Who’s your god-daddy? Hanna Agostini, Robert Parker and the question of influence

Alain Raynaud, owner of Parker-fave Chateau Quinault L’Enclos, asked Robert Parker to be the godfather of his child. Parker told Elin McCoy in Emperor of Wine “he didn’t see how he could refuse.” Why is the world’s leading wine critic on such close terms with the people whose products he says he independently evaluates? Or, as the saying goes, who’s your daddy?

These questions and more will be publicly aired with a new tell-all book from his former assistant in Bordeaux, Hanna Agostini. Agostini helped Parker with translations from 1995 – 2003 and controlled his calendar while he was in the region, often twice a year. Late in her tenure with Parker, she became embroiled with scandal of influence peddling, trying to cash in on her control of Parker’s schedule and sending out invoices for her consulting on his letterhead. After standing by her for a time, he let her go.

Now she’s fighting back with her own book, Robert Parker: Anatomie d’un Mythe, just published in France (and just purchased via amazon.fr by Dr. Vino). While she has respect for his palate, she accuses Parker of recycling his tasting notes, pokes fun at his prose, and even evaluating wines in print that he hasn’t even tasted. Here’s an excerpt from her interview with the Bordeaux paper, Sud-Ouest (link to cache; my translation):

In bringing up his relations with the winemaker Michel Rolland, and the négociants Archibald Johnston, Jeffrey Davies, Bill Blatch and Dominique Renard, his friendship with Jean-Bernard Delmas, the former head of grand cru haut Brion and the Moueix family, I’m not saying anything that’s not already widely known…I only want to show that there’s a yawning gap between his rhetoric and his actions.

The situation does raise the larger question of how close should a journalist be with his or her subjects? On the one hand, distance maintains journalistic independence. On the other hand, proximity and access make for a more nuanced understanding of what’s at stake and the players involved. Oh wait! Parker doesn’t even claim to be a journalist, but a critic–THE critic–so there’s no scoop for him to get. Just wines and tannic barrel samples, by the hundreds.

And, by the way, Alain Raynaud tried to block the book’s publication because he says Parker is not godfather to his daughter. A court in the region ruled against him last week.

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4 Responses to “Who’s your god-daddy? Hanna Agostini, Robert Parker and the question of influence”

  1. He’s not a journalist, but the fact that his publication doesn’t take advertisements has long seemed to imply that Parker is more impartial than publications that do sell ads, like the Spectator, Wine & Spirits, Wine Enthusiast, Decanter, etc.

    Of course, any critic has his or her biases, but it seems to me that the real indictment here is of the wine drinking public, so slavishly following ratings that one critic can influence the winemaking style of thousands of wineries around the world!

    In the final analysis, I think it matters less whether payola or friendship is affecting your favorite critic’s ratings than whether he or she consistently leads you to wines that you love.

  2. […] Robert Parker and questions of conflict of interest surrounding the wineries he reviews […]

  3. I am a wine student, vineyard worker & pourer when needed for various events as well as a fellow blogger ‘Wine Rants NY’ on blogger.

    Whenever I am asked for a recommendation the subject of scores comes up. Usually this is by my dentist or doctor that I know has too much money to spend on things that we wine folk wish we had.

    I am a firm believer in what you like is good wine! It does not have to be 100 dollars or 100 points! The problem with this is that the general public that really don’t know much & have lots of money as well as fancy wine cellars to store these beasts in let critics decide what they buy!

  4. Well, Wendy, there really is little debate as to whether a Latour 2003 is something worth buying or not, is there? I believe those with deep pockets do their research in addition to reading what Parker says. There also is the question of investment value. Like it or not, Parker commands a lot of power in the business. His score dictates the price and future value of many of the wines people buy. As with stocks, investors want a return that is greater than the cost of capital. Therefore, when Parker speaks, investors listen to what will eventually add value to their diverse portfolios. This does not mean that they are clueless about what they may or may not drink 20 years from now. In fact, they know pretty well the difference between a Cantemerle and a Pichon Lalande.


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