The most powerful critic in the world is Crazy Flukenstein
When I was in Calistoga I stopped by Chateau Montelena’s tasting room. They didn’t know who I was. I overheard one of the servers behind the bar tell an elderly couple, “These wines got high scores from Robert Parker, Jr.”
One of these days I am going to hurl right on the tasting room floor! Message to the Barretts: With all due respect, get a clue. Want me to tell you why? Okay, here goes.
Some years ago a famous critic—not Parker—practically wiped you out by telling the world your winery was dirty with TCA. From my understanding, you had to spend millions of dollars to correct a problem that you, personally, didn’t even believe existed. But this critic had so much power that he had your huevos in his mano, so you squealed like a stuck cerdo, oink oink.
I’d have thought you learned your lesson about single-critic dependency, but apparently not. Live by the single critic, die by the single critic, is my warning. And tell me this: What are you going to do now that Parker has abandoned California and ceded it to Antonio Galloni? Is your tasting room staff going to tell customers, “These wines got high scores from Antonio Galloni”?
I mean, let’s get real. Ninety percent of your walk-ins have no idea who Robert Parker is. You could tell them “These wines got high scores from Crazy Flukenstein,” and they’d be impressed. It’s not the name that means anything to them, it’s the fact that your staff would take the time to mention a name that impresses. They figure, “If this tasting room expert says Crazy Flukenstein gave a high score to the wine, then it must be awfully good.” Nor is it likely that your customer would ever ask, “Who’s Crazy Flukenstein,” by the way, because that would make the customer look stupid; and the last thing a customer in a tasting room wants to come across as is stupid.
I’ll tell you something else. Dropping a Parker name (or anybody else’s, for that matter) in a tasting room is sheer laziness. In fact, it’s beyond laziness. It’s downright slothful. If you and your staff can’t come up with a more clever and rational way to sell wine, then you might as well turn off the lights and put up the “CLOSED” sign in the window.
If I worked in a tasting room (and thank God I don’t, because I’d last 20 minutes), here’s what I’d tell customers. “Hey, see this wine? It’s awesome. Trust me. Smell that—just like blackberries, ay? Swirl it around a little. Take a sip. You ever had anything like that in your life? Now, let me grab this bottle from under the counter and show you something really special.”
You see, Barrett family, it’s not about having to desperately resort to some tired old critic to give your wine patina. It’s about trusting that your wine’s quality speaks for itself. It’s about the tasting room staff establishing true rapport with the customer, not reaching to the bottom of the barrel to fish out the stalest trick in the book: a Parker recommendation.
I’ve been telling California vintners this truth for years. Hopefully, the younger ones get it. The Barretts and Chateau Montelena represent an old breed. Maybe it’s too late to teach those dogs new tricks. But I really, really hope the new generation of vintners understands that the days of relying on a Parker score are over, over, over! Especially now that Parker isn’t even doing California anymore. And you know what? I think the new generation does get it. I travel a lot; I meet a lot of people; I know how anxious they are to establish new lines of communication with newer voices to reach newer consumers, not just those snobs mesmerized by The Wine Advocate. They realize that putting all their eggs in one basket is dumb, and they’re not going to do it.