At least not to the best of my knowledge it isn’t, otherwise most of the wine lovers that I associate with would be in jail right about now.
Yet, last week I received the first threat of legal action against my site (after being around for 18 months now). I figure that it is probably a compliment as I am finally important enough for people to get angry over something I have written.
Ric from TorbWine has written an excellent article on the topic here along with the contents of first few emails sent between me and the winery, thanks to him for taking up the issue in the hope that those of us giving our genuine opinions will not face similar threats in the future. Welcome to anyone visiting my site after reading his article.
As part of my large write-up on the Victorian Winemaker Exhibition 2006, I reviewed a wine here that I believed to among the faultiest wines I had ever tasted. It smelt like burnt rubber, onions and the stable in a poorly maintained barnyard. I awarded the wine 50 points, which is the lowest possible score for the 100 point system. I also indicated in the review that I hoped that these were off bottles rather than representative, but that I can only rate what is in the glass on the day.
Despite what Graeme Miller from the winery of the same name may think, publishing a bad review on a wine is not against the law. All I am putting forward with each tasting note is my personal opinion, and as long as I do not make false allegations (ie this wine will poison you or similar) I am entitled to tell people what I think. In this particular case, I was not the only person who thought that the wine was faulty, a number of people I spoke to who work in the industry and have good palates were at the same event tried the wine, with one describing it as “Summer Nat burnout ring, mercaptan, DMS, DMDS it had the works”.
After I replied to the initial legal threat, indicating that I would not remove the review, I received another email telling me that critics enjoyed the wine, I guess with the implication that my judgement was incorrect. Wineries are going to have to get used to a big difference between old media (magazines, newspapers, books etc) and new media (websites, blogs, podcasts). Old world media is restricted in what they have the space and desire to publish, nobody wants to open the paper and read about three bad wines – so in general you will only see very positive reviews in these formats. With the internet, all wines can be reviewed – good, bad and indifferent; this gives some power to the consumer to look at various opinions, good and bad, and to make informed decisions.
The winery alleges that my review is incorrect and that as I am high on the Google results for their winery, I am doing damage to their business. The other good thing about the internet and wine reviews is that reviews will balance themselves out – if this was truly a good wine, there would be others commenting around wine forums and blogs to say that it was so. If the wine is good Graeme Miller Wines could have offered to let me retry the wines, or offered other wine reviewers the chance to try them, but instead they decided to try to bully me into removing my opinion.
In conclusion, I was speaking to some wineries during Wine Australia and they were divided, some said that publishing the bad review was the right thing to do, and some said that it wasn’t and that reviewers have a responsibility to ensure that they do not damage small businesses with poor feedback (those with power protecting those without, so to speak). What do you think wine reviewers should do? Get stuck into wine that we think is poor (preferably after trying more than one sample, but indicating that it was only one sample if that is the case) or keep quiet about poor wines and just talk about our positive experiences with wine? I know that making wine is not easy, and that it requires passion and dedication – so I do not especially want to cause hurt to any one, but on the other hand I do want to make sure that the readers of this site and those consumers that are looking for information on wines have as much information available to them as possible.