Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Questions for Robert Parker as Wine Advocate scandal continues

For the past two days, representatives of the Wine Advocate have been trying to convince the media that Jay Miller's departure has nothing to do with the pay-for-play scandal still emerging in Spain.

OK, I'm convinced. Jay Miller quit on his own, months before the scandal broke. Stipulated.

But ... why is the Wine Advocate working so hard to establish that? Because what it means is that the questions raised from the scandal about the Wine Advocate's involvement are still unanswered.

I understand why Miller wants to tell us he leaped without being pushed. I've been there. It's important.

But for the Wine Advocate, it's different. When Jim Budd broke the scandal, publisher Robert Parker's immediate response was nothing. No comment. No action. I called for him to respond, and a couple days later he did, on his bulletin board, by threatening to sue "these bloggers." Still, no public response.

The very next day, Miller's departure is announced, again on Parker's bulletin board. Both Parker and Miller say it was long-planned. Miller writes,

"Some may believe my stepping down is in response to my critics. Nothing could be further from the truth."
David Schildknecht, who will be replacing Miller on most of his ex-turf, took pains to send an email string to Mike Steinberger proving that Miller's departure was long-planned. I believe Schildknecht.

Here's the problem:

Now the scandal doesn't go away.

Miller's leaving is not a response to the email string on Jim Budd's blog, which seems to show that an official representative of Miller and/or the Wine Advocate was charging for critics to visit a region, and even collecting VAT for such visits. How official is that?

The non-wine media is starting to pick up on it. The Wine Advocate runs a big risk of forever being associated with corruption in the public mind.

So Mr. Parker, now we still need answers to the following basic questions, and we need them publicly.

Was Jay Miller, as a representative of the Wine Advocate, charging for visits? Was a fee being asked for without his knowledge? Or did this not happen at all, despite the emails we've seen?

If there were payments, where did this money go? Did the Wine Advocate receive any of it?

How about Miller? Since the Wine Advocate was aware Miller was leaving, was it paying attention to additional money he may or may not have been collecting in his official capacity on his way out the door? Will the Wine Advocate investigate it now?

If the Wine Advocate was not aware of payments made to secure Miller's attendance -- and if it does not condone such practices -- will the Wine Advocate refund this money to regions or wineries that may have paid it?

Mr. Parker does not have a good history of responding to press queries. I'm just, as he puts it, a "middling blogger," or even a "blobber." He doesn't have to answer me. I'm beneath him. But is the public?

If he doesn't answer you -- the wine trade, wine consumers, the public who care about wine -- you've got to wonder what the truth is. I know I do.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.


  1. Hi Blake. Another good post and many thanks for the support. It was Vincent Pousson who first broke the story on Facebook with the publication on 26th October of email with the tarif sent by Asevin on 4th October.

  2. This wine scandal represents to me the greater problem with corporate entities in today's business and social environments... That is, it's never their fault, they didn't do ANYTHING wrong and to deny deny deny... And when all else fails, call your attorney and litigate.. This blameless society is in real trouble.

    This painful issue that's struck the wine world is unfortunately not really different than the other scandals out there... BP- It's not our fault the oil spilled and if it is, it's not that bad. Nothing to see here...

    Herman Cain Camp: I've never even seen this women ever before in my life... Fast forward a week: Those pic's of us and receipts don't mean anything... Blame media for changing topic...

    No one seems to be interested in the truth anymore and if you are, you're a trouble maker and will be silenced by $500 per hour legal hitmen. sad really.

    I do believe these facts being discussed on this blog and on a few others is important for wine geeks all over.

    Question: To those well know bloggers and wine writers who usually are all about controversy, I haven't heard a PEEP from them on this issue.. Are they waiting to see the other show drop or are they scared to comment? You know who you are... I'm curious, what's YOUR opinions on the RP scandal?

  3. Jim: Thanks for pointing it out, but you deserve a huge amount of credit for giving this wider audience and for not backing down in the face of Parker's legal threats.

    Anon: To your question -- the threat of legal action is very effective in chilling opinion. I've been threatened before. I would never take it lightly; that would be like turning your back on a saltwater crocodile. But I am perhaps a little more aware than most bloggers of what a lawsuit might or might not accomplish.

    Also, Robert Parker and I are both from Maryland and we root for some of the same sports teams. How could he cause me the pain of facing a lawsuit? Isn't following the Orioles painful enough?

  4. You call following the Orioles "pain?" I have been a Pirates fan for many years, I can tell you about pain!!!

  5. As much as seeing Mr. Parker respond further to the allegations, it seems as if his original statement refuting the pay-for-reviews/visits issue is going to be all we see. I think he just does not care, and perhaps (rightfully so) realizes that this scandal won't do much to erode his support base. I think the vast majority of people who consume the Wine Advocate either don't care about this issue or believe the WA's side of things. Therefore, calling for him to explain further strikes me as futile.

  6. Gerry - Parker did liken himself to the first ever wine blogger (pre-blogs) when I interviewed him on

  7. Joe: Parker allowed you to interview him? I'm jealous. I've asked so many times. He has never spoken to me. I've given up hope. But in the .0001% chance that he reads this -- I'd still love to interview him.

  8. The world revolves on a cIcle. Parker acomplished much in making wine criticism more accessible, more democratic even. If, as he claims, his inspiration was Ralph Nader, it goes to show the metamorphosis that happens to people when given such outrageous power.

  9. Parker has been his own worst enemy in this. His blind "loyalty" to Miller in the face of his incompetence at best and malfeasance at worst has been cringe-inducing. His stubborn attitude and arrogance helped to push everything over the edge. It appears that he was the only guy in the wine world who didn't realize that something was rotten in his kitchen. The fact that he actually defended Miller getting paid $15,000 for a brief "masterclass" shows how hysterically out of touch he really is. He deserves, richly, whatever damage all of this might cause. Pride goeth before a fall.

  10. Scandal? Like, DUH- wine reviewers get paid by the people whose wines they review. This is news? In 1985 I worked on the bottling line and then in the tasting room at SLWC (a pseudonym). For some reason, I had to go into WW's office (again, a pseudonym). RP (another pseudonym) had been there a few days earlier. On top of the in basket was a "consulting" invoice from RP for $3500. BFD. That's how it works. What are you, a progressive Democrat or something? Bunt

  11. Anon: Who you calling progressive? I'm, like, I don't know, a realpolitik, PC-hating Democrat, which makes me the right wing in San Francisco.

  12. I'm not sure that this Jay Miller issue is the only time this happens.

    I was told recently that the only way to have Wine Advocate (Antonio Galloni) review your Sonoma County wine, was to be a member of the Sonoma County Vintners association at $1000 per year.

    It makes one wonder what carrot they offered to WA to get him to show up.

    Paid Expenses? Honorarium? Speaking Fee?

    Inquiring Minds want to know...

  13. Anon: Who told you that? I'd do a story on this if I had more info. Can you email me? Will protect your anonymity in story, but need to know more to proceed.

  14. Confidential to anon: It's my full byline name, no period at gmail.