Before you flame me, Yes, I am already aware of the irony of today’s title.
I realize that some of you might have been trapped for the last several days under your collapsed wine racks and several hundred bottles of your collected vino. Or maybe you are just coming off a severe wine bender, Rip Van Winkle style, one where the hangover lasted for a few weeks. If you’re in any of those camps, I offer the following recap of some recent wine news:
- Blogger breaks story about Wine Advocate critic Jay Miller being in a potential scandal with MW Pancho Campo, regarding allegations of pay-to-play wine tasting/reviews in Spain (yes, that Jay Miller, the one who seems to always be in a story about a potential scandal).
- Chaos ensues on the global interwebs, WA’s Robert Parker sort-of threatens to sue bloggers, and then Jay Miller announces he is leaving the WA, but – ah-ha! – it had been planned all-along and is not actually the result of the blogosphere churning up possible evidence of a pay-to-play scandal.
[Editor’s note: at least skim the above links, or the rest of this is not gonna make much sense.]
I can’t tell you if the pay-to-play allegations are true, but I can tell you that the Spanish wine biz seems to be quite relieved by the news of Miller’s departure, based on private correspondences I’ve had with people in the biz there (most of which amounts to them thinking that Jay was “terrible” – names withheld for obvious reasons!).
I’ve been conspicuously absent in saying anything about any of this stuff here on 1WD. Why? Because I don’t really give a rat’s ass, and feel compelled to talk about it now only because I’m getting asked why I’m not talking about. So before the irony gets infinitely recursive, here are the top three reasons why I haven’t been talking about it…
The Top Three Reasons Why I’m Not Talking About The Latest Wine Advocate Scandal
1) The average wine dude/dudette doesn’t give a rat’s ass about Jay Miller or The Wine Advocate. If the general wine-drinking public is interested in any of this, it’s in the train-wreck-so-awful-I-can’t-look-away, life-of-the-Kardashians kind of way (I have some Facebook thread discussion proof of this). Yes, some of them care about the scores given to wines, but studies have shown that many don’t care about the names associated with those scores, only that the wine has a high score. To those Dudes/Dudettes, Jay Miller only matters to the extent that this scandal tarnishes the Wine Advocate brand – scratch that, it’s not right: actually, it’s probably only retailers (many of whom consistently abuse wine scores, by the way) that actually care about this, because it could mean that those tarnished scores get pulled from the shelves (in which case people would buy based on the scores supplied from any of a dozen other sources that will take the place of those from TWA).
It’s not that the scandal hasn’t been covered well already – by any reasonable measure it has, with Blake Gray’s articles on the topic standing out as particularly excellent and thought-provoking. And it’s not that it isn’t newsworthy – it is. But it’s only newsworthy to a tiny percentage of the wine-drinking populace, and that populace is already well-served by the existing coverage. Unfortunately, this hasn’t stopped many of those people from proving the adage that…
2) The Mob Rules. Never question the wisdom of Black Sabbath, people. Everyone seems to have assumed that Jay Miller, Pancho campo and the WA are already guilty of some impropriety in this scandal. But nothing has been proved in a court of law, and probably never will. I’m not saying any of them aren’t guilty – if it looks, waddles, and quacks like a duck, after all, it’s probably a duck – I just don’t like getting involved in the pile-on mob mentality. Unfortunately, the pile-on mobs are probably stirring up the hornets’ nest of short-sighted media moguls who are under the impression that…
3) The wine world already looks like a bunch of douchebags. If Miller and Campo should be ashamed of anything, high on the list ought to be the fact that their conduct is dragging the wine biz back into the douchebag spotlight. The media outside of wine waits like a panther to pounce on shiz like this, which they wasted little time in doing, taking the tired, worn-out, jumpeth-the-shark-already tract of – surprise! – saying we’re all a bunch of douchebags in the wine biz! Gee, that you sooooo very, very much Pancho and Jay – now my buddies have extra fodder for giving me crap about my career move over the holidays! Again, it’s not that the scandal isn’t news, or shouldn’t be covered, but at this point adding further kindle to the douchebag-perception flame seems gratuitous and unnecessary to me.
I understand that TWA subscribers probably have lots of questions about this scandal – and they should. I understand that those people deserve ongoing and in-depth coverage of this mess. But I don’t understand why everybody and their sister has to jump on that bandwagon. For many of us covering the wine world, we might better server the community by focusing instead on offering transparent, viable alternatives to the wine coverage douchebaggery, and let those who broke the story continue to pursue it. My friends at Catavino.net recently voiced a similar piece of advice in an open letter to the Spanish wine biz in the wake of the scandal:
“…I say to you, invest in relationships, not with critics and communicators. Invest in real wine drinkers.”
Amen to that! If you consider yourself part of that real wine drinker crowd, I’d love to hear what *you* think about all of this!
38 thoughts on “The Top Three Reasons Why I’m Not Talking About The Latest Wine Advocate Scandal”
Joe, you got it right. This is a classic case of how so many wine writers, bloggers, etc … write far more for each other than they do the consumer. That's my most-often-used criticism of a lot what I read and definitely applies here. Right on point! Hurrah!
Thanks, Howard. While I tend to think the criticism about bloggers writing for one another is far too overblown (do mommy bloggers complain about that sort of thing?… I mean, we are at heart geeky wine consumers and so it's entirely okay for us to talk with one another in that context and weave in the vagaries of blogging from time to time if it fits that particular conversation), I think the criticism that wine writers talk too much abut wine writing is becoming more applicable, with this being a good example of that. As I mentioned, it *is* news, no question about it, but at some point the pile-on needs to ease up. Cheers!
You wrote almost 1000 words to tell us you have nothing to say?
Is that what you're saying?
Alfonso – :-P. Since when have you known me to be a man of few words? There is a theme here, and it is that more energy might be better spent progressing wine coverage in entertaining, non-formulaic ways than in joining the pile-on happening with a critic that most wine drinkers do not know even existed until he was embroiled in scandal that made the rest of the biz look like douchebags. Go forth, and don't be a douchebag! That feels like more than ntohing-to-say to me (though no argument that I might have used fewer words to do it! :).
I feel ya , dawg…
Alfonso – woof! :)
Hmm. So a prominent critic makes the entire wine trade look like douches, and the appropriate response is… silence? It strikes me that the very reason so many people are so vocal is that they want to make a clear declaration: The WA, while well known, does NOT represent the vast majority of us. And we're NOT douchebags, and we DO have standards that are extremely important. The continued chorus only strengthens the point, in my view: Those douchebags don't speak for us, and we're not going to be silent and allow their voice to dominate the conversation.
Evan – fair point, but I am not advocating total silence, not at all. I am saying that we should support the bloggers who broke the story without piling-on and in the process adding nothing. I would rather comment on the posts from Jim’s Loire or Gray Report in support of what they’re doing than read the pile-on action at this point. And I have done exactly that, actually.
Sorry, Evan, but the best response to this story is the one I gave to Alfonso: Y-A-W-N.
First, if any wine blogger or other wine writer thinks that this story (or most other stories in the wine world that parallel it) matter to anything close to a plurality of wine consumers they are surely living in a closed geekdom.
Based on the machinations across the Internet on wine forum sites and blogs, the wine community strikes me as one big highway rubbernecking group. I won't use the word jealousy to describe how people come off when they attack the WA and its own machinations (which is the retailers', consumers' and writers' collective fault for raising the Parker influence to an unreasonable and unwarranted height) but I will say that in the scheme of wine, it is a minuscule matter that deserves the attention span of gnat.
That's only my opinion, of course…
Thomas – I think there is credence in reporting, investigating and discussing the scandal. There are issues and questions there that get at the heart of what it means to review a wine, and some consumers might care about those issues and questions. The operative word there is **some** – a geeky set, to be sure, but I love those geeks and welcome them here! :) Having said that, we are taking this one too far I fear, and many who are covering this news should probably move on to covering wine, and support those who broke the story, etc.
Joe, agreed the blogosphere lynch mobbing some what got out of hand. True too, no one outside of wine really cares…but in defense this industry hardly get NEWS like this.
Which is why to us in the wine world everyone is somewhat shocked, despite there being rumors (head to Jancis' site to her coverage of the affair, she hints to rumblings of Pancho Campo before the Miller story broke) these sort of events are covered up as quickly as they are revealed.
Kudos do go to Budd's persistence and not letting the story get buried.
But why am I preaching to you?? You don't want to even talk about it! ;)
Louis – Great points. And yeah, Pancho is not a stranger to minor scandal (and neither is Miller!)…
It just dawned on me that there's yet another piece of irony in all of this.
What spurred this post on was contact I got from readers/friends/etc. asking why I was "so quiet" on the scandal. But I haven't been quiet on it – I've only been quiet *here* about it. Check the comments on some of the sites that have been covering this story well (hint: they are linked within!), and you will find me chiming in *there*, in support of those bloggers.
Joe: How is this not jumping on the bandwagon?
Blake – I cannot risk the perception of that, I can only say it is not my intention. If you want to tell people to stop talking about Brittany Spears, for example, then you cannot avoid the fact that you also talked about Brittany Spears tangentially in order to breach the topic in the first place. But somebody had to say it, so I said it.
In any case, nice graphic.
Blake – Ha!
Dr. Jay was a mentor for me years ago. I have no idea whether he was aware of the pay-to-play arrangements. (Note: The author of the 'breaking news' assumes the blame is Pancho's.) What I will say is that the more widely read you are, the bigger the target you are. Joe, you could just as easily become the go-to wine critic online. Does that mean your opinion is less credible? Do you need to be indy/small to be a true wine academic? At one point, Parker was "One Wine Dude." I wouldn't fault him for the fact that he's the E.F. Hutton of wine critics and that people, at some point along the food chain, will take advantage of that. Parker's (and his colleagues) passion for wine is no less genuine than yours. He just happens to have a giant spotlight on his tasting notes.
Christine – I agree with you. Parker said as much when I interviewed him not too long ago on these very pages. You are in a way supporting my point that we should not cart out the pile-on bandwagon when it comes to this recent news. Having said that, I would add that the discussion seems to be more around the lack of detailed response from Parker / TWA when these questions get raised… or, rather, the dismissive and even aggressive tone of the responses.
I would agree that many average consumers do not care who gave the score, or what their name is, or what media outlet. I would suggest the average consumer doesn't know Jay Miller, or care about his replacement. Having said that, I would also suggest the industry has not taken much of a beating because score whores don't know any of this, and don't care about anything but digits. Funny living in California and walking the grocery store wine aisles……the only Washington wine is Chateau Ste. Michelle, and the shelf is always full. Until I was at the store yesterday and there was a barren shelf and a little shelf talker that showed a "94" point score.
Wandering Wino – And did the source of that 94 score matter? Probably not…
My booze store's like that too. I've bought the most mediocre wines because they had a "90" ranking perched beside them. There are so many variables that can render a "90" meaningless: subjectivity, tasting-for-hire, tasting based on one sip. The very pretentious wine world is capitalizing on a consumer herd mentality–a desire to be led to the "right" product, and since the income spent on wine is usually disposable, the world doesn't end because of douchebag practices. There's got to be a better way for consumers to choose a wine.
liquorstorebear – Agreed; and I think recommendations from sources that you trust are the way to get there. Could be friends, social media connections, etc…
The local store has really stepped up and hired some terrific wine consultants. They don't pay much attention to the marketing materials; they just cut through the BS and find a good wine within the desired budget. I think this marks a return from anonymous "authoritative" recommendations to a more personal take on wine tasting. Long overdue! I like this article a lot. The wine biz tries to make itself impenetrable, and then wine writers add to the confusion by obfuscating in their descriptions. The emperor's new clothes, dude.
Thanks, bear – I have long said (And written about here) that the most influential wine critic is the guy or gal working at the wine shop that you happen tor trust the most!
Another reason bloggers should be careful about what they write (from yesterday's Wooden Horse Media News):
A federal judge in Oregon has ruled that a Montana blogger is not covered by the shield law that protects journalists. In multiple blog posts a blogger accused an Oregon attorney of misconduct at a financial firm. The attorney brought a defamation suit, and now a judge has found her guilty, awarding the attorney and his firm $2.5 million.
In his ruling, the judge wrote, "Although defendant is a self-proclaimed 'investigative blogger' and defines herself as 'media,' the record fails to show that she is affiliated with any newspaper, magazine, periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news of feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system. Thus, she is not entitled to the protections of the law."
winebroad – yeah, been following that one. It is pretty sad, in my opinion. Because the judicial system can no longer keep up with modern times, she is not entitled to protections under the law? Look for that one to get challenged big-time.
This is a tricky issue. Extending legal protections to bloggers will involve distinguishing between credible bloggers and abusive, reckless posters that will try to hide behind such protections simply because they have a WordPress account. It will be interesting to see what happens with this.
winebroad – And it would require actual investigation into a blogger's publication and follower history. I suppose it also means that every serious blogger ought to get published in print at least one time, which might afford them some protection under that crappy definition.
I understand there was a break-in at a Washington hotel, and perhaps it had something to do with politics. But it's already been covered. Plus, lots of people already think politicians are dirty. So why talk about it?
If bloggers want to be taken seriously as journalists, how do they ignore a scandal in the industry?
I'm with Evan on this one.
All – I am not saying that it should be ignored (a fact that seems to be getting… ignored? :).
My Y-A-W-N doesn't mean what happened should be ignored. It means that what happened should have been expected by any wine professional who has been at the profession for more than a month.
The fact that people use the "emperor has no clothes" allusion says less about WA than it does about the consumers of it. Who made the emperor appointment and when?
The question that I pose to the collective wine industry: if you hand out unfettered power, are you dumb enough to think that it will never be abused?
So I'll make an allusion, too: the problem is within ourselves–as an industry.
One thing I do want to point out: Jay and Silent Bob
In truth, I think blind faith in Pancho is the duo's main failing. Pancho, in all likelyhood(if you believe otherwise, I do have a bridge for sale) sold influence. Please realize no crimes were committed. Just a business man not playing by another businessman's ethics.
And as Joe pointed out from our post, I really think this needs to move to a conversation about selling without points. We need to really look in the mirror ourselves, if we are so silly to let the industry that we love become so dependent on one man's ethics policy.
Well put, Ryan. And Jay and Silent Bob is pretty damn hilarious!
The English translation of this piece that appeared on the elmundovino.es website may be enlightening for some: An Explosive Article From A Top Spanish Wine Journalist Giving Background on The Pancho Campo – Jay Miller – Robert M. Parker, Jr. – The Wine Advocate Controversy http://www.gerrydawesspain.com/2011/12/explosive-…
"totally rock?" Damn, I thought I was on the ShitMySommelierSays Twitter page. Sorry
Thanks, Gerry – I have read that translated a few times now, and it is fascinating stuff (to a wine geek like me, anyway!).
Reason #1, 'nuff said': Who really gives a rats ass?
Joe – I think that one is reason 0.5? :)
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