Michael Glover and Mahana Estates Take a Stand Against ‘Paid For’ Reviews


Mahana Estates and its winemaker Michael Glover are taking a stand against the practice of ‘paid for’ reviews in the interest of transparency for wine consumers.

Michael Glover says that he has been surprised by the prevalence of the ‘paid for’ wine review since moving to New Zealand and taking up the role of winemaker at Mahana.

“Most people walking into a store and observing a big gold sticker on a bottle with the number ‘95’ on it would assume that the number has been awarded in an impartial and objective setting and is not subject to a monetary transaction,” says Michael. “This is how it works: a producer sends their wine to a reviewer. The reviewer then charges them for each wine that is submitted for assessment. For me, this begs the question – is a paid review actually independent?’“

Michael also believes that such a review system, where stars or numbers are attributed to wines, is not in keeping with the spirit of winemaking or wine enjoyment.

“Any one of us can ‘score’ a wine. We all have an opinion. What many of us cannot do, however, is put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and convey what wine is, what wine means, and what wine can be in our lives. This style of writing is much more about sharing knowledge and a love of a subject than casting judgement from ‘above’.”

As a result Mahana Estates has backed Michael’s decision not to send its wines for ‘paid for’ review and not to display scores for its wines (numerical or stars) at its cellar door.

Michael Glover (Small)

Michael Glover – Taking a Stand

“As a wine producer I can only do what I feel is right. I do not send any of my wines to a reviewer who requests a payment for that review. From now on I will only publish or use words – rather than scores, ratings, or stars – and I will ask wine critics and journalists to do the same. For me the role of the wine writer is to inform, educate and, most importantly, to empower the reader to make their own journey with wine.

“A bottle of wine is the end result of a cold winter of pruning, a hopeful spring of growth, a summer of ripening and a nervous autumn of anticipation. Fruit is harvested and turned into wine. That wine can then mature in wooden barrels for possibly years before bottling. At some point the bottle is opened and poured. This is when the real story begins. A bottle of wine can tell a story of seasons, people and places. It may be conservative or it may be adventurous. It may be loud or it may be quiet. Regardless, it will resonate with some people and not with others… it will be personal. Does a number really do justice to all of this? Does a number tell a story?”

Here is Michael’s reasoning behind his decision…

Tell me a story don’t give me a number

Wineries using a score from a wine writer to promote a wine is not unique to New Zealand. What particularly disturbs me, however, is how often wineries pay reviewers for their reviews.

This is how it works: a producer sends their wine to a reviewer. The reviewer then charges them for each wine that is submitted for assessment.

For me, this begs the question ‘Is a paid review actually independent?’ Of course, the reviewer will justify the payment by saying that they are providing a service. I imagine though, that most people walking into a store and observing a big gold sticker on a bottle with the number ‘95’ on it assume that the number has been awarded in an impartial and objective setting and not subject to a monetary transaction.

Where do we draw the line between genuine criticism and paid advertorial?

This ethical discussion is a hot topic in the NZ wine scene at the moment and rightly so.

There’s a bigger question here too. Is the use of numbers and scores, whether paid for or not, in keeping with the ‘spirit’ and ‘endeavour’ of wine?

Any one of us can ‘score’ a wine. We all have an opinion. What many of us cannot do, however, is put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and convey what wine is, what wine means, and what wine can be in our lives. This style of writing is much more about sharing knowledge and a love of a subject than casting judgement from ‘above’.

I believe it was the powerful American critic Robert Parker Jr, who first introduced a wine scoring system, changing the wine world as we knew it. The score immediately rendered wine language and words irrelevant or a little meaningless. Words were disparaged as being archaic and subjective. Years of personal assessment and journeying were no longer required for people to discover wine. Now all you needed was the latest book full of scores from the best wine critic.

Michael Glover in the winery - CMYK (Small)

The industry reacted incredibly positively to this new regime. Retailers helped fuel the fire because selling a wine could be reduced down to a number.

A Robert Parker score bestowed a powerful and absolute market value to a wine. It removed the need for a personal assessment and an individual opinion, which obviously requires a personal investment of time and money, and allowed for an absolute power that would judge and assess for all.

Wine writer after wine writer complained about the 100 point system and then began using it taking an ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ approach.

I recall a conversation that I had with one of Australia’s pre-eminent wine writers who said “…words don’t put food on the table, points do, and I have mouths to feed.”

Wineries are not without guilt.  They saw the potential profits that could be gained and new markets that could be opened up if only they could get a high enough number.

But how to get the high number? It’s not hard to see that wine producers began changing their wine style to suit the palate that had the most power to make them successful.

In Bordeaux it was observed that many Chateaux owners employed the consultant, Michel Rolland, because they believed that he knew how to make a wine to achieve higher Robert Parker scores. The point here is that this was largely driven by the assessment of just one man. The notion that one single palate can set the template for the entire drinking world is beyond description.

The French concept of ‘terroir  which embraces the philosophy of difference and of unique expression was null and void as producers from different areas desperately tried to make the same wine… the wine that Parker liked. Wine was no longer the expression of a site and a season; it was now a commodity and potentially a ‘luxury item’ that needed to be endorsed.

But…it doesn’t have to be this way…

As a wine drinker and lover of all things vinous I would say to wine writers, critics and journalists everywhere…bring back WRITING! Bring back the words, description, romance and prose that have been lost to wine. Bring back the explanations and explorations of different varietals in different regions. Bring back the stories of special bottles opened beside rivers or in mountain cabins. Bring back stories of shared enthusiasm for life because that essentially is what wine IS all about.

For me the role of the wine writer is to inform, educate and, most importantly, to empower the reader to make their own journey with wine.

Tell me about a crazy dude in a cave on top of a mountain doing some inspirational stuff with an ‘alternative’ variety. Tell me why he believes in what he is doing! Tell me about his dog and how he works his vineyard with Bob the horse instead of a tractor. Tell me about his connection with his land. Tell me about his philosophy, his politics, and the bread he bakes with his wife every single day. Engage me! Enlighten me! Empower me!

As a wine producer I can only do what I feel is right. I do not send any of my wines to a reviewer who requests a payment for that review. From now on I will only publish or use words – rather than scores, ratings, or stars – and I will ask wine critics and journalists to do the same.

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A bottle of wine is the end result of a cold winter of pruning, a hopeful spring of growth, a summer of ripening and a nervous autumn of anticipation. Fruit is harvested and turned into wine. That wine can then mature in wooden barrels for possibly years before bottling. At some point the bottle is opened and poured. This is when the real story begins. A bottle of wine can tell a story of seasons, people and places. It may be conservative or it may be adventurous. It may be loud or it may be quiet. Regardless, it will resonate with some people and not with others….it will be personal. Does a number really do justice to all of this? Does a number tell a story?

About Mahana Estates:

Located in the stunning Upper Moutere valley near Nelson, Mahana Estates is an organic winery, restaurant, event venue and luxury accommodation host. www.mahana.nz

Media enquiries: Jacquie Walters, WaltersPR, Ph +64 210730454, Email jacquie@walterspr.co.nz

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