The value of a tasting note

 
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I’ve been meaning to write about this for some time, I even drafted a post, but recent events have prompted me to complete it.

What is a single tasting note worth?

Ryan Opaz of Catavino recently asked this question on twitter after a discussion we had, and it still has me thinking.

I suppose one could argue that tasting notes are worth exactly what you pay for them. In most cases, such as blogs, wine social networks and twitter, the answer is NOTHING. They are free! They are given away as they are shared by those tasting wines mainly for their own enjoyment.

But this is only part of the story. There are those sites that do charge to give you access to information such as tasting notes. In addition, even if consumers are not paying for tasting notes, that is not to say they are not “worth” something to someone.

Subscription Sites

There are sites where some of the key ‘value’ are the tasting notes on offer – not because they are tasting notes as such, but because they are buying advice (e.g. The Wine Gang) or “insider information” on the potential future value of premium wines (e.g. JancisRobinson.com on En Primeur)

There will always be a small number of people willing to pay for these sites to get this information rather than searching through multiple sites or waiting to personally taste wines they mean to buy – which may not even be possible. The question is whether there are enough of them to make a site profitable.

Social Networks

On the other hand, there are many social networks out there (e.g. Snooth, Adegga, etc.) where the tasting notes themselves are free content. They still represent value for people, but this is exchanged for attracting more friends & followers or becoming known as a reliable expert. The value is in social recognition, something some might call Whuffie or ‘Social Capital

And then there is the law …

What prompted me to write this today was the Decanter story that a journalist, Martin Isark, is suing Majestic for using his tasting note to promote a wine called “Cuvée de Richard Vin de Pays de l’Aude”. He wrote a note which apparently included the words “incredible value” in a newspaper in 2001 – and apparently Majestic have been using those words, attached to his name, ever since to promote subsequent vintages. So now, he is claiming £50,000 in damages for “‘false endorsements’ and ‘infringement of copyright’” to get them to stop according to the story (NB. I’m no lawyer, I’m only reporting information available on other sites).

Whilst I agree that the note is [arguably] false endorsement if they do not clearly show it was for a (much) older vintage, it makes you wonder how much Martin Isark thinks that endorsement is worth if the “damage” is £50,000 (as far as I know the UK law does not allow for punitive damages). I’m sure that Majestic will have sold some additional bottles of the back of the note, but that would be a LOT of bottles. And what about the benefits to Mr Isark (who, I must admit, I had not heard of before this incident)? He has had his name promoted to thousands of Majestic customers over the years – could he not have made something positive of this, offering to review (accurately and honestly) future vintages or more wines?

So, the question remains, how much is a tasting note worth?

Like any content, tasting notes have value and with the right ‘context’ there are ways to make them generate money for someone – let’s just hope it isn’t all for the lawyers, but for wine writers and drinkers instead!

[full disclosure: I am married to a lawyer, and benefit greatly from the good work that lawyers do :) ]

[UPDATE 20/11/09 14:23: On closer examination, Martin Isark answers the question on his website. The answer, at least for Martin Isark is: £15,000 PLUS 2% of sales as a royalty payment. This is astronomically high, and also makes one wonder about the potential ethical issues of journalists receiving royalties on related sales. Of course, he can name whatever price he wants, but I wonder whether anyone would really accept this value as realistic? If so, I need to start writing more tasting notes ;) ]

[UPDATE 20/11/09 14:27: inserted the word "arguably" in para 9 erroneously missed off original post!]

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