“Big Jay” Miller Departs Wine Advocate in Wake of Scandal

With eerily similar rhetoric to Herman Cain’s “suspension” of his campaign for President this week, and amidst an equally scandalous set of allegations, Robert Parker announced today on his bulletin board that Jay Miller would be leaving the Wine Advocate to pursue “wine consulting, lecturing and wine retail.”

Miller’s departure occurs even as the scandal known as “Murcillagate” or “Campogate” continues to heat up, with suggestions by Parker that legal action against “the bloggers” who have been involved may be imminent.

“Campogate” refers to a story broken by fellow wine blogger Jim Budd who managed to obtain e-mails indicating that a regional wine authority and/or Pancho Campo was charging wineries an exorbitant fee (20,000 Euros) to supposedly “secure” a visit from Jay Miller on his upcoming trip to Spain. While there is not yet any smoking gun to suggest that any of the money referred to in the e-mails would have gone to Miller, the whole incident is yet another splat of egg on the face of The Wine Advocate as a result of Miller’s actions. Miller first got into hot water in 2009 after it became clear some of the trips he had taken while on the Wine Advocate’s payroll violated the magazine’s stated ethics policies.

The announcement of Miller’s departure also included a personal statement from Miller to the subscribers of the Wine Advocate: “Finally, some may believe my stepping down is in response to my critics. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have felt constrained in responding while still on The Wine Advocate staff. While the office has defended my actions, justifiably, now it is time for me to speak for myself. In what format I will do that remains to be seen. This much is clear….I have never accepted (or requested) fees for visiting wine regions or wineries.”

While Miller and Parker both took pains to indicate that this was a voluntary departure on Miller’s part, and Parker referenced the travel schedules and tediousness of tasting mediocre wines that can “burn out the best of us,” the overall explanation had the same thin veneer of professional gloss over an irrecoverable situation that marked Mr. Cain’s similar announcement this week.

This was something that simply had to be done. That Miller was not asked to leave after the first incident was quite surprising, considering the amount of controversy that already existed around what many felt like were overly generous scores for the regions he covered. Miller has done much damage to The Wine Advocate’s brand, and this latest incident seemed beyond the pale, even if Miller himself remains innocent of any ethical violations.

Parker seemed to finally understand this, noting in this announcement that “change is never easy, but often essential…”, as he announced that Miller’s Spain, Chile, and Argentina responsibilities will be taken over by Neal Martin, while coverage of Oregon wines will go to David Schildnecht.

While the final outcome of “Campogate” has yet to be played out, it is at least forcing what I think is some needed house cleaning at the Wine Advocate.