Robert M. Parker, Jr. – arguably the world’s most famous, but unarguably its most influential, wine critic – is hangin’ up the spurs.
Last week, The Wine Advocate announced that Parker, who had steadily been down-shifting his wine review duties over the better course of a decade, is retiring from the publication.
What’s poised to change in the wine world? Probably next to nothing; the days when the words of a lone critic such as Parker directed huge swings of the wine-buying needle for industry buyers and consumers alike are increasingly far behind us, a type of influence that has been on the wane for, well, the better course of the same decade in which Parker down-shifted his wine-reviewing beat.
Namely, that the days of wine brands coasting their lazy asses on the basis of past performance, and consumers being forced to suck up junk-ass wines as a result, are largely a thing of the past, and that is in no small part due to the work ethic of one Robert M. Parker, Jr. In other words, like him or hate him, love points or gag at the sight of them, Parker’s influence in the wine world writ large is and will always be net positive…
The part that was most surprising was that the show’s theme centered around the Op-Ed-style piece I penned in mid-February, in which I posited that the wine industry as a whole has fumbled the ball when it comes to attracting the Millennial generation, as evidenced by multiple reports showing that wine in the USA is hemorrhaging those younger consumers and now needs desperately to staunch the bleeding, having failed at the preventive medicine part of hopping generational buying habits. It’s not all gloom-and-doom, of course; the wine biz is very good at some forms of consumer engagement, but I maintain that those forms work best with an older crowd.
Our discussion morphed from whether or not wine is losing the battle for younger drinkers, into both broader (wine biz writ-large) and more focused (impacts on the NY FLX wine scene) conversations, and now my minor dream of trying to sound intelligent during one of those super-cool, dignified NPR discussions has finally been realized. You can listen to that show here, or via the embed below (and then make fun of me in the comments). Make sure that you have NPR coffee mug in hand first (but you can, of course, fill it with wine… I’m not gonna judge…).
Now, according to the 2019 incarnation of the SVB analysis, the US wine industry might be too late; or, at least, too late to avoid negative impacts to fine wine sales now that most of the millennial generation are old enough to legally drink, and making just enough money to spend some of it on drinking.
Congrats, folks! You officially stuck your head so far into your butts that, if you squint through your belly-button hole, you’ll be able to see that you blew your chance at capturing the hearts (and dollars) of the next generation of drinkers! Go, you!…
One of the best responses to my rant came via another blog (and yeah, I realize that bu writing about someone writing about me writing about wine is several orders of magnitude of meta), Dwight Furrow’s Edible Arts. Dwight is a PhD (Philosophy) and WSET Advanced and CSW, so I’m going to make the (extremely safe) assumption that he knows what he’s doing when it comes to stringing words together regarding how we as humans conceptualize our discourse on wine.
Dwight’s entire response is worth a read (and so it’s embedded below), but I wanted to highlight two quotes in particular:
“We have a disturbing tendency in the U.S. of thinking that the only people who are competent and motivated to do X are people who are paid to do X. Writing and the arts are perhaps the best example of an activity where this assumption doesn’t hold.”
I love this response for several reasons, primarily because Dwight hits on what has made user-generated content such a potent force in today’s marketplace (and in modern discourse, in general). What I love most about it, however, is that it equates amateur content about wine with amateur content about everything since ever. That’s an important reminder, because we tend to forget that amateur content can be excellent, despite the fact that this has been true for a few hundred years. We are distracted by the fact that we can find both the lousy and the excellent amateur wine writing with equal amount of ease in our online world, and so we draw the incorrect conclusion that somehow there is more crap created these days relative to excellence than there has been in the past.
I still find the future of professional wine writing – in terms of making a living at it – very dark, indeed. But Dwight has rekindled a bit of hope in me that wine content in general is likely to remain strong for a good long time.
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