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The Contrarian View on Parker’s Announcement

Somewhere in between the in-laws and the hardware store on Saturday, I was at a stop light, alone with my thoughts when I checked email on my phone.  Partially through Robert Parker’s announcement as the light turned green, I pulled into a gas station to finish reading. 

Wow. 

All that was left was a LeBron-esque, “I’m taking my talents to South Beach” statement.

News like this doesn’t hit the wine scene often and I knew the online wine scene would be ablaze on Monday.  True to form, it was.

Yet, I’ve been disappointed in the punditry.  Perhaps even more surprising then Robert Parker’s announcement about re-assigning regions to other critics, including Antonio Galloni, was the simpleton leap to conclusions that followed. 

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The prevailing wisdom would have you believe two things:

1) This is a passing of the torch to Antonio as Bob goes into “semi-retirement.”

2) California, stylistically, may see a pendulum swing towards more balance based on Antonio’s more Euro-centric palate.

Equally, a couple of things bear mentioning as a counterpoint to the above.

First, nowhere in Parker’s announcement does it say anything close to him taking “semi-retirement” as others have speculated.  What Parker does mention is he is going to add a focus on vintage library wines in both horizontal and vertical line-ups.

That’s it. 

There’s much to be interpreted “between the lines,” as it were.

First, with somebody of Parker’s stature it’s highly unlikely (bordering on ludicrous) that he would be fade into “semi-retirement” with so little fan fare.  Ego won’t allow it.  Unless you’re Mother Theresa or Ghandi, you don’t gallop into the sunset with so much magnanimity and so little orchestral swan song.  Period.

Parker has never demonstrated any affection for capitalism in his dealings and he still lives in his long-time residence after fame brought wealth to his door.  However, he has demonstrated a love of and proactivity to defend his influence – influence that is waning in the U.S. as we culturally flatten our respect for hierarchical power.

With that in mind, I believe Parker’s not going anywhere, but he will take this period of time to burnish his reputation and polish his legacy on the global stage, particularly in the Pacific Rim, and he’ll do so by playing to his strengths and the large macro trends in the market.

Consider the following:

The value of a critical score in the U.S. and in English-language culture has undeniably been reduced in the last decade with the proliferation of consumer critics and the fragmentation of media.  At the same time the populace-based lambasting of wine criticism is at an all-time high

Parker still reigns supreme in Bordeaux where his proclamations drive in primeur pricing

The wine world’s power base by dollar spend is quickly moving to China

China loves Bordeaux

China is an “open” opportunity for influence in a cultural structure that absolutely respects hierarchy

The domestic auction market is growing to be more inclusive of general wine enthusiasts and less about high net-worth individuals and restaurant buyers, creating a broader market that is in its very earliest stages of development.

Taken together, what do these large-scale trends mean?  Simply, Parker is moving his area of work to the areas where he can hold the greatest sway, leaving behind general, current release reviewing to other members of his team – a game that has reached its peak of influence.

In my opinion, Parker’s announcement is less about “semi-retirement” and California and more about where he can wield the biggest influence – carry the biggest stick—in the latter stages of his career.

So, what can we expect to see out of Bob?

He’s likely going to spend a significant amount of time in China in the near future in order to cement himself as the doyen of that wine culture.

He will still continue to review Bordeaux where his influence moves markets on the global stage, including Asia.

He will review vintage wines in a largely untapped market that has an opportunity to bear significant influential currency in the U.S. in the nascent, broadened auction market.

To me, Parker’s moves have all the hallmarks of not “semi-retirement” but of a savvy, strategic business move.  To quote Kobe Bryant from the earlier aughts when he was feuding with then teammate Shaquille O’Neal, “Turn my game down? I need to turn it up.”  And, that’s precisely what Parker is doing.  He’s turning his game up for the last stretch run of his career.

Finally, coming back full-circle to the speculation that Galloni might bring a different stylistic sensibility to California wine.  Ahem.  I always watch in wonderment when people assign figureheads to movements.  While Galloni may, indeed, bring a more Euro-centric palate to California wine, what he shouldn’t get credit for is being the influencing reason why California wine moves back to a more food-friendly profile with an acidic backbone.  That trend is already well under way.  Galloni may/could shed a magnifying glass on that trend, but he won’t be the cause of that trend.



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Posted in, Good Grape Daily: Pomace & Lees. Permalink | Comments (16) |


Comments

On 02/10, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

Jeff,

It was bound to happen at least once. At last, you’ve posted a blog entry that I could not read in full.

On 02/10, Jeff wrote:

Not enough pictures, Thomas?

Do tell, please?

On 02/10, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

Pictures would have been better—but alone.

Neither have interest in the subject nor in gossipy speculation.

That’s why I stopped posting on wine forum sites wink

On 02/10, Jeff wrote:

Fair enough.

On 02/10, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

Of course, Jeff, this is only one person’s opinion.

Maybe I’m jealous because no one speculates on what I’m going to do next…

On 02/10, Tai-Ran Niew wrote:

Thomas, Sir, you had enough interest in the subject (and gossip) to START reading the article. grin

On 02/10, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

“While Galloni may, indeed, bring a more Euro-centric palate to California wine, what he shouldn’t get credit for is being the influencing reason why California wine moves back to a more food-friendly profile with an acidic backbone. That trend is already well under way.” If you believe that, you’ve haven’t been drinking enough CA. wine lately. The wineries/winemakers that are part of that “trend” are in the vast minority.

On 02/10, Jeff wrote:

Hi Dennis,

Thanks for the comment.  You’re right, of course, but I would note that “trends” or cultural rip tides, or whatever you want to call it, don’t start out as dominating 1:1 takeover.

There’s an unoaked Chardonnay trend in California, as well, but that by no means topples the majority of California Chard that is still oaked to the bejeesus.

Jeff

On 02/10, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

Tai-Ran,

I read everything that Jeff writes—to a point.

On 02/10, Wes Cook wrote:

Nice post, Jeff. Thanks for your take on this topic.

On 02/11, 1winedude wrote:

Thanks for the lucid take on this.  I was traveling and hadn’t heard the news, and in Portugal no one was talking about it (presumably because TWA doesn’t pay too much attention to their table wines anyway?).

On 02/11, Arthur wrote:

“what he shouldn’t get credit for is being the influencing reason why California wine moves back to a more food-friendly profile with an acidic backbone”

Well said, but *IF IN FACT HE DOES RATE CA WINES IN AN AUTONOMOUS WAY AND BREAKS WITH THE PARKER FORMULA*, Galloni will also be anointed emperor in the same way Parker rose to influence by validating the preferences of a portion of the marketplace.

On 02/11, W. Blake Gray wrote:

Jeff: Can we make a bet on this? You set the over/under for the number of days Parker spends in China this year, and I’ll take the under.

You’re off-base because Parker doesn’t travel that much anymore. I agree that he’s not giving up his power in Bordeaux. But this is a guy who lives to eat and drink, and while he enjoys his influence, what examples can you cite of him actively trying to increase it in the last decade?

On 02/11, Jeff wrote:

Hi Blake,

Well, if I had access to his travel itinerary, I would take the bet, but other than that it’s all reading tea leaves.

The reality is that he doesn’t need to go to China all that often.  He can show up three times a year and let his reputation precede him and have a huge impact on the growing wine culture.

It’s an opinion, no more valid than any other, but I personally don’t think he’s going into semi-retirement.  I think he’s much too shrewd to just up and offload his workload by 70%.  It would be out of character for a former lawyer who was trained to analyze potential outcomes and has been at the top of the game for at least 25 years.

Jeff

On 02/11, Jo Diaz wrote:

I think he’s got a future book with all the wines from which to pull. And - yes - he’s off to intriguing palate pastures… He’s not anywhere near ready for “the pasture.” I think he’s no where near retirement… What’s so semi about it, anyway? You either are or you’re not (my advanced years allows me to be a bit sassy)! 

He’s going to have a great book coming for an audience that still has some bucks left in their pockets, and it gives him another product in his repertoire.

On 02/13, Mike LeFever wrote:

“what he shouldn’t get credit for is being the influencing reason why California wine moves back to a more food-friendly profile with an acidic backbone”

If in fact, Gallonis scores carry the same weight as Parkers, I imagine the trend might just take off.

After all… How will winemakers react when the Euro-centric style wines are suddenly hitting top scores?
...they’ll lean toward making Euro-centric styled wine.


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