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Are Objective Ratings Systems for Wineries Useful? Or Even Possible?

Posted by on June 22, 2011

The debate over assigning scores to individual wines is nothing new, and it comes up regularly on wine blogs. Something I’ve recently encountered for the first time, though, is the idea of attempting to assign an objective, numerical score to an entire winery. Obviously Yelp has done this for years, but we’ve established that I consider Yelp to be useless at best. I’m referring here to wine bloggers using a scoring system, not for wines but for entire wineries. I’m always looking for ways that we can improve our little corner of the blogosphere, so I briefly considered it. Then I finished that sip of coffee and moved on.

Here’s why: we’re human. By our very nature, we seek shortcuts. Hey, we’re busy. Cut to the chase, give me the bottom line, and let’s move on. So when I realize that every post has a score at the bottom, how likely am I to read that post? Exactly. I’m scrolling down to see how many unicorns you gave the winery in question and moving on.

I really hope this kid takes karate. (original source unknown)

So what is that score quantifying? We’ve discussed the fact that the winery experience is holistic. Our perceptions are shaped by the site, the facility, the service, and the wine. Which carries more weight? What did we think of each? How did that affect the score, and if we’re just ranking a winery on 1 to 6 unicorns, how does the reader know how that score was calculated?

Here’s an exercise: imagine, if you will, that Jim Law of Linden Vineyards was a massive collector of Japanese kitsch. So now imagine  that the wines are still the same, but you walk through the door into a Hello Kitty-themed winery. Clearly the wines are at odds with the experience. How can you decide how many unicorns it gets? Here, I’ll set the scene for you. Think hard!

I also have a problem with scores or ratings because they’re too absolute. At one point someone threw out the idea of doing a post ranking the best wineries in Virginia, in order. No way. It’s like handing someone my music collection and asking them to rank the songs from best to worst. How can you compare Tchaikovsky, Charles Mingus, Slayer, and Kelly Clarkson to one another? Can’t be done. Or shouldn’t be done, if nothing else. So forget the unicorn-based scoring system. Let’s keep our unicorns where they belong (link may open with music, don’t get yourself fired). I’d rather take the time to describe our experience and let you judge (and weigh in via the comments, whether we’re right or wrong).

That’s just my opinion though. What do you think? Could it work, or is a more narrative approach the most helpful?

 

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The Are Objective Ratings Systems for Wineries Useful? Or Even Possible? by Swirl, Sip, Snark, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

40 Responses to Are Objective Ratings Systems for Wineries Useful? Or Even Possible?

  1. Chris

    My 2 cents.

    I for the record love the narrative, and it is successful on this blog because both of you write very well. It also clearly establishes that this blog is a record of your opinions and experiences, and then we discuss opinions in the comments.

    My Literature professor said famously “there is opinion, and there is analysis”. You can have your own opinion, but analysis cannot be refuted. That’s why I’ve said in comments that the people who claim to taste smoke in wine CAN be wrong, and in fact are wrong, and that taste is not subjective. However, your opinions on liking that smoke are subjective, and everyone gets their opinion on it. In establishing an objective rating system, you call the mechanics of the system into question, and invite analytical rules-lawyery type of debates that may require the appraisal of a wine higher than what your gut says. “Ok, so the guy in the tasting room was rude, but cute, and he poured double the normal portion size, but I only liked half the wine, so that’s one plus one plus TWO plus one…”

    I say if you are going to establish a rating, do it Siskel and Ebert style, thumbs up, thumbs down. Keep it simple, keep it subjective. But that’s just me.

  2. GrapeEnvyGuy

    Chris, thanks for backing me up. Some context: someone referred me to a blog that reviews wineries and gives them a numerical score. It just really rubbed me the wrong way, because I couldn’t figure out where these scores were coming from. The scores are hella low, too, in my opinion, so I was doubly stymied by the whole process (and a little aggrieved).

    As for a simple thumbs up/ thumbs down, we were looking to The Treehouse of Virginia Wine Awesomeness as our way of providing an easy reference, but we’ve pulled back even from that. It’s just too hard setting an objective standard and sticking to it.

  3. Jason

    The problem you have with objective ratings for wineries is shared by many that have issues with subjective evaluations. It’s not the outward display of a score, but the end result is still the same – an impact on the reader that may have little to do with reality or even a proper context. I’m not saying that yours or anyone else’s blog is misleading, just that it’s very difficult for the reader to know one way or the other based on the nature of anonymous blog posts.

  4. Jordan Harris

    Let’s have a little fun with tasting notes and how one might look past them in order to look at a score. Below are two tasting notes from the same publication. By reading strictly the tasting notes what would you think?

    An extraordinary effort. Dark, firm, richly flavored and beautifully structured, with a deeply concentrated core of currant, black cherry, cedar, anise and coffee. Finishes with an amazingly long and richly flavored aftertaste.

    An ambitious effort. Dark purple, with ample toast and spice notes, it has enough supple flesh and pure cassis and raspberry fruit for balance. Firm but ripe tannins drive the finish.

    My belief is that the second a score is attached the tasting not becomes irrelevent to most of the world. These tasting notes are done “Semi-Blind”. They know the region, varietal and vintage. They do not know the producer. Should that make a difference when scoring a wine, absolutely not. Does it, it sure does. Is a perfectly made wine made in Virginia and showcasings Virginia’s terroir with the appropriate varieties not as good as a perfectly made wine from elsewhere? Another way to look at it is by varietal. Is a perfectly made Tannat not as good quality as a perfectly made Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay?

    In the two largest publications in the world for rating there have been 41 Tannat based wines rated over 90 points in the history of the publications with only three coming from outside Madiran. There are 28 Cabernet Sauvignons that have scored 100 points not including Bordeaux which would add on another 34 excluding Pomeral and St. Emilion because they are mostly Merlot dominated.

    The sad part is these rating are coming from someone who has loads of experience as wine critics, but clearly they still have personal biases. Everyone does. There are very few critics in the world that are willing to sit down and do completely blind tastings with you, because there is tremendous fear that they will contradict what is already printed.

    What is scary is when someone tries to emulate those critics that admit they are no qualified.

    “Wine Reviews –

    Let us start by saying we by no means consider ourselves wine experts. However, we really enjoy wine as both a process and an experience. We love to spend time together choosing the right bottle to pair with dinner or to relax with on the couch. We are always searching for new wines at great prices. Our intention with this page is not to write overly sophisticated reviews, but is instead to simply give our opinion regarding a wine’s overall taste, quality, and value. We score our wines out of 100 points, which are broken as explained on our “How We Score Wine” page”

    If you want to give your opinion, great. Do it just like they do on this blog and describe your opinion. Do not pretend you are something that you are not and put yourself in a truly analytical position on something you are clueless about. If you have simply no clue what elements make a wine and what characters show defined quality, don’t rate them. Give a written explained opinion and that is it.

    Unfortunately, these same people have some severe flaws to thier rating system. First off, with wine they start at 50 and go up to 100. Everyone gets a participation ribbon, congratulations. Just so everyone knows, I was thrilled in high school to see anything above 50 so I could move on (Canadian education is more relaxed I here, so yes 50 did pass). I wish i could have got that simply for siging in at the start of the day.

    Then the winery ratings begin which is a total disgrace on the opposite end.

    ” As with many wineries in Loudoun County, we recently visited $^&$#$ Vineyards on a recommendation from another local winery. We arrived to a family affair in the tasting room, with many generations involved in the vineyard operations. As we were the only guests it was slightly daunting, our every move being watched by all those present. Perhaps this feeling was simply a consequence of the intimate space.

    Our tasting included two whites, one rose, two reds, and one sweet wine. After the conclusion of our tasting we found ourselves rather indifferent. The wines came in around average for Loudoun County, but lacked weight and structure, especially on the midpalate. The reds also seemed overly acidic for our palates, diluting and overshadowing the finish. The Chardonnay came across as their strongest offering, made in a fresh style with notes of lemon/lime and cut herbs.

    Our tasting at #%$#^ was enjoyable, though thoroughly aided by the rustic and warm reclaimed barn environment. The family’s passion was palpable in the ambiance, and hopefully will soon be equally evident in their wines”

    Not a glowing review, but not that bad, I would clearly pass them and give them a try myself at this point, but wait…1/5 was the rating. That is 20%!!! I could have got that is art class by throwing poop at a canvas like a monkey.

    Sorry for my rant, and clearly I won’t reveal publically who these people are, but come on people. If you are going to act like the God of an industry, at least know something about it and be realistic. You have an ability to do good and help an industry grow instead of being a self important jack-ass. If you are going to give ratings of any sort, get an education, do it truly blind with wine (not sitting on your couch with what you already think you love or hate) and establish a system for yourself that works for being realistic. Don’t be lazy and copy someone else who is better then you at it.

    By the way, the scores for the wines above were:

    #1 – 99 Points from Napa and the wine has a wait list to get some of the 500-600 case made annually now at $135.00 per bottle.

    #2 – 88 Points from Virginia for a wine that is readily available for several vintages normally for $40.00 per bottle

    Funny, by the tasting notes they sounded somewhat similar and I would love to have either.

  5. GrapeEnvyGuy

    Jason – thanks for commenting. I think we’re getting a couple of points all at once, so let me tease them out.

    I guess I should clarify that I believe there are subjective evaluations of wineries that embrace their subjectivity, and there are subjective evaluations that purport to be objective. You’re going to have blogs discussing local wine; which would you rather have?

    A well-done blog that embraces its subjectivity does give you context. If we visit a winery that doesn’t resonate with us, we try to identify and point to what that is. The more posts you read in a given blog, the more you understand context: what do these people tend to like? One VA wine blogger clearly has a preference for sweet wines, which becomes apparent over a couple of posts. Which is the other point – if the concern is that someone Googles a winery, reads one random review from a site they’ve never visited before, and makes a decision based on that… well, that’s some bad judgement.

    As to the issue of anonymity, I don’t think that impacts context at all. As an example, let’s look at our friends Paul and Warren at Virginia Wine Time. Their names and photos are there on the blog, but that alone doesn’t add context to their reviews. Reading through several of their reviews is what allows the reader to figure out if he or she would agree with their opinions.

    So is it possible that someone might decide to skip visiting a winery based on one random post they encountered online? Sure. But I’m not going to lose sleep over it, because that person would be just as likely to not go because the people in line in front of him at Five Guys complained about that winery. Most folks are better at critical thinking than that.

  6. GrapeEnvyGuy

    For those who may not know, copying quoted text and pasting it into Google should result in finding the site someone quoted. Someone like Jordan. If you’re at all curious. Which I was.

    Jordan, I’ll be the first to admit that I shy away from formal ratings because I honestly don’t feel up to the work required to do it right. Our approach works for me because I am evaluating what’s in front of me solely based on whether or not I like it at that moment. I’m not having to think back and say ok, this is better than wine X, but not as good as wine Y, but I need to keep enough of a spread that I have wiggle room if wine Z…

  7. Jason

    GEG, the problem with impact is that is has little to do with the intent behind the message. You and VWD seem to be conscientious and sincere in what you write. That’s great. And for those that take the time to read previous posts and get a feel for what you’re all about then they have greater insight into your intent with any one particular post. But that’s a tall order to ask a reader and few will go to those lengths to provide themselves context. You provide some context outright by saying that you and VWD are not professionals. That’s good to know, but who is in this business? You’re treading softly where you know you need to tread softly, but it feels more like you’re covering your behind more than anything else. My point is that impact is impact regardless of how you frame the discussion. None of this is an issue with positive reviews. But how do you provide insight with a negative review without stepping on toes? That’s the million dollar question. How you deal with that will define how readers value your message.

    As for anonymity, as an academic argument you’re right. But this site isn’t about psychology or analysis, it’s your gut feel for a winery experience. For better or worse, people tend to value a message more when it’s coming from a real person.

  8. Jordan Harris

    I understand the difficulty in having to understand historical tastings and spreads, etc, but it is so much more then worrying abuot that. The second you give a rating to anything, you are catagorically creating a qualitative parameter that needs a basis of understanding.

    In order to be such an analyst you must first understand the cause anf effect of what you are tasting. First off the wine should be represented by how the average consumer is going to taste it. I don’t need to hear that a wine was decanted for one hour at 57 degrees after aerating through a vinturi. Most people don’t decant, most people don’t have a warm water and cold water bath for their decanter equipped with a digit thermometer and most people don’t use a vinturi or any aerater for that matter. The use of these products alters what is in the bottle anyway, so voids the critical analysis. by decanting a young wine you are simply attacking the phenols of the wine attempting to take their youthfulness and better integrate them, while also oxidizing alcohol to help release added aromas. If it is relevent to say at 57 degrees, then you must also understand the rate of oxygen exchange at different temperatures and show that information to your readership so that can have an understanding of how you have affected the wine. Then there is stemware, do you use a similar stem for each wine, how many ounces does it hold, lead content, etc should all be accessible information and why is this used if the reader wants to know since it dramatically changes wine.

    On to the actually juice in the glass, if you are going to critically assess with a rating should you not understand the how’s and why’s of what you are tasting? If you taste Banana in a Chardonnay, maybe you should understand that it is often the result of a stressed, yet controlled cooler fermentation. If you get characters ranging from herbal to bell pepper in Cabernet Franc it is due to different levels of under-ripe fruit which could add complexity, but could also be deemed flawed. Clove through Barnyard and even Band-Aid notes are often the result of a spoilage yeast called brettanomyces that some like, some don’t, but qualitatively by volumes is unsound winemaking. The list goes on.

    You can not simply put a number beside something you don’t understand. You may give an opinion in written word, but to give a rating makes it a qualitative analysis which should require relevent knowledge.

  9. GrapeEnvyGuy

    Jason, you raise some fair points. Do we have an impact? Sure, and I like to think that we use our powers for good (even though Magneto is my fav mutant from the X-Men). I don’t think that when we tread softly it’s to cover our [exceptionally cute] butts, but rather because we do recognize the impact we can have. An example would be a really bad winery experience we had around New Year’s. I wrote the post, removed a lot of vitriol, and wrote it again. And again. We were really mad when we left the winery, but I also recognized that our experience could have been an anomaly – which is why I put it out there to our readers and asked what their experiences were, and dialed back the anger in my post.

    One of the responses was from the winery owner. You know what? That willingness to wade in and be part of the conversation speaks volumes about a winery’s devotion to its customers.

    These conversations are going to take place, online and offline. Wine blogs are a double-edged sword. It must be pretty awesome to get a happy, puppies and rainbows post about you, and it must suck to see something negative. But unlike offline conversations, you have the ability to be part of the discussion. That brings us right back around to the point of the post (like how I did that?). A subjective review opens the comments up for debate. A score that claims to be an objective measure is, by its nature, less open for discussion. If I pop a tape measure on a door and it reads 35 – 7/8″, that’s what it is. No use arguing with me about it.

    As for the anonymity/ credibility gap – if our anonymous status makes people less likely to consider our word to be Gospel, GOOD. They shouldn’t.

  10. GrapeEnvyGuy

    Jordan – totally true. I’m just saying that I’m not jumping over the first hurdle on the way to all the others you listed. Wine is life – the more I learn, the less I know.

  11. andy

    Until i get a 90 or above I am going to believe rating systems suck.

    Jordan hit the nail on the head with the personal bias statement, automatic plus or minus 10 depending upon where the wine comes from. The really sad thing is that the critics award 90′s way too freely and have for some time this has resulted in consumers forgetting or never realizing that 88 is a really good score.

    In todays world of smartphones and on demand info or news i suppose wineries could be hurt by single reviews by travelers wondering if they should stop in or not. I would think/hope that someone sitting at a desktop would read a few more reviews to get a better idea of a place.

    There are way too many ratings systems out there sadly.

    Other than that Jordan said everything I wanted to say.
    I googled as GEG suggested and after reading the other blog and scratching my head for 20 or 30 minutes all I can say is that I’m going to officially start my blog that reviews and rates wine blogs.
    So far I’ll give you guys a ummmm C-

    paul and warren get a 4

    and Frank gets 4 out of a possible 5 smiley faces

    Jordan’s favorite bloggers get 2 thumbs down

  12. GrapeEnvyGuy

    You forgot +100 points for my winning personality, Andy.

  13. Jordan Harris

    That would be fun Andy to set up a winery re-butal blog where we can rate blogs. Could create one hell of a fight.

    That said, not all ratings are bad, they do need to be rationalized though. The one comment I have heard that I don;t like, but makes sense from an established critic regarding personal bia is that 10 points are ultimately deducted for a lack of proven history. I don’t believe it is a great statement, but it is giving some rationale as to why Virginia might not get the same rating as say Bordeaux. That said, there is also a huge amount of hypocracy that can go with that as you see Paso Robles or New Zealand wines getting 95+ scores as a relative new comer to the wine world as well. It is different critics from the same pub to be fair that rate each of those, but the pub should be more consistent in that sense. The other point that i would make to that is there will never be proven history either unless it is recognized, hense written pubs will likely go the way of the DoDo bird as the current line of critics retire and are replaced by online media like blogs.

  14. Chris

    The one thing that objective ratings systems do allow for however, is ease of data analysis, and I’d love to do data analysis on this blog, which is pretty darn hard. If we had numerical ratings, we could track GeG’s appreciation of reds over time, we’d be able see how price (because you all do not taste blind) affects your rating system. We would be able to agregate numbers and see which Virginia AVA rates highest in your opinion. Does a region have one shining star/dud that affects the average? Or does a region contain many in the statistical norm?

    The possibilities for spreadsheets and pie charts are limitless! We could actually see how your anecdotal feelings about the Virginia Wine Industry stack up with your recorded opinions. To my knowledge, no one out there is doing that (if there is someone out there, let me know, I’d love to see the report)

  15. Jordan Harris

    Chris: That is not yet possible in Virginia. There are too many different varieties planted to regions that may and may not be suited for those given varieties. There is also far to many styles that are deemed appropriate to any number of varieties. All that can be done at this point is to have personal preferences until there is a majority deemed appropriate style, variety, etc to stack the data on.

    There is some data from the USDA that shows varieties per region which would allow from some study to be started from, but the data is only as good as it’s participation from wineries.

    The problem is, how do you evaluate an Apple Cider (legally wine in Virginia for tax purposed and fall under farm winery licenses) compared to a Viognier compared to a Pinot Noir. There are very few specialized wineries in the State so even as each winery there is likely a wine that is classically styled and one that is pretty awkward because it was planted in 1985 when Pinot Noir was thought as maybe acceptable here.

    The graphs that would be created for Virginia at this point would be impossible to read with way to much data and assumptions.

  16. MEL810

    I’ll post here saying that I don’t know bupkus about rating wine. I only know what wines I like when I taste them and how I feel about the ambiance and service at any given winery. I might be (probably would be )totally wrong in my evaluations if I had to give my opinion based on industry standards.
    Wine rating wouldn’t do much for a consumer such as myself who has limited knowledge of the wine making process and the 100′s of little differences that can make or break wines.
    However, if one was to rate Virginia wines objectively, especially against wines from other regions, wouldn’t a good starting point be the grapes/wines Virginia is known for such as Norton and Viognier?
    I enjoy this blog because I can exchange information about wine at my level or a bit above my level from VWD, GEG and others and learn from the posts of the pros such as Jordan and Andy, et al. Wonderful!

  17. MEL810

    Another bit about Yelp style ratings: I think in the case of wines and wineries, the only thing they are good for is the rating of service and ambiance. Was the server knowledgeable, courteous, etc. or were they arrogant, rude, dismissive and ignorant about their product and unwilling to learn? Did the server treat each customer with respect and give attention to each customer equally?
    Those are things one could pretty easily rate and even baby winos such as myself could rate effectively.
    But rate wines other than to give my own opinion? I don’t think so…..

  18. Jordan Harris

    Mel: Here is my problem with Yelp and their rating system. Here are two reviews of our place. They were both awhile ago (2007) but it shows the point. The first one is 5 stars, the second one is 2 stars. The main compliment and criticism is the same thing, the wine, which both described as Bordeaux-like. They both had decent experiences, but one person does not like structured reds, the other does. Same quality of wine and service, but different ratings. In the end when there is 40 wineries to select from and someone is visiting the area and wants to save time they will look at the overall ranking which is affected by those who don’t like that we don’t make a sweet blackberry wine.

    “Wow. Definitely the best reds I’ve had from Virginia wineries. If you like strong, dry Bordeaux-type red, try their reserve tasting ($10 for 5 generous pours). Their 2004 reserve Cab Sauvignon is excellent. They also have ‘featured’ tasting ($5 for 10) which is still pretty good. Their wines are not those Virginia wines that taste like honey (not that I don’t like those either). Staff is friendly and knowledgeable.

    Their large and beautiful property has 5 mile hiking trails, some of which go along Potomac. They also have festivals featuring local Jazz bands. I think next time I should bring picnic lunch and spend an afternoon there.”

    “Not my type of wine. All -even the whites- have an intense tannins flavor, Bordeaux-like, as Takaki said.

    Aside from having to wait in their cave (where the wines are stored) for several minutes while they prepared for us, our group got great service during our tasting. Our server was a short, older gentleman who described the foods he cooks that work best with each wine. His foods sounded so good, we wanted to have dinner at his house. He also gave people a second serving if they requested. However, one of the tasters for our group wasn’t as friendly and refused to give a second serving upon request.

    Scenery here is ok – has lots of overgrown vegetation and a pond. It’s hard to come after Hillsborough Vineyards. Our group got to hang out on the deck at Tarara, enjoying wine, cheese and crackers. Tarara accomodates a good time.”

  19. Ed

    You guys were having fun without me again….. (darn work anyway!)

    Ratings, especially something like a 100 point scale, implies that the thing being rated is measureable; that it can be quatified and verified. Doesn’t matter if we’re talking about wines, wineries, movies, music or cars. Even the best, most objective reviewers have their own prejudices and pre-conceived notions of what is good and what is bad. Given this, wine or winery ‘ratings’ must be taken with a grain of salt and a careful reading of the review becomes of utmost importance.

    And as for Yelp….. “this place was awesome…..3 stars…” Get my drift?

  20. MEL810

    Jordan, if the people had rated your winery simply on ambiance and service, it would have been a different rating for the second one, I think.
    I don’t believe that a non-pro can rate a winery based on their own tastes in wine. You can say that you did or didn’t enjoy the wine or that style of wine but beyond that, it means nothing. It is simply your opinion and like a**h****, everyone has one.
    From the first review, it sounds like that I would love your winery and wines. I wouldn’t have paid much attention to the second review because the guy sounded too much like he was talking off the top of his head about wine and was trying to impress the readers with his so-called erudition on the subject.
    One problem with the Internet is that anybody and their god blessed dog can give an opinion on this, that or the other and act like it should be taken as gospel. Many times the opinions are ignorant and biased as heck and have little or no basis in fact or even in informed opinion.
    So many people today are feel powerless and angry and take that frustration out via consumer reviews, political opinions,etc.
    I tend to dismiss about 9/10 of what I read on the ‘Net just for that reason.

  21. GrapeEnvyGuy

    Ed – I just worked until 8:30 pm so I could take breaks during the day to keep up on comments. I’m all about the work-life balance. Anyhow, good point about what reviewers bring to the process. No one is totally objective. Come on, I have to think Father O’Neill judged my confession; of course wine writers are biased!

  22. GrapeEnvyGuy

    Chris – oh god, you’re one of those! You must have loved the analysis Frank (Drink What You Like) did of the results following the VA sparkling tasting. I’m amused by the idea of somehow tracking and graphing my palate over time. How do you graph a snowball rolling downhill and getting bigger? I’ve embraced more wines as time has gone by, but I don’t think I’ve turned my back on anything I drank at the outset.

    Blind reviews, on the other hand, would make things quite interesting. Andy from Jefferson was thrilled that tasting blind, I preferred his pinot gris (which I had panned in a review). It would be a neat way of weeding through biases, but at the same time I’d be right back at having to rate and rank and… that’s haaaaaard.

  23. GrapeEnvyGuy

    Mel, great point on that last. There’s no barrier to entry to blogging, really – you could blog in the 30 minutes of free PC time at the library – so you need to be smart about who you trust.

  24. GrapeEnvyGuy

    Jordan – you bring up a bunch of interesting points, but I wanted to touch on print vs online, or what really boils down to traditional vs new media. It’s going to result in a decentralization of wine authority, which I think is a good thing. I’m really curious about some wines from random small producers in “other 46″ states. I don’t really give a crap what Wine Spectator says about them because I’ve learned WS doesn’t care about new, interesting, and different.

    Do I have to be careful who I listen to? Sure, but just because Parker is in print doesn’t mean our palates match.

    I’ve listened to traditional media writers complain about the fact that there’s no editing and oversight on blogs. Not for nothing, but from what my journalist friends say the days of editors like Spiderman’s J. Jonah Jameson are long gone. It’s like any other time of change. There will be some churning and confusion, but awesome will still pop out the other side.

    The short version is that wine bloggers like us are still figuring it out,which is why feedback is fantastic.

  25. MEL810

    A question for the knowledgeable amongst us:
    This year is turning out to be as gawd-awful stinking hot as last year (earlier, even!) and a bit on the dry side.
    Does this mean that VA will probably have another awesome 2010 like grape harvest and wine production?

  26. Ed

    GEG – I don’t know if it’s your server or our network but for some reason there are some threads where I cannot see the comments or add to them from work. I can always read the original post but not always the comments. Very odd. Very frustrating.

  27. Jordan Harris

    GEG: I can not tell if you took my comment as being a bad thing that blogging will one day replce traditional print media. That said, since I am enjoying an incredible Fume Blanc, I will respond anyway.

    On one side you could say that currently traditional wine journalists are more suited to critical analysis since they need to meet certain criteria to get through a screening process (interview) in order to write their their thoughts publically. They have also made it their day job which means they have all day to study facts and re-think all that they publish. They also have someone to proof their work and I am sure at some points raise questions to controversial pieces.

    Now on the other side, with new technology, anyone can have a voice. While many would argue this can be scary for a producer, I truly think it is great. What makes it obvious is that I have posted how many comments on this blog? I do that because the very cool thing about modern media (blog, facebook, twitter, etc) is that it is searchable, debatable and simply respondable. I also love that it is generally done by real people. While everyone has a bias as Ed and you have stated, that bias can easily be accentuated in traditional media when someone else is paying your way. If I was flown to the Rhone Valley once or twice a year as part of my job to taste wine and experience their lifestyle and food, I might have am increased feeling about them. It is work, but also a prett cool trip which will absolutely accentuate my feelings toward said region. I personally do it as a consumer. Anytime, I go somewhere, it seems when I get home 50% of my purchases are from that region because the romance is there. Blogging or online media deletes this bias. Is that always good for reviews, no, but it can create a more honest approach. On top of that, someone with the education to be a traditional journalist can start to hurt reviews in that they are taught from the very beginning top regions, varieties, and styles while leaving behind the up and coming ones.

    I agree that WS has no care about “new” and or “local”. There was a great blog written by “The Other 46″ written last year http://theother46.com/2010/01/25/dear-wine-spectator/ challenging them. On the other side James Molesworth of WS justv wrote a blog June 15th, 2011 about NY accepting NY wines as part of the local movement and how they have not done so. On average, major pubs are not supporters of “new” but they sometimes do shock us. Arizona has got some great play, but that is mainly because or Maynard Keenan’s Caduceus and Arizona Stonghold. I have to beleive it is more about Tool and Perfect Circle then the wine.

    As for Parker, he is self trained in the first place so it is mainly about personal preference (although I will never ague his palette, which is great like it or not). That is why he has never rated much Burgundy. They will not accept him since the wines are based on site driven nuances and not power which is one of his favorite things.

    All said editing does not belong so much in reviews as you mention with traditional or print media. Wine is not something you should think about later. If it is not pleasing at the time, what does editing help? All that needs to be figured out is that current media is about the whole package. Some like it, some don’t. Bloggers will never have the same classically trained people as traditional media because you don’t get paid like them. That can be a good thing though since it brings reviews to the world instead of being a critic to read for exclusive wines that are impossible to acquire. Bloggers rate the world of wine, while major pubs write about most of the un-obtainable and what sparks their interest with a far larger budget.

    Mel: This year is hot, but there is far more soil moisture from a crazy wet Spring. Therefore there is a potentially larger crop then I have ever seen here so it depends on greed. If we allow all the hanging fruit to go, it could make for over-cropped wine which will lack definition and complexity, but could still have power. If managed well, so far this year could outpace last year because there is a chance of more terroir driven nuances. The days have been hot, but many of the nights have cooled off this year so far giving more potential for balance.

    All said and done though, it is way too early to speculate.

  28. GrapeEnvyGuy

    Jordan, I definitely didn’t see your comment as a negative towards blogs. I think you, and a few other winemakers here in VA, get it.

  29. GrapeEnvyGuy

    Oh, and I 100% believe one could make a full time income by blogging, but not in the obvious way.

  30. agourmetrelationship

    From the article and comments it is obvious that you are referring to our blog. We would first like to say that Swirl, Sip, Snark has been a valuable resource for getting to know Virginia wine and after beginning to blog ourselves, we appreciate the amount of effort and time that goes into obtaining and publishing new content.

    From some of the comments we feel that we are being portrayed in an unfair light, and would like to give some context as to the goals of our site. We taste a lot of wine from all over the world, and our scoring systems and text are an attempt to use this as context for evaluating every wine we taste (including Virginia wines). We hoped that both a text explanation and a score would benefit those that desire a narrative explanation of our experience, as well as those who want a quick and conservative score. The wineries and individual wines the score highly on our site are ones that in our opinion can compete and excel in context of all fine wine.

    We would also like to say that we are certainly not trying to stifle an industry; in fact we are hoping to do the opposite. We bring good Virginia wines to blind tastings all the time, often to rave reviews and stimulation of substantial interest in other Virginia wines. This is further evident in our individual wine scores. Since beginning to blog we have only scored 14 wines (from all over the world) 90 pts or higher. Seven of the 14 wines are from Virginia.

    Also, if someone would like to quote material from our site without proper credit in the future, we ask that you please contact us and receive approval in advance. Further, there is no requirement to read our site. If you don’t agree with our opinions and don’t want to discuss them without baseless attacks (this is not referring to the original post, we welcome discussion and those who respectfully disagree), then feel free to pass our site by.

    Our blog, and its scoring systems, simply reflect our opinions. As we explicitly say, we are not professionals and don’t pretend to be. We are couple who is constantly tasting and learning everything they can about wine. Though we feel we have learned a substantial amount, the more we learn the more we are humbled by vitivulture’s vastness and complexities. Our fundamental hope is simple, that anyone who finds their palate aligns with ours will benefit from our exploration and reviews.

  31. MEL810

    Jordan, Thanks for your input. I really look forward to seeing what this year (and every year) will bring. Having said that: I am a such a baby wino that I can only vaguely detect the differences in vintages.
    I did notice a profound difference in Barboursville’s Phileo from one year to the next. The first time I tasted it, that wine was ambrosial and sublime, as if you could contain heaven in a dessert wine. You could see me having my wino-rgasm at the tasting bar.
    The next year it was still a decent dessert wine, well better than most, but I’m not sure it would be served in heaven!

  32. agourmetrelationship

    oops typo … *viticulture

  33. GrapeEnvyGuy

    I’m on the road putting a couple hundred miles on the work car, but I’ll comment back later today. That’s awesome that you’re a lurker!

  34. GrapeEnvyGuy

    Ok, I’m now fed and on my couch. AG – welcome! So yes, your blog was one of the ones that inspired the thinkin’ and cipherin’ that led to this post. I had considered linking to you, but based on the direction the post took I didn’t want it to come across as “haha look at those stupidheads with whom I don’t agree” – not my intent here at all.

    I’m always looking for ways to improve the blog, and part of that is seeing what other kids are doing. I just can’t get around how final a score feels. I think part of what’s off-putting about a scoring model is that I want to know where that number came from. If it was something like 4/5 for the space, 4/5 for the service, 3/5 for the wine, with a final score of X… I’d love to see your work. It’s like algebra class.

    I will say that while I believe you that you’re not looking to stifle the industry – can we talk blogo a blogo? I think the rating system you use could well mean that we’re no longer considered the mean girls of VA wine (not that I’m complaining). I mean, your explanation of the ratings includes statements like “we would recommend against visiting at this time.” Dude. That’s a pretty absolute pronouncement. I just feel like there’s a line between saying “not for us” and “not for us or you or the guy drinking Night Train while urinating against a bus stop.”

    Basically, as a co-blogger on a blog that has tried to call ‘em as we see ‘em, we’ve definitely taken some heat. I think you’re going to find the same.

  35. Jordan Harris

    A Gourmet Relationship:

    I will start by stating there are very few winemakers that are so pro blogs and critics. I think they both can help drive an industry both through constructive writing of positives and negatives.

    That said scores need to have some measure to them that is unbiased and published by those that have the relevent experience and background to warrent giving them. A blog filled with written opinion gives the reader the full picture of an opinion which can help guide them. It is able to portray that if the writer does not like a style of wine, it is not as relevent and the reader knows to make their own judgment.

    The second a score is attached, our rushed lifestyle forces many people to by-pass the written explanation and go straight to a score. Low scores will result in someone not going somewhere even if it is not warrented since it is on a non-blind experience filled with prior perception. You are at this point playing with peoples livelihood with un-experienced and unwarrented judgment. That is why any critic that “scores” wine responsibly does it blind. If the wine is tasted at the winery or non-blind they are sure to tell you that their judgement has been altered and will usually give ranges.

    On the recent list of wines and wineries visited you have the following ratio of success. From 13 wineries, only 3 were worth of more then a 50% score (more then 2+). Ten wineries were rated less, meaning 77% of the wineries you visit are deemed horrible places to both wasting you time on a Saturday. It was an overall average of 1.69 out of 5 for the wineries assuming a “+” means 0.5. How does that help the industry? If I try something and 77% of the time it sucks, I don’t rate them, I stop doing it since it is clearly not the hobby for me and I should not pass judgment.

    Your posts can be well written, if clearly biased, scoring is giving a finite analysis of something you admit to not being qualified to do. That would be the equivalent of me rating paintings. I know nothing about art, and frankly think the Mona Lisa is too small to be seen properly with the masses infront of me at the Louvre. Should I rate the Louvre 1 out of 5 and the Mona Lisa 73 points since it isn’t my thing. No, I am not qualified to pass judgement in a critical analysis form for paintings. I can however say my experience at 1:00pm at the Louvre was frustrating and some guard told me “Shhh”.

    Of the 7 wines you have rated from Virginia over 90 points, they all come from two wineries. In fact all but one of your “wine” ratings for Virginia Wine are from 1 winery. Now both Linden and Glen Manor make incredible wines, but if you are saying you are championing the Virginia wine industry, there are about 200 other wineries and several are also doing some stunning work. This plus the fact that you outline how the wines are being prepared shows that these ratings have several pre-concieved perceptions and biases making a numberic critical analysis unfair and extremely irrelevent.

    You mention commenting on your site, and I promise that if there were ever a rating about my wines from someone who is not qualified I will be all over the comment thread. That is the beauty of different alert systems, not a lot can be said about me and or my wines without me seeing it. I am sure that the judgment would be biased from the start as you yourself had mentioned that certain wineries were pretty good for being from Loudoun. You clearly therefore have a pre-conceived feeling about Loudoun wines. So I would also ask for an explanation of what characters seem to define a Loudoun wine, and are you sure where all the fruit came from to make this judgement on Loudoun wine?

    I always like to challenge those that want to make such finite judgement on products that are the livelihood for someone. I will do the same here. If it is appropriate to cast numberic judgment on someone so in essence giving a critical judgement that is almost the equivalent of testing Volatile acid, then it should be justified and verified in a proper blind setting. I would be happy to facilitate a tasting with many of the wines you have judged with several bloggers to see if the numeric scores are driven by pre-conceived perceptions that should not be in a critical anaylsis.

    You state that you are not professionals and don’t pretend to be. By adding scrores you are acting as professional because they can not incorporate opinions. Written opinion is far different then critical analysis that can be numerically rated. It belongs with qualified people since it does effect producers very heavily. There are loads of variables that need to be accounted for that are not generally possible for a hobbiest.

  36. Jen

    I used to give Jordan a hard time about being invested into what bloggers were saying…I understand now after reading a few submissions of the one quoted. I’m a person interested in the industry and one who is the kind to read something and take it as someone’s opinion yet still willing to try to see what my take is. Maybe I’m in the minority. The reason I read this blog and not most of the others is the approach you take and the effort you make to say this is what I like you may not but try yourself and see what your opinion is…and you welcome the comments and counters to your opinion. Keep up the good work.

  37. MEL810

    Jordan: Being an art history geek, I would be glad to opine on the Mona Lisa for you. I do agree about the crowds, though. I didn’t see it at the Louvre, but at the National, donkeys years ago in DC in a traveling exhibit. That was mobbed. I think most people are shocked when they see how small the painting really is.
    If you want to see tons of opining, arguing and just plain snobbery, check out almost any art site. I had to leave a site dedicated to Symbolist Art, an art I am fairly educated about and enjoy immensely, because a blow-hard know-it-all ‘my opinion is the only one that matters’ type got on there and the folks on the there got so huffy and argumentative that I felt I was just wasting my time to post.
    I certainly don’t mind hearing from people more knowledgeable than me on any subject and I will acknowledge their superiority and experience, but I loathe the ‘I’m Gods own expert’ types that act as if the rest of us are idiots and should bow down to them.
    That attitude is one attitude that is blissfully absent on SWS and that is why I enjoy this blog. I can give my not-so-learned opinions and have them respected and learn from experienced sippers such as GEG & VWD and those such as yourself that are pros.

  38. GrapeEnvyGuy

    Mel – we recognize the distinction between experienced drinkers and expert drinkers, and behave accordingly :)

  39. Jordan Harris

    Mel: I agree that SWS is a very approachabnle blog, as are most blogs about wine I find. I find that interesting given the history of snobbery in the wine industry, but I think that is part of why blogs have become so popular. They make wine more approachable as a subject to many more people.

    I also have to say, whenever someone calls me a pro I giggle a little bit. The biggest difference between me and someone else is I do this for a living. In reality almost everything I learn in a given year, I learn just in time to forget it becasue it doesn’t apply to the current vintage.

  40. VAWineDiva

    Jordan, as I teacher who often then supports my students as they start to move into both formal and informal teaching roles themselves, I always say as long as you’re a day ahead of the students (or in this case non-professionals) you’re where you need to be. :-)

    …and I’m glad we’re approachable. The community that has coalesced here and the conversations that happen via comments is the best part of this blog.

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