Robert Parker And California: A Cautionary Tale

Vinted on February 15, 2011 binned in California wine, commentary, wine news

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.

Cheers!

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    Comments

  • Colorado Wine Press


    Not only may this decision not have been that big of a decision for Parker, it probably won't be 1/10 as big of a deal for the industry that most wine writers have made it out to be.

    • 1WineDude


      CWP – totally agree. Although, it will be interesting to see if the influence of TWA on CA wine stays the same or decreases. My guess is a bit of the latter, but not just because Parker is pulling out of CA but because score influence in general is declining slightly in the U.S., as are scores from *particular* names/sources (i.e., the evidence suggests that the highest score for a wine helps to sell that wine in the U.S., and it largely doesn't matter WHICH publication / person gave that score). Cheers!

  • PAWINEGUY1000


    Did you just insult fellow Pennsylvanian Mark Squires?

    • 1WineDude


      PA – uhmm… not unless it was done subconsciously.

      Are you like the PA wine personality police? Because if so I need to log some complaints that you might be able to help me with! :-)

  • PAWINEGUY1000


    Mark covers Portugal for WA. And yes, I handle all disputes within the Keystone state's border.

    • 1WineDude


      AH! Gotcha. Well then, I suppose I am actually insulting Squires. Or, better-stated, I am encouraging him to review more from that region than just Port…

      OK, so in terms of protecting PA wine personalities… let’s talk about how I was “welcomed” by the Wine Spectator forum members a couple of years ago… ;-)

      • PAWINEGUY1000


        Sorry if they gave you a hard time, I've got your back now. It's my understanding that Mark does Portugal each December, with about 200 dry table wines reviewed, as well as a vintage summary article.

        • 1WineDude


          Thanks, PA – I feel safer already! :)

          And you've got me thinking that maybe my tongue-in-cheek comment on TWA's Portuguese wine coverage was in poor taste (just like 90%+ of the other content on this blog! :-). Cheers!

  • Steve Heimoff


    Who the f. cares why RP quit wine. I sure as hell don't. The more interesting question is what impact it will have. I am grateful that store owners, waiters and tasting room staffs will shortly no longer be able to trot out that hackneyed "Robert Parker gave this 91 points." What, are they gonna say "Antonio Galiini gave this 91 points"? Who dat, some spaghetti cook down the street? I also think that RP's passing will give the rest of us sunlight to become more influential. Parker was like a 400 foot high redwood tree in whose shadow nothing else could grow, not even moss. Now that he's been felled, the little saplings can grow. You too, Dude!

    • 1WineDude


      Hi Steve – I agree totally that the more interesting question is "now what?" It's gonna be fun (and, as usual, totally unpredictable! :-).

      I suspect that many, many, **many** CA producers, *especially* in N. CA, are going to be breathing loud sighs of relief to accompany the sounds of corks popping in those tasting rooms. The bottom line is that ratings / scores still sell wines, but I'm hoping that this move will help make the playing field more authentic, with wineries continuing to feel more and more free to make the wines that they want to make, with more and more critics/reviewers making their own best and honest judgments.

      As you can likely tell, I love this sh*t! :-) Ambiguity is our friend!

      Cheers!

  • 1WineDude


    Well, maybe Antonio does actually cook spaghetti? :)

    I took that to be a facetious take on Antonio's notoriety vs. that of his boss at TWA…

    • PAWINEGUY1000


      I also assume he was being facetious… this critic on critic stuff makes me queasy.

      • 1WineDude


        It is sickening, isn't it? Like watching animals kill each other.Oh, wait a second… I'm kind of a critic, aren't I? Sh*t… ok, I need to rethink that one…

  • Thomas Pellechia


    PAWINE GUY:

    "Keystone state's…"

    Keystone state, Keystone cops–same thing…

    • 1WineDude


      Thomas – since the Keystone cops were totally incompetent, the comparison to the Keystone State’s handling of all things alcohol-related is, I think, quite apt! :-)

  • Trackbacks

  • Trackback from What Happens After Robert Parker? | Winecast
    Tuesday, 15 February, 2011

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