Joel Vincent

Technology. Wine. Family. (maybe not in that order)

Wine Spectator Award scandal…yeah, so…


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OK, so there’s alot of hub-bub about that the Wine Spectator expose that happened by blogger Robin Goldstein.  And first let me say a couple things.  Bloggers are extraordinarily important to the world and this is just the latest example of some good citizen journalism.  Bravo to Robin for the work on setting up this sting.  Nice, ethical, and well executed.

As a marketing professional for a decade and a half I’ll say this though – what did you think the award was?  Wine Spectator is a “for profit” private entity that has what, 100 employees?  I’ve dealt with many many awards for the rediculous number of products and companies I’ve launched and I’ll tell you this, whenever there is a for-profit entity involved then you’re going to pay-to-play.  And if you pay-to-play then you’re probably getting an award!  There are several technology related firms that have pay for entry, then I win the award, then they call me back and pitch me Ad space, and then tell me to be involved in the award ceremony I have the great opportunity to present my product/company at a high profile industry show…for yet another fee.

update: On side note for the history books.  In the late 1990s, what I call “Bubble Days” of tech, pay-to-play got ridiculous.  There were analyst firms that would take EQUITY in a startup and then write a positive report.  Subsequently, these firms would go public and thanks to the Tech Bubble some people got very rich for their “award” or “positive outlook”…nuts…

This Wine Spectator debacle is nothing new or unexpected.  They’re leveraging their brand, which has the power today to make a $20 wine into a $100 wine overnight, to make more money.  What is unexpected is the fact that they were complete IDIOTS about it and obviously do zero vetting not a very thorough job vetting applicants.  Dumb dumb dumb.  But I’m not surprised the award is the way it is.  Not at all actually.  Maybe thats part of the marketer’s secret code or something but thats how these things go.  If this didn’t happen (the dumb non-vetting move being exposed), who wouldn’t pay $250 for this “Excellence” award, hence “profit” opportunity.  Look, even now, if you have a real restaurant whats to stop you from fudging the wine list?  The sting was a totally fake place, but what stops you from doing this again?  Pay-to-play, thats how it works.  Its a revenue generator for the company, thats all.

Now, I do want to point out something in stark contrast.  The “American Wine Blogger Awards“.  Whenever they come around everyone gets in Tom Wark’s grill about “who are you to judge me” and “what makes you think this award is valid at all”, and so on.  I mean he gets HEAVY criticism.  Well guess what – its decided on by people submitting nominations, then the finalists are chosen by a panel and voted on by the people again.  Oh yeah, and it FREE.  In fact, when I offered to sponsor the AWBAs Tom turned that down.  So even though its not perfect I view it kind of like how I view the American Democracy – its not perfect and sometimes its not fair (just look at my tax bill every f’in year), but its about the best you’re gonna get!




  Anonymous wrote @

Interesting article, and good to see a reasoned debate on the whole situation.

Yes they made a mistake, and they should have vetted it better. Bet they dont make the same mistake again 🙂

  Anonymous wrote @

Great take on the mess over at WS. I agree with your pay to play comment and industry people understand this to the core. I believe the shock comes more from Joe Consumer who used WS as their buying Bible.
Nice post !

  Anonymous wrote @

Very well put, Joel.

  Anonymous wrote @

From personal experience wineries do “pad their lists” every year! It’s probably been going on since the first award went out. The real question though is whether any restaurants who did pay for this award were bothered by this, or would consider not paying next time?

  Anonymous wrote @

A point of correction:

Robin Goldstein is NOT a blogger.

He is a Lawyer, but i am not sure if he is ammber of the Texas Bar. He holds some wine certifications and runs the Fearless Critic site – which is focused on the Austin, TX wine and food scene. He is mildly infamous for the “Wine trials” book and the sham “research paper” he put together to promote the book of that same title.

Just because he created a WordPess account and set up a rudimentary site and blog as part of the ruse to “expose” the WS, does not make him a blogger.

In the interest of fairness, while Goldstein is not a blogger, many bloggers jumped on this story without engaging in critical thinking.

The dust has settled and it’s clear that Goldstein is looking worse than the WS. But with the North American Wine Bloggers Conference drawing near, this incident is a case study in blogger journalistic ethics – a “what not to do” case example.

  Anonymous wrote @

@Arthur Fair enough. He’s not a blogger. But how he setup the sting is interesting.

Like I mention – its no surprise to me how these things work. The only thing WS did wrong was not vet the applicants properly. “Journalists” do way more squirrelly things than this to get a story so how is this a case example of “what not to do”? What stories are making Goldstein look bad? And I think my point here is “yeah, so” – which alludes to the fact that this is how many of these “awards” are given – pay, get reviewed, make sure you’re real, then say ‘yeah, you’re good enough’ even though that may be a low bar.

Its getting blown out of proportion because consumers don’t know its as simple as that and this report is a little investigative sting operation that makes a good blog post. But again, when I read it my analysis of his story (not the stories being written ABOUT his story) was “yeah, so”…

  Anonymous wrote @

Very nice article. This is my first visit to your blog, and I’m going to keep coming back!

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  Anonymous wrote @

Well done!! We all should complain when things like this happen.

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