Thursday, December 1, 2011

Robert Parker's response: He's preparing to sue

NEW INFORMATION: Apparently Jay Miller will no longer review wine for the Wine Advocate.

It's a red letter day for wines of balance in Spain and Washington!

(Hence this blog post is now a little outdated, but I'll leave it up anyway.)

Looks like wine journalist Jim Budd -- and maybe me as well? -- might need a legal defense fund.

Yesterday I asked Robert Parker to respond publicly to reports that Jay Miller's visits to wineries are for sale.

And Parker did respond, on his bulletin board, visible to subscribers only. It's not exactly the public response I asked for, but it's chilling in its effect nonetheless.

Since Parker spoke about suing "these bloggers" in his statement, I consulted attorney David Honig before publishing this post.

Sigh. What has the wine world come to, when we're all lawyering up?

Anyway, my original plan was to post what Parker wrote on his bulletin board here, on this website. But Honig -- who doubles as the publisher of Palate Press -- advised me that my risk isn't defamation, but copyright violation. Parker's belligerent message wasn't publicly published; it was for subscribers only.

Since Parker's lawyering up, I'm going to tread carefully around fair use of his response. Budd, without the benefit of legal advice, has quoted more extensively from Parker's response on his blog; you can read that (and go support him) here.

Parker says he investigated allegations from a blogger -- almost certainly Budd, though he never names him -- and found no substance to them.

Parker says he has asked attorneys in Europe and the US to examine every allegation and has hired an additional attorney in Madrid. And he mentions potential lawsuits by Jay Miller, Pancho Campo and the Wine Advocate against "these bloggers."

These bloggers? Did the temperature on the Internet just go down?

I'll ask again for the world's pre-eminent wine critic to respond PUBLICLY to the allegations.

Mr. Parker: if you investigated these allegations against Jay Miller and found them without merit, then tell us so. Your silence does not speak well of you in the court of public opinion. I'm no lawyer, but I can't see how telling us that the Wine Advocate is completely on the up-and-up is later going to hurt you in court (assuming, as I am, that you are ethically clean.)

You are an attorney; you understand the phrase "chilling effect." If you and the Wine Advocate did nothing wrong, then why are you trying to stifle bloggers?

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  1. I think this looks like Lawyers at 50 yards/meters, nothing besides Parker’s disparaging of the New Media types will come of it. Under my basic understanding of Spanish Codified Law the Madrid Lawyer will charge them huge bucks then if the case were taken to court in Europe lose, with the emails available and the visits cancelled the damage may prove to be caused by Mr. Miller for not going forward as promised by Mr. Campo (I don’t think they really want that). You are looking at it from an American legal view the Codified view may be the opposite and Mr. Parker will find that out. I am not a lawyer or giving legal advice, just someone who deals regularly with the Codified Legal System of several countries.

  2. In one of his comments on his latest post, Jim Budd calls Parker's response defamatory. So he's not going down quietly, though he gives the clear sense that he's not doing anything unless Parker does something.

    I know nothing about the laws of Spain, but I do know the law of England regarding libel is quite a bit more in favor of the person written about than the US law, as the author of The Billionaire's Vinegar can attest. Shouldn't affect me, don't see how the UK would have jurisdiction over my blog, but I believe Jim Budd is a British national, which does open some interesting thoughts in both directions.

    But that's just woolgathering. I hope Mr. Parker comes to his senses and doesn't leave litigation as his legacy.

  3. Ah, yes. Rattling the attorney sabre when faced with criticism or uncomfortable questions. Very red blooded Mercan! Lawyer up! That'll shut the rabble down.

  4. Blake,

    I would like to nominate Mr. Budd for the Brass Cajones award for 2011.

    While I thought that the Rodenstock debacle would have been a tipping point, it wasn't. This is all a result of assigning power and influence to one entities palate and voice. The abuse of power is always inevitable when absolute power is attained. It is sad, but not surprising, that so many wine buyers, wine producers, wine trade organizations, and the greater wine media have created this.

    Unfortunately, everyone is culpable.

    The foundation of wine sales in the USA (and now China) is insecurity. The WA relieves many of this and empowers them to feel good about themselves. Ah, what the numbers 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100 can do to make you feel better about yourself. And wine with any of these scores is a helluva lot easier to sell than wines that don't. This is the greater tragedy.

    Mr. Parker is right about one thing, his power and influence is not his fault. It has been GIVEN to him by every person who has bought a wine based on his scores, for every winemaker who has changed their style to fit a profile, for every importer, distributor, or retailer who used scores to move palates of wine, for every tasting room associate who referenced WA scores in their sales pitch, EVERYONE is culpable.

    And why is everyone surprised that others are lining up to be christened by these scores and to capitalize and monetize themselves through influence or increased sales?

    Seriously? Now we want to complain about $15k guest speaker fees? If you really added up the WA's influence vis-a-vis, wine sales sold in the USA (and now China), then these reported fees really are a bargain. Does anyone know how much wine is sold BY IMPORTERS, WHOLESALERS, RETAILERS based on the WA's scores? It's $100's of millions of dollars a year. I'd ask for a $500k speaking fee from those trade associations.

    Are people really buying the Ralph Nader shtick still? The independent voice of the people? Come on, you better start thinking about critics like you would lobbyists. It's a similar game. The game is influence.

    How many nouveau riche wineries have profited off scores? How many importers, distributors, and retailers have been profiting off them for YEARS? The ENTIRE wine collectors investment game is based on scores.

    The guy is a one-man sales force!!
    It is an amazing achievement, but he DID NOT create this power paradigm alone.

    I would not be surprised if these accusations are in fact proven true. It remains to be seen how this latest "public" revelation moves the outrage meter. I suspect it will be muted at best. The emperor is wearing chainmail after all. And to take this military analogy further....

    Mr. Parker's reply reminds me of that scene in "A Few Good Men"....

    Mr. Parker has always reminded me of Col. Jessep.

  5. It's nice to see Parker get back to the profession for which he actually studied.... (and presumably is qualified fo

  6. People whose knee-jerk reaction to any situation is to threaten with lawsuits are truly loathsome.

  7. There is a very simple test here.

    Are the writers for the Wine Advocate paying their own ways or are they being subsisized, coddled, paid for "services", etc, by the wine industry?

    If the answer to any of those questions is yes, rather than "no, the only money that the WA" every sees comes from its subscribers, then there is a correction to be made.

    It is also high-timne to look at all reviewers. How independent are their opinions? It is one thing to go on an organizationally sponsored trip to an area. It is another to be paid to go there and to review the wines of the sponsoring group.

    Mr. Miller seems to do this in one form or another regularly. Mr. Parker takes speaking fees, but it is not clear that he has accepted funding from organizations whose wines he reviews while on trips that those organizations have sponsored.

    Several decades ago, the "caesar's wife" standard applied to winewriting. If one reviewed wines, one did so in a many that was transparent, independent, designed to eliminate bias.

    Mr. Parker may yet sue somebody or he may just be rattling his law books at those who would question his and his minions' questionable practice.

    Blake is right. Come clean Mr. Parker. And for goodness sake insist that everyone in your employ follow the rules you once pledged to follow.

    If not, you are going to be continually criticized for being failing the caesar's wife test.

  8. David Schildknecht is a great writer. He will certainly clean house in WA and Oregon. For a man who has made his career understand french wines, especially Loire, it will come as no surprise to see many of WA's formula wines creep down in scores. Almost makes me wish I played scores, I respect David Schildknecht that much. No matter, I will watch this interesting new development from the boundaries of my terroir.

  9. Christophe, I love it when you and I are on the same side.

    But I'm about to lose you by saying this: Maybe it's time for you to play scores? Your wines of terroir now have a better chance of being appreciated for what they are.

  10. True. But there is a difference between what classically trained critics like and what the public likes. David has a chance to change the minds of the public, but at what price, and to whom will he speak. Magazines need subscriptions, and much of the time, many who subscribe, are not as intellectual about wine as the critic.