Hey, I resemble that remark!

By G.M. “Pooch” Pucilowski

I recently read an op-ed piece in The Sacramento Bee about the ethics of wine reviewing. The author, Robert D. Richards, a professor of journalism and law at Pennsylvania State University, wrote that some wine writers can’t be trusted to be truthful about the wines they review because they accept freebies from wineries.

“Can the stories be trusted if the reporter attended a recent sleepover at the vineyard?” he wrote. You know, he may have a point. I can’t talk about other wine writers, but I can tell you about myself. Let me clarify where I stand on this topic.

I am not a journalist (my editor would readily agree); I am a wine lover. I love to educate people about wine and share information about wines that get me excited. After 30 years in this business, I know and personally like many winery owners and winemakers. Many wines that I recommend come from wineries that are owned by friends. But I don’t like every wine these friends might make.

I don’t accept (nor have I ever been offered) money or gifts to write about specific wines. However, I have received free bottles of wine and attended lunches and dinners put on by wineries. I’ve even allowed a winery or two to put me up at its facility in Napa or Sonoma—but that would not be a reason to write about its wines. I probably receive six to 10 wines a month via UPS and I taste them all, but I only write about one or two at the most—and only if I like them.

It’s true you won’t read negative reviews of wines or wineries in this column. There are too many really nice wines out there, and I don’t need to spend time writing about bad wines. But more importantly, who am I to tell you whether a wine is good? I will mention wines that I like, but I recognize that I am only one person with my own tastes, prejudices, likes and dislikes—just like you.

When I was a judge at The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition earlier this year, the event’s coordinators arranged for us judges to have dinner at Robert Mondavi Winery. It was an elaborate four-course meal with at least seven or eight different wines. There were a couple of wines I didn’t care for, a couple that were OK and a couple that just knocked my socks off. That dinner would not influence me to write about the ones I didn’t like. (And nobody asked me to do so.)

When Sacramento magazine asked me to write this column seven years ago, I was the executive director of the El Dorado Winery Association. I told the winery owners I would not be reviewing their wines or wineries. I don’t think they were very happy about it, but they accepted it as necessary.

So my promise to you is this: Every wine I review will be one that I have tasted and liked—no matter who made the wine or owns the winery. I won’t assume I know it all; you can count on me to encourage and guide you as you learn about wine and decide what you like.

Wines of the Month
Here are a few wines that I particularly liked while judging The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition:
Charles Creek 2002 Las Patolitas Chardonnay (Carneros), $20. This wine, with its wonderful balance of apple/pear fruit and oak, full mouth feel and creamy texture, scooped up Gold and Best of Class medals. (707-996-6622)

Windmill Estates 2002 Zinfandel (Lodi), $10. This is Michael~David Vineyards’ second label, and it’s great to see such a beautiful wine for only $10. It has good blackberry fruit and nice structure, and is slightly sweet but well-balanced. It won Gold and Best of Class medals. (209-368-7384)