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James Suckling: Quebec payments were ‘not for tastings’

Wine critic James Suckling has confirmed that any monies he received from the Quebec alcohol board were for videos not for tasting.

It was suggested last week by bloggers and on social media that the former Wine Spectator staffer had been paid around CAN$24,000 for tasting sessions at Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ) – after both he and SAQ had explicitly denied he had any financial relationship with the state-controlled alcohol distributor.

Suckling now says he was indeed paid CAN$18,000 and his business received a further CAN$5,950 in subscriptions to his website – but this was payment for videos which he made for the SAQ.

On his blog Suckling had written ‘there is no financial relationship’, but he says that was an entry from February 2011, before he had any agreement to supply videos to SAQ.

The videos were shot in December 2011, under a different deal, he says. His contract with the SAQ will end in November 2013.

‘I was not paid for any tastings or promotions,’ he told Decanter.com. ‘I was paid for videos. I am a film-maker as well as a wine journalist.’

He added, ‘I am not a charity,’ insisting there was no impropriety in the SAQ paying him for his work.

SAQ’s Renaud Dugas told Decanter.com, ‘Suckling was not paid and was never paid to taste and rate wines. It was strictly for the production, the animation, and the creation of these videos’ during the second year of the contract. Dugas added that Suckling paid all associated travel and accommodation expenses.

He also confirmed it was common practice for SAQ to buy other guides and magazines for staff.

Suckling noted that Quebecois commentators had been vocal in their criticism of the fact a Canadian tasting role had been given to an American.

Suckling went to Montreal in early 2011 to do a series of blind tastings for SAQ, in order that his top-scoring wines would run as his selection in SAQ outlets.

The Montreal journal La Presse published the original story using information it had obtained from SAQ under freedom of information laws.

La Presse has now published a clarification.

Written by Adam Lechmere, and David Furer

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