Uber-Critic Robert Parker Drops The Gloves In Sommelier Journal Interview

Vinted on May 2, 2012 binned in best of, commentary, wine publications

Though certainly at what many would consider well-deserved retirement age (he turns 65 this year), Robert Parker – still the single most influential critic of any kind in the world – is not retiring any time soon.

If you’ve read the interview with Parker by sommelier David D. Denton in the April 15, 2012 issue of Sommelier Journal, you already know that Parker has called the rumor of his retirement “totally not true.”

You’d also know that he has critical words for overzealous followers of fresh produce in the restaurant world (“I don’t need the entire history of the vegetable from the time it was planted to the time it was harvested”), fervently believes that former Wine Advocate contributor Jay Miller and MW Pancho Campo are innocent of any pay-to-play wrong-doing (“this guy Jim Budd seems to have something against him, and I don’t know what goes on there” – he’s apparently lawyered-up and hired an investigative service called Kroll to find out), and that he considers himself the first wine blogger (an interesting comparison that I think was first explored here on the virtual pages of 1WineDude.com during my interview with Parker).

And if you’d read that SJ interview, then you’d also know that Parker reserves his most vitriolic words for author Alice Feiring and her position at the forefront of the crusade to bring natural wines into the public consciousness (links and emphasis mine):

“We don’t promote this, but Beaux Frères [ the Oregon wine producer of which Parker is a co-owner ] is biodynamically farmed, the wines aren’t fined or filtered, and I’d say that for most of the vintages we’ve done to date, we didn’t need to put SO2 on the label because the levels were so low. So when we talk about all these catchphrases like ‘natural wine,’ I can tell you that people like Alice Feiring are charlatans – I think they are no better than the snake-oil salesman of yesterday. They are selling a gimmick. Most wines are natural.”

Think the critic doth protest too much? If you asked me that question, the answer would be “probably, but I’m more concerned with how the rest of us are going to look now”…

On the one hand, the natural wine movement suffers from a terrible name – unless we’re making wine from synthetic grapes, the ingredients that end up in or contributing to the contents of a single bottle of wine are “natural” in the general sense of the word, just as produce is “organic” in that it is made of organic matter (though it may not be legally called Organic unless it meets the criteria for being labeled as such – hey, Kashi, are you listening?!??).

So to some extent, Parker raises a good point: calling a wine natural implies that those wines that do not meet the (inexcusably, in my view) imprecise criteria for being deemed natural by the movement’s purists are somehow un-natural and inferior to those that do. And I can tell you from experience with both (and pretty much everything in-between at this point) that such a dividing line is academic only – plenty of wonderful and gawd-awful examples from both styles of winemaking are available to be drunk.

But calling out Alice as selling snake-oil to an unsuspecting public because she’s become the public figurehead of a different view of winemaking? That comes off as a thinly-veiled salvo. Not that I don’t understand the probable motive – Alice did, after all, use Parker’s name in terms of an already-established wine world catch-phrase (“Parkerization”) that represented everything she loathes about the current state of the wine world… in the title of one of her books. That kind of move would probably make me a bit raw, too, even if I found the internal fortitude to admire the ballsy-ness required to do it. But the bottom line is that it is petty to offer eye-for-an-eye, blow-for-blow retaliation in kind, and Parker’s comment about Feiring fails the common sense test for me of not being at least somewhat retaliatory.

What I primarily took away from Parker’s SJ interview was that we now have yet another example of the U.S. wine world’s elder statespersons behaving badly – even if it does only constitute a tiny percentage of the overall article; Parker doesn’t do that many interviews, so the small amount of it that stinks like one of the poorer examples of natural wines is unfortunately going to have resonance in and about the wine world. If anyone in the wine biz has taken to sitting and wonder why the rest of the world thinks that we’re a bunch of douchebags, you have one more example to throw on the fires of your poignant internal angst.

I may be much more “inside” that wine world than “outside” of it these days, but I’m still enough of a regular ol’ passionate wine geek at heart to be saddened by this slip of vitriol. Feiring is no more responsible for all horse-sweaty, undrinkable juice than Parker is for all over-extracted, boozy Frankenwines, than George Lukas is responsible for every sucky effects-laden film that came out since Star Wars (ok, minus the SW prequels). Oversimplifying the attacks on their stances into attacks on them personally ignores crucial positive developments in the wine world that they’ve helped to spearhead (Parker’s being an overall increase in wine quality globally, Feiring’s a renewed focus for everyday wine fans to consciously consider exactly what ingredients they’re actually putting in their mouths).

Sorry, but I don’t accept “an eye for an eye” justice as a standard.

Hey, wine peeps: ENOUGH of the bad reality TV action, already.

We’re better than this, people – and the folks coming to us for wine advice certainly deserve better than the airing of dirty laundry that has become the standard means of communication between some of the wines world’s best-known names when “discussing” divisive topics (here’s some free advice: stick to e-mail; or better yet, stop taking your model of progressive discourse from the current U.S. Congress).






  • njc

    siding with parker on this one. the whole natural movement is ridiculous, and should be publicly lambasted at every opportunity

    • 1WineDude

      njc – disagree. Certainly natural wine's self-righteous stance is annoying but for me that doesn't mean aspects of it are not without merit.

  • PAWineGuy

    I wish you had gone after Steve Heimoff for his ridiculous, jealous post yesterday about Parker. While I wish Parker had used a different approach in his comments on Alice, I share his sentiments and am frankly amazed at his level of self control considering he's attacked in blogs / bulletin boards on a daily basis. (BTW, the reason most authors use someone's name on their book is that they understand it will sell more book than their own name.)

    The problem with the whole natural / organic movement is that if we all adopted it, inexpensive wine would either disappear or become undrinkable; food prices would soar, people would go hungry, etc…

    • 1WineDude

      PA – I agree with you. Can't say anything about Steve's post as I haven't read it. But regarding your other points, I generally agree. The issue I'm having is not tha both sides dont have some valid points but that both sides of this look stupid in lambasting one another publicly and that is bad for the wine biz generally.

      • PAWineGuy


        I certainly agree about this whole "critic on critic" bashing that has evolved over the last couple of years. It's distasteful, and much of it is clearly born of jealousy.

        • 1WineDude

          PA – exactly my point. They're ignoring the progress that each of the others has made. And being disrespectful. I expect this in Congress but could do without it in wine!!!

  • SFO

    I am confused. It's okay for Alice Feiring to essentially make her name lambasting Parker but it's not okay for him to respond with essentially the truth??? Natural wine as a movement is a farce in that it makes better wines — could you convince me that organic farming is better for the world? I agree. Does biodynamic farming or some measurement of sulfites make better wine (or even wine with more character)? I have yet to see an objective study that shows this.

    I agree that RP is douchey but I don't understand why bloggers won't recognize Alice for what she is — someone who just wants attention but has little logic on her side.

    • 1WineDude

      SFO – you're misreading what I'm saying here; I am saying that Alice is equally as culpable and lamenting that both she and Parker are acting poorly.

      • SFO

        Fair enough. I guess I would just put myself in Parker's shoes — if someone wrote a book and made money mocking me, I'd have some issues to work through.

        • 1WineDude

          SFO – No doubt! Me, too! It’s hard to take the high road, but we’re talking about elder statespeople of the wine biz here, we *should* expect better I think.

  • Tom Wark

    Alice hardly made her name on the back of Parker bashing. The women has been writing about wine long before her Parker book came out, she was chosen to write for Time Mag before the book, she's been published in numerous venues and, to boot, she's one of the best writers we have in the wine writing world.

    As for "natural" wine, the category—more properly called "non-interventionist—is a legitimate one and the criticism that bad wine is made under the name isn't much of a criticism at all. Bad wine is made within every category of wine. The difference is that the champions of "natural" wine are marketing their products by denigrating others. That's simply shameful and unethical.

    Parker could have just as easily taken on the "natural" wine movement all by itself and easily have made the same points. While I love Alice and am inspired by her, she knows she's something of a poster child for the movement, just as Parker is the poster child for a specific kind of wine style. Both of them wear big boy pants and can take the criticism.

    • SFO

      Tom, I read a lot about wine (and I have for 10 years). While you and other insiders might have respected Alice, she was unknown outside of the inner circle.

      She is a great writer. However, her "stance" on natural wine is illogical. She is worse than Parker from a wine evaluation perspective — she makes judgments about wines before she even tastes them (based on factors that we agree are not the drivers of quality). Even Parker has shown he is open to wines he didn't praise in the past.

    • PAWineGuy


      Am I reading you correctly that you are now defending the Natural Wine Movement and Alice??? Or did someone else just post something using your name? I demand an immediate and full investigation. Please lock the doors, no one leaves until we figure this out!

      • PAWineGuy


        I re-read your post and I suppose "defending" natural wine was too strong… I do believe that you deserve the credit for first using the word "Charlatan" to describe an advocate of the movement.

    • 1WineDude

      Tom W. – I'm generally in agreement with you and I was attempting to make some of those same points in my article. Where I disagree is on the big boy pants part – what happened to civil discourse?

  • Thomas Pellechia

    I am–once again–in agreement with all of PAWineguy's comments.

    And yes, "it is petty to offer eye-for-an-eye, blow-for-blow retaliation in kind…" especially when you are supposedly a responsible professional, and that goes for people who write books that start out with a divisive title and people who claim to be what they are not–the first blogger, indeed.

    Critics can dish out a large pile of shit almost every day, but they can't take even the aroma of it directed their way. Their insecurities are their stock in trade, and that has nothing to do with their wine expertise, those who have any, that is. When an insecure is attacked, the general response is to start lobbing, if only to change the focus.

    The whole back and forth in the so-called professional wine critic world is as sickening as anything can get in a profession.

    • PAWineGuy


      Is there, in your opinion, a correlation between insecurity and criticism as a career choice? Or is it just in our industry that the two go hand in hand?

  • gabe

    In the words of LL Cool J: "Don't call it a comeback!" I've really been enjoying Robert Parker's return to relevance lately, especially because it is based on comments he makes about vintages or winemaking styles, and not based on numbers he puts next to names of wineries.

    While I don't feel like opening the Natural Winemaking can of worms at the mo, I will just say that there is definitely something there, otherwise we wouldn't all be talking about it. And if B Freres wants to accuse other winemakers of being "gimmicky", maybe they should stop adding co2 to their wines first

    • 1WineDude

      Well-put, gabe!

    • njc

      "there is definitely something there, otherwise we wouldn't all be talking about it. "

      hello strawman, good to see you

  • Nick

    Parker probably didn't think this was all that personal of an attack. We may not be giving him enough credit. He is first and foremost concerned with truth. He's no Po-mo "everyone has a valid perspective" guy is he. He's also using the word Charlatan very specifically (see the wiki on it) not merely as a synonym for fool or dolt but specifically someone who advocates or sells false things. No, the high crime here is his cosmo its to be wrong and sell based on being wrong. He's not being merely retaliatory, IMO, or even that personal in his comment.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks for the perspective, Nick. I dunno, though – snake-oil salesman is pretty snarky…

  • @mrmansell

    Just an FYI:

    In order not to carry the "Contains Sulfites" label, wines must contain less than 10 ppm of total sulfites. Often, fermentation alone will produce 10-100 ppm total (depending on the strain of yeast). So unless they don't add ANY SO2 (and they do a lab test to prove it's under 10 ppm), they are almost certainly putting "Contains Sulfites" on the label.

    A quick Google Image search ( http://bit.ly/Iwpqfw ) shows BF back labels with "Contains Sulfites" on the 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 vintages.

    • 1WineDude

      @mrmansell – I know!… was thinking the same thing when I read that…

    • @mrmansell

      "Total sulfites" includes free and bound. So essentially, a wine with 10 ppm total has very little free molecular SO2 (depending on the pH, of course).

  • Joel Ohmart

    It seems that "natural" is not clearly defined enough for most people. If I read peoples comments correctly, if "natural" wine was defined more clearly, and there was scientific evidence to back up the terminology then people would have much less of a problem with the term and concept in general. I realize that these are big ifs, although I doubt that if the aforementioned requirements were met that this debate would disappear. Wine seems to be viewed under a much larger microscope than the rest of consumable goods, and therefore must be much more scrupulous. This discussion reminds me of the fact that many people believe that "sustainable" is just a buzzword, which I firmly believe is not the case. I realize they are very different terms, and applied much differently in the marketplace; but I believe both can be used misleadingly to make a buck, and both could/do have very promising potential if researched and thoroughly/correctly implemented.

    • 1WineDude

      Joel – I do believe that is part of it. It is certainly one of the biggest (maybe *the* biggest) gripes I have with the Natural winemaking movement. I see it as a series of alternatives in winemaking, a bit like biodynamics in that way, but without evidence that it is in some way inherently better than any other method (the rub lies in staunch attitudes that defenders and detractors have taken about the merits of those methods).

      • Joel Ohmart

        And I completely agree that if a wine claims to be better in some way than any other wine they better be damn sure why its better and have evidence (both from the consumer and the scientific community) to back it up. Even with said evidence, as you have mentioned before, making claims such as that in a field as broad as the wine industry is foolish at best. It seems this is one of the issues that has the most ridged opinions on both sides of the isle, so to speak, which can create a lot of smoke and very little fire underneath debate and discussion.

  • Todd - VT Wine Media

    With the rising wine wave initially lifting well known critics and sommeliers to real celebrity status, the urge to retain relevance, and share of attention could become a factor in messaging, and threaten the value of the original product…their opinions about particular wines. It is disconcerting sure, but might it also be a symptomatic sign of the sea change in wine information sourcing, where known quantities are facing some dilution by the publishing of bloggers and components of the sales chain?
    I just have to wonder how long before we move from Dancing with the Stars, to a cable version of Tasting with the Critics…

    • 1WineDude

      Todd – I would totally be on that show! :)

      • Todd - VT Wine Media

        I figured as much!
        Actually, think how informative that show could be…to have a panel of several critics, discussing or arguing about a wine…it might tell us more about the critics than the wines themselves.

        • 1WineDude

          Todd – It would definitely tell us more about the critics than the wines. Shame, really.

  • 1WineDude

    A bit of clarification: Alice has told me that she hadn't coined the term Parkerization, and was commenting the effects of RMP's reviews by using it in the title of her book. So I've amended that mention in the article. Sorry to all (and to Alice especially) if that caused any confusion/misrepresentation!

    • Thomas Pellechia

      Thanks, Joe. Not sure I could have slept tonight without knowing that ;)

      • 1WineDude

        Thomas – :-P C'mon, I gotta be fair…

  • Thomas Pellechia


    After my years spent on this earth I've come to the conclusion that professional aesthetic criticism is the result of insecurity that manifests itself as a heightened sense of self worth as in, "I'm right and everyone who disagrees is an idiot or a charlatan," which cuts off further debate and limits the possibility that the critic's insecurity comes shining through the mountain of vitriol.

    In some cases, as in Mr. Heimoff, he calls people names who disagree with him. I know, as I've been one of the named…but not by name…that would require acknowledging that others exist who hold alternative opinions, whether aesthetic or out of knowledge.

    Re, the SO2 comment in that interview: dubious at best.

    • PAWineGuy

      I agree… and suppose that to some extent a critic must have the ultimate confidence in their own opinions, but it's certainly ironic that those who dish criticism are the least able to accept it in return. As much as I do think that Steve is a very talented writer and critic, he'll be a case study some day: "Why the Openness of the Internet Was Not Good For Everyone"

      • gabe

        It is not the critic who counts;
        not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled
        or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
        The credit belongs to the man
        who is actually in the arena,
        whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;
        who strives valiantly;
        who errs and comes short again and again;
        who knows great enthusiasms,
        the great devotions;
        who spends himself in a worthy cause;
        who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,
        and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while
        so that his place shall never be
        with those timid souls
        who know neither victory or defeat.

        Theodore Roosevelt

        • 1WineDude

          I'd always thought that quote was from Churchill. Ah, what do I know… ;-)

  • paulg

    Joe, have you actually been able to read any of Feiring's books? A more egotistic, self-serving, self-righteous, narcissistic writer I have rarely if ever encountered. I think RP has every right to take a swing at her. Somebody ought to.

    • 1WineDude

      Paulg – I have. While I'd say that she's clearly the protagonist and maybe a bit too much in her books, I found them compelling reading and personally would stop short of calling them self-serving.

  • Blake Gray

    Joe: There's a huge difference between writing a book that opposes someone, and giving one's opinion against someone in an interview. You can't equate the two. Maybe Parker should just keep his mouth shut about Feiring, because I agree that he doesn't look good attacking her. That said, I don't know about you, Joe, but I am not a magnanimous enough person that I could easily get over somebody writing an entire book with a title attacking me.

    • 1WineDude

      Blake – understood and I'm not trying to imply that I'd somehow be super mr. Nice guy if that happened to me. In fact I suspect I'd be livid. But it doesn't excuse either of them for the public airing of mutual grievances.

  • Chris Miller

    Seems that The Institute of Masters of Wine disagrees with Bob Jr about the innocence of Pancho Campo. I have met Pancho and he was smart and a gentleman. But the integrity of the wine industry is in bad enough shape without additional shinanegans from MW's, MS's and critics. The news is quite new but Tim Atkin via twitter said that Pancho had 'resigned' from the Institute of MW this morning. As Tim is an MW himself, I'd suspect he knows the scoop.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks for the links, Chris!

  • Chris

    Here is the statement from Institute of MW's: In light of Pancho Campo's resignation from the Institute of Masters of Wine, the investigation into alleged breaches of the Institute's Code of Conduct has been terminated.
    From this link: http://ow.ly/aGbfN

    • 1WineDude

      Chris – that's significant news. But not unexpected Not sure that the MW had any choice; this isn't the first time Campo had been accused of breaching the code of conduct.

  • BCD

    Why do wine critics have this Parker fixation? I'm not picking on you in particular, Joe, because all wine critics seem to have an obsession with Parker. I read it on all the wine blogs I follow. I know Parker's influence on the industry is huge, but why waste your time talking about a fellow critic? It's like Leonard Maltin talking about Roger Eberts movie reviews. Or S.F. Chronicle food critic Michael Bauer pointing out Ruth Reichl's flaws.

    I feel this Parker fetish helps no one but Parker. I think part of the reason why Parker is so huge is because even his fellow critics can't stop talking about him. Why should a newcomer to wine care how a well known critic feels about wine if even that well known critic seems more interested in what Parker is doing? Critics should stick to what they do best which is critiquing wine, not each other.

    Maybe I'm just as bad by critiquing critics while commenting on a Parker related blog post.

    • 1WineDude

      BCD – no, you make a great point and I've often struggled with whether or not to cover that stuff here. Certainly I wouldn't consider it for my Playboy column or for Wines.com or other outlets. Like it or not, when RMP gets interviewed it is news in the wine biz. Not saying it should it be, though.

  • Javier Hidalgo

    That is terrible news for the IMW and the industry. I hope Campo continues organizing those huge events like Winefuture and bringing people like Al Gore and Kofi Annan to our sometimes boring industry. A change was needed as well as fresh blood but it seems the establishment does not like too much “rock&roll” and innovation. I get the impression that being a former athlete, rock promoter and outspoken with the image of a latin lover did not went down well in certain areas of the industry. I am not surprised that he resigned after seeing his new projects………….he is going even bigger. Check his new web in http://www.chrand.es. Good luck Pancho Campo, if you do not get involve in wine you will be missed.

  • Jose María

    Javier, please inform yourself well about the details of all these affair. When you cheat, lie, manipulate and he thinks he can get away with it, you finally pay for it. He should return the money he requested and took from the Spanish wine community in exchange of master clases … accompanied by Miller. And that are only one of the few things that have come out, because Parker has been highly protective with himself.

    Please inform your self, ask wineries and wine people about what really happen. We know in Spain!

    It is a great day that this character is out of business. At least my industry!

    Jose Maria

  • 1WineDude

    Javier & Jose – I sympathize with the differing viewpoints, but please bear in mind that if allege behavior or actions then you should be prepared to state some evidence, or I may be forced to remove the comments if asked to do so (i.e., I am not into getting involved in any legal wranglings! :). Not saying either of you are there yet, just issuing a word of caution.

    For what it's worth, I am personally of the mind that it's better for the MW with Pancho resigning, if only so that they can move forward without worrying about the past, current or any future allegations against him.

  • Thomas Pellechia


    It's reached that point.

    • 1WineDude

      Thomas – pretty much.

  • Fabio (Vinos Ambiz)

    And I'd also just like to say that there's no actual Natural Wine Movement with leaders, offices, dogmas or anything. There's just lots of individuals with individual opinions who in no way represent the other individuals. Alice Feiring, for example, is just one of the best and most-widely read natural wine writers. It's simplistic and just plain untrue to affirm that the natural wine movements believes this or that, or that the natural wine movement says this or that or the other thing.

    I think it's indicative of something when personal insults start being made at people. Who was it that said about any novelty in human affairs: "First they laugh at you, then they attack you, then they accept you" or something like that. I guess we're moving into stage 2 then!

    • 1WineDude

      Fabio – let's hope that we reach stage 3 soon!

  • Fabio

    Joe, my 2c worth:

    The question that I ask myself the most is, why do people get so upset and aggressive, and demonize a bunch of people who just want to make and drink wine made in a rather unconventional way? It's especially puzzling as the number of people and volume of wine involved are ridiculously tiny, probably less than 1%. I've gone through lots of theories, and even posted about them, but none really work for me.

    People aslo seem to get upset at the use of the word 'natural'. Yes, I think all English-speakers know that no wine is 'natural' according to the dictionary definition. But, such is the English language! Many words have more than one meaning. The term 'Natural Wine' was first used in 1907 (the earliest I could descover) so there's a long history of usage behind it. And a tipping point of current usage is fast approaching, if not already reached, as more and more writers use the term and more and more readers get to read it. Get over it, I say. There are more interesting and useful issues to talk about related to natural wine than hectoring pedantic wordsmithing!


  • Mark Cochard

    I have been reading the blogs as well as Naked Wine and Authentic Wine both greatreads from their perspectives.
    I did a natual wine tasting for a local wine group. I spoke about BioD, manure and cow horns, indigenous yeast, sans soufre, etc. and about Marcel Lapeirre's and Joe Dressner's lives and passing. So here is what Joe Public wine drinkers took away from my presentation.
    Three burning questions came up –
    1. Do lactating cows have horns?
    2. What happened to all the winemakers who passed before their time?
    3. Do natural wines all taste the same?
    Independent research has found the answers –
    1. Yes, but they are usually cut off for safety reasons. Whose safety is a different question.
    2. It is rumored that they tried to milk non-lactating cows with big horns.
    3. Definitely not, as evidenced by the unanimous favorite wine.
    The favorite of the night was 2009 Oratoire St. Martin Cairanne Reserve des Seigneurs

    Just goes to show you how much "Natural Wine" resonates common wine drinkers.

    • 1WineDude

      Mark – insightful, as always!!

  • SommeChick

    Great article and good points brought up in the discussion–but I agree with Joe's closing remark and Todd's comment above. This isn't Jersey Shore, this is the wine world. Well respected experts (and this goes for all fields IMHO) should keep it classy and quit snarking at each other. You can disagree without slinging mud.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Somme!

  • David D. Denton

    I had a great time interviewing Bob for this article. He spent over three hours with me and Maria for this. He was very open and direct. The only problem is most of his best quotes were edited out. We had to take out his thoughts on what Gary Vaynerchuk said to him in Rioja.
    Gary told me he never said it so Bob and I took it out. I thought it was funny and harmless.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, David! So…. Now you totally have to share that quote..!!!

      • David D. Denton

        Only on a phone call with you.

        • 1WineDude

          Or better yet over beers…

          • David D. Denton

            I think you mean Champagne Krug Rosé.

            • 1WineDude

              Uhm… yeah, that will totally work as well. :)

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