Steve Heimoff’s take on the Parker drama (read the WSJ article about how Parker’s independent wine writers received free trips & meals from wine importers, including a $25,000 trip to Australia) is that wine writers are poor and that it is inevitable that they will be treated to free wine, meals and trips throughout their career. Why is it that wine writers can accept free meals/trips while news reporters, who are probably paid less, hold themselves to higher standards? Is it because wine writing is less serious? If so, that’s pretty sad. Sounds to me like Heimoff is protecting himself because he’s taken free meals and trips from wineries/wine import companies whose wines he’s rated.
Heimoff argues that his reviews are always independent, but studies looking at whether doctors are influenced by the free lunches and goodies given to them by pharmaceutical companies show that indeed, physicians subconsciously prescribe more drugs when they are given the free gifts. (Read this NYT article for more).
So if doctors are influenced, why wouldn’t wine writers be? After all, doctors are making decisions that could affect someone’s health — prescribing an unnecessary drug could even kill the person. When it comes to reviewing wine, the consequences are less serious, so wouldn’t the temptation to give someone a few extra points be even greater?
I’m disappointed by Heimoff, and certainly disappointed by Robert Parker’s fellow writers. I think Parker should fire critic Jay Miller and find someone who isn’t going to accept $25,000 worth of free gifts. It’s embarrassing and will bring down the quality of his reputation and that of the Wine Advocate’s.
Respected critics should never accept gifts. There is no such thing as a free lunch (or a free $25,000 trip).