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Bloggers to Parker: Drop dead


I knew it was only a matter of time before Robert Parker came into the gunsights of the bloggers. They’ve already picked apart me and Wine Spectator, so it was way past time for the Biggest Critic in the World to get creamed.

The leader of the pack was my friend Joe Roberts, over at 1WineDude blog, and when I call him my friend, I mean it. We got off to a rough start last summer over that Rockaway wine, and then, when he announced he hoped I’d kick his ass at the Bloggers Conference, I didn’t know whether or not I should bring my nunchuk before going up to Santa Rosa. But as it turned out Joe was all smiles and charm and we got alone fine, and now 1WineDude is one of my favorite blogs, and Joe comments on mine with some regularity. So all is good.

Anyhow, Joe socked it to Parker in a long post the other day. If I can summarize it, he was irked by some comments RJP made about bloggers, namely they are “rumor-mongering” and “irresponsible” [Bob didn’t say all of them, but still, it was trash talk]. RJP also referred to “second-hand reports or rumors bereft of careful analysis.” To add insult to injury, he wrote that some “notorious blogs” are written by people who can’t “string a noun and a verb together.”

Tough stuff. As another blogger, who has subscribed to The Wine Advocate for 20 years, wrote, “In all my days as a subscriber, I have NEVER seen him initiate a fight in the pages of the Wine Advocate.  Today, he did.”

Let’s break this down. Parker should not have written what he did. It was wrong of him to be so dismissive of the entire blogosphere, and in such an angry way. If he had a quarrel with a particular blog post someplace, he should have identified it and framed a specific response. Instead, he seems to have slung mud in a promiscuous way, tarring the entire wine blogosphere. That kind of McCarthyite smear should be beneath someone of Parker’s stature.

Why did he lash out as he did? Only his therapist knows for sure. There’s got to be some insecurity there. Why would the World’s Greatest Critic be insecure? Does he think the bloggers are a threat to him?

Look, the guy’s still got clout. Before his re-evaluation of the 2008 Bordeaux vintage, prices were nose-diving. Afterward, my friend Gary Cowan, who owns Fine Wines International (a very upscale San Francisco wine store), told me that prices soared virtually overnight. So Parker’s position is secure.

Well, at least with Bordeaux, which is a strange market. But maybe he fears he’s losing influence elsewhere. I don’t want to play armchair shrink. I just really wonder what caused his outburst. We Baby Boomer wine writers shouldn’t be disrespecting the bloggers or unduly criticizing them.

Now, obviously there are some bad wine bloggers out there who can’t write well. There are some who don’t know squat about wine, and yak about it anyway. Yes, Bob’s got a point. He just made it in a really stupid, temper-tantrum way, and I think it has hurt him.

When I read 1WineDude’s post, I had numerous reactions. One was: Dude, calm down. Don’t take it so personally. But the more I thought it the more I decided that Joe had a right to take such offense. He stood up for his posse and he did it well.

Mea culpa alert!!! [added after this was published]: I referred to Parker as RJP when in fact it’s RMP. Sorry bout that.

  1. I was surprised too that RP would make a blanket statement like that. I have a string of 2008 Bordeaux posts that have been assembled by asking other experts here and took the time to get some different points of view. And while Parker is the energy that moves the market at this time, I cant help but wonder if his “brand” is being threatened by the bloggers ascendancy. So his M.O. , like the rest of us, will have to be, ‘”row faster”.

  2. The way I see it, criticizing the wider blogosphere for being poorly written and lacking in substantial and substantiated content is the easiest shot ever – there is a reason for the “long tail.” Heck I’m as guilty as anyone – I’m lucky if I can remember that a sentence has a noun AND a verb, and when I get on a roll with those pesky adjective things I just can’t seem to stop.

    The cheap broadside at bad writing was one thing, but it seems to me the comments about “rumors” and “rumor mongering” were more pointed – specifically at allegations that some of RP’s contract writers were not adhering to the policy standards on which the Parker brand is founded.

    I don’t care. It has been at least a couple of decades since I have bought a wine based on anyone’s review (yours included Steve – no offence, mate – thanks for letting me know about new brands) so the relative “objectivity” – or alleged lack thereof – of Parker-branded reviews means nothing to me.

    But the situation is a case study in how not to manage a public relations blunder. My number one rule is “think – don’t drink – before you blog” and the churlishness of Parker’s responses to being called out by the bloggers in question suggest to me at least that he did not do the former.

  3. I thought Joe’s dissection of Parker’s position a brilliant one. The bottom line is that the old wine order is passing. RP may be like MacArthur’s old soldier, but fade away he will. It’s an inevitable generational shift, aided and abetted by new technologies that demand a less top-down approach to damn near everything.

  4. John, re: “think — don’t drink — before you blog,” this is what the famous commentator, Morton Leslie, calls “BUI” — blogging under the influence. The same applies to emails.

  5. Thanks to everyone for the collective comments and support.

    I can say I wasn’t BUI during the writing of my lengthy diatribe on RP’s blogger attack, but obviously I was miffed at the broadstroke attack.

    Steve – you nailed it on the head that it was a defense of wine blogging (and I suppose of blogging in particular). If the President went on TV and said during the State of the Union that Ice Hockey games all sucks, it’s going to have an impact and ice hockey fans would be enraged. Ice Hockey in general would take a big hit. And he’d be right about some ice hockey games, but dead wrong about others.

    Whether he realizes it or not, RP’s influence in the world of wine is a bit like that. I’m really not tearing at him personally, just at his comment and how he wrote it, as Steve you’re rightly pointing out in your post here.

    I should not that I’m humbled and grateful for your support and your friendship, and thank you for both! Cheers!

  6. This tempest in the blogosphere is a bit like one in a teapot. Sound and fury signifying not very much. As the World’s Greatest (=Most Powerful) Critic, regardless of subject matter, however the man reacts to some aspect of the wacky world of wine is of no consequence. What counts is his power to make or break a wine or even a winery, and of course a vintage, not unlike the power of Clive Barnes years ago vis a vis plays and musicals on Broadway. Unless you are Daily Kos or a columnist on Slate, Politico, or The Huffington Post, blogs will always be digital diaries where folks can read over your shoulder. They don’t really matter in the larger world of commerce. Whereas The Wine Advocate…. bow down. Mr. Parker swatted away what to him (and others) was a swarm of gnats while he dealt with the important question of vintage. McCarthyism it wasn’t.

  7. Tom, I see this “tempest” more as a prelude of things to come.

  8. Tom – Is my blog post a tempest in a tea cup?


    Is blogging, or even wine blogging, a tempest in a tea cup?

    No way. If it were, we wouldn’t have sponsors lining up for events like TasteCamp, Wine Bloggers Conference, etc., which they are and I doubt very highly they’re doing it because they have enormous budgets and plenty of time on their hands in this economic downturn.

    Wine blogging does not have anywhere near the influence of Parker.

    Not yet anyway…

  9. True I was looking at the near term and the issue of bloggers vs. The Man. But if one does look ahead will blogging take on more importance when Mr. Parker inevitably steps down? I remain skeptical. New wine pundits will emerge, but no one with Robert Parker or Clive Barnes clout will come to the fore. Key commentator/critics like you, Jim Laube, Jancis Robinson, Tancer etc. will continue to have readership; plus publications like Decanter, which can be found both online and offline, will also continue to dominate. In other words the landscape will look very much the same, except for the missing mountain.

  10. I’ll use this opportunity to apologize for repeatedly referring to Parker as RJP instead of RMP. Don’t know where I came up with that one.
    Maybe because RJP is closer to RIP than RMP…

  11. Paul Gregutt says:

    I’m afraid Mr. Parker has been spending waaay too much time reading the Squires board, and not nearly enough time in the real world of blogging.

    As Dylan wrote long ago – “don’t stand in the doorway and block up the halls, cause the times, they are a’changin'”

  12. There goes Paul putting words in my mouth again.

    The issue here was a sweeping generalization. That’s why so many are and should be opposed to stereotyping. Just because someone is a specific ethnicity doesn’t mean they will fit a predetermined list of characteristics, likewise, just because there are some blogs that do not meet higher standards it does not mean all do.

  13. Driving through a Maryland neighborhood recently, I heard some coot yell at me to slow down. I can only assume it was Bob.

  14. Dylan, by the way, LOVE “Together through Life.” Way to go, man! But seriously, your remark is right on. Parker dissed all blogs. He should apologize, IMHO.

  15. Before the Revolution, when Voltaire challenged Chateuabriand to a duel, the Viscount had his footmen thrash the bourgeois writer. His point? That nobility doesn’t need to trifle with commoners. The story is apocryphal (which means someone probably made it up), but the point remains. RMP should be above this. By missing this point, he actually serves not to lower himself but to elevate the bloggers he seems to disdain. And like all battles for transitional space, this spat won’t matter after the fact. Although, I don’t really care now.

  16. As a wine freak in the blogsphere myself, I’ve got so say I’m a little perturbed. Bloggers provide and entryway for many ‘normal’ people into the world of wine. In the long run, wine blogs actually benefit Mr. RJP. Furthermore, its not our (myself and other wine bloggers) fault that people want recommendations from actual people and not a mythical figure such as RJP. I’m baffled as to why he even felt the need to waste his time, but I’m kind of flattered to have ruffled his feathers so to speak.

  17. ethicalpress says:

    Let me be the devil advocate by mentioning some quick facts:

    Robert Parker team reviews wines like many wine writers will do;
    The readers of wine advocate are enough intelligent to make their opinion like any other wine review readers;

    Wine advocate does not receive any money from wineries (big difference if we look at Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast);

    Robert Parker team does not contact wineries in order to sale products such as a label insert (wine enthusiast asks wineries to pay $950.00 for a label insert no matter what is the review);

    Robert Parker does not sale himself for pseudo seminars, wine talks, wine education, etc… like some wine writers or bloggers. In conclusion, he keeps his integrity and ethics.

    As far as wine bloggers, we will have to admit that there is a growing tendency to read article where the sense is more an “none researched opinion” than a journalistic job.
    Now, a question:
    Why Robert Parker has some many impact in the wine world?
    Because he is respected in the wine world.

    Let’s face it, many wine bloggers will LOVE to be Robert Parker but I guess this is easier to create a fake controversy than facing the truth that a few people can be as effective as Parker.

  18. ethicalpress – I understand the devil’s advocate approach. However, we shouldn’t assume that lots of bloggers want to be RP…

  19. Yeah but we shouldn’t assume they don’t…

  20. I don’t. But then if you visit the Lab, that’s probably pretty obvious.

  21. It seems more a case of Parker setting his gunsights on the bloggers.
    Agreed, Parkers outburst came across as peevish and defensive.
    There are several issues at hand but the top two in my mind are the obvious generational shift and the democratization of wine writing (whether for good or bad is debatable).

  22. Amy: You have hit the nail on the head. Those are the 2 overwhelming issues.

  23. Parker is on one side of the blog writing curve but still delivers. On the other side of that learning curve are the bloggers who adjust quickly.

    As bloggers realize they have a real (read professional?) voice, they will find editors (RMP, RJP, RIP…) shooters, and all those skilled people who have lost their newspaper jobs. (Remember, too, radio writers have always delivered 24/7—immediacy is not new).

    We all swim in the same wordy wine sea. Those who come next have to know that, from the beginning, words only deliver the story if they don’t get in the way.


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