Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Dear FTC, I Love You, You're Perfect, Don't Change

All the buzz on wine blogs seems to be about the FTC cracking down on bloggers accepting stuff for free and not owning up to it. Not sure what this is all about. But I know I'm scared. I've got so much to hide. Sure, HoseMaster of Wine looks like some two-bit, poorly funded, badly researched, hopelessly inaccurate and stupid wine blog, are there any other kind, but it's astoundingly lucrative. And if the FTC finds out, my proverbial goose, lovely with an aged Chateauneuf-du-Pape, is cooked. So the only thing to do is come clean, 'fess up. Get all of my disclaimers out of the way, show the FTC that there's at least one wine blogger with impeccable honesty and integrity. It just ain't me. I'm just another lying bastard like the rest of them.

Free Samples

OK, first of all, isn't "free samples" redundant? Like "boring wine blog?" Seems like sloppy language, FTC, but, sure, I get free samples of wines for review. But they sure as hell aren't wines I'd pay for. I'm nobody. The wines I receive are wines that are made to go with e. Coli. Wines so bad that the unfinished bottles have to be treated as hazardous waste (not to be confused with Marvin Shanken's hazardous waist). Wineries don't send wines to guys like me, I might tell the truth about them. No, no, marketing people may be the absolute ruin of the wine business, but they aren't stupid. They carefully scope out the buttkissers, weasels, and parasites and send them samples. Oh, did I say buttkissers, weasels and parasites? I meant movers and shakers. Honest. The movers and shakers give them what they want, glowing reviews and glamorous profiles. They're marketing department stooges, flattered to receive free wine and only too happy to be thought of as important. They provide the positive reviews, the marketing folks forward them to the winery that employs them, the winery posts them on their website, the marketing people bill the winery an obscene amount of money, and the wines still go unsold. It's beautiful, really.

And, yes, FTC, I am very cozy with many winemakers and winery owners and those relationships do affect my judgments about the wines I review. This is always true in the wine business. There's the insiders (US!) and the outsiders (them). The insiders wink at each other about how they review wines blind (kind of like when you're a kid and you have your hands over your eyes playing Hide and Seek but you can peek between your fingers to see what's going on), and how accepting free meals and accommodations and wine doesn't influence their decisions, while the outsiders nod their heads like cattle with bovine spongiform encephalopathy. It's a cozy business, the wine business, nothing wrong with that. It worked for Wall Street.

Free Blog

I confess, FTC, I don't pay Google for using their servers for HoseMaster of Wine. I think they just like me. I'm pretty sure most of the other bloggers have to pay to be on Blogger, though apparently most of them haven't kept up with their payments and so they're not allowed to post. They set up their blog, can't afford it, and so they haven't been able to post for six months, though they're still rated in the top 100 wine blogs and are probably getting free wine samples from highly paid marketing experts. But, FTC, on the other hand, I don't charge anything for folks to read my blog. Oh, I've thought about it. Hell, I'd do it for one subscriber. Most wine bloggers want to make money from their blogs, real money. Not me. All I need is one subscriber at, say, $5 a month and at the end of the year I'd have $60, $60 I don't have now after doing this crap for the last twelve months. I'm cool with that. Who the hell needs the aggravation of the democratization of the Internet? I don't need 25,000 readers every month--what a fucking headache that would be. I can barely stand the fourteen readers I have now. Sure, I'd get more (free) samples, but, honestly, I'd rather have the five bucks.

Or I could start accepting advertising. Wouldn't it be cool to have all of the same lame advertising boxes surrounding my brilliant wine analyses that are on every other wine blog? Ads trying to get you to join Wine Clubs where you can enjoy $40 worth of wine delivered right to your door for a mere $100? Or ads for wine gizmos that can improve the taste of the plonk you recommended in your last post, the stuff you received for free? Nah, I'd rather have the five bucks.

Free Jokes

I have stolen countless jokes from countless sources and never paid a dime for them. OK, maybe this isn't the FTC's problem. Probably a job for the FBI, though, in the case of my jokes, it's petty larceny.

Just get this straight, FTC, I'm a wine blogger, dammit. My blog is not for sale, my words are not for sale, my opinions are not for sale, my, make me an offer.


Samantha Dugan said...

Hmmm wonder what I could get for $20....

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the FTC isn't smarter than the average bear.

Perhaps they realize that wineries sending samples to bloggers, critics, publications, judgings, etc., are sometimes sending rigged bottlings which are not the same crap the winery actually put on the market for sale to poor, unsuspecting consumers.

Since Parker, Shanken and most others are unwilling to actually pay their own money for a bottle of wine, there is little accountability.

At least the bloggers are obliged to note they didn't open their own wallet for a bottle...maybe the same rule should apply to those who charge money for a subscription?

Of course, I'd also like to know when some wine critic gets a free trip to Germany (Hello, Freddy the Koeppel-Kopf) or some trade group sponsors a junket for those claiming to be journalists.

Am I cynical, or what? Nah...


Charlie Olken said...

Anon 1--

There should be one standard for everyone. Full stop.

And that standard should be complete transparency--including for wineries who should have to put lot numbers on their wines.

Anonymous said...

Puff Daddy,

You are correct sir!

And let's think of some ramifications...Conn Guide, then, can list which bottles came in the door as gratis samples from the winery and which ones were store-bought and which ones were purchased "on line." We will need to keep track of which wines are shipped via UPS, which ones are FedEx and which ones are brought to the door by a good-looking blonde (who has a nice nose, fine body and an elegant finish).

I'd also like to know which wines were tasted at lunch or dinner, paid for by the winery.

Please disclose if the critic has accepted some form of hospitality, such as staying at Chateau XYZ while in Bordeaux.

Do we need to know, I wonder, if the critic has received a Christmas card from a winemaker? How about if a vintner has held the door open for a writer who's on his or her way to a tasting?

Would readers need to know if Parker's or Shanken's minions play tennis with a winemaker on the third Saturday of each month?

Maybe critics and bloggers should make a point of disclosing precisely what kind of stemware they use as a tasting vessel? After all, knowing that the wine was tasted directly from the bottle would impact one's tasting notes compared to evaluating the same wine from a coffee cup or Riedel crystal stemware.

Should we know if the critic avails his/her-self of a spit bucket?

Some will claim a wine tastes differently according to the barometric pressure...readers might need to know this as they peruse the notes of some critic.

What are the predominant colors in the "tasting room" where a wine is being evaluated? What kind of paint?
Are there hardwood floors underneath the taster or carpeting?

Are there extraneous distractions during the tasting? Is there a sporting event on TV or is the wine being tasted during a showing of Calistoga CSI?

I'd say the FTC needs to give these additional elements careful consideration so anyone who happens to visit a blogger's web site or who subscribes to Dan Berger's newsletter can better comprehend what's being written (as though someone can make sense of Mr. Berger in the first place).


Charlie Olken said...

Dear Anon and on and on--

That was quite a little missive you deposited here in the Hosemaster's sandbox. It just went on and anon and anon.

You are definitely on the right track. I agree totally with the idea that every wine review should include a discussion of source. I get wine from K-J and Constellation and occasionally from Diageo and Foster/Beringer. I buy all the Screaming Eagle, Colgin, Harlan, Abreu and Bond that I review. I refuse to buy Two Buck Chuck and King Freddy of Franzia refuses to send it to me.

Radio Coteau and Kistler won't sell wine to me. Something I said about their swill in the past.

UPS is the preferred delivery medium because their drivers all wear shorts and frilly blouses, and our driver is a leggy blond with a fine set of teaths. I have no idea what she looks like. A few years back, I preferred FedEx because Kelly was our driver. I have known Kelly since she was in high school, and she was a fox back then, and possibly also a mink, and she is a fox today. But, I did not KNOW Kelly, if you know what I mean. I am no David Letterman.

I have never spent a night at Chateau XYZ. I am going up to Healdsburg in a couple of weeks and I will be staying at the Hotel Healdsburg. I considered staying around the corner at the Hotel Mars, but the place is too dangerous. People get hit on the melon there all the time.

By the way, no one sends me Christmas cards. They used to, but when I started saying nasty things about their pruny Cabs, they stopped.

I did get a nice note from Janet Trefethen the other day. She congratulated me for being in business 35 years and said that she hoped that I had finally learned enough to be able to stay in business another 35 years.

Think about that. I could be reviewing wine when I am 100 years old. I could be as cranky as Dan Berger by then. By the way, I know Dan Berger. Dan Berger is a friend of mine, and you sir, are no Dan Berger.

Oh wait, I have just figured it out. You are Dan Berger in disguise.

Let me end on a serious note. I do use Riedel stemware. I find it far better than anything else. I taste red wines out of coffee cups and white wines out of jelly jars and spit in Riedel stemware--always being sure that I am using the correct shaped glass for the variety being wine expectorated (and that is no Marvin Shanken joke).

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Man, I'm in a coma for a lousy week and all hell breaks loose.

Thanks, Anon and Puff Daddy for the lively debate. Sorry I don't have time to chime in much. I'm still in a coma, though with me it's hard to tell.

I am in the wonderful process of moving, so I won't be here much until the end of the week. But I'll be back with more nonsense and another chapter in "The M.S. Conspiracy" as soon as I am able. Stay tuned.

Anonymous said...

Puff Daddy...

You're saying, then, that you got "bad reception" to the Radio Coteau wines? I found the owner/winemaker to be quite an arrogant and pompous fellow, so I know his wine as "Radio Oh No."

Kistler wines used to be quite good, but the last stuff I tasted was rather ordinary. Maybe they changed their use of oak. I see all sorts of stores now carry Kistler, but at higher-than-winery pricing. Apparently folks on the mailing list are now in the "business" of selling Kistler wines.

I think you should consider, at least one time, including Charles Shaw wine in your tastings...why not? Aside from the fact that Fred Franzia is a total jackass, what would it take to see a critique of the wine that is actually for sale (compared to the special batch they apparently submit for wine judging events)? Two bucks, is all. It's difficult to believe the state fair has awarded Charles Shaw wines with a medal or two...

Glad to know your recycling bin won't be filled with holiday cards come January. It's nice of you to say such nasty things about pruney Cabernets.

Janet Trefethen? Now there's a piece of work!

I'm afraid I do not have Dan Berger's palate and do not share his appreciation for Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc or Sutter Home White Zinfandel. The fact that Mr. Berger seems to make a living doing whatever it is he does, demonstrates something, but I'm not sure precisely what.

Hosemaster, sir: Are you "on the move" or "on the lam"???


Charlie Olken said...

Now, now, Anon--

Your critiques are getting to be as acerbic as the Hosemaster's and as acid-driven as Dan Berger's favorite wines. In Dan's case, however, it is more likely to tartaric or malic. Yours sounds like a bit of reflux.

But, I digress. Let's see if I can find something nice to say about the folks you have just buried.



Chuck Shaw--no need to review them in print. Have tasted them and I prefer not to waste the space or my readers' time. And, yes, the rules at the CA State Fair that allow a 50-case lot to be submitted and then trumpeted about as if it were the rest of the half million cases of that sad wine under the same label is a disgrace to the Fair and an indictment of the shabbiness with which King Freddy runs his business.

Pruney Cabs--Nope, can't say anything nice about them either.

Christmas cards--vastly overrated. Oh sure, I used to enjoy them back in the day before grade inflation. Now, we are not as much appreciated by the wineries because we cannot bring ourselves to give 90 points to almost half the wines we review. So, no cards. I have grandkids instead. A much better deal when you think about it.

Janet Trefethen--we differ on that topic. We have not always been kind to her wines, but she has never been anything but pleasant to me over the several decades that we have been reviewing her wines. In an industry in which producers will tell you that you walk on water if you love their wines and will send out hit squads if you do not, Janet Trefethen has been consistently professional and friendly regardless of whether we like her wines or trash them.

Dan Berger. You have to know Dan (not KNOW) to love him. Our palates do not often mesh, but he is fun to read because he brings about such loud reactions. I once saw a New Yorker cartoon with an old guy sitting in a chair holding a smoking shotgun. The radio opposite had been blown to smithereens, and the caption read, "Father likes to silence Walter Winchell in his own way".

No one silences Dan, but I have fun trying. And I dare say that he feels the same way about me. It is good to have loyal opposition just so long as you understand how not to make it personal. Dan and I can let our passions flow, can disagree loudly and come away laughing. I can't say the same for Radio-Coteau or Kistler, or worse yet, other folk over the years whose unhappy reactions to having their wines criticized has bordered on the absurd--like the Viognier maker who got hellishly angry because we suggested that we had picked up an oaky streak in his wines. Insisted that the wines had never seen oak. Then went on to say that very ripe Viognier can develop a hardwood note on its own--and said on his website that his Viognier was aged in older oak barrels.

Now, those folks deserve a bit of blowback. Not so the few people in this biz who still talk to me politely.

Charlie Olken said...

The Hosemaster may be in a coma, but this place does not have to be, and so, I am here to disspell those nasty rumors posted by Anon 1.

To wit--

1. Radio-Coteau person is arrogant and pompous. Wrong. He is not pompous. Just insanely arrogant. He actually had the nerve to tell me that I could not review his wines that I had purchased at retail. What a twit. When he got word that we were going to print reviews, he sent me a fax saying that we had to remove the reviews from the issue. Hah!! This dufous apparently has never heard of the Bill of Rights.

2. Kistler. I just don't get these guys. We loved their wines, disliked some dirty wines, mentioned a problem in print and all of a sudden, they won't sell us wine. This has been going on for two decades. I can't tell you if their wines are better or worse because I can't buy them at regular retail from the winery and I refuse to pay over the odds at retail stores that have wines dumped by Kistler's mailing list subscribers.

3. Two Chuck Yuk. You suggest that we include these wines in our tastings. I have tasted them enough times to know not to go there. As for the 50-case lot that King Freddie of Franzia sent to the CA State Fair and won a big medal with, that just shows how questionable these judgings are in the first place, how much we need lot identifiers on wine in the second place and how unethical King Ferdie is in his dealings.

4. Christmas cards and pruny Cabs. Did I also mention pruny Zins, pruny Merlots and pruny Syrahs? How about pruny Chards? OK, so I didn't mention pruny Chards. Besides, who needs Christmas cards from wineries that don't like me telling the truth? I have grandkids and that is enough for me.

5. Janet Trefethen--You know, the Trefethens are very rich and have enjoyed the good life. But what they have also done is to make honest wines. They do not gussy them up with additives, oak, prune juice or tannin powder, and they have long said that balance is way better than bombast. In an industry filled with "look at me, Johnny come latelies", the Trefethens were "johnny come earlies" and have stuck to their last. There are plenty of others like that--the Novaks at Spottswoode, John Shafer, Chuck Wagner. Good on all of them, I say. As for Janet Trefethen, our reviews of their wines have been hit and miss, but there has never been a nasty word said in pushback. Compare that to Radio-Shackeau and Kiss My Assler.

6. Dan Berger? What has he ever done to you besides insisting that high acid and low pH trump everything else in wine styling? His choice of wines gives me acid reflux just reading his tasting notes, but he personally is a very funny individual. I know this from personal experience because I have sat across the table from Dan at innumerable events and screamed at him loudly. Lord knows he deserves it. He would probably say the same about me. And we seem able to end all of our outbursts with a round of Kumbaya--so how bad can that be?

7. Is the Hosemaster on the lam? No, he is lying unconscious on the floor of a some nubile tourist's bedroom in the Hotel Mars. Does it seem appropriate that the Hosemaster is from Mars?

Anonymous said...

Wondering if the Hoseman has finally taken my advice and shut her down. Your posts of the last week or so have been your most thoughtful and gracious to date.

Samantha Dugan said...

Is this moving thing a stunt to make us all miss you...cuzz I do. Hurry back HoseMaster, I need my fix of wit and snark.