Uncorked: Wine Advocate founder may step down
by Pat Kettles
Special to The Star
Jan 01, 2013 | 2492 views |  0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The biggest wine news of 2012 barely made 2012. On Dec. 10, Decanter.com broke the news Robert Parker, the world’s foremost wine critic, is stepping down from The Wine Advocate. Decanter.com, the online version of prestigious London based Decanter magazine, scooped the story before Parker informed the world and his subscribers.

Likely Parker’s relinquishing control of Wine Advocate is not earth-shattering news for those new to wine. It is not a bad thing to be unacquainted with Robert Parker. Likely your wine opinions are being formed without the influence of numerical scores dispensed by Parker from his Monkton, Md., headquarters.

Back in the last century, as American wine was coming out of the dark ages, wine enthusiasts found their way to Parker’s cheaply printed newsletter. It was rather a dull publication containing Parker’s tasting notes. Parker was an advocate for wine, hence his publication’s name. The newsletter was supported by subscription fees only as Parker did not want to give the impression his ratings were influenced by advertisers.

We subscribed to this rag and read about wines we could not pronounce or have any hope of drinking. We looked at scores awarded by Parker. He is credited with inventing the 100-point grading scale for wine. Though Parker still produces a print version of his publication, I subscribe to the online version.

That Parker became a force in wine by his own admission had a lot to do with timing. There were no other wine critics who reviewed wines the way he did at the time.

He did not come from a wine family. His drink of choice was Coke. His wine epiphany came while on summer vacation from college to visit his girlfriend, who was studying in France. The girlfriend, who later became Mrs. Parker, spoke fluent French. Together they traveled the French countryside knocking on doors of famous chateaux not customarily open for tourist tastings. Parker was enthralled with the wines he tasted and began the practice of taking copious tasting notes.

He completed law school, but eventually abandoned law to pursue a career in wine starting the Wine Advocate out of his home.

He is said to be a super taster, meaning his tongue has the physiology to taste nuances in wines others cannot. It is said he can recall every wine he has tasted. He has parlayed these skills to his magazine, numerous books, lectures and his online publications.

His favorable ratings are still the most cherished and sought after in the wine world. Though many believe, myself among them, his ratings are not as important to a wine’s success as they once were.

For one thing, everybody and his brother now awards numerical scores to wine, thus diluting the importance of such scores. Further, there is such a proliferation of wine in America, younger generations have more opportunity to establish their likes and dislikes by simply trying an array of wines.

When Decanter broke the story of Advocate’s sale, they said significant changes were under way, including Parker’s stepping down after taking on three new Asian investors and that Advocate would be run from a new Singapore office with Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW serving as the editor-in-chief.

Almost a week went by before Parker wrote his Dear Subscriber letter, mainly repudiating everything Decanter published. Parker says he is not stepping down. He will continue to run the company as chairman of the board and CEO and will review wines from Bordeaux, The Rhone and California verticals, wines from the same producer and same grapes from multiple vintages.

Advocate is thinking about accepting non-wine related advertising for the bulletin board and parts of eRobertParker.com. Editorial responsibilities will be handled in his “second office” in Singapore. The new infusion of cash from his three young Asian investors will allow Advocate to expand coverage of the world’s top wine-producing regions, offer the complete print version of Advocate online and conduct wine education conferences that will tour a range of cities, says Parker.

To that I would add, for now. Parker is 65. Time is not on his side. I cannot imagine three young investors including a thirty-something main shareholder, Soo Hoo Khoon Peng, will find Parker relevant for the long haul.

Contact Pat Kettles at pkettles@annistonstar.com.
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Uncorked: Wine Advocate founder may step down by Pat Kettles
Special to The Star

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