Food & Wine Thursdays: A Wine Geek’s Argument

Be forewarned, this gets really geeky and technical about wine ephemera, but, well, hopefully you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.

It all started when I read this article in the LA Times last week. After reading it, I couldn’t help but remember this article in the SF Chronicle from 2006. Read them through if you have the time. Although clearly different articles, they are substantively nearly identical. Plagiarism? No. Creative bankruptcy? Yeah, probably. Apparently the author of the LA Times article was a contributor at the Chronicle back in 2006. Not implying anything, just mentioning and interesting coincidence. Read the articles, check them out for yourself, and compare.

So here’s how my perturbation at a dying institution went down:

To Whom it May Concern:

While I understand that in the world of journalism there is sometimes a convergence of story ideas, I felt I would be remiss in not pointing out that today’s article by W. Blake Gray about Zinfandel-based field blends is, substantively, nearly identical to an article by Tim Teichgraeber published almost four years ago in the San Francisco Chronicle. You can read that article here:

I would consider this a coincidence, except that Mr. Gray was contributing to the Chronicle at the same time that the above cited article was published.

Whether this is coincidence, plagiarism, or creative bankruptcy is not the question. It’s just yet another indicator as to why younger, savvy readers like myself are rejecting mainstream news journalism. Of course bloggers are more trustworthy when unoriginal articles like Mr. Gray’s make it through watchful editorial eyes and onto the presses.


And here’s the first response from Russ Parsons, LA Times Food Editor


Thanks for sending that along. They are certainly on the same topic, but they are in no way similar enough to warrant charges of plagiarism. Gray’s story contains a lot of material that is not in the earlier piece (focusing on the ZAP controversy and using the example of Bedrock Vineyard. The areas where they are similar are basically in concept and in historical background material. This is not to take anything away from Teichgraeber’s story, which was very well done. In journalism, rarely is a story told only once, hopefully it will be updated from time to time and told in different ways. You should be aware that the charge of plagiarism is a very serious one and involves lifting passages word-for-word from another writer’s piece. I could find nothing remotely resembling that in this case.


And my follow-up to that misinterpretation of the intent of my email.

Thanks for your reply. Despite my perhaps overly grandiose language, but it was not my intention to level a charge of literal plagiarism against the article–I do recognize the distinction–but rather a charge of creative bankruptcy or, at the very least, creative laziness. If you eliminate the filter of the ZAP “controversy,” from the article then the content is, to my eye anyway, substantively (though not literally) the same. It is demonstrably unoriginal not just in topic but in how the content is related.

The ZAP controversy appears largely manufactured in this article to give context to a discussion of field blends, to its detriment. For instance the Ridge Pagani Ranch and Ravenswood Old Hill Ranch are mentioned in a way to suggest that they are ZAP-violating field blends, when in fact both are overwhelmingly Zinfandel and labeled as such (at least the last vintages I’ve encountered). In fact, in an article that appears to be about said controversy, only one of the wines expressly mentioned (The Bedrock Heirloom Wine) would not be allowed to be labeled Zinfandel and would be the only wine excluded from ZAP events. Typically all but one or two of the Ridge Zinfandels each year (as I can attest as a former Ridge Z-Lister) is a field blend of some sort, but they all have more than the 75% requisite Zinfandel and are labeled as such (the 2006 Pagani Ranch, for instance, is 96% Zinfandel).

So what’s the controversy? That Zinfandel producers can’t also pour their Zinfandel-based blends that aren’t at least 75% varietal Zin at ZAP events? ZAP doesn’t forbid field blends (as intimated in the article) but rather it merely forbids field blends in which Zinfandel isn’t at least 75%.

Perhaps the article is spinning a “controversy” out of a minor technical disagreement?

Additionally, the bit of history about the Bedrock Vineyard sounds fantastic but I couldn’t corroborate it anywhere but from Bedrock’s own website. I’m curious to know if there was an additional source for this info besides the Vineyard’s own PR material? For what it’s worth, George Hearst was serving in the Senate in DC in 1888, though I suppose he could’ve dispatched replanting orders via telegraph.

All this is, I know, technical minutia for wine geeks and immaterial to most readers, but if we’re going to educate readers on a very interesting topic, I hope we’re doing it with facts and history and not myth, PR spin, and exaggerated controversy. We need to perpetuate the utterly fascinating and complex truth about California wine history and not the more convenient legends, half-truths, and fables.

The end.

About David D.

I'm a wine professional. Like a real one who makes most of his living in wine and have for most of my adult life. I also write, but you can see that.
This entry was posted in Wine & Cheese. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Food & Wine Thursdays: A Wine Geek’s Argument

  1. Justin says:

    Have you gotten a response?

  2. David D. says:

    Nothin’ yet.

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