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The Web site of Martin Isark: Food & Drink Journalist, Taster and Author.

Tasting Notes

 

 

Important Information on the usage of Martin Isark’s: Name, Words & Tasting Notes: 

 

1) Marrtin Isark holds the copyright for all his articles and tasting notes - this includes all his work in Scotland on Sunday from 1995 – 2005. 2) Martin Isark’s entry in the Circle of Wine Writers’ Register of Work asserts ‘Seek Permission’ before quoting.   

3) There is a professional fee for a tasting note/s usage. For example, the starting point for a Drink Producer, Mail Order Company, Multiply or Supermarket is £15,000 - plus 2% royalty on sales.   

4) Individuals and Companies using Martin Isark’s ,  Name, words  and tasting notes, without permission will be pursued through the courts.  

5) Offending Companies that have been and are being sued for Copyright Infringement and False Endorsement:

a)  Concha Y Toro  - settled out of court 2005

b)  Direct Wines Ltd – settled out of court – 2008

c)  Majestic Wines settled out of court – 2009

6)  Marketeers and retailers unfamiliar with the copyright laws should read the article ‘Pulling The Cork On Tasting Notes’ below.

7)  Martin Isark can be contacted at: martin@martinisark.com 

 

Pulling the Cork on Tasting Notes   

 

Mail Order companies, Supermarkets, Multiples and Independents may well have more than five hundred different drinks on their lists, so there is obviously a constant need to keep them moving off the shelves. And what better way than a tasting note?  It’s simple and, as long as it’s accurate, very helpful. Although boutique beer and premium spirit sales will benefit from an added tasting note, it is in the wine market where its use really makes a substantial difference.   Very few customers are knowledgeable enough to shop for wine as confidently as they shop for bitter or spirits.  As they peruse the endless shelves of Chardonnay and Cabernet, it is no wonder that they thankfully take down the bottle with a friendly and informative tasting note on a neck label or on the shelf. Much quicker and more satisfactory – unless, of course, the label is only a device to get rid of a buyer’s slow moving mistake!  A tasting note must be an honest evaluation of what’s in the bottle; at its best, it will be a guide to a quality wine and ensure that the shopper comes back for more.

The wine world is as tough and ruthless as any other business.  A producer serving the multiples and supermarkets is under constant pressure to have his wines ‘selling through’; a downturn in sales can easily result in a reduced order or a de-listing and he’s only too aware of the many top notch wines that have fallen off the shelf in the past.  If he’s to get into this very competitive market, then, he needs a favourable recommendation from newspapers, magazines or books in the form of a tasting note, ideally by one of the UK’s leading drink’s journalists.  A well-reviewed wine is much more likely to catch an observant buyer’s eye.

Once in the shop and provided that it’s within the purchaser’s price range, a familiar sounding wine will almost sell itself, but once that complimentary tasting note is positioned on the shelf or attached to a bottle, then even the unfamiliar becomes Familiar and a tremendous surge in sales will ensue, without the need for a price reduction or an expensively trained sales assistant. 

In most cases the more successful marketing device is the use of tasting notes on slip-over neck labels on the wine bottles. They are much more eye-catching than ones written on the shelf edge and, most importantly, they travel home with the customer, hopefully to become a reminder of an enjoyable drink.  Moreover, the producers can use vibrant, arresting colours as a background for the tasting note, much more noticeable than ‘shelf talkers, which are generally in black and white.   Producers selling into Tesco and Sainsbury’s, for example, have the advantage here, since these retailers adorn very few of their bottles with neck label tasting notes.  You can pretty well guarantee that bottles so decorated, and the surrounding ones, will attract more consumer attention than the ones without such labels.  

Threshers have decided to do entirely their own thing, however, by putting colourful neck labels on all their bottles!  Although some have tasting notes on them, most have Threshers’ offer of ‘Buy Two Get One Free’ on the neck label.  In their shops, bottles without the neck labels are the ones that are conspicuous.      

There are, however, misconceptions about the use of journalists’ tasting notes.  It is often assumed that, once a tasting comment appears ‘in the public domain’, then it is available to anyone to use.  That is not so. If a journalist, on the staff of a newspaper, magazine or website, writes a tasting note, the copyright for it is owned by the organisation he/she works for and written permission is required to reproduce it.  Permission may be refused or a fee may be charged.  At any rate, reproduction without such permission leaves you open to be sued for copyright infringement (Primary). Any doubts, check section 17 & 18 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act (“CDPA”).

It can get more complicated. If a producer puts a neck label with a tasting note on a bottle, without permission, and sells it on to a retailer, the producer is liable for primary infringement and the retailer then for secondary infringement.  At worst, this seemingly innocuous ‘borrowing’ of a tasting note could result in hundreds of thousands of pounds of legal expenses and damages.  More painfully, it can create soured relationships between all parties – difficult in the relatively small world of drinks. 

Freelance journalists are often their own copyright holders and permission to use a tasting note must be sought from their agents or from the journalists themselves and must be confirmed in writing.  Many journalists, in fact,  don’t wish their tasting notes to be used in this way, and certainly not as a profit-making tool.  If a journalist does agree to be associated with a wine he/she has recommended, there should be a financial arrangement. 

More cautionary advice on the use of tasting notes.  If you have obtained permission to use a tasting note written about a particular vintage, it must be used only on the wine and year intended.  If you use it on any other wine, you can be sued for ‘false endorsement’ (the unconvinced  should check out the decision of the Court of Appeal in Irvine v Talksport Limited).  Many retailers have an efficient policy of removing the tasting note as the vintage changes, but there are websites and retailers that knowingly display out of date tasting notes purely to keep the wine shifting off the shelf.  This not only devalues the good name of the journalist but, even more importantly, is a cynical deception of the customer.  And that is not beneficial for any sector of the drinks’ industry. 

Retailers and producers that are unsure of the finer nuances of copyright law and ‘false endorsement’ in regard to journalist’s tasting notes should contact a law firm that specializes in Intellectual Property.  Simons Muirhead and Burton (www. www.smab.co.uk) and Carter-Ruck (www.carter-ruck.com) are two of London’s finest.  

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