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Friday, May 8, 2009

Policy and practice at the Wine Advocate - Parker responds

What do you think of this squabble (Robert Parker x Dr Vino)?

In a recent posting, I published my correspondence with Robert Parker and Jay Miller concerning an apparent divergence between the ethical guidelines set down by Parker and the actions of some of the contributors to The Wine Advocate.
One claim that came up several times in the over 130 comments was that Mr. Miller took one or two trips to Argentina, organized and paid for by Wines of Argentina, a trade group representing over 100 wineries that also receives government funding according to their web site. I contacted Wines of Argentina and they confirmed that they paid for and organized the two trips and several people in the trade there also confirmed them. Robert Parker has also now admitted as well but referred to them as “vineyard tours.” There was apparently more to the trips than just that–multiple sources said that there were lunches and dinner at wineries, and I was also told by several people that Miller was ferried around the country by private jet during one visit.
I alerted Miller yesterday that Wines of Argentina had told me that the trips were comped and asked him for comment. Not long thereafter, Parker posted a message that indicated that Miller would no longer be able to take “vineyard tours paid by Wines of Argentina.”
Parker laid down ethical guidelines years ago–guidelines that are the source of so much of his authority and that have set the standard against which all other wine critics are judged. The divergence between the action of some contributors to the Wine Advocate and the stated policy was (and perhaps still remains) a legitimate issue and important issue given the power of the publication; if the Wine Advocate was bending the rules, that was something his readers had a right to know.
Over the weekend, on his web site, Parker characterized those of us raising these concerns as the work of “extremists who could care less about the truth.” On the contrary, the truth was precisely what I’ve been after. Perhaps the larger issue then is Parker seemed to resent that people wanted to know the truth. While Parker lamented the state of journalism, the examples he cites of good journalism seems to be anything that speaks well of him.
But journalism is precisely what I’ve been doing all along. I went to Parker and Miller with legitimate questions and they were evasive. I spoke with Wines of Argentina and the truth came out. That’s called journalism. Instead of lashing out with invective (”extremists” or “jihadists” or eliding wine bloggers with the Taliban) at me and others who have raised very legitimate issues, Parker should take this episode as indicative of the respect he commands and the seriousness with which the wine community takes the ethical standards he established long ago.
Since Mr. Parker has shown an affection for ending his interventions with quotes, here’s an aphorism that he might remember from his days as a lawyer: “If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table.”


BobZaguy said...

This is an issue that comes around every so often.
Parker has gotten snared here because he now has several people traveling and tasting in his name.
He used to do all the work himself. Until he caused some bad blood in regions like France's Burgundy and Italy's Piemonte.
Now, with every world wine region wanting a Parker 90+ recommendation, he can't do it all.
There seem to be some pretty nice perks dangling for his associates. Not everyone can resist the temptation.
When the taster and the tastee become very palsy-walsy it is difficult for the consumer, who trusts the taster to be objective, to know if the reports on the wines are still objective or if the taster has hedged his criticism with nice, smooth reviews of the wine.

Richard Best - The Frugal Oenophile said...

Was it Confucius who said, "He who throws the first punch loses the argument"?

I have no problem with tastings, dinners, tours, trips, whatever that are laid on by the industry. An ethical journalist will be grateful for the effort, but knows there is no obligation to reciprocate in writing.

However, when one has made a big deal asbout not taking freebees, and then takes them anyway that's hypocritical if not actually unethical. One of the problems with having power is the tendency to think you actually are powerful and, to some degree, beyond criticism. In this situation, Parker may be a victim of his own success.

Jim said...

For me, Mr Parker is anathema.While not solely his fault, the environment created by reliance on his opinion is inherently corrupt. Now I'll go back to this great, unnamed sfuso di falanghina from the place down the street.

Jim in Sorrento

Anonymous said...

The sooner that RP exits stage left as a wine commentator, the sooner that high alcohol, jammy wines will get relegated to the bin end section where they belong. A question over his recommendations can only be a good thing.

joeldee1 said...

Parker is becoming irrelevant. Times are changing. His form of elitism is much like that of Louis Vuitton handbags. Once you allow production of the product to be done outside, one finds the platform manufacturer creating "knock-offs" for pennies on the dollar for the peasants to wonder the streets selling.

While residing in France, I was taught that a true Frenchman only will base a wine purchase on quality vs. price and it must only complement the food. Some Locals were asked about the wines Parker writes of - if they had heard of them and the price, they would shrug this off as nonsense or an Americanism. Some saw no need to spend that amount of money even in a Michelin restaurant. Some were vigneron - Parker hopefuls, but not on Parker's wine route.

Like Jim from Sorrento, I too believe I can duplicate most of Parker's choices in the 88-90 range for 9 Euros and get to know the small vigneron, productori or wintzer at no extra charge. Not a steak on the grill eater, I found it very difficult to drink his over-wooded alcohol bombs with most foods. The most difficult thing was to want to buy one of his "cult" wines at auction to drink and find no one who had actually tasted one.

We will know the end of this era has finally arrived when the local farmers worldwide tear-out the vines and turn the land back to the growing of wheat, corn, rye and soybeans which will soon pay them better. We will know the end is near when the likes of Fosters own what vineyards remain. Times are a chang'n.