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Robert Parker And California: A Cautionary Tale | 1 Wine Dude

Robert Parker And California: A Cautionary Tale

Vinted on February 15, 2011 binned in California wine, commentary, wine news
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The topic is old news now, and while revisiting it runs the risk of sounding a late-to-the-party bell with overtones of “me, too!,” I do think I can offer you something new on the latest (and largest) piece of wine biz news.

I’m speaking of the news last week of uber-wine-critic Robert Parker passing on tasting/reviewing responsibilities for California wine to Antonio Galloni at The Wine Advocate. There have already been several takes on the news in blogosphere, with my faves coming from W. Blake Gray and Jeff Lefevere (both of whom do a stellar job of covering the big and small of the wine industry and provide thoughtful commentary on the potential ripple effects).

When the news broke, I was in Portugal where the Parker news wasn’t even news, presumably because The Wine Advocate doesn’t pay much attention to Portuguese table wines (or so it might be argued by the Portuguese table wine industry, anyway). So I was totally unaware of the announcement from Parker, or the ensuing coverage in the wine media, until I returned at the close of that work week.

Now, what’s to be said about Parker no longer covering CA wines that hasn’t already been said?

Well, as most of you out there will recall, I interviewed Parker not too long ago, and while that hardly qualifies as having a window into his soul, it might be just enough access to have formulated a different – and more cautionary – viewpoint into his recent decision…

I’m not saying that the speculation on the impact of Parker handing over CA tasting responsibilities isn’t warranted – it certainly is, because no one can doubt Parker’s enormous influence over CA wines (even if that influence isn’t as strong as it is in Bordeaux, where they seem totally unable to establish wine prices without his En primeur ratings – I suppose it’s easier to rely on someone else to lead than it is hiring your own qualified people to help set your products’ prices, right?).

But I will say that the wine media shouldn’t draw too many conclusions about the reasons behind Parker’s decision, because it’s very, very likely that Parker has simply assigned wine regions to Wine Advocate staff that he deemed most appropriate for detailed coverage of those regions’ wines so that he can focus on his first loves (Bordeaux and Rhone).  It’s likely as simple as that.

If I were a betting man (I’m not), I’d bet my Faust double-magnum that while he takes the move seriously, Parker didn’t put 1/100th of the time we’ve all spent analyzing the decision in making it.  The impression I garnered from my interview with him (and it’s one that I’ve since confirmed with people much, much closer to him than I am, including Emperor of Wine author Elin McCoy) is that he reaches some decisions rather quickly, as the inevitable conclusion of balladromic events and past decisions. One could argue that those decisions are only inevitable in retrospect, but few who know him would argue that Parker will vehemently defend those decisions as he does his positions on just about everything else.

In other words, don’t look for deep meaning in Parker’s decision to reassign CA reviews at The Wine Advocate: it is what it is, and probably according to Parker would always have ended up this way no matter what he or anyone else did.

Personally, I’m okay with all of that – I’d rather dive into the now-much-murkier field of CA wine critique than over-analyze the past landscape over which Parker’s influence primarily presided.  We are once again “cursed to live in interesting times,” but for those of us who are comfortable with ambiguity – and I’ve never met a winemaker or grapegrower who didn’t have to learn to live (very) comfortably with ambiguity! – we should see some exciting times and changing tides in CA wine media in the near future.


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