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Buh-bye Antonio, we hardly knew ye!

31 comments

Perhaps we should start calling it “The Wine Hadvocate,” as in the past tense. Now that Antonio Galloni has quit that sinking ship, there’s little question the Beginning of the End is here for Robert Parker’s once vaunted newsletter.

That stomping sound you hear is hundreds of wine bloggers dancing on Parker’s grave. That other sound, like a miasmal wind blowing through a dead forest, is the groaning of all the snobby cult winery owners who gave Parker majesterial permission to pimp their wines, and who now have to wonder if they backed the wrong horse.

Answer: Yup, you did.

I personally wasn’t surprised by Galloni’s decision. After Parker sold the Advocate off to its new Asian owners, I thought that move must have come as a kick to Antonio’s gut. I’m sure he didn’t know anything about it until after the fact, just as I’m sure Parker knew he was going to be divesting even as he hired Antonio. That is Machiavellian politics, my friend. Poor Antonio. He didn’t anticipate reporting to some Singapore-based bureaucrat named Lisa Perrotti-Brown, and must have been frantically considering his options since last December. Now we know what his decision is.

What he says he’s doing with his new website looks a lot like what James Suckling did on his website, which seems to be less of a success than James hoped it would be. It’s not so easy to remain famous and influential when you leave the employ of the periodical that put you there. Not to say it can’t be done, just that it’s hard. Can Antonio remain “an authoritative voice in what is now a very big and very verbose world wine conversation,” as Eater New York wondered?

I hope so. I met the man once (last year, in fact, at Premier Napa Valley) and he was kind enough to give me a very long interview and pose for pictures. But it’s not Antonio I’m thinking so much about right now, as those snooty winery owners who lived and breathed by Wine Advocate’s blessing to the exclusion of almost anyone else, and who now have to figure out how to make their overpriced Cabernets sound exclusive when the bastion of exclusivity, The Wine Advocate, they were addicted to has been battered beyond the point of recognition. I always warned them (the winery owners) not to put all their eggs in that one basket but they did anyway. Well, maybe they put their eggs into two baskets, but the other basket isn’t what it used to be either, with the result that they now have only one basket for all those expensive, rather fragile eggs, and it’s looking a little tattered.

I’m here for you, brothers and sisters up Napa way. Here to help you in your time of need. No hard feelings. Life goes on. In a few months, you’ll get over the Advocate, over Parker, over Galloni, like your first husband or wife. It will all seem like a bad dream. One of these nights, maybe over drinks at the Rutherford Grill, you’ll be able to laugh about it, and wonder how you could have been so gullible for so long.

  1. Steve,
    Once again your blog is great. Your point about over priced Napa cult wines related to Parker scores is something I have always been baffled by. I did appreciate Antonio’s reviews. I hope he finds success elsewhere.

  2. Are you seriously offering these vulnerable and gullible wineries a shoulder to cry on in order to get them into Wine Enthusiast’s bed whilst calling them snooty, overpriced and questioning their marketing strategy??

    Please tell me that you’re doing your best Hosemaster impression…

    (I don’t totally disagree with you, but this approach seems beneath you or at least your position…)

  3. The key distinction is that Suckling is a blathering, opportunistic, pompous, windbag, and Galloni seems like a decent person, who, when doing video, doesn’t make himself the center of attention.

  4. Will Galloni be Vaynerchuck or Suckling? It is pretty hard to be anything without a broad, widely recognized and followed platform.

    Vaynerchuk created his own platform. A thousand bloggers are still trying to figure out how to make anything more than a hobby out of theirs.

    But, Steve, I know how to breath life into the CA portion of the WA. All they need to do is to hire a well-known, respected critic whose name is already associated with CA wine and does not own his own platform. I can think of several of those.

    As for the WS being “tattered”. I am afraid that I call that wishful thinking. Be careful because someone might start thinking of things to call the WE.

  5. It is tattered. Emperor’s clothes.

  6. Hardly shocking if you ask me and the one thing I always wanted to know, how does it feel to be reviewing, writing, traveling and meeting for years. your name attached to everything you publish and still have damn near everyone say, “Parker gave it a 95″? I would think that would suck….big time. I say good for Antonio. I met him last year at the Wine Writer’s Symposium and found him to be amazingly personable and refreshingly passionate. I wish him all the best.

  7. doug wilder says:

    If anyone is missing a white horse, you now know where to look, the Heimoff garage! :)

  8. Dear Samantha, yes it can be irritating!

  9. Steve and others make great points. Finally it is the consumers time to choose. Those who do the best job of reaching out personally and over social media will win over fans and not have to worry that Parker isn’t around to laude them with 95 points.
    I actually respect Antonio Galloni for making this move. He is personable, approachable and one that believes that the snootiness in wine is not needed. I wish him the best of success in his venture. One that I will gladly pay more attention to than others mentioned here.

  10. Emily Richer says:

    OMG! What amazes me, as a former investment banker, is the VALUE Parker received for that publication. And doubly amazing if no contract on Parker or Galloni.

    If selling extremely expensive Napa Cabernet Sauvignon was the ultimate hoax on wine consumers, selling that publication was the ultimate hoax on wine industry investors, no? Still, wow, that was QUICK turnover on the CA desk. I hope Galloni writes a book, no doubt some back-story there of drama he hadn’t anticipated stepping into Parker’s shoes?

  11. It wasn’t just the cult wineries. It was a lot of wineries. Working for an importer, it is the constant getting wines to a Parker tasting. The constant of being asked if the winery got a good “parker score”, the constant of one’s wine not being tried or featured because it didn’t have a Parker score.
    One time I tasted a retailer on the wine I represented. He loved the wine, thought it was wonderful but it didn’t have a Parker score so he didn’t want to buy it. I argued, I said “but you love the wine and want it”.
    The following week, no lie, the wine got a 90 from Parker and I got a call from the retailer.
    It will take a while for retailers to realize what’s happening at TWA. I hate/d how much influence it can have on my sales.

  12. Kurt Burris says:

    I need a new word. I would refer to wine being “Parkerized” when it got a good enough score to “justify” charging ridiculous amounts for a start up. And I would equate a business plan contingent on getting a high score to a retirement plan based on lottery tickets. Now what do I call an overpriced, over ripe, over hyped start up wine?

  13. Hmmmm, great. Now that Parker is in his final stages of barely-unchallenged ruling i honestly wonder what wineries are going to do as the remaining wine critics won’t have the same god-like words and powers any longer. I hope it’s the end of vulgar oaky jelly too alcoholic wines. The so-called RP taste (i say it’s the dominant american taste, the fast food nation).

    Let’s get back to real wines. Oh, you don’t know or you can’t make real good wines? Too bad. Next time choose a better place to cultivate your vineyards.

    It’ll be fun to see the whole wine world lost in the darkness without a compass. The only way out must be the real wines back to the top of production. Shorten your pharmaceutical stocks.

  14. Kurt:

    “Now what do I call an overpriced, over ripe, over hyped start up wine?”

    Singapoured?

  15. I’ve watched my friends, great winemakers, lose jobs over Parker scores. So good riddance!

    I know one winery, which I won’t name, that got it’s first 93 from Galloni after the previous year getting a 99. A friend of his got a 98 that year. In discussion, the other winemaker said, “I can’t believe I got a higher score than you. Your wine was clearly much better than mine.” He then said, “What did you do when Galloni came to taste?” My friend replied, ” We did nothing. We tried be professional and not make it seem like we were buying a score.” “oh,” he replied, ” we rolled out the red carpet for him. That’s where you screwed up.”

    I am thankful and actually surprised that he still has a job. But if that truly is the reason for the bad score, then I am sickened. And the other issue that also sickens me…. Is it just that Galloni has different preferences in taste? I think that’s the REAL reason for the score. In that case, are you going to change your whole winemaking protocol to suit a new critic?

  16. Isabel, thanks for weighing in with that story. I bet there’s a million similar ones–all sickeningly stupid.

  17. doug wilder says:

    Charlie,

    I’m confused by your comments which seem to be a contradiction. First you say “It is pretty hard to be anything without a broad, widely recognized and followed platform.”

    Then you conclude “All they need to do is to hire a well-known, respected critic whose name is already associated with CA wine and does not own his own platform.”

    I know you are never without an explanation, so would you clear up my confusion?

    Lastly, I honestly can’t think of any well-known respected critics who don’t have their own platform (or at least share one). Who are they? :)

  18. Doug–

    “Their own platform” means they own it rather than working for someone else.

    In the real world, people change employers all the time. Why not winewriters?

    Let’s say that someone working for Wine and Spirits or WE or WS has a pretty good reputation but is paid $50 (I am intentionally not using potentially real numbers) and the WA concludes that it needs a recognized name for instant acceptability, it could offer that person $70 for the job.

    I don’t see many job shifts like that among writers, but it would make a lot more sense than hiring another person with limited credibility and limited background. Now, maybe Doug, that person could even be someone like you with a ton of local knowledge but maybe not making a ton on your still relatively young platform.

    So, now contradiction. And because you are posting over on Tom Wark’s site as well, you have undoubtedly seen some of the names floated there.

  19. So happy that smart people like Charlie Olken choose to weigh in here. Thank you!

  20. This post reads like it is coming from a very bitter and resentful place, compared to what I’m used to from this blog Steve. I’m not saying it is for better or worse, but it comes across like MSNBC ranting about FOX News. ;)

  21. Echoing GrapesRGreat, as the follower of several wine-writer/critic blogs, I am frequently astonished by how catty the business is and how much barely obscured hostility there appears to be for the most successful or prominent wine critics. That is not to say that some criticism of these folks isn’t warranted, but the venom unleashed across the internet following this WA-related announcement has been pretty remarkable.

  22. Charlie,

    Thanks for the explanation :)

  23. Unfortunately the wine industry has become a bitter place, not just in the print wine writers world or the bloggers but all up and down the industry. When I wandered back into the wholesale wine world after a stint in the restaurant world (a bit of tunnel vision there), I literally had to laugh at the wall of wine labels that I faced on the shelves of retailers. It looked like the wall of vodka that the snotty wine sales people (me included, you too Tom P.) used to laugh at when I was on that side.

    Isabel: don’t get mad at those that followed the path to the parker rabbit hole… the Importers, Wholesalers and wine marketers led the way and you are part of that system even if you didn’t partake. The reason consumers followed Parker is because the retailers touted his scores, the reason retailers followed parker is because wine sales teams pushed them… led their sales pitch with Parker 93 instead of leading with St-Emilion or Howell Mountain or Willamette or Santa Maria….

    The Wholesale Wine Sales and Wine Marketers told everyone who would listen that Points were more important than who made the wine or where it came from.

    Now we must pay. As Ed Koch said after not being re-elected. The people deserve this.

  24. Kurt Burris says:

    One question I still have about the WA being acquired (love Singapoured by the way) is what was actually being acquired? I don’t begrudge anyone cashing in but paying 15 million for a 50K subscriber mailing list? $300 bucks a head seems like a lot. The demographics of that subscriber list must be pretty damn intriguing.

  25. I am glad Parker is gone. I never liked the wines he did. He had too much influence with the rich wine buying public anyway. As far as the Asians are concerned “A fool and his money are soon parted”.

    The Saint

  26. Bill Haydon says:

    CSMiller is absolutely correct. I was a young on-premise buyer when the Parker Leviathon first began to show its stifling influence. It was the wholesalers who were pushing Parker…..not retailers or consumers. Wholesalers will always follow the path of least resistance, and in Parker, they found the perfect vehicle to make that path a little easier.

    I loathe Parker, always have and always will. I also consider that ten years down the road, the wine world will look at the era of his overarching influence as akin to a leisure suit era of bad judgement and worse taste.

  27. I see Suckling is getting bashed. I will say this about James Suckling, he talks to everyone. It might take a few tries, but he will listen to what you have to say.

    If you look at it, the wine critics (WA, WS, WE, Suckling, Galloni, Tanzer) have made themselves obsolete, because they hand out so many 90 point scores. Also, the quality of wine that is going into the bottle is so good, that buying a wine based on a review is irrelevant.

    Steve – how many wines did you score 90+ points this year, and how many did you score 90+ points 10 years ago?

    The new generation of wine drinkers (21 to 35) could care less what the wine critics have to say. This generation nearly always opts for $15 Malbec from Argentina over a California Cabernet or a bottle of Bordeaux at the same price. I also don’t think this new generation of wine drinkers are going to pay a subscription fee of $100+ a year when all the information can be found on retailers internet sites.

    Today, it is all about finding the best values, and the top wine retailers have no problem finding plenty of great wines. Best bottle of CA Cabernet I had last year was the 1999 St. Supery Dollarhide Ranch Limited Edition Cabernet. Spectator gave it 92 points. Release price was $70, and I paid $50 at K&L in late 2012. My point is that I bought a 92 point wine, that was perfectly aged for $20 less than the release price. These deals are everywhere, but I didn’t buy it because Spectator gave it a 92 point rating (drink through 2010). In fact, I just found out it was a 92 point wine. I just asked a sales guy at K&L for their best bottle of California Cabernet for under $50.

    If you want high grade Oakville Cabernet at a decent price (under $40), look at the Mondavi Oakville CS. Parker has given this wine a score that ranges from 93 to 88 since the 2000 vintage. Why pay $60+ for another Oakville CS with a score of 94? I don’t think most wine drinkers can tell the difference between a 89 point wine and a 94 point wine.

  28. Dear Josh Moser: All good points. Thanks.

  29. Mr. Moser does indeed make some thought-provoking points. But, when he projects what 20-something drinkers will be doing thirty years from now, he is guessing, and his guess, while as good as anybody’s, are also no better than anybody’s.

    For the moment, there are close to one million people in this world reading WS, WA, WE, W&S, Decanter, CGCW, Tanzer, Gambero Rosso and lots of other mags that offer ratings as part of their review service.

    It has always been true that one could walk into a good wine merchant’s and get a reasonable recommendation, but citing a ten year old wine as an example of how easy it is to get great Oakville Cab at a reasonable price is a bit of sophistry. There are lots of possibilities, and unless one simply wants to drink Mondavi Oakville from now until eternity, some folks are going to look for expertise and that expertise will come with a symbolic rating system just as it always has.

    Are there too many high scores? Sure there are. Are there publications that are more restrained and picky than others? Sure there are?

    Will WA survive? Who cares? WS, WE, W&S and lots of others will, and new publications will rise to take their place. If not Galloni, then Robinson and Yarrow. If not them, then Joe Roberts? And if not anyone we have heard of yet, it is still silly to suggest that the wine review world is going to vanish like VHS and Sh-Boom (try telling me what that means, you 20-somethings).

    So, while I agree with lots that Mr. Moser has said, because they are simple truths that have existed for as long as I have been writing, I am not convinced that they make a sound thesis upon which to base his conclusions.

  30. Mr. Olken – All great points. Thanks for responding to my post. Let me clarify a few things. I am 41 years old, and I subscribe to 3 different wine publications. I have a true appreciation for wine reviewers (large and small). Now I don’t get that caught up in the wine scores, but I do value what they have to say about the overall quality of vintages. I think reviewers earn their money when they talk about an off-vintage more so than a great vintage. I also pay very close to attention to the drinking windows they provide.

    As it relates to wine retailers, some of these merchants (K&L & JJ Buckley to name a few) provide detailed vintage reports for free. These reports are quite good, and I feel that wine drinkers (between the ages of 21 and 35) are going to opt for a free report from their wine retailer than pay subscription fees. It is a safe bet, that these retailers are going to produce more of these reports in the future.

    I assume that James Suckling and Robert Parker headed to Asia because they see a better opportunity to find paying subscribers in Asia than in the US. Even though the US is currently the largest market for wine consumption, James Suckling and Robert Parker know that if merchants are providing these detailed reports for free, then why would someone pay $100+ a year. As you know, some of these wine retailers have employees who have tasted thousands and thousands of the same wines, and have strong relationships with wine producers.

    The other key point is that the wine retailers can talk about wines that they are selling, and have recently tasted. I can’t tell you how many times I have read a review from some of these publications, and then I find out that only 200 cases are for sale in the US, and you can’t find the wine. Or the reviewer tasted the wine 7 years ago when it was released, and has not provided an updated review. Well that doesn’t do me any good.

    It will be interesting to see in what direction Mr. Galloni heads.

  31. george kaplan says:

    Parker was in the right place at the right time for a lot of mini-revolutions,: ’82 Bordeaux, cleaning up Burgundy, popularizing the Rhone and The Sud, Australia. He was right a lot more than he was wrong,and his overall impact has even been noted by the French! Yes, he milked the cow crazy, but to a significant extent it was his cow. Does he have blots on his scorecard and even skeletons in his cellar? No doubt. For good or ill, he was present at the creation of the current world of wine. I suspect as his influence wanes all kinds of stories are pending, and I can’t wait to read them.

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