog or that Twitter account knows enough to read between the lines and, as a result, may be caught off guard and influenced by conflicted information. By disclosing these relationships, you are telegraphing to your readers that you care about these principles, that you respect their right to know about your connections, and that you have a  sophisticated and  professional view of these things (I believe that those in the wine industry will have greater respect for you as well).

I was reminded about this issue the the other day by an item I came across on Twitter. John Gillespie, who runs an online research company called Wine Opinions and represents wine clients in their marketing efforts, posted the following Tweet:

John Gillespie

@WineOpinions John Gillespie

I never work for people whose wines I don't love, but I'm going to attach "#client" to every tasting note I offer on a client wine.

Gillespie is not the first to disclose a client connection on Twitter, but he is the first I have seen to do so in such a clear and direct way. With a single word, he is removing any ambiguity about his relationship with a wine. Ultimately, his followers will have to decide whether they “love” the wines he promotes as much as he does, but at least now they’ll have little doubt about where he’s coming from when he mentions them. This idea is so simple, taking just seven of 140 characters in a Tweet, that it should become standard practice for those who Tweet about their clients. Similarly, another seven-character tag -- #sample – should be used by wine journalists and critics when they write about wines sent to them as samples (this blog discloses that fact at the end of every post about wines received for review). So, from now on, when you see “#sample” at the end of a Tweet on @VinDeitch, you’ll know that this is how I obtained the wine. There is, after all, no downside to disclosure. What are your thoughts on this issue? Comments welcomed.


  1. I get why its important to disclose that the wine you've just reviewed is a client's wine.

    But what I need an education in is why a reviewer ought to disclose that he got a wine via a media sample.

    What is it about receiving a sample from a winery or importer that is so nefarious that it needs to be disclosed? I honestly see no reason why the source of a bottle matters.


    Tom Wark

  2. Tom:

    Thanks for this. First, it strikes me that there is something inherently conflicted, even with the "client" disclosure, in reviewing a client's wine. Such "reviews" are what we used to receive in press materials and tasting notes supplied on behalf of clients. (Not surprisingly, I have never read anything negative about a wine in many thousands of such documents.) Those who represent wineries and post their reviews of client wines on Twitter or Facebook or their own business-related blogs are simply framing their press releases in a new-media context. It's that simple.

    As for the sample disclosure question, it is an acknowledgement of a relationship with the industry -- that the wine was received, at no cost, from a winery, importer, distributor, or PR/marketing firm and that the critic/reviewer is aware that there could be a perception of conflict in this relationship -- i.e., receiving wine samples in hopes of a positive review. Most in the industry and most experienced, credible wine writers realize that there is no expectation of a review when samples are sent. Most but not all. With the growth of the blogosphere and social media, the industry has infinitely more outlets at its disposal and, I believe, looks for paths of least resistance in hopes of exposing its wines to as many people as possible. Some may feel pressure to review a wine positively because they have received it at no cost. The "sample" disclosure represents honesty and straightforwardness about the relationship and gives the reviewer credibility in that regard.


    Ed Deitch

  3. Hi Tom and Ed,

    I don't "review" wines (client or otherwise). I'm also one of those who does not like point systems. I do offer comments and opinions on the wines I drink every day, and since some of these are client wines, I just wanted to be sure that my followers can take my comments with the benefit of perspective.

    Thanks to you both for a stimulating discussion.