Robert Parker Addresses Wine Writers

As some of you know, I spent the last week at the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers in Napa. This event offers an unparalleled opportunity to spend time hanging out with people who make their living (in part or in full) from writing about wine, as well as to learn and practice the craft itself.

I’ve been attending this event for nine years and it is one of the most enjoyable weeks I spend all year.

The event draws talent small and large, but this year’s lineup proved particularly excellent, beginning with the keynote speech, delivered by none other than wine critic Robert M. Parker, Jr.

His address to the attendees (people ranging from aspiring wine writers who have placed a few stories in their local paper, to the likes of Eric Asimov, Jay McInerney, Ray Isle, and Jon Bonné) included a retelling of his rise to fame, thoughts on his own success, and some tidbits of advice for his audience, whom he said he “wanted to succeed.”

A number of my fellow attendees have captured elements of Parker’s commentary, and offered thoughts on his speech, so rather than duplicate their efforts, I suggest that you take a look at posts by Richard Jennings, David White, Fred Swan, and Bill Ward.

What I can contribute to the discussion will simply be the speech itself.

Note that this video was made with my digital still camera, and suffers from its limitations, including the fact that it can only record in roughly 15 minute segments. The framing is awkward, and the sound is only marginal. I’ve cleaned up the image and boosted the voice audio as best I can, but it’s rough nonetheless, and unfortunately the audio degrades quite badly in the last three or four minutes.

However you do get a sense of the speech, and some of the questions he was asked at the end.

As I said, the writers referenced above have commented on many aspects of the speech rather well, but Parker said two things in the speech more clearly than I have heard him articulate before.

At one point he clearly spoke about selling “a majority of the Wine Advocate” to his Singapore investors. Speculation abounded in the days following that transaction, but to my knowledge, neither he nor his staff have ever made clear that he is now a minority shareholder in his enterprise. In fact, quite to the contrary, various official statements seemed to go to great lengths to suggest that Parker, in remaining CEO, was in control of the business.

Secondly, he expressed with greater depth than I have ever heard, an admission of just how badly the scandal involving Jay Miller impacted the perception of his business in the marketplace. As a lawyer, Parker has always been quite clear in reminding the public and the industry that the inquiry into the scandal revealed no wrongdoing on the part of Parker or his employees, and he did as much in this speech. However, he also, and without qualification, said that these incidents were damaging, and embarrassing, that he was at fault for not policing his employees better, and that the scandal, with its appearance of impropriety, was just as bad as if someone had done something illegal.

There were lots of other little juicy tidbits in there, of course, but I’ll let you discover them for yourself.