One of the worst aspects of the current state of political “discourse” in the USA is the penchant of leaders in our government towards vocalizing complete and total falsehoods, whenever and however it furthers their individual and/or party agendas, with seemingly little consequence for their actions.
Where they deem it necessary, they also repeatedly use this tactic to undermine the credibility of any ideas or expert opinions that they find inconvenient to the forwarding of their agenda, even when those ideas and expert opinions are based on (as in the examples of climate change and global warming) data that are incontrovertible. One need not search far, wide, or for long to find examples of this, many of them technically qualifying as libel, slander, or defamation.
Just as the U.S. wine world is not immune from modern cultural and technological shifts, it is, alas, also not immune from this ridiculous embracing of falsehood over fact, or the downward spiral into the cult of “fake” news wherein “truthiness” trumps (pun intended) actual truth in a disgusting sociopathic display of partisan greed, good old fashioned idiocy, or (too often) both.
Interestingly, this trend may be more a factor of generational social shortcomings now that the Baby Boomers are more-or-less in charge of everything political in the USA (an argument made in a cogent and convincing – though albeit overly-opinionated and overly-lengthy – way by Bruce Cannon Gibney in his book A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America). Having said that, in my view, analyzing the reasons behind this worrying trend isn’t nearly as acute a need as is applying the disinfectant of attention. I.e., calling out and rejecting the behavior adamantly and quickly; consider it the intellectual and moral equivalent of weeding, or maybe playing Whack-a-Mole.
Thankfully, that’s just what happened recently when Naked Wines was more-or-less forced to apologize for going as low as the current U.S. political discourse in some of its most recent marketing efforts…
It was author Jaime Goode who most prominently called attention to Naked Wine’s marketing snafu, which ultimately was answered with a mea culpa from CEO Rowan Gormley; here’s the exchange as reported via Twitter:
In their missive, Naked Wines 1) implies that wine competition results are bogus, and 2) states that wine critics both invent trends (this is almost certainly unprovable) and receive payment to push those trends and/or certain wines on to consumers (the latter is news to me… apparently I’ve been doing this wine critic thing ALL wrong, and am missing out on a lucrative income source!).
It’s not just that the accusations in the Naked Wines marketing material are likely demonstratively false, and possibly flirting with libel or defamation territory; it’s that they just didn’t bother to cite any sources for their claims. In the case of their comments on wine critics, that’s almost certainly because their claim is total bullshit. In the case of wine competition medals not meaning anything, that’s very likely corporate jealousy at play, since strong cases can be made for any differentiating recommendation (including wine competition medals) helpung to increase sales. Almost ironically in this case, their concluding assertion that real customer reviews are a good way to find wine recommendations is probably true, but not for the reasons that they imply.
Mad props to Goode for calling this crap out as, well, crap, and for doing it publicly and quickly. A nod to Gormley for fessing up, too.
But shame on Naked Wines for taking the low road in the first place.
Collectively, the wine biz is better than this, folks.
12 thoughts on “Naked Wines And The Cult Of “Fake News””
Excellent article. If praise from an old lady counts, this is how we felt in the sixties.
Naked Wines has been all over social media with false statements wrapped up in a quiz format. Just today they seem to be saying that Oxblood is still used as a fining agent even though its been banned in the EU and The US since 1997. Are consumers so naive to buy their story?
One thing is certain: Naked Wines has a great way of pissing off people in the industry.
Mark – I wouldn’t expect the (vast) majority of wine consumers to know details about fining agents.
Couldn’t agree more that there is a place for thoughtful wine critics and they can be a great resource for consumers who enjoy the same style of wines that the particular critic rates highly, but to play dumb and not acknowledge that there are pay to play schemes in the wine rating/award/publication world seems disingenuous at best. A quick google search would have found this Vinepair article that gives a pretty thorough rundown on some of the factors at play: https://vinepair.com/wine-blog/wine-ratings-industrial-complex/. Here’s a snippet from the article:
**But the fact that only a handful of people are responsible for the ratings given out, and that it is hard to distinguish how each is different, is not the main issue most wine industry people have with the system; the real issue is that these ratings have become so influential that they’ve shut small producers out, becoming something many winemakers feel is a pay-to-play system. As one winemaker told me when we spoke, “look at the ads, and then look at the scores, there is a correlation. I have no problem with a magazine selling ads and those ads trying to convince me of what to purchase, but when those ads seem to influence how a wine is rated, that’s a problem.” Interestingly, Parker, who’s credited with starting the whole rating movement used to never take ads, instead relying on a subscription model to support his Wine Advocate, but his new magazine, 100 Points, does. As another winemaker put it, “there are tons of asks of wineries [asks include things like product donations, free participation in events, requests to open old vintages, appearances, etc.] by many of the more influential people doling out ratings, and there is sort of an unspoken understanding that if you don’t fulfill the requests, the consequence is you may fall off the radar and if you fall off the radar your wines don’t get rated and you don’t sell as much of your wine.” “Ratings are inherently political,” the same winery marketing director told me, “we used to get great ratings in the 90s and then our winemaker had a personal falling out with one of the more well-known publications and we haven’t made it out of the 80s since.”
Ads that potentially influence a score are bad, but as a wine shop employee who wanted to remain anonymous told me, it can go much further than that: “I’ve seen publications that even have financial stakes in the wineries they’re rating,” and that seems even less kosher. “What everyone understands is that ratings are powerful, they help you sell your wine,” said another winemaker who also wished to be unnamed, “as people continue to seek out the best, a good rating can take you from a small producer to a much larger one very quickly, selling out all your stock. It’s not surprising some places play the game, it can be cheaper than building a brand or marketing yourself.”**
Here’s another article referencing a wine critic receiving compensation in return for wine reviews: http://www.drvino.com/2012/04/18/saq-paid-suckling-24000-wine-reviews/.
This took me a couple of minutes to look up. My gut tells me there’s more of this going on than the handful of instances that have been exposed. I agree that most one-off wine critics don’t take part in these type of practices, but it wouldn’t surprise me if some of the more influential parties were getting compensated in some way, shape, or form. Would be interested to hear your thoughts.
No offense, but your gut isn’t good enough for me. And it’s almost certainly not good enough as a defense in, say, a libel or defamation case.
The issue isn’t that there might be foul play in the wine critiquing world; the issues in my view are that a) extrapolating that as rampant and indicative of the profession as a whole from a small sample set is both specious and irresponsible, and b) not citing any sources when making those claims in Naked Wines’ marketing material is at best reckless, and at worst dishonest.
None taken. I agree that Naked Wines’ claims are reckless and likely dishonest. Since you’re a knowledgable party in the wine space, it surprised me that you wouldn’t even mention the fact that there have been pay to play schemes in the past. That is a fact and I included one piece of hard evidence in my comment, as well as thoughts from another article citing many people in the industry that feel these practices are still alive and well today. In my eyes, acknowledging that FACT would make your post even more powerful.
Understood, and thanks. And I agree. I’m certainly not denying the Pay-for-Play activities that have happened in this space; in fact, I’ve written about a few of them :)
Sweet I’ll check these out. Appreciate it.
Naked Wines should spend more time on making wine that will actually receive scores. Mediocre wine gets ignored by critics.
After nearly two decades in wine retail, I can cite from experience that ‘Real Customer Reviews’ don’t regularly just come out of the ether, unless that consumer is buying 500 – 1500 wines a year to decide what they like. It is empowering for consumers to feel they ‘discovered’ something, and on a personal level they have though fundamentally it is people who make a career out of writing about, serving and selling wines that create the ‘alpha cases’ of widespread wine discovery where ‘real customers’ can drill down to a short list based on flavor profile, price or score.
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