Wine Talk

Snooth User: Craig Donofrio

Big Changes at Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate

Original post by Craig Donofrio, Dec 10, 2012.


Following a Wall Street Journal article yesterday, wine sites and blogs are exploding with news that Robert Parker has sold a substantial share of The Wine Advocate to a group of young investors in Singapore. The "game-changing" publication will see some major changes. Do you think these changes will be a good thing or do they risk losing subscribers?


A few topics for discussion:


-Parker is stepping down as the editor and has tapped Lisa Perotti-Brown as his replacement. How will this affect the editorial vision and public perception of the publication? What about moving the headquarters to Singapore?


-TWA is apparently planning global wine education conferences. Would you go to one?


-TWA will begin to accept advertising (apparently for luxury brands but not wine). Does this matter?


-TWA will cease print production as early as the end of 2013. If you get the print edition now, will you  subscribe to digital when that is the only option? Is this a bad move or just inevitable?  


-What do you think about the growing wine industry trend to cater so heavily to the Asian market? Will there be a backfire effect at some point? Do you think companies in the wine industry can court the Asian market without alienating customers in more traditional markets?

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Reply by Craig Donofrio, Dec 17, 2012.

I haven't seen anything about a non-compete agreement but then again, he is still a partner. All I've seen is that he sold "part" of the company for $15 million. So far, it's pretty ambiguous what really transpired in the deal. Since he still owns a portion of the business, it's probably not in his best interest to run it into the ground. It's hard to imagine that the Singapore investor didn't at least think of that possibility before shelling out $15 million. Then's been said that there is "a sucker born every minute."

At his age, I doubt if he really feels like starting over. I'm sure he'll take his big payout now, continue to take a salary for a few years, and at some point take one more fat payout before retiring...Not a bad way to go!

Reply by GregT, Dec 17, 2012.

Supposedly he sold 65 pct. No word at all on what the division of labor was. He's 65 and not in great health and doesn't seem to take particularly good care of himself so while it would be very unfortunate, he may not be able to continue tasting wine, at least not at the rate he's been.  He's stated a few times that he really thinks it's all for the better and I don't doubt that he really believes that.

The mixed signals haven't been good however, and the near dead silence on the part of the writers is interesting. Most interesting of all was the reaction of Lisa, who in her interviews and posts seemed to act more like a COO than someone who was taking on the drudgery of proofreading.

I think he's smart in that he can't continue forever and his brand isn't likely to grow in importance - social media sites and the increasing sophistication of the US public when it comes to wine will see to that. As Chinese and other Asians gain confidence in their own palates, his influence will wane there too. So doing videos rather than exclusively text and figuring out how to monetize what started as a hobby - those things seem like good ideas.

But it's all in the execution. I think it's a huge mistake to have mysterious investors because it causes people to start digging. He announced that none of them were in the wine business for the prior 72 hours before the deal went thru, but people discovered that one of them was a big importer who had recently sold. OK but imagine if a big US importer had bought 65% of the WA. That caused a lot of speculation and I think it could have been, and should have been, avoided.


Reply by zufrieden, Dec 23, 2012.

Yes, I know what some of you are thinking, but sometimes I can't resist poking some intellectual fun by tilting at a few windmills.  And the reference to Confucianism was partly in earnest and partly in jest, but it goes a little way toward explaining why Chinese wine newbies would take a deferential bow to experts like Robert Parker (and it is, in my experience at least, that they do).  When you commence the journey into fine wine (or food - or even coffee, for that matter), there is a point at which a taste is acquired and an intermediary to interpret said taste.  Remember that "being without blame" is the maxim in the Celestial Empire, and that lofty state ethical state is best achieved by referencing an authority on ritual or taste.

That reliance on authority served East Asian civilisation well for millenia until the flotsom of Western ideas washed ashore on the South China Sea by way of risky commercial ventures.  I do not think that Chinese in future will rely on RP or WA for all their information on wine as home-grown experts are already popping up and there is a sound if somewhat pedestrian wine industry growing up in China - principally in Hebei Province (from whence comes the Great Wall brand you may be able to procure in local liquor marts).

A similar interest is arising in India, but the presence of the British colonial administration for 200 years had a different impact on local habit.

So, eventually China will have its own experts and authorities but will still submit to authority per se until (and if) there comes the long-awaited political homogenization of the world (at least in some secular humanist circules - those of the die-hard variety).

I personally have not relied on Parker as an authority - though I admit he is (or was) one nonetheless.  I always found his reviews rather boring, repetitive and uninformative - except as a means of affirming my own review class of extrema such as "excellent" and "poor".   Of course, I admit that I have always had a (sometimes misguided) surfeit of faith in native ability to work things out myself.   But most people don't want to do that - they just want a guide to what the informed think is "top notch", "pretty darn good" , "ho-hum but enjoyable" and "not worth the trouble unless desparate for alcohol".

The whole process of certifying people in wine assessment is probably no different than confering a degree on someone for reading literature over a 4-year span.  What has always made me suspicious about such things is that, yes, some people "see" things that others do not, but there is no common empirical basis by which the "truth" of any artistic assessment may be divined.  For example, my intermittent involvement in wine guilds only confirms a sort of self-selection effect; my colleagues and I share a kind of "palate training" that might delude us into thinking we have some line on aesthetic truth in the way the ancient Greeks believed it was possible to have.

A broad topic - all this.


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