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Suffering from the torment of Obsessive Galloni Disease? Take this!

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It’s not that I’m uninterested in the replacement of Robert Parker by his protege, Anotonio Galloni, in reviewing California wines. I am interested. If Jim Laube gave up California, I’d be interested in that, too. If I gave up California, or rather my coastal part of it (I happily share the rest of the state with Virginie Boone), I assume that would be a fairly significant story for the wine press to cover. However, what I have no interest in is what some of my fellow wine bloggers are doing: treating this Galloni thing as some sort of epochal shift that’s making History, like a Presidential election. They’re interpreting every move Galloni makes, every word he writes, with the mesmerized fascination of a Kremlinologist, or a Vatican watcher trying to make sense of some newly elected Pope, or the scrutiny of a Supreme Court reporter discerning which way a new appointee leans.

People, get a grip! Galloni is not the new Pope! He’s a nice-looking dude covering California wine, the new kid in town. We should look forward to welcoming him to the Golden State, if we get the opportunity to meet him, as we never did with Parker, who traveled here as though he were Mick Jagger. But he’s just another one of us, no more or less important than anyone else.

Yet I have read, with astonishment and bemusement, the fevered speculations of certain wine bloggers in covering Antonio’s first Cali reviews. Here’s Terroirist, deconstructing them as if they contained clues to the existence of life on Mars. Here’s Blake Gray, breathlessly combing through the scores, like a mathematician in search of the solution to Fermat’s Last Theorem. Here’s Alder Yarrow, admittedly a little less discombobulated, but still trying to have it both ways by arguing that–while Galloni’s coming means “nothing”–he’s going to headline it anyway.

As Macbeth might have said of all this hyperventilated reportage, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Not that I am calling the three aforementioned fine bloggers idiots! Highest respects! Blog on, brothers! But we bloggers collectively have got to get past the pall that Parker/Wine Advocate threw on the California wine scene for too long–one that the industry accepted too blithely. It was unhealthy, a dark, smothering cloud of choking soot that kept California wine from evolving normally. What we need in California, as the state and the country emerge from the Recession, is a free, fair, open conversation about California wine: what it is, what it isn’t, what it should be, what it could be, if only it were allowed to develop unimpaired, in a free market. Unimpaired is exactly what it wasn’t during the Parker era. One voice, for the most part, defined reality, thus paralyzing the free market into a talibaneque stylistic monopoly.

I was hopeful, when I heard of Parker’s impending retirement from my state, that multiple voices could be heard. But what happens when multiple voices now conspire to all talk about the same thing? Same old same old: The Wine Advocate, written by whomever, continues to dominate the chitchat.

You won’t find me deciphering Galloni. I don’t care what he says. I didn’t read Parker and I won’t read A.G. It’s not that I’m ruling out any mention of Galloni forever. I’ll write about him on an as-needed basis, the same way I’ll write about Jon Bonné or Jordan Mackay or Charlie Olken or Laube or Joe Blow, if I feel like it. But I’m not going to obsess on Galloni any more than I will on 1WineDude. (Happy new year, Joe!)

Make no mistake, the old order in California is as dead as 2011. If it was bizarre for bloggers to suffer from Parker Obsessive Disease, it’s even weirder for them to come down with a self-inflicted case of Galloni Obsessive Disease. So bloggers, if you want to take the cure, just let Dr. Steve know. He’s here to help you.

  1. I like to skim through the wine blogs on an irregular basis, and the last few days I felt like I was reading the same blog over and over. I am curious though, since you mentioned V.B., how do you think her palate differs from yours? And would there be a shakeup in your favorites? Also, props to WE for not making the wine submitting process difficult! JF

  2. Jake, I will leave it to others to compare my palate to Virginie’s, or anyone else’s. Thanks.

  3. There is a lot I like in this post. It isn’t just Galloni either; it seems too many wine blogs are talking about the same few things over and over. Worse, they are all talking about the same press package they got in the mail last week that a PR company sent to 50 bloggers. Time to evolve. Good lessons in this post.

  4. Wayne, to some extent the “birds on a wire” phenomenon is inherent in the nature of the internet. We’re all seeing the same things online, at virtually the same moment. So it’s only natural that many bloggers would write about the same things on any given day. But I agree with you in this sense: quite often, I’ll see a press release or newspaper article, and I know that certain bloggers are going to jump on it. So I deliberately won’t, because I want the content on my blog to be fresh and unpredictable.

  5. raley roger says:

    If you dream of seeing folks move on from discussing the Advocate obsessively, than maybe tell sales reps and distributors to stop feeding wineries this same pathetic line: “It’s hard to sell wine without scores, and the only scores that matter are Parker and Laube”.

    Until that day comes, we’ll continue to be obsessed because for the lazy and small-minded, scores equal money.

  6. Roger, I’ve been harping on that theme for years. Unfortunately, sales reps and distributors are indeed lazy. They are without a doubt the most conservative part of the industry.

  7. I agree, Steve. I’m not sure why any wine critic would essentially promote another critic at a different publication. It’s like the San Francisco Chronicle writing about the latest articles written by Los Angeles Times writers.

    This constant gossip is the reason why RP, Galloni and The Wine Advocate have as much influence as they do. It’s the same reason Kim Kardashian is a celebrity.

  8. The real truth about all of these inane blog posts in the winesloggestsphere on Galloni: Each desperately wishes that the Emperor of Wine had chosen them to be the new California reviewer. What a sad bunch of grapes!

    Btw, Steve, I think any name you put up in BOLD/LINKED you could at least take the time to spell correctly.

  9. Happy New Year to you, too! ;-)

  10. PA Wine Guy says:

    Steve finally cracked the conspiracy… lazy conservative distributor reps conspire to help WA and WS to the detriment of the WE!

  11. King Krak, thanks for the spell check!

  12. Steve is right on with this post but I want to take it further: What’s going to unseat the monoculture of Wine Advocate is diversity of opinion. We need more voices out there with distinct points of view. Generally, wine critics agree more than, say, movie critics do, and this is a problem. WA is so dominant because people think they need only one opinion. Wine writers need to prove them wrong by debating more often about stuff that matters. And the obsessive reporting on Gallioni’s scores & methods is not in that category.

  13. Couldn’t agree more Steve: news shouldn’t be covered, but coverage of the news, especially if it’s disdainful — well, that’s worthy of a blog post!

  14. You’re absolutely right, Steve: News shouldn’t be covered by blogs. But coverage of the news — well, that’s worth blogging about! Nice job.

  15. “If I gave up California, or rather my coastal part of it (I happily share the rest of the state with Virginie Boone), I assume that would be a fairly significant story for the wine press to cover.”

    — heh.

  16. Welcome Galloni and everyeone else to the party

  17. As one of the aforementioned idiots, I’d like to point out that it’s not the bloggers who were thinking of Galloni as a potential epochal shift it was the wine industry. It was the talk of the town in Napa for many weeks. There’s a difference between writing about the buzz and manufacturing it. For my part, I was not covering Galloni’s ascendancy, but the REACTION to it, which is interesting to myself, and to some others who pay attention to what’s going on in the wine world, and apparently also to you, Steve, since you decided it would be worth writing something about the subject you said didn’t merit a mention.

  18. How can you desribe the Cali wine world as anything but a free market? Parker sucks, as does his palate. But nobody forced wineries to make wine pleasing to his palate. And for as many people as big Parker scores bring in, there are just as many people that see big Parker scores and roll their eyes (i’m in the latter category). The wineries made their own choice to cater to Parker, and for most of them it seems to have worked out well financially. thats what a free market is: one in which each business is allowed to make its own decisions that may effect quality or bottom line in both positive and negative ways. As I said, Parker sucks, as do all thr wineries that make wine solely to cater to his palate. But it most certainlg is, and hopefully will remain, a free market.

  19. Kwilk, I guess it’s a free market, technically. But when so many winemakers have chosen for so long to be slaves to the Parker palate, they have voluntarily ceded their freedom to the enslavement of one critic. It’s funny how sometimes people are their own worst enemy.

  20. Thanks, Alder. I did point out you were less discombobulated than the others. You’re a terrific blogger. I just wanted to point out how Parker-centric we [collectively; I included myself in the criticism] have been for so long. Nobody ever analyzes Joe Roberts’ scores, or mine for that matter [that I know of]. Hopefully, we can all move beyond this WA ensorcelment [one of my favorite words; means bewitched] and get things back into perspective.

  21. Obsessive Galloni Disease is a psychiatric disorder, associated with anxiety and depression, and may represent a fear of disarray in the pecking order and a possible loss of favored status. Confusion and fear are common in the sufferer. Should one filter or not filter? Should one profess to be biodynamic or is organic good enough? Hyper wood extraction or none? Should one practice pronunciation of French wine terms or must one pretend to know them into Italian? As it is commonly experienced, a sufferer of the disease cannot venture to make wine with any confidence until the critic has told him how it should be done? The overall prognosis of the disease is not good.

  22. What’s all the fuss about? Isn’t Galloni just a liqeur?

    Kidding! Just Kidding!

  23. Steve – You contradict yourself. You say about Galloni, “He’s just another one of us, no more or less important than anyone else.”

    So the notion is that no one merits more discussion than anyone else. However, you also say that if you gave up California, it would be a “fairly significant story.”

    But if I gave up writing about California, it wouldn’t be a significant story. And you know why? Because I haven’t reached the kind of status that merits attention. In your post you recognize that certain people merit more attention than others, and you put yourself in that category. But you also seem to want to declare that once you reach a certain level of prominence, everyone is essentially the same.

    They’re not, of course, and I suspect you know this. Galloni’s scores matter more than yours, and more than mine, and more than Joe’s. It might smart to hear it, but it’s true. I can accept it.

    Now, how do we move forward without obsessing so much about WA? Step one has already been mentioned: Ditch scores entirely. It takes away the WA’s stock in trade while also improving the discourse. But obviously that would have deleterious effects for WE, too. So how else? Alder points out that you’re covering Galloni, too. Oh, sure, you’re just covering the coverage of the buzz, and Alder is just covering the buzz, etc etc. I agree with Alder here: You’re trying to have it both ways.

    If you don’t want to give up scores, then you should expect one or two publications to publish the scores that dominate the discussion. And that’s going to be WA and WS, whether we like it or not.

  24. Evan Dawson, you make legitimate points. Allow me to reply. First, point scores aren’t going away, so that’s a non-starter. Second, it’s only logical that I should argue against an over-reliance on TWA, isn’t it? I mean, they are the competition. I have a healthy respect for my own talents and for the magazine I write for, so why wouldn’t I take on TWA and urge the industry not to rely so much on it? I’d be failing at my job if I didn’t. Finally, your claim that “Galloni’s scores matter more than yours” is questionable. Matter to whom? To every winery in California? I don’t think so. And I will make this prediction: with the passing of every month, TWA will become less influential in California, as other publications and critics, including me, but also including bloggers, rise in prominence. That same applies to WS. I live here; I travel throughout wine country all the time and engage in conversations with everyone, and I can tell you for a fact that WS’s reputation has been on the decline for years. Just saying…

  25. Steve – Fair enough. You are indeed entitled to seek higher status for your brand.

    I recently wrote about the value of visiting directly with producers, and I wrote that Galloni and his ilk risk being stretched too thin. I have long enjoyed his work on Italian wines, and as a reader, I’d love for his focus to remain there. If WA loses status in California, I’d think it’s due to the continued stretching of resources. I respect Galloni’s work ethic, and yours, and Laube and Fish and so many others. But I’m glad to see some coverage remain focused and not split so far afield.

  26. raley roger says:

    Evan Dawson….don’t know who you are but you sound like a real smart gent and you elevated the discourse here.

  27. Raley Roger – That’s nice of you to say. I write for the New York Cork Report online and for Palate Press as well. I’ve been reading Steve’s work for a long time; his books were some of the first that convinced me to pursue long-form, research-based wine writing.

  28. Evan, thanks. That’s nice of you to say.

  29. raley roger says:

    Evan….just checked out some of your writing online. I’ve favorited the New York Cork Report. I like how you write.

  30. Not to turn this into an Evan love-fest, but I’ve enjoyed his writing for awhile now….and he has written what I’ve heard to be a superb book on Finger Lake Wines/winemaking. Amazon has it been released this month.

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines

  31. California Winemaker says:

    I write this from the perspective of a California winemaker who has had wines scored—in the 85 to 95 point range—in most major wine publications, including Spectator, Advocate, Enthusiast, and Tanzer. From my point of view (one that is shared by many of my colleagues) most wine bloggers, especially those who like to write more about other wine writers than wine itself, harbor a good deal of envy because they inevitably don’t have the readership or influence of the big guys. The only way they can get attention is to try and stir up controversy, but in the grand scheme of things their opinions count for very little.
    This brings us to the point of why we submit wines to be scored. The obvious answer is that good scores sell wine. Depending on the varietal, the most influential scorers for California wine were Jim Laube, and when he was scoring CA wines, Parker. I suspect that Galloni’s appointment as the Advocate critic for CA has now placed Laube as the premier critic, especially for Chard, Pinot, Syrah, and I think now even Cab. I would say that Tanzer (actually Josh Reynolds) is a solid third; he carries a lot of weight on the east coast and with Somms, and I think has the most potential to surpass Advocate. You—and I say this with no disrespect intended—are probably fourth. The real truth of the matter is that if one’s wine gets good scores from Laube, one need not submit to another critic. Case in point is Kosta Browne, who literally conquered the Pinot Noir world without submitting wines to Enthusiast since 2002 or Advocate since 2005.
    Thus we come to the tightrope we all walk. Consumers want to feel they are being protected by the critic. Yet, the critic and wine publications—who cannot afford to go out and buy all the wines they score—know that if they hand out too many negative scores, wineries may stop submitting wines to them ( or send their wines to the competing publications that give them better scores). The winemaker is faced with the dilemma of making wine that is critic friendly or risk having no sales.
    Viewing all of this, from well below, is the wine blogger, whose only hope is to try and shake the tightrope and hope that someone falls off…

  32. Dear California winemaker, I agree that a lot of the bloggers are just envious. Their rage and anger at critics and scoring makes them suspect–they protest too much. As for who’s number 1, 2, 3 or 4, I don’t know; but I would point out that Costco, the largest wine retailer in America, utilizes only 3 publications for shelf talkers: WE, WS and WA. Not Tanzer.

  33. California Winemaker says:

    Thanks for the reply Steve. In the end, you are right; ranking the top of the heap is pointless (and perhaps impossible). There are those who have influence, and those who don’t. Obviously, you and WE are major players. I should say that from my standpoint, not all wine bloggers are inflicted with the envy bug. Many write insightful posts and generate great discussions. Bu many write with what can only be described as bitterness and, just like as it is with wine, that should be considered a fault.

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