|The front page of Galloni's new website|
The lawsuit alleges:
"After repeatedly ignoring plaintiff's request for certain of the articles and tasting notes that defendants regularly provided, and were owed, to plaintiff, defendant's fraud was revealed when they informed plaintiff they were no longer working for plaintiff and would be retaining the aforementioned articles and tasting notes for their own benefit."It also alleges:
"As a result of defendants' actions, plaintiff has lost, and will continue to lose, subscribers to its publications for, among others, two main reasons:
a. First, plaintiff has not received from defendants the highly anticipated tasting notes and articles regarding wines that subscribers expect to be in The Wine Advocate. The absence of certain scheduled tasting notes and articles has resulted, and will continue to result, in lost subscribers.
b. Second, as a result of defendants' improper use of plaintiff's confidential subscriber information, defendants have been raiding plaintiff's subscribers and directing them away from plaintiff's publication and toward defendants' website."I'm not a lawyer, so I can't say whether the suit has merit. But it does raise a few interesting issues:
* When I interviewed Galloni earlier this year, he said more than once that the business structure of the Wine Advocate was such that he and Neal Martin worked there as independent contractors. The quotes didn't make the final article -- Galloni had a lot of interesting things to say, and that didn't seem as significant then. But it will be the center of his defense. Moreover, he won't be saying it again anytime soon as his lawyers will tell him not to talk to the media.
* The crux of the suit is apparently Galloni's unpublished tasting report of Sonoma County wines, which he started working on while at The Advocate. A note on Galloni's site reads:
It has never been my desire to intentionally withhold the Sonoma article. Out of my deep respect for Bob, our joint readers, and in the spirit of collaboration, on February 15 I offered to make the Sonoma reviews available to TWA readers for free, on my new platform, once the article had been written and posted. TWA declined.
* It's worth noting that the Advocate -- not Robert Parker -- is suing Galloni. However, he did post this on erobertparker:
We have taken appropriate action to retrieve the report Antonio was paid to produce. It’s a disservice to you and to the vintner associations and winemakers who put in massive efforts coordinating tastings for this report in hopes of getting a Wine Advocate review. At the time of these tastings, Antonio was a reviewer for The Wine Advocate, so it stands to reason the report he was paid to provide should be submitted.* Can Galloni legally put the Sonoma notes on his own site, without offering them to the Advocate? I've looked at his contract, and it wouldn't seem so, but I'm going to assume Galloni's lawyers have a different interpretation. Regardless, by offering them free to Wine Advocate subscribers on his new site, which presumably will cost money for everybody else, he's trying to steal away customers. Not hard to see why the Advocate would object.
* Galloni told me he has ownership of all his old published reviews from the Advocate, and his contract appears to support that.
* A difficult allegation to defend is that Galloni raided the Advocate's subscriber base. If true, it's hard for me to see how this won't cost Galloni money. That said, it's not the sort of issue that goes to trial; it's the sort of issue where somebody writes a check, and the lawyers get half.
* A big question now is, what happens to Galloni's new site?
Galloni may be safer for the moment not using the yet-unpublished Sonoma County ratings. Those would seem to be legally different from writing he has already published on the Advocate.
But lawsuits can drag on, and if too much time passes, a new vintage could come out and the ratings lose their value. However, if he publishes the notes and the Advocate prevails in court, he might have to fork over a lot more because the Advocate can claim those initial reviews were the foundation of his business.
* What happens to the Advocate? We were wondering this already. Would getting legal rights to Galloni's reviews help stem subscriber loss? It's hard to see how.
* A corollary: What does the Advocate want? What if Galloni offers a settlement: all the unpublished reviews, for the Advocate's exclusive use? Maybe I watch too many lawyers in the movies, but that would seem like a great chess move. If the Advocate publishes the reviews, it publicizes Galloni.
* For those who missed it, Parker announced earlier this month in a blurb behind his paywall that he will be reviewing California wines again. We'll see. Just last month he was injured and unable to travel. Right now, he's in Bordeaux. At 65, does he still have the drive to follow his punishing schedule of previous years? Personal rivalries are strong motivators.
* While the newsman in me finds this fascinating, this story makes me sad. Galloni was Parker's protege. This lawsuit must be personally painful for both of them. Maybe Parker's not very involved in it, and maybe one day they will bury the hatchet and enjoy each other's company. I hope so.
Wine brings people together. Wine ratings apparently have the opposite effect.