Advertorial, 7-11, chocolate milk, freer trade – sipped and spit

leslie_sbrocco_pbs_wineSIPPED: the hard question; SPIT: advertorial
During what looked like an innocuous segment on Thanksgiving wines, Evan Dawson, a local TV news anchor, asks Leslie Sbrocco, wine book author and TV host, some tough questions. And they’re not about the turkey. Tune in to about 1:50 when he asks her about the Beringer wines she recommends: “Do you have a relationship with them that involves any sort of compensation?” Her reply: “Yes, this media tour is with the Beringer portfolio of wines.” The FTC would be proud of Dawson! [13WHAM]

SPIT: double standards
Speaking of the FTC, Blake Gray, former wine columnist for the SF Chronicle, has a lengthy post decrying the fact that the new FTC regulations come down harder on blogs than they do traditional media. [Gray Market Report]

SIPPED: funding freer trade
Frustrated by interstate shipping laws that thwart the ability to purchase wine out of state for 47 states? Consider bidding on wine lots in an auction to benefit the Specialty Wine Retailers Association, which fights legal battles for freer trade.

SIPPED: red wine
Chocolate milk, of all drinks, tries to muscle red wine out of the health news headlines: According to recent research as reported in the NYT, “flavanoid-rich cocoa” found in chocolate milk appears more effective at reducing inflammation that leads to atherosclerosis than regular milk! But the effects still aren’t as pronounced as with red wine. I can see it now: the choco-cabernet smoothie!

SIPPED: symbolic pricing
Joe Montana’s 500 acre estate that spans the Sonoma-Napa county line, is up for sale. The former 49ers QB, who also has a wine label, listed the property at $49 million. [WSJ]

SPIT: symbolic pricing
7-Eleven, the chain of 15,000 convenience stores, has announced their own wine label, Yosemite Road. Instead of pricing it at $7 and $11 a bottle for symbolic purposes, it will retail for $3.99. Aha! Maybe this will be the home of the choco-cabernet Slurpee? [AP]

SIPPED: another city winery
Hong Kong eclipsed New York City as the wine auction capital of the world this year, that we know. But this just in: Hong Kong has had a winery in the city limits since 2007. [CNN]

SIPPED: web voting
The website Foodbuzz recently distributed some blog awards and this blog won the category “blogger you would most want to be your personal sommelier.” Thank you for your votes but my question is, true to blogger stereotype, does that mean I have to pour wine in my pajamas? [Foodbuzz]

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43 Responses to “Advertorial, 7-11, chocolate milk, freer trade – sipped and spit”

  1. I don’t know if it’s Cabernet or not, but I’ve seen (although thankfully not tasted) a bottled wine and chocolate drink at a local wine shop. I think it may be called Chocovin.

  2. Bob – I was just about to write the same thing… it’s chocovine and it is Cabernet based… haven’t had it but could be good? 🙂

  3. Wow, sounds dreadful. Might just have to try it.

    Here’s a product description:
    ChocoVine is a fine French Cabernet subtly combined with a rich dark Chocolate from Holland, paired together to create a decadent, silky smooth drink, which can be served by itself on the rocks or as the main ingredient to an array of sinful cocktails.

  4. I went to a shop wine tasting the other night, and I think there was a bottle of Chocovine open, but I skipped it. Would have been quite a comedown after the white wines from the Alto Adige that I tried. But according to the shop owner, Chocovine is selling like gangbusters.

  5. I wonder about the legitimacy of any seeming journalistic triumphalism attached to Evan Dawson’s TV interview with Leslie Sbrocco on WHAM, in Rochester — for example, the “Heh” in a tweet today in which Mr. Dawson said his “questions should be standard.”

    Obviously Ms. Sbrocco (whom I know slightly) exposed herself to the possible disclosure that she was in effect playing spokeswoman for Beringer, not functioning as an independent critic, on the news program; that’s a risk she chose to take, and she is obliged to deal with the consequences.

    But no less important — even more basic — is how the interview came about in the first place. How did WHAM, apparently not one of the nation’s principal urban TV stations, come to interview her in the first place? Did someone at the station decide to have a segment on wine for Thanksgiving and approach her? I might bet — sheer guesswork here — that Beringer, or an agent of Beringer interests, pitched the segment to WHAM.

    Signal feeds can be expensive — some cost about $500 an hour. Would WHAM spend such a sum for such a minor feed? Does that seem likely? Maybe. I don’t know. I’d like to know.

    Or did whoever approach WHAM (and conceivably comparable stations in smaller-city markets) offer to pay for the feed? If so, such an offer would, or should, immediately come to the attention of the news department and its anchor, and generate skepticism, because an outside payer would suggest vested-interest sponsorship. If, because of a lapse in due diligence, such skepticism did not arise, surely Ms. Sbrocco’s setting, with Beringer and Penfolds bottles prominently displayed on a decorated table, suggested professional stagecraft, thus inviting skepticism, this time during the live broadcast. If before the broadcast such skepticism did arise but WHAM nonetheless allowed an outside party to pay for the feed, then we might conclude that it felt that collaboration with a possible fairy-tale was O.K.

    Until substantive questions like these are answered, Mr. Dawson ought to put a hold on public exercises of journalistic virtue. But if it turns out that WHAM did indeed pay for the feed, then Mr. Dawson deserves colleagues’ congratulations for, at a timely pre-holiday moment, courageously going directly where few interviewers choose to go and for showing how the “system” too often works, to the detriment of consumers’ interests.

  6. Mr. Supple of Screw it wine video blog has a video of mixing not so good red wine with cola.

  7. Howard Goldberg makes good points about the Sbrocco video. I think the unknown factor here relates to TV show protocol and WHAM’s standards for guest disclosure.

    Early that same day (11/11/09), Evan Dawson mentioned via twitter that he did not know who was paying for the satellite feed, and that it is standard protocol for his station to be informed of sponsorships in such cases. He added that his station (WHAM) discloses when guests are paid for their services, and if the station is not told in advance, the question is asked on the air.

    Given this background, was he really out of line? I don’t think so. Disclosure is becoming more and more important in the Internet Age; TV should be part of elevated standards of transparency as well, in my humble opinion.

  8. Howard –

    Excellent and fair questions. Let me address them point by point:

    First, as I’ve said in private communication to a handful of people today, I admit that I’m surprised to see the amount of attention this seemingly innocuous exchange has engendered. I suspect that’s because Ms. Sbrocco appeared to be flustered (to many viewers, at least). I also suspect that she wasn’t asked this question often, if at all, during her media tour.

    I was expecting a simple, straightforward answer from her: Either the answer was No, she was not being compensated and she had arrived at this recommendation on her own, or Yes, she was being compensated, but given her expertise she could have chosen to take up a relationship with wine producers around the world and she had chosen Beringer after coming to appreciate the quality of the wines.

    Ms. Sbrocco is hardly a villain and my question should hardly be unique. But the intent becomes clear when you see her answer: She and her clients were hoping the viewer would see her as an expert who was offering advice based on her own experiences, not based on getting paid. That’s deceptive. Again, it’s hardly the most malicious practice I’ve come across, but it’s deceptive nonetheless. Had I not asked the question, I would have been ignoring my duty to make sure viewers understand what’s going on.

    You write, “But no less important — even more basic — is how the interview came about in the first place. How did WHAM, apparently not one of the nation’s principal urban TV stations, come to interview her in the first place?”

    I’m happy to explain. It’s a good question. News stations don’t pay for a single satellite feed of this nature. Every day there are literally dozens of offers to news stations to interview celebrities, celebrities hawking books, celebrities hawking products, celebrities hawking movies or themselves. There are offers to interview experts in safety and health. There are far more than I can even think of. Our executive producer, in compiling future broadcast rundowns, surveys pitched segments and decides what is of value to viewers. I don’t always agree; often I don’t, and we debate it. In some cases, for various reasons, the anchors might not know of a particular booked segment until the night before. That was the case with Ms. Sbrocco; our EP knows nothing about wine and thought it would be helpful advice for viewers. I indicated to him that there are myriad local possibilities to provide this service. He agreed that if we interviewed Ms. Sbrocco, we ought to also invite a local expert on at a future date. We intend to.

    Regarding paying for satellite time, I guess I’m surprised if anyone assumes stations pay for it. Stations are looking for something valuable for viewers; those pitching segments value the exposure. Given this, there’s always someone paying the bill who seeks to benefit. With book tours, that’s obvious. Sometimes it’s a health segment paid by an association that simply seeks greater public awareness; we often see this with Alzheimers and cancer research organizations. Yesterday we did an interview with the head of the COPD foundation, but when I saw that Pfizer was paying for the satellite time, I asked the foundation’s director about their relationship with Pfizer and why they might be urging viewers to consider medications.

    The point is, the funding and motives of some segments are easily discernible to us, and sometimes easily discernible to viewers. But often viewers are not thinking about these things. We turn down the vast, vast majority of pitched segments. When we book one, we expect to find out about any relationships and funding sources. If those are disclosed to us, we’ll let our viewers know in advance. If those are not disclosed, we’ll seek an on-air explanation.

    With this in mind, perhaps we ought not have booked that segment with Ms. Sbrocco at all. She was, after all, a paid spokesperson posing as an expert handing out advice. I’ve already addressed this with our Executive Producer. But I maintain that had Ms. Sbrocco offered an honest but strong answer – that yes, she’s paid, but she has always loved these wines and she’s proud to have a relationship with the producer – I can’t imagine the segment would be attracting much attention.

    I hope this helps. I’m happy to answer any other questions.

  9. I found the Sbrocco video hard to watch. It was done with a variety of Foster’s products in a way that was intended to deceive. Clearly the average viewer would not be aware CSJ, Beringer and Penfolds are all the same company.

    I found the same issue with last week’s wine section of the SF Chronicle. It listed three experts’ recommendation for holiday wines. By the way all three work for the retailers selling these very wines.

    Why is this allowed to happen in mainstream media while bloggers are threatened with fines?

  10. Evan, that’s a fine, professionally wholesome reply. It clears the air like a summer rain. Thank you for the promptness and thoroughness.

    Not having spent any time in TV, I had no idea of the quantity of pitches from self-serving sources that flood in. Had I attempted to extrapolate from my own experience with wine sources I might have
    speculatively arrived at an understanding of WHAM’s own situation.

    My only qualm, which might not be pragmatic, is that perhaps the party pitching the segment should be absolutely required to disclose relationships and funding as a pre-requisite for the interview . This would enable the anchor to call attention to those matters at an appropriate time during the exchange. On the other hand, springing the question out of the blue can, as we saw, bring a reply that can be very telling — and cautionary — and add an extra dimension to the reportage.

    A rough equivalent is to hear Joe Lieberman explain why as “a matter of conscience” he opposes the public option in health-care reform and then ask him, one way or another, if his conscience may have been rigged by the insurance companies in Hartford. Listening to Joe’s disclaimer is a little bit like hearing Judas Iscariot, at the Last Supper, asking for separate checks.

  11. Howard –

    I think your idea is a good one. It would certainly diminish the number of potential segments, but I think that says a lot about the current expectations of some of those doing the pitching. I don’t like the “gotcha” game, and full disclosure in advance makes sure I never have to go there (though I try to do so amicably and calmly).

    I should add that I laughed loud enough to turn heads in the newsroom upon reading your comparison of Independent Joe. As a news reporter I take no position on that subject, of course.

  12. Ted, not sure I see the connection between the issue with Lesie/Evan and our bargain wines package.

    We noted where all three wine buyers worked and who suggested which wine. We reiterated their affiliations above our list of wines. I tasted all their recommendations and discarded about a third. All of this explained in the piece. If someone didn’t see the buyers’ affiliations, they weren’t reading very closely.

  13. Jon- Re-reading it I have to agree you did a very good job with the disclosure. Not the same issue as the TV spot.

    I guess I just feel that independent reviews would not have to be taken with so many grains of salt. I can go to to see what wines Mr. Wong recommends. I get the Chronicle to see what you like.

  14. Man she got Nervous about that quesetion even tho she shouldn’t have ..

  15. This blog post was just brought to my attention, so I would happily like to respond.

    First, there was no “deception” involved with my appearance on a recent media tour. During the holidays I have been promoting my latest book, The Simple & Savvy Wine Guide, and while I wish publishers could afford the expense of this type of promotion, most simply cannot these days. Therefore, I have chosen to partner with producers I’ve highlighted in the book to do so. Beringer is one of those partners.

    I respect their portfolio and have written about many of their brands over the years, some of which I highlighted on the book tour. If you view my website, I clearly state the relationship with Beringer for this particular event (publications and tv stations have advertisers don’t they?). As I only have minutes to impart information on television, in the segments shot that day I directed people to my website.

    The reason I looked “flustered” according to some viewers on that particular segment was simply that it was the first interview of the day clocking in at about 4:30am California time. I admit I was ill-prepared for the host’s initial question about sponsorship, but not because I had something to hide. I simply hadn’t had enough coffee.

    My holidays tips were meant to educate and inform in a general fashion and in most interviews that day, the host of the show let that information come through. This interview, however, was both very short and dominated by the questions about sponsorship, which I answered honestly.

    I’m happy to speak to anyone in person regarding this issue. If you’d like to reach me directly please email

  16. Leslie –

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I can’t speak to your coffee consumption, but I wanted to address a couple of other points. First, we took up part of the interview (the interview was not “dominated” by “questions” about sponsorship; there was one question) with the issue of compensation because it was not provided in advance. Had we known who was paying for it, I could have mentioned that in the introduction before you and I spoke on camera.

    Second, this interview was not “very short.” It was more than three minutes long. For some perspective, the average hard news story runs 90 seconds. Your segment had more than twice the air time of our top hard news story that morning (and yes, perhaps that says something about the state of my industry). But in real value, I’d suggest that Beringer would not want to get into the habit of buying more than three minute ads in multiple stations.

    I went back and looked up the full segment pitch that was initially sent to our executive producer and that he passed on to me. Again, you’ll note there’s no mention of sponsorship. Some publishers pay when authors do media tours; some production companies pay when promoting new shows. We had no idea of knowing without asking.

    And I’m curious about the second “suggested interview question.” It stood out to our executive producer as well, who thought he was booking a guest who would be unveiling some new wine ideas. Perhaps we didn’t have time to get to your newest “discovery wines.”

    Again, thanks for joining the conversation. I remain surprised at the interest it has generated. Cheers and happy holidays.

    The full pitch is now copied and pasted below.


    Wine & Lifestyle Expert

    Affordable Entertaining Trends, Tips and Creative Ideas


    LESLIE SBROCCO – Award Winning Author of the “Simple & Savvy Wine Guide” and PBS Television Host


    Budget-conscious consumers have no need to fear when it comes to planning, shopping and gift giving for the upcoming holiday season. Wine expert Leslie Sbrocco, author of The Simple & Savvy Wine Guide and host of the new PBS television series, “The Winemakers,” has simple & savvy tips on how everyone can bring “affordable luxury” to their holiday gatherings and gifting this season.

    From Thanksgiving through the New Year, Leslie will help relieve the stress of holiday entertaining and provide your viewers with the entertaining, food/wine pairing, shopping and etiquette tips to make any holiday gathering a success.


    Americans drink almost 766 million gallons, or 3.8 billion bottles, of wine, making the United States the world’s largest wine consuming country, surpassing even Italy and France.

    Women make up 52 percent of the adult population and purchase 60 percent of the wine consumed in the United States.

    There are 10,000 wine grapes varieties worldwide.

    The majority of consumers rely on word-of-mouth and recommendations from a trusted source when deciding what wine to purchase.


    What is the key to choosing a great, affordable bottle of wine?

    What are your newest discovery wines?

    Can you give us some creative (and affordable) menu ideas that pair well with wine?

    What types of wines go great with the flavors of the fall and winter seasons?

    Wine is a popular hostess gift — give us a few fun ways to personalize gifts this year.

    What etiquette dos and don’ts can you give us when it comes to the holidays?

    Is there a website that gives more information on choosing wine?


    Sbrocco’s fun approach to all things wine resonates with viewers. Leslie has also appeared Leslie’s current television project is as a judge on the new PBS series, “The Wine Makers” airing on public television stations now around the country. Her work has appeared in publications such as O, the Oprah Magazine; Family Circle; Glamour, Coastal Living, Redbook; and Working Mother. She has also appeared on CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, and FOX stations

  17. Thanks for the clarification Evan. It was my understanding that the media company would be sharing the information that this was a book/media tour underwritten by a wine company. I did not see the final pitch letter (which is ususal as if my name’s on it, I take it seriously). I can see your confusion and it should not have occured. I will be following up on it.

  18. In your pajamas? Sounds less like blogging and more of an attempt to become the Hugh Hefner of sommeliers.

  19. I guess the bluntly honest, consumer advocate side of me has a much larger, higher-level question:

    How can any “expert” recommend such plonky wines in the first place — at least with a good conscious?

    I guess the money in one’s pocket affects one’s palate.

  20. Interesting commentary – nice to see both Leslie and Evan active within it, and it shows, again, the great work of Dr. Vino and his blog audience.

    Leslie, if you understood that the media company would be sharing the information regarding this being a media tour underwritten by a wine company, where would you have assumed that would take place? A disclaimer running across the screen? A visible sign at the table where the wines were presented? I applaud you for answering the question presented to you, but I give Evan a standing ovation for doing his research and asking it.

    The situation has brought forth some lively discussion here, on our forum, and other wine forums, as the continuing quest for consumer advocacy in wine (and other products/industries, of course) grows. To be honest, when I started watching the clip, I did NOT know that it was underwritten or sponsored – now I wonder about the other clips in which I have seen you recommend wines, Leslie.

  21. Leslie, you said: “Therefore, I have chosen to partner with producers I’ve highlighted in the book to do so. Beringer is one of those partners.”

    So, who are the other partners?

  22. Leslie,

    A little late to start a book tour on a book published 3 years ago?

    I guess, with specific wineries paying your way around the country, the book will never be outdated.

    Did they pay to get included in the book, itself, back in 2006, or have only decided to hire you since your promotion of their wines.

    I can get a copy on Amazon for under 1 dollar, should I splurge?

  23. “If you view my website, I clearly state the relationship with Beringer for this particular event (publications and tv stations have advertisers don’t they?).”

    Was this interview on Nov 11th? Ms. Sbrocco’s website indeed mentions the Beringer sponsorship on front page currently. But the Google cached version dated Nov 11, 2009 12:39:42 GMT doesn’t have anything about Beringer on front page. And a quick look through other pages (current)I see lists of clients and sponsors, but no mention of Beringers/Fosters. Just curious if the disclosure came before or after the question was asked.

  24. Dale

    Hopefully, Leslie will address your question. Sounds like this could be fun.

  25. Dale: Interesting bit of research. Very interesting indeed.

    I hope Leslie will chime in on it, but I’m not going to hold my breath. That’s what’s great about the Internet, you can just pretend you didn’t see a comment you can’t respond to 😉

  26. The discussion of this episode broadens — or narrows, depending on your viewpoint — on

  27. Interesting questions and discussion. And, Dale, good catch.

    The Google cache of shows no mention of the Beringer statement on her site as of 7:39 AM in Rochester on 11/11.

    The segment aired at 7:51 AM on 11/11.

  28. Even more extensive discussion here, Howard, –

  29. I don’t know if this has been covered but late night tv is so bad. Every guest, almost, is selling something. Books, bad movies, music cds or something. Who is paying for what?

  30. As if to make this soap opera even more bizarre, Robert Parker weighs in on the Leslie Sbracco story on his site:

    She should have been transparent about the Beringer connection…but seems much ado about very little….just how many of posters here plug their friend’s wines, etc….without any disclosure about personal friendships?…..and perhaps she intended to say something about her sponsorship before the reporter brought it up..BTW…..met her once for a total of a minute or two…seemed charming and professional…

    Given Parker’s own lack of oversight of plugs and sponsorships among the coterie of reviewers who write for his Wine Advocate, it’s perhaps no surprise that he rises in Sbracco’s defense. But so much for being a consumer advocate.

  31. Parker was later called an asshole on the thread.

    I think it is safe to say that dementia has set in.

  32. i must say that I found myself wishing we could see more of Mr. Dawson’s journalistic integrity in some of our more mainstream news programs. well done…

  33. The problems with this bit of advertising cum journalishm is that one needs to know Leslie to understand what is going on here. This is a wine-loving person who is also an entertainer. She did once set herself up as a reviewer years ago when the NY Times tried to do an online wine review website. Tim Fish, who now writes for the Spectator also worked that venue.

    Since then, however, Leslie has become a hot property because she is easy on the eyes, charming as hell and talks well and easily and has enough depth of knowledge, tasting experience and perspective to be a very useful spokesperson.

    She does not do wine criticism to my knowledge, and should not be held to the same standards as Mr. Parker and his children. The failure here lies more with Beringer than with Ms. Sbrocco. She is doing a job for which she is very well-suited. I don’t see how the deception is laid exclusively at her doorstep so much as at the sponsors, and frankly, even to the TV station that should have done its due diligence before airing the segment.

    And frankly, you cannot blame Beringer for sponsoring the event. They are in the business of selling wine. No one is looking at the media here. Take a look at the question that Castello asks. How much of what we see everyday on TV, in the movies consist of paid advertising. Ever watch Breakfast At Tiffany’s or You’ve Got Mail?

    B at Tiffs was on last night. I saw a product placement for a men’s store I used to shop at in college. Funny how I missed that the first three times I saw the movie. Too late now. They are out of business.

    But, the business of business is business, and it is not only up to Beringer and Sbrocco to be open about what is going on here. It should never have been aired in the first place by the TV station without a disclaimer.

  34. I used to work in public relations for Terlato Wines International. During my tenure there I managed two satellite media tours in which Leslie Sbrocco was the paid talent. In both instances, the media companies we contracted with to pitch the tour to television stations around the country — it was one company the first year, a different company the second year — included in their pitch that the tour was sponsored by TWI. So I can understand Leslie’s surprise that that information was not included this year. I should also add that for the tours I was involved in, the wines featured were ones Leslie had expressed an appreciation for before we discussed her working for us. That was one of the reasons we approached her (in addition to the reasons Charlie Olken talks about).

  35. Charlie

    Leslie also did not disclose that she was paid by Beringer on her website.

    You can blame Beringer and Leslie in my eyes.

    They are both guilty of deceit. If she had disclosed it on her website (which she does now, but had not then), then I would be more forgiving.

  36. Daniel–

    Point taken. It is part of the larger point on which you and I are in complete agreement. The discussions of wine quality need to be done openly and transparently. This may have been run as a “news” type feed by the TV station, which is why they cannot escape blame in my eyes, but it is also true that it is a kind of infomercial and should be disclosed as such.

    These days, for example, many movies have disclaimers at the end telling the audience, if they have stayed around through five minutes of cast and crew notices, that the product placements are paid for.

    I was amused last night watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s when a freshly painted truck with the Rogers, Peet logo drove past the action. I used to walk past that store on my way to class back a few decades ago. Never shopped there. Could not afford it. But the clothes were lovely. You would not have seen any acknowledgment that this was a paid product placement at the end of B at Tiffs.

    We know about product placements. We see them all the time. This was a product placement, and the TV station had to know that but said nothing. Dawson may have let the cat out of the bag, but his station ran this infomercial knowing what it was. That is why this cannot come back to Sbrocco and Beringer alone.

    And, Daniel, when my new book comes out, and I appear on Letterman, do I have to tell the world that the publisher’s publicist arranged it? Yeh, I know. Wishful thinking.

  37. “This was a product placement, and the TV station had to know that but said nothing. Dawson may have let the cat out of the bag, but his station ran this infomercial knowing what it was”

    Can you explain how they “had to know” and they ran it “knowing what it was”? One certainly wouldn’t know it was a Fosters/Beringers product placement from the pitch, nor from Sbrocco’s website (as of the time of interview). How is the station to run a disclaimer? She was presented as an author, and authors are probably the single most common guest other than maybe actors- but we all assume they are plugging their books or films or shows.
    I understand Ms. Sbrocco has many friends and many fans, but while maybe I can accept somehow the pitch that doesn’t mention Beringers is not her doing, and maybe she had trouble answering because she hadn’t had her coffee, her reference to her website “clearly” showing the relationship while not mentioning that it was edited later puts her in the duplicitous camp in my eyes.

  38. Dale–

    Mr. Dawson figured it out pretty quickly, so full props to him. He commented that all of these so-called free feeds are sponsored one way or another. The station did not ask–so maybe “had to know” goes too far, but, in this case, they cannot escape blame just because they are the messenger.

    For my part, I think all these infomercials should be called out for what they are. I see the point of Beringer doing it if they can get three minutes of air time, and I can see the station being willing to put it on as a kind of public service if they find the topic and the content acceptable.

    And if Ms. Sbrocco knowlingly added the disclaimer to her website after the fact and claimed otherwise, then she is rightfully being held accountable for that state of affairs. My point is this. The media, of which I am a small part, has to be honest with its constituents. If not, they do not deserve their license in this case or my readers in my case.

  39. Charlie,

    Since you counsel, properly, that “the media . . . has to be honest with its constituents,” may we ask you some questions?

    Have you ever gone on what is familiarly called a media junket sponsored by a commercial wine interest?

    Afterward did you both write, and write favorably, about wines you experienced?

    If you did write favorably (or negatively), did you explicitly tell readers that the material in front of them was made possible by your having accepted paid hospitality?

    Here’s why these questions are legitimate:

    Even as Leslie Sbrocco partnered with Beringer, when a wine writer accepts travel hospitality from a special interest, in effect an understanding about the relationship of the guest to the host is present. This situation harbors not only the potential of conflict of interest for the writer but, no less important, the appearance of conflict of interest. Both come to the same thing.

    For more than two decades, I’ve heard perhaps every argument in the book used to justify the acceptance of such trips. Perhaps the central one is this: If hosts don’t sponsor trips, wine writers, most of whom barely make a living from their chosen work, don’t learn what can be learned only on the spot. They’re right, they can’t. That’s a frustration, a misfortune.

    I wholly empathize with the need to accept those trips: not everyone is fortunate enough to serve publications that pay for their trips and that also make nonacceptance of them easy by forbidding them entirely. I envy those trips: lots of like-minded people have lots of fun.

    But the bedrock, discomforting fact is that junket sponsors are trying to buy coverage — they know it, their beneficiaries know it — and more often than not they get it. It’s what used to be called a “gentlemen’s agreement.” Nothing’s said, but everything’s done.

    Where do you stand, in principle and practice, on this facet of the partnership issue?

  40. Howard, I thought you would never ask.

    I have gone on such trips, and if I am asked and the trip is to an interesting place, I would go again. As a California-oriented writer, I don’t get asked much, but I do write about European and down under wines several times a year, so who knows.

    I have written favorably about wines that I like and have ignored a lot of wines I did not like. Just because you have asked, I was unfamiliar with but liked very much the reds from Mount Etna in Sicily, and I also taste a Sicilian Fiano that I liked very much. Oh, and Ben Rye dessert wine from Donnafugata is damn nice stuff as well. In Spain, I discovered that I did like Rose after all, when poured very special wines in Navarra made from old vine Garnacha and aged a bit in wood to pick up some complexity and smoothness.

    I am very clear about the fact that I have gone on the trips, that the wines commented on were tasted with the labels showing at the wineries, and in those instances, I have commented that I will not assign point or star ratings because of the way that the wines were tasted.

    I have no problem with Leslie Sbrocco doing infomercials. She is a performer and a very good one. She is a professional, she is an experienced taster and she makes a great impression. I just do not like, and cannot support, the notion that this kind of thing is done without comment. And I think Mr. Dawson agrees wholeheartedly with that sentiment.

  41. I watch Leslie’s Check Please show on local PBS.
    I’m all for full disclosure and I hate the product placement world, but how far can we go? What if we’re tasting “free” wine at a winery? Some of us will want to talk about it.
    It feels very good being part of the full disclosure future! This is a great start.

  42. […] Dawson, who writes about Finger Lakes wines for the New York Cork Report (and who we last saw here), recently tweeted that he was in Napa. I asked him if he wanted to contribute a post from his […]

  43. A full disclosure future, nice dream your having.



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