A Letter to My Readers about My Wine Reviews

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Dear Reader,

Whether or not you’ve been following the recent debate on quoting third-party wine reviews, you deserve to hear my thoughts on it in the interest of balance and fairness.

To summarize, I’ve always been open and consistent in my manner of attribution, but I realize that it should change and I am doing that now, and my reviews are not influenced by whether or not wineries subscribe to my site.

When I was approached by a fellow writer about how I quote other writers’ wine reviews, I didn’t realize that there was an issue since I had been openly quoting reviews for years, in addition to publishing my own reviews.

I believed then (and still do) that another criticism or evaluation of the wine provided a helpful comparison for my readers, especially since I thought that the manner in which I was attributing the reviews was appropriate, given that I assumed they were already in the public domain on other wine review sites and liquor store sites.

As well, my own reviews have been quoted on other wine sites and no one has ever contacted me to ask permission. I believed that it was also fair to quote my reviews. I still do.

With this view, I didn’t immediately revise the way I attributed the reviews and decided to do some research, to confirm if my understanding of attribution was correct. Part of that research included seeking legal advice. I then confirmed with the writer who had contacted me that I would do as he had requested, putting names, publications and web site addresses after each review that had been quoted, rather than relying on initials that were explained in the directory key on my site.

On Wednesday, December 12, I e-mailed those whom the writer had copied on his inquiry, confirming that I would be making these changes, starting with the most recent reviews and working backwards. I confirmed this again to the same group on the morning of Saturday, December 15 to assure them I was taking their suggestion seriously and working my way through the reviews.

However, close to midnight on Saturday, December 15, without having contacted me for their story, a U.S. wine blog posted their views on the way I had been quoting reviews previously. I was the first to respond to the blog, confirming that I was in the process of changing the way I formatted the attributions, as requested. I posted a second response on Monday, December 17, reiterating the change and offering to speak with the editor.

I feel awful that some writers think that I would try to make their reviews look like my own. I’ve also heard from more than forty writers around the world who have expressed their support and confirmed that they’re fine with the way in which I quote their wine reviews, especially with the revised format, as they believe that it helps raise their profile with a new audience since I am only selectively and occasionally quoting them, not reproducing all their reviews.

As for subscribing to my site, I can confirm that more than 90% of the wines I review, I taste at the local liquor store during monthly tastings held for media. I upload the information myself on my site. No wineries or wine agents are involved in this nor do they have to be a member of my site.

About 10% of my reviews result from tasting samples sent to me by wineries or agents. When I receive samples this way, I ask the winery or agent to submit the basic facts about the wine, such as region, appellation designation, vintage, product codes for the ten liquor store chains across the country, UPC codes, prices, bottle picture, label shot, alcohol level, sugar code, agency contact, bottle size, etc. to my site.

I do this because after many years of going back and forth multiple times to get about 15+ pieces of information on each wine that wineries sent, and realizing that I could never keep up with doing that and write the columns that actually paid the bills, I asked wineries to submit these facts.

If I like the wine and decide to post a review, I will verify that the information they’ve submitted is correct and current, then add my score, tasting note and food matches. Wineries cannot post the score, tasting notes or food match information themselves, nor do they have any influence over what I post.

This is similar to how wine competitions work. Entering a competition doesn’t mean you’ll win or even get a medal; only that your wine will be tasted. The winning wines also are reviewed in the magazines. However, I never promise to publish a review of the wine just because a winery has submitted information on it, nor do I in any way indicate whether the review will be positive or negative.

Further, there are wineries that do not have a subscription, send samples and I review them. Conversely, there are also wineries with a subscription to the site, that have sent samples and I have not reviewed them.

The subscription is an administrative fee of $2 a month that doesn’t cover my costs in running the web site, including staff such as a web developer, graphics designer, two app developers, and others, since I am not paid a full-time salary by any publication. Everyone who joins my site gets two free months of access to the subscription section to try it out before they decide if they want to commit to paying $2 a month.

I’ve learned a lot about these issues over the past week. It’s not so much the debate about them that has been painful, but rather the personal attack on my character that has gone beyond the issue.

I’d like to thank all my readers, as well as my fellow writers, bloggers, editors and partners who have expressed strong and unwavering support over the past few days. I appreciate your understanding and your loyalty. You’re welcome to post any comments or questions you have here.

My goal has always been to introduce you to wines that are delicious and affordable, and to make the topic of wine accessible and fun. I hope you enjoy some great wines this holiday with friends and family.

Warm regards,
Natalie

Comments

comments

60 thoughts on “A Letter to My Readers about My Wine Reviews

  1. There are other wine sites that post other wine writers reviews, and there are many sites that have subscriptions for enhanced website features. Anyways, it’s always a user choice whether the services are valuable enough to pay a small fee for. With social media these days, it’s so easy for people to join the hate mob with a small amount of biased information. Watching the reaction over the past week has disturbed me a little, how easy it is for people to post hateful information without all the facts. There are unfortunately some people that benefit from propogating this negative information in order to try to boost their own credibility, and others jump on the bandwagon. I think we should always take the time to look at both sides before reacting. I’m glad you took the time to post such a thoughtful response instead of a hasty defense!

  2. I enjoy reading your wine reviews and like the fact that you give us another critic and comparison. I have never felt like you were copying reviews. In the end, that’s what matters! Keep up the good work Natalie:)

  3. I find your reviews fair and balanced. I also agree that attributing references to others on the internet (blogs, pictures, reviews, etc etc) is getting very complicated. Personal attacks, however, are never acceptable. It’s too bad that some have chosen to go down that road – for and others. Keep up the good work. ..vc

  4. I found out about this personal attack against you on Facebook. I went and read the post and could not believe the tone it took.

    I have followed you for quite awhile and found your work professional and a joy to read. In fact you inspired us so much that we have really immersed ourselves into the whole culture of wine reviewing.

    Natalie, your post above is very thorough and I believe it will satisfy any concerns, if there are any still out there, that anyone could have.

    Keep up the great work and I look forward to many more reviews in the New Year!

    Cheers!

  5. I wish you luck, and you are very courageous and I so enjoyed meeting you at the wine tasting a couple of months ago. Keep on writing and your book is great too!

  6. Natalie, I have always found your writing to be generous of information and spirit, and this letter is another example of that. Thank you for being open and sharing the facts with us.

    I’m looking forward to many more reviews and stories from your very talented hand.

    1. Thank-you Lisa, and thank-you to everyone here who has posted under their full names rather than anonymously. While it’s not in my control what well-meaning fans have posted in support in the past, I appreciate your open approach here.

  7. You have impeccable credentials and your work is always done to the highest professional standards. I think your website is refreshing, both educational and fun.

    Merry Christmas and all the Very Best in 2013!

  8. Update: The largest worldwide professional organization of wine writers, The Circle of Wine Writers headquartered in London, England, of which I am a member along with 276 other writers, has reviewed the issue and now considers it closed.

  9. Hi Natalie,
    I was wondering if you could please post a link to “the directory key” that I’ve seen referenced as being so hard to find so often in articles and discussion threads? It might put a lot of this issue to rest. Thanks! ~Luke

  10. Natalie – I have always regarded you as a writer with the highest standards and your well written article/response to your critics proves this again. Keep up the great writing – I thoroughly enjoy your reviews and personal opinions!

  11. We all know that attribution is key when using other people’s work. As a bystander it seems like you may have been a tad slow in reacting to other writers’ requests for proper attribution.

    With regard to the subsciption issue, I’m sure you understand that the perception of impropriety sometimes becomes the truth. If you’ve learned a lot about the process as you’ve said, then great. Good luck in 2013. Happy writing.

  12. Natalie,

    i am Ian D’Agata; as you know, I write about the wines of Italy, Alsace, Bordeaux and Canada for Steve Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar, and also contribute to Decanter and France’s Le Figaro daily. I am also one of the wine writers whose tasting notes you quoted over the years in your website. I am sure that your quoting other’s tasting notes with only abbreviated initials of the wine writer you were quoting was only done in good faith and I for one cannot see how anybody could ever have mistook those reviews for your own. Besides, you have now taken steps to amend anything that might have ruiffled a few feathers, for which you are to be commended.

    I wish you and all your loved ones a very happy holiday season. Keep up the good work.

    ia

  13. Natalie you are an honest person with integrity and your wine site is one of tne best. It sounds to me that this is now a non-issue. Looking forward to more of your great reviews. Merry Christmas and wishing you a healthy, happy 2013!

  14. Natalie,
    Thank you for years of honest and interesting reporting. Never have you disappointed me in your books and ” Nat Decants ” and, your integrity to the brands reviewed was obvious!
    Keep up the good work and don’t be upset by something that has no merit in the long run, as you did credit the others with their opinions.

  15. My experience with you, Natalie, has all been positive. I enjoy posting
    reviews to your site & will continue to do so. The thread on the US blog seemed harsh & over-the-top. Besides, you have taken the steps to rectify the directory issue. Let’s move on to more tastings & wine reviews. Bottoms up!

  16. After interviewing her for a wine article years ago in which she generously provided all the inspiring quotes a writer hopes for, I was smitten. After having read both her books and watching her in her element at a recent book signing/wine tasting event with Wolfgang Blass at restaurant 18 in Ottawa, I can confidently say: There is only ONE Natalie MacLean in my book, and I raise my glass (of her recommended wine du jour) to her incredible spirit! Santé Nat!

  17. Sorry you have had to go through all this, Natalie! I support you and know you to be a true and honest writer, and a great person to know, personally. All the best and continued success in 2013! I look forward to working with you at more events to come… and keep on writing! xo

  18. I have known McLean for a long time and she is a serious professional.

    She has never approached me for any contribution of any sort.

    Plus, seriously, writers complaining about a $2 subscription …

    How are they supposed to live?

    Mrs. McLean, keep up the great work.

    Vito Candela
    Vice President North America
    Rocca delle Macie

  19. I have known Natalie for almost five years now and she has never requested any contribution of any type in exchange for a review. I have always found her to be professional in her interactions and have never seen her engage in any untoward actions. With relation to the subscription issue, sheesh, it is widespread practice in the online world to have a subscription model to be able to read reviews/more content.

    I find it profoundly disturbing when journalists write sensationalist stories without doing their fact checking.

    Keep up the entertaining and informative writing Natalie!

  20. Hi Natalie

    I hope you are holding up well and enduring the noise generated around this blogger idiot giving you a hard time.

    Better still I hope your lawyer is preparing to sue some of these clowns.

    You do – and have always done – quality work with your reviews and don’t deserve any of this.

    Screw ‘em

    Best wishes for a super New Year

    Michael

  21. Dear Natalie,

    Remember these two phrases:

    #1 “Illegitimus Non Carborundum!” A Latin phrase that means: “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

    #2 “When someone points a finger at you, remember, that there are always three more pointing back.” Chief Dan George, I believe, but, don’t hold me to it.

    As a friend once told me, “you sure must have them afraid of you.”

  22. I thoroughly enjoy your reviews, wine and food pairing videos, in fact your whole website. I firmly believe that you have conducted your buisiness to the highest professional standards in the past and will continue to do so in the future. Your website is informative, fun and is of significant benefit and value to both industry wine professionals and to the wine consuming public.

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