WSJ Misses in Coverage of Wine Advocate and Industry Problems


wsjimageDavid Kesmodel jumped on the “Attack Parker and His Wine Advocate Ethics” bandwagon in today’s May 26 Personal Journal section of the Wall Street Journal.  That is not surprising  in this code riddled era of business and media coverage.  Of course, this is a matter that must be settled between wine aficionados and Mr. Parker.  Wine Advocate equity is not traded publicly and its continuing prosperity relies on a thirty year foundation of credibility developed around readers fine tuning predictability between Parker’s palate and their own. 

The Dr. Vino blog posts about conversations on Mark Squire’s bulletin board are clearly in conflict with previously stated ethics that govern the Wine Advocate’s trade relationships.  That’s all irrelevant since Parker remains “CEO” and it is up to him to manage his growing list of correspondents that are now also responsible for contributing to the consistency and credibility that wine drinkers demand from the Wine Advocate.  Parker has a business and reputation to protect and since he is predictably going to reamain as astute as he has during the first thirty years of the Advocate’s parkerphotolife, we can stop the needless critique of dinner and travel  with like minded friends in the trade and return to the most significant unfolding threat to the Advocate’s ability to serve the aware connoisseur as it did in its early days. 

Kesmodel only touches on the issue: 

For years, he was the newsletter’s only writer. But he expanded coverage as wine’s popularity rose in the U.S. In September 2006, he announced the hiring of a longtime friend, Mr. Miller, a Baltimore wine retailer. Mr. Miller was assigned to cover regions such as Australia and South America. Mr. Parker also tapped Mr. Squires to write reviews. 

The loss of Parker’s one palate approach (note recent One Robert Parker WineZag post) is a more substantial challenge to consumers’ ability to fine tune their palate with the Advocate’s.  The Advocate’s tasting notes are now a collaboration of more than half a dozen personalities, taking a step closer to the homogenized landscape of traditional wine media and review approaches.  

We need two statements from Mr. Parker.  First, bring the ethics discussion to a close by amending the trade relationship policy to account for the evolved non-employee pool of Advocate reviewers.  Second, provide a statement that reflects governance and guidelines to insure that all Advocate reviews are created using common language and palate interpretations that are aligned with Robert Parker’s orientation. 

With that, the Wall Street Journal can refocus their wine industry critique on the unfortunate financial engineering that drove cost structures and debt for wineries’ that can no longer provide quality wine at fair prices and opened the floodgates for mediocre wine at inflated prices.

  • wrtish

    The more voices on this issue the better in my opinion, as wine writing ethics have been ignored for so long that we all need to catch up. One point to add here, which is not to take away from your points, but the WSJ article was a bit inaccuarate in characterizing the history of Parker using other critics. He used Pierre Rovani (1996-2005) and Daniel Thomases (2003-2005/6?). No questions of the sort tagged on Miller and Squires ever came up for those two indivuduals’ tenure. Bottom line, as you say, it’s Parker’s program to police and define. I doubt he could ever truly do what you propose in terms of bringing his stable of critics in line. Nor do I think he should. They have their own palates, and it should suffice that if Parker has confidence in them, then we should be able to accept the distinctions. Now as to the rest of the wine world acknowledging that the other WA critics are not “RP,” that is another problem. For another day.

  • Robert Dwyer

    Another great piece of writing here, Adam. Thanks for this.

    What hasn’t been adequately addressed in this controversy is The Wine Advocate’s blind tasting policy. I find it misleading at best that the magazine says they taste blind “when possible” yet there’s sufficient evidence to the contrary.

    Here’s a picture of Jay Miller not tasting blind for example:

    For me, this issue trumps the ethics issues associated with accepting travel/meals from wine organizations, and it even trumps the conflict of interest associated with accepting ads.