Diary of a wine junket: Can editorial integrity be bought?

Washington Syrah on Snipes Mountain
Washington Syrah on Snipes Mountain

Not many writers admit it; some writers aren’t allowed but do it anyway; others look down their nose at those who do. I’m not talking about the flagrant use of semicolons but wine junkets. Bought and paid for wine trips, like Congressman and their lobbyists but without the private jets. It sounds ugly and sell out, but is it?

I grew up in a newspaper family. “Editorial Integrity” was in CAPS and underlined, emphatically discussed at the dinner table. “You should always worry about how your actions are perceived by your readers… they need to be able to trust you,” my Editor Mom said. Intrinsically, I understand this… Editorial Integrity flows through my ink-stained veins.

So why am I am going on a wine junket to Washington wine country this week? It’s not my first — nor will it be my last — but, as I’ve argued with my past editors, if you ooze integrity, you’ll be able to separate the wheat from the chaff, the honey from the comb and whatever else cliché you can think of. Isn’t it a writer’s job to sift out the relevant parts that will educate/help a reader and pass on the information in a thoughtful, ideally well-written format? Not to mention that junkets, especially to wine regions far away, are often the only way a wine writer can swing an experience to another country or across the country. Venerated publications like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, etc. can afford to plop a writer on a plane to explore the nether-regions of Austria, Italy, France (or, at least, they used to be able to). In leaner times — and, frankly, in all times in the alternative newspress from whence I came — a newspaper or magazine editorial department rarely boasts the budget to send a writer anywhere. Nope, not happening.

And wineries and PR firms know this. I’ve probably been on 20 or so junkets in my wine career, spanning ten years, from Chile to France to California. They wine, they dine, they pay for your hotel. And you, as the writer, must remain objective and unswayed by the luxury, the old vintages and the decadent food. These kinds of trips happen everyday, in every occupation and in governments around the globe — trying to buy influence is as old as the soil that I walk on this week.

But it boils down to integrity of the writer and trust on the part of the reader. Those who have followed my scribbles know that I try to remain objective and set the record straight the first time, with honesty and veracity. It’s not an effort on my behalf… it comes naturally since Mom drilled it into my head as a child.

I’m writing this post on a Delta flight over to Seattle, to visit a newly established AVA in eastern Washington State called Snipes Mountain. My host? Hogue Cellars. Hogue is a winery I’ve admired for years and have slammed on a couple of occasions but their quality versus price makes them irresistible for a consumer writer like me. I blind tasted their 2007 Meritage ($18) a couple of weeks ago and loved it, so I didn’t have a problem saying yes to Hogue’s invite. I’ve turned down a few junkets from wineries whom I didn’t think merited the time and because their product didn’t impress me. And no amount of wining and dining can change my mind. Plonk is plonk, no matter what the sugar coating tastes like.

I’ll be posting a few pictures and additions to the blog as the week progresses and as I have time. See if you would be swayed if you were me.

SHARING IS CARING

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