It’s the end of an era. Today, wine critic and founder of the Wine Advocate, Robert M. Parker, Jr announced his retirement. Of course, to anyone paying attention, the end of his reign as tastemaker and singular force in the wine world happened when he sold a majority stake in the Wine Advocate to a Singapore-based investment group in 2012.
As in many such corporate acquisitions, especially when the founder is inextricably linked to the brand, Parker stuck around and did his part to provide the impression that the status was quo while attending expensive wine dinners and speaking engagements. But with Lisa Perotti-Brown taking over as editor and the addition of new staff, followed by the acquisition of a 40% stake by Michelin in 2017, Parker’s nominal contributions to his publication slowed to a trickle and eventually stopped.
With Parker’s traditional beats (California and Bordeaux) covered by other reviewers, for the last couple of years he has simply been a name on the masthead. Presumably he has been involved behind the scenes up until this point in some regard, but now he is officially stepping away to enjoy what is assuredly a well-earned retirement. I guess that million-dollar insurance policy on the nose can be let go now.
Parker was once called the most influential critic of any kind, anywhere, thanks to his ability to change the fortunes of a winery by bestowing a 100 point score, and it’s hard to argue with that designation. For many years his judgement made the wine market, certainly for Bordeaux and California. Because of this power, and his penchant for powerful wines, he has long been the wine world’s favorite punching bag. But I have long maintained that his palate was always more diverse in its tastes than his critics gave him credit for. Leaving aside his particular taste in wines, his influence in the wine world has arguably contributed to the improvement of winemaking quality around the world as well as the rise of California on the global wine stage. His personal integrity and objectivity as a critic has always been unimpeachable.
For me personally, Parker was an inspiration and a source of great education early in my wine consuming career. As I grew in knowledge and experience, and began to write about wine myself, I found some occasions to disagree with what could be very polemic opinions on his part, but despite that, I’ve always had an enormous amount of respect for what he has accomplished personally. If you haven’t had the chance to read Elin McCoy’s biography of Parker, The Emperor of Taste, I highly recommend it.
I can’t say I really know Parker personally, but we have met on several occasions, and I have always found him to be genial, engaging and unflagging in his passion for wine. The last time we met he was recovering from back surgery and looking somewhat scraggly (as seen in the rather poor photo above, from his talk at the 2014 Symposium for Professional Wine Writers). He’s certainly worked his tail off for the past few decades, and I sincerely hope he gets to enjoy a long and fulfilling retirement with his family and friends — at least long enough to drink through all that Chateauneuf-du-Pape in his cellar.
Bob, thanks for paving the way with aplomb and integrity, and best wishes for whatever adventures retirement may hold. I’m raising a glass to you tonight.