It had to happen. From the moment when Jay Miller and Pancho Campo caused the unprecedented scandal in the wine world 18 months ago, the future of Robert Parker and his infamous points system for classifying wines had its days numbered.
Shown without a shadow of a doubt that these Parker representatives had asked for money while they tasted wines on Parker’s behalf in Spain, but, in spite of speculation that still perseveres, what they offered in exchange for cash has never been clearly defined – not in print anyway. But whichever way you look at it, the scandal did nothing to improve the allegedly saintly reputation of the world’s most feared wine critic.
Nevertheless, and ever since ex-lawyer Parker started publishing his 0-100 (but no score under 50) points system in his The Wine Advocate, a subscription-only publication, rumours of conflict of interests have dogged him. (Eg: Addy Bassin; Parker’s brother-in-law’s winery Les Beaux-Frères; David Schildknecht; Marie Raynaud….). But the rot set in seriously when Parker, unable to handle the workload, delegated international tastings to friends and acquaintances. The investigation into the Campogate affair that Parker commissioned from his lawyers resulted in several recommendations about how he should change his business model, the most notable being the need to appoint an experienced administrator to run Parker’s company. Another, tellingly, was that all wine scores awarded in Spain by Miller after June 2011 should be ignored.
The eventual outcome was that Parker announced he would step down, and, as a consequence of their highly controversial wine tasting swing through Murcia, Valencia and Navarra, Miller went home once and for all and Pancho Campo, who, in another recommendation of Parker’s lawyers, was axed as a collaborator, resigned from his Marbella-based, The Wine Academy and renounced his Master of Wine title.
Rather than pouring oil on troubled waters, the smouldering fire has been poked into new life with Parker’s announcement that his company will open an office in Singapore and admit three local investors. The Wine Advocate will effectively be run from there as Singapore-based Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW becomes editor-in-chief, although Parker insists he will remain as CEO.
But the question on the wine world’s lips is: has Parker sold out to commercial interests? One of the new investors is Soo Hoo Khoon Peng, owner, or ex-owner depending on who is talking, of Singapore’s biggest wine company, Hermitage Wines. According to The Wall Street Journal, Parker’s magazine will, in future, publish advertising, although not from wine businesses it is stressed.
What cannot be in any doubt is that the allegedly principled Robert Parker, who could influence the value of a vintage by several million euros depending on whether he scored its wine at 85 or 95, has effectively sold out. It is rumoured that for some time a document has been circulating in the investment world aimed at attracting speculators interested in promoting the commercialisation of the Parker brand.
At the same pace that points-awarders in the wine world have steadily proliferated, so have their critics.
Why should ‘gurus’ like Parker wield power to the extent that wineries deliberately make their wines to appeal to him first and to the public second? There are even ‘secrets’ every wine producer should know, to ensure they can make their wines in the style that Robert Parker prefers. A high Parker score will sell their products to the millions of wine drinkers who apparently know so little about what they should buy that they have to rely on someone else to decide for them. Such points-awarders hardly make money out of classifying wines, so perhaps Parker, who was the first in the field 35 years ago, is setting the standards once again.
(Originally published in Spanish in Diario Sur 5 Jan 13)