A certain break out session at the Wine Blogger's conference was hot. I mean vibrationally hot. I mean, emotions started to fly. It concerned the interface of wine blogger and wine marketer. At question were ethics. I discovered I had totally missed a Twitter- heavy topic in the winebloggersphere, Rockaway-Gate. To find some back story check out the posts on Tom Wark's Fermenation Blog HERE as well and HERE. Tempest in a tea pot or a hot button discussion? To me it was much ado about nothing. There's plenty to get hot and bothered about when it comes to the issue of writers/bloggers and ethics, but this didn't seem to be one of them. The debated scenario was that Rodney Strong Winery asked blogger Jeff Lefevere to coordinate a mini-wine sampling blast. All who agreed, would blog on the wine on the same day. All of bloggers who sampled the wine loved it. Alice's (that would be me) hand shot up and said, "I've no problem with the ethics, all is fair in love and marketing (almost), but just don't say this was an impartial, review of the wine. It seems as if the people selected were inclined to like this style.For example, there was no way Jeff would have sent the wine to me, because you know there was little possibility of me liking it. Now there's nothing wrong with that, but it just is not a good selection from the variety of tastes out there." Robert Larsen is the director of marketing for Sonoma-based Rodney Strong, and a brave man. Shortly thereafter he invited me to breakfast. I agreed, in part because I've known him in a different incarnation and he is an interesting, smart guy. I know I need to take more face time with California, both to stay in touch and to keep the dialogue open. So once in a while I break bread with someone who reps wines not usually found on my must drink list. (kind of like Obama willing to meet with Hugo Chavez etal.) I was also intrigued that he was open to talk with a troublemaker, me. After some chitchat, he dove into his talking points and delivered the Rodney Strong message. He wanted to let me know about their Greenery and why they reject organic in favor of Fish Friendly. Organic just isn't Green enough, because it requires more vineyard work.(= fossil fuel consumption.) Let's see, what if we didn't irrigate those 1000 acres of vineyards, what if you got a few horses, or solar powered/electric tractors? Anyway, he handed me a bottle, a very heavy, mega-death bottle of the Rockaway that granted, can do double duty at the bench press. $75 of fossil fueled dollar bills is the cost of the wine. I like Larsen alot and especially because he gets irony. "We're going to lighten up on the bottle," he said, apologetically. I believe they will indeed. Then he said, "We want to make the BEST Cabernet in California." That's when the Alice within was unlocked. What is the best? Can I say what the best Cabernet in the Loire is? The best red Burgundy in Burgundy? I understand the fastest runner in the world, I understand the most acclaimed. I could say my current favorites are...... But the best Cabernet in California? My response was, "Interesting concept. I would bet your best would be the one I would give away or tip my PLUMBER with." Last night, the big bottle sat on my kitchen table and the devil got in me. I tasted it. Verdict: typical, scratchy, wood spiced, fits a certain taste profile. Thick and unnaturally black in color. Now, we both knew this was not going to be a wine I could appreciate nor would my regular readers. There could be people who would like it, I just don't know them. This in the end was/is one of Alice's undrinkables. I debated whether or not I should post my take on the wine. For some reason this time, the note seemed relevant, especially because the wine bloggers who blogged it all seemed to like it. Once again, I was coming from another reality. I've been at this wine thing for quite a while. I have made quite a few friends in the world of marketing and publicity. It's impossible not to. I've some extremely dear friends from this talent pool. While my connections do not influence whether I’ll write favorably about their client, it actually does influence whether or not I will just avoid comment at all. Are you shocked? Me, Ms. Blabbermouth. Me, the target for editors who want someone to be the fall guy...the go to girl for '"Let's get Alice to say it, she won't mind.' Me, keeping quiet for the sake of friendship? But never the less, it is very difficult for me to put a friend in a bad position. There are exceptions. Brunello being one, Dubouef being another. Marco deGrazia imports being another. What does it take for me to balance pitting friendship against my written word? The stakes have to be bigger than the both of us. My me-ness can provoke some sticky conversations such the one I had with a Bay Area publicist (who has known me for over a decade). She looked at me with frustration and asked, "What do I have to do to get you to write about one of my clients. I feel as if you don't trust me." She, like others, can interest me in her client or her topic---if well presented--but I can't trust her word enough to print the story without doing my due diligence with the source. Especially as she doesn't seem to really understand what it is I am looking for in a story. For example, there may be some story in Rodney Strong for me, but the fact that they want to make the best cabernet is not one of them--or at least not a story RS would like to read. As a friend of mine, an astute guy said about the Bay Area publicist, "She should pay you off for NOT writing about her clients."