Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Natalie MacLean tells a lie

I didn't want to revisit the Natalie MacLean content theft scandal. But she told a lie on her blog on Christmas Eve that needs to be corrected. And I can't correct it on her blog because she immediately deletes comments she doesn't like.

MacLean was using wine reviews from other writers without their permission and was not properly crediting them. Palate Press broke the story.

A week later, she wrote a whiny letter to readers about how people are so mean on the Internet, and she never meant any harm. And she doesn't make much money. AND more than 40 writers had emailed her in support. I'd like to see the names of those 40 writers who support the use of other writers' work without permission. Who knows, maybe they exist.

On the post, she soaked up the fawning approval of a dozen commenters, some of whom are probably real people. She deleted comments she disliked. It's her blog: that's not the way most of us operate, but it's her right, and I'd be lying if I said I've never done that.

The local Toronto papers aren't interested in the scandal. Her fans love her. Who cares what Palate Press thinks? She's got a little Ontario empire, and the bitchy Internet wine world will return to biting somebody else's tail soon enough.

But she just couldn't let it go. She had to take one step too many, and that step was this:

MacLean posted this comment on her own whiny letter on Christmas Eve. I can't imagine why. But you can't easily get away with lying in the modern Internet world.

Here's the letter the Chairman of the Circle of Wine Writers actually sent to her:

From: Stuart Walton
Sent: December-18-12 9:07 AM
Subject: Circle of Wine Writers

Dear Natalie,

I am writing to let you know that the concerns raised by recent discussion of the content of your website have been raised in CWW committee. This email is by way of letting you know what the opinion of the committee is, and to invite you of course to make any response to colleagues' concerns, or indeed any general comment, about the matters raised.

We would advise you that we don't consider it to be best ethical practice to cite other members' work without full attribution of the writer's name and publication, and that you might consider it a courtesy in future to seek the permission of individual authors before quoting from them. Where the quotations have been taken from copyright material, as I am sure you are by now aware, you may well in any case find yourself open to legal challenge by copyright-holders, whether these be the writers themselves or their publishers.

I'm aware that you offered a statement in solution of the outstanding grievances last week, and I would certainly advise you to address the issue of missing attributions on your website as urgently as you are able. I should also stress that this is the view of the executive authority of the CWW, and is not to be considered in the light of any other private representations that have been made to you by individuals or organisations. If you are able to repeat for the CWW the assurances you gave to others last week, I am sure the concerns expressed by colleagues can be allayed, and this matter can be promptly resolved.

Stuart Walton
Circle of Wine Writers

Let me restate that I have no idea why MacLean wanted to mention the Circle of Wine Writers. It's not a regulatory body and it's hardly known even in the UK, much less in North America. Its approval or disapproval would have no real impact on her.

In fact, the CWW's "review" would be embarrassing for most people. Read the beginning of Walton's letter again: the CWW's members are concerned about MacLean's ethics and are discussing them in committee, even though the organization is powerless to do anything, except perhaps not invite her to lunch the next time she's in London.

When she published the comment above, the matter was definitely NOT considered closed, as you can see from Walton's letter. And you can infer from the fact that I got a copy of this letter on Christmas Eve, within hours of MacLean's published comment, that some members of the CWW don't appreciate her trying to use their organization for cover.

As I said at the top, I don't want to blog more about Natalie MacLean. But the journalist in me wants the record to be set straight. I would have posted Walton's letter as a comment on her own blog -- that's really where it belongs. But as I said, she immediately deletes anything she doesn't like. And she sees it as a personal attack, which I assure you, this is not. And I'll prove it: I want to help you, Natalie.

When you read this Natalie, as I know you will, please pay close attention to the following.

It's clear you don't understand why people disagree with you and I believe it's because you don't have the same sense of morality as others. This means you're probably never going to understand why others pick on you for your ethics. But you also clearly don't like being picked on. So do this: DON'T LIE anymore. People are paying attention and you'll get exposed. Telling the truth won't protect you from every nasty person on the Internet, but it will cut down on posts like this that make you look undeniably bad. The cloud over you will go away faster if you don't keep seeding it.

Please don't make me, or some other blogger, do this again.

UPDATE: Don't miss the 3rd comment immediately below this post, from Dean Tudor. It adds a lot. 

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Dean Tudor said...

The original letter to Nat was from Michael Pinkus, President of the Wine Writers' Circle of Canada. He also sent that letter to the Circle of Wine Writers' executive because Nat was a member of the CWW and it was felt that they could do some internal discipline.

At the time of writing, Natalie was a member of the WWCC and the CWW. She has since resigned from WWCC for different reasons.

W. Blake Gray said...

Dean: Thanks for the info. Can you clarify the timing for me? MacLean gets a letter from Michael Pinkus, and then resigns from the WWCC? How long afterward?

Are those acts really not related?

Dean Tudor said...

In a letter to the WWCC members,Thurs Nov 1, 1:29 PM, from Michael Pinkus, President of WWCC --

"The following correspondence transpired over the past 48 hours, which preceded the resignation of Natalie Maclean from the WWCC. Her resignation will not dissuade the executive committee from insisting she adhere to proper citing of all WWCC writers' work.

Sent: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 3:53 PM
Subject: Can I get your feedback on this issue

Dear Natalie,

As mutual members of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada and colleagues in a relatively tight wine writing community, I’m writing to advise you of a practice that your fellow WWCC wine writers find disconcerting.

It appears that for some time you have lifted several WWCC wine writers’ tasting notes from the Vintages catalogue and posted them on your website beneath wines you may or may not have reviewed. These reviews clearly add value to your website, yet you have failed to give full credit your peers whose work you’re sharing. As it appears now, you only include the writers’ initials after the reviews, without explaining what they stand for, which of course fails to credit them in any way. Instead, I would ask that you properly cite the full name of the writer whose work you are reprinting, as well as the source of the tasting note – where it originally appeared – each time you include a fellow WWCC member writer’s tasting note on your website.

And of course, asking if you can reprint a fellow writer’s work on your website before doing so would be a natural courtesy.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this matter.

All the very best,

Michael Pinkus
Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada

Subject: RE: Can I get your feedback on this issue
Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2012 16:42:31 -0400

Hi Michael,

Thanks for your note. I do explain all of the initials for those quoted on my site to ensure full credit is given. As you may know, a number of other sites also quote the reviews from the Vintages Catalogue and don’t ask permission to do so beforehand. Fair use allows quotes of this length.


Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2012 21:42:24 -0500
To: Natalie MacLean
Subject: RE: Can I get your feedback on this issue

May i ask where?
I looked through your site and could not find the key?

Subject: WWCC
Date: Thu, 1 Nov 2012 08:45:45 -0400

Hi Carolyn, Michael and Dean,

Hope you’re all well. I’ve enjoyed being a member of the WWCC over the past years, but have found increasingly that living in Ottawa prevents me from participating in most of the tastings and meetings.

With this note, I have resigned my membership until there are more Ottawa-based activities. I wish you all the best.



W. Blake Gray said...

Dean: Thanks for this. Wow. I think your comment is more revealing than my post.

Tyler Philp said...

Probably the best summary to date of Natalie MacLean's ongoing blunder - thanks Blake. You'd like to think that she would follow your advice, but my experience is that she cannot be reasoned with. Furthermore, to get the message through, you'll probably need to subscribe... $2.10 /month plus a farce of an App for your phone, if you are interested.

Jacqueline Malenda said...

Thanks so much to all who have been bringing this issue to light and helping the rest of us get a clearer understanding of what happened. Rumors tend to circulate quickly and it’s important to hear the truth. Thanks also to the rest of us who post original work (or properly credit others’ work) to our wine blogs. I’d like to believe that someone like Natalie MacLean and her acts will not damage the credibility of other wine writers and bloggers.

Tom Riley said...

Great wrap up, with solid and damning evidence. I appreciate you following this to its conclusion. Well, let's hope that this is over. As you suggest, enough virtual ink has been spilled over this to last some time. Good work.

Per and Britt, BKWine said...

One thing that puzzles me in this, and it is almost more curious than the actions of Maclean, is what the WWCC says, as well as implicitly perhaps even the CWW.

It's this:

They seem to be saying: "if only Maclean had given the full names of the original writer and the source for the tasting notes - full credit - then it would all have been fine".

In other words, they seem to be saying that they think that it is OK if you copy and republish (and profit from) other people's writing, as long as you clearly state who you are lifting the text from.

That is a very strange interpretation of copyright.

As far as I am aware you are not allowed to copy and republish other authors' text *at all* without their express permission. It does not matter if you clearly state where you have lifted the text or not. (with the exception of "fair use")

But it seems that the WWCC don't see it that way.

Or am I misunderstanding what the WWCC says? Or misunderstanding Copyright?

-Per K.

Dean Tudor said...

Well, yes, that pretty well sums it up for the most part. The WWCC initially was only interested in PROPER attribution. Most of our members that were quoted didn't mind the reproduction, they just wanted their names, dates and publications to be sourced.

MacLean had brought up the issue of "fair use", which to my mind meant phrases or quotes from the reviews. not the whole review itself.

From there it escalated as she stonewalled us. We had no choice but to go international and involve other wine writers, especially those who belonged to the other wine writer group (CWW) that Nat was involved with.

Then it was taken on by Palate Press, who also came up with a pay-for-play story. More escalation....

Margaret Swaine said...

Canadian wine writers have decided to take action. This letter is in circulation and many of us are signing it: Dear colleagues

I'm sending this to Canadian wine writers whose reviews have been published in Vintages catalogs, and were therefore published on Natalie MacLean's web site,

There has been a great deal of discussion of the practice of reprinting reviews, but I think it is time to do something concrete and, I believe, professional and uncontroversial. I'm proposing that we all (or as many who wish to) send Natalie Maclean a collective letter (by e-mail) requiring her to:

(a) remove all our reviews from her web site,
(b) desist from printing any of our reviews on her web site in future, and
(c) acknowledge that she has received our letter and agrees to its terms

The letter (below) would be made public.

Please let me know as soon as possible if (a) you want your name to be attached to the letter, or (b) you do NOT want you name attached. If you want to be a signatory, please provide me with your preferred affiliation (e.g., wine columnist, Ottawa Citizen) if you want one shown.

And please take a look at the distribution list, and let me know if I have omitted any Canadian wine writer who should be contacted.

Best wishes for 2013!

Rod Phillips


Dear Natalie MacLean

We are Canadian wine writers whose wine reviews have, at various times, been published in the catalogs of newly released wines that is published by Vintages.

We understand that you have reprinted our individual reviews on your web site,, although you might by now have removed some of them. That notwithstanding, we are writing to require you to:

(a) remove, immediately, all our individual wine reviews from your web site,
(b) desist from printing any of our wine reviews on your web site in future, and
(c) acknowledge that you have received our letter and that you agree to its terms


Rod Phillips,
and other names in alphabetical order

Michael Pinkus said...

Per K.

As Canadian Wine Writers we are used to the LCBO grabbing our material without our permission and using it in their Vintages magazine (and they are selling wine) - but the LCBO gives full and proper credit as to the who, what, where and when they took the quote.

Natalie was taking this (as it appeared in Vintages magazine):

TASTING NOTE: Deep purple-tinged ruby. Grapey, deep aromas of stewed plum, raisin, date and cocoa explode from the glass. Rich, smooth and very dense, with wonderfully tactile flavors similar to the aromas. This very pure Amarone finishes creamy-sweet but fresh, thanks to sound acidity. An extremely successful entry-level Amarone made from grapes that were air-dried for roughly four months. Score – 93. (Ian D’Agata, International Wine Cellar, March/April 2012)

and turning into this (as it appears on her website) ...

Deep purple-tinged ruby. Grapey, deep aromas of stewed plum, raisin, date and cocoa explode from the glass. Rich, smooth and very dense, with wonderfully tactile flavors similar to the aromas. This very pure Amarone finishes creamy-sweet but fresh, thanks to sound acidity. An extremely successful entry-level Amarone made from grapes that were air-dried for roughly four months. Score: ID’A

Same note - just removal of the name, the where and the when. It actually took her more time to remove the full name than it did to copy and paste the note.

Unknown said...

This comment was posted to the Palate Press article on Dec. 24 by
Dean Tudor.

Just heard back from Steven Spurrier: “As current President of the Circle of Wine Writers I sent an email to Nathalie MacLean to say that, since I never follow any blogs, tweets and so on, I had been unaware of the problem that had been flagged by Tony Apsler, Jancis Robinson et al et al, but that I was now aware of it and was pleased that she was taking these complaints about her use of writers’ copy into account.

I received a reply of thanks in return, but nobody has made me aware that this debate is now closed.”

W. Blake Gray said...

Steven Spurrier: "Since I never follow any blogs, tweets and so on."

Who you callin' "so on," pal?

Isaac James Baker said...

Great post W. Blake. MacLean keeps digging herself deeper, and I'm glad someone's taking a good ol' fashioned journalistic look into it. Cheers!

W. Blake Gray said...

The paper where MacLean writes a regular column did a piece on the story, and in it, MacLean seems to believe that if you disagree with her, it's a personal attack

MacLean quote: “I was surprised at how this issue was characterized as opposed to just debating the issue itself. The issue itself deserves debate: how do you quote and attribute wine reviews? It was painful because it was a pretty severe personal attack on my character that went far beyond the issue."

No Natalie, this is not an issue that deserves debate. You were wrong. You used other people's reviews without full attribution.


Per and Britt, BKWine said...

On the other hand, Blake, I'd say that you are wrong too.

The issue here is NOT attribution.

The issue is using other writer's text without their consent.

No one is allowed to use other people's texts without their consent. If you do, it is copyright infringement. It makes no difference at all if you "attribute" the text with the full name of the author or not. It is copying the text that is the main issue.

Now, some writers may be happy with just an attribution when their texts are pinched. If you are, then by all means let it be known that other writers can copy your texts freely as long as they "attribute" with your full name.

But please don't devalue the concept of copyright for everyone by just focussing on "attribution" in this case.

What NML did, it appears, was infringe on other people's copyright by copying texts without any authorisation by the copyright owner.


W. Blake Gray said...

Per: I don't disagree. Read my previous post on the topic: