Monday, September 8, 2014
Wine Spectator, Advocate can now legally sell a 90-point rating
It appears that it can. So can the Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast, CellarTracker, and any other site publishing ratings.
For years, some wineries have whispered that such practices might be informally happening, even though there has never been any evidence. Charging $10,000 to bump a wine from 89 to 90 points would be unethical.
However, after a horrible ruling last week by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, such a practice appears to be legal.
The court ruled that Yelp can legally eliminate positive reviews from its site for businesses that don't buy advertising, which would lower their overall ratings. It can also legally move negative reviews higher.
My rating of the court and this anti-consumer ruling: 1 star. Another example of U.S. courts considering a corporation to have more rights than a person.
Four businesses created the case by suing, calling Yelp's practices "extortion."
The court ruled, "The threat of economic harm that Yelp leveraged is, at most, hard bargaining."
Yep. If I say, "You better pay us weekly protection money or we'll cut your clientele in half," that's just good-ole bidness in the U.S. of A.
I spoke to a winery executive last week who believes Wine Spectator already gives more prominent coverage in its feature articles to wineries that buy advertising. However, even though he cited some specific examples of relationships between coverage and events and advertising, he said he doesn't believe there is a relationship between wine ratings and advertising buys.
Maybe now there could be, legally. What would a 90-point rating be worth for a 200,000-case production wine? Conversely, what would avoiding a 79 rating be worth for a $75 retail wine? The court has just immensely enhanced the profit potential of ratings organizations.
But, you say, consumers won't trust these ratings. Ha. Stories about Yelp's practices have been out there for years, but the site is still influential, and the fear of a 2-star rating from it is still considerable.
For readers of ratings sites, caveat emptor.
Posted by W. Blake Gray at 6:00 AM