Policy and practice at the Wine Advocate – Parker responds

In a recent posting, I published my correspondence with Robert Parker and Jay Miller concerning an apparent divergence between the ethical guidelines set down by Parker and the actions of some of the contributors to The Wine Advocate.

One claim that came up several times in the over 130 comments was that Mr. Miller took one or two trips to Argentina, organized and paid for by Wines of Argentina, a trade group representing over 100 wineries that also receives government funding according to their web site. I contacted Wines of Argentina and they confirmed that they paid for and organized the two trips and several people in the trade there also confirmed them. Robert Parker has also now admitted as well but referred to them as “vineyard tours.” There was apparently more to the trips than just that–multiple sources said that there were lunches and dinner at wineries, and I was also told by several people that Miller was ferried around the country by private jet during one visit.

I alerted Miller yesterday that Wines of Argentina had told me that the trips were comped and asked him for comment. Not long thereafter, Parker posted a message that indicated that Miller would no longer be able to take “vineyard tours paid by Wines of Argentina.”

Parker laid down ethical guidelines years ago–guidelines that are the source of so much of his authority and that have set the standard against which all other wine critics are judged. The divergence between the action of some contributors to the Wine Advocate and the stated policy was (and perhaps still remains) a legitimate and important issue given the power of the publication; if the Wine Advocate was bending the rules, that was something his readers had a right to know.

Over the weekend, on his web site, Parker characterized those of us raising these concerns as the work of “extremists who could care less about the truth.” On the contrary, the truth was precisely what I’ve been after. Perhaps the larger issue then is Parker seemed to resent that people wanted to know the truth. While Parker lamented the state of journalism, the examples he cites of good journalism seem to be anything that speaks well of him.

But journalism is precisely what I’ve been doing all along. I went to Parker and Miller with legitimate questions and they were evasive. I spoke with Wines of Argentina and the truth came out. That’s called journalism. Instead of lashing out with invective (“extremists” or “jihadists” or eliding wine bloggers with the Taliban) at me and others who have raised very legitimate issues, Parker should take this episode as indicative of the respect he commands and the seriousness with which the wine community takes the ethical standards he established long ago.

Since Mr. Parker has shown an affection for ending his interventions with quotes, here’s an aphorism that he might remember from his days as a lawyer: “If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table.”

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129 Responses to “Policy and practice at the Wine Advocate – Parker responds”


  1. I am speechless.


  2. “It’s not about the truth, it’s about what you can prove”

    Good work Tyler!


  3. BRAVO!! As I am an investigative reporter(I do not write about wine), I salute you!

    Nice job!


  4. Nicely done Tyler!


  5. Actually parker has a habit of beginning (and ending) his posts with long lists of fabulous wines that neither you nor I will ever get to drink. This is his strategy for diverting attention from his empty words.


  6. I generally don’t have a problem with an organization paying to fly them in for whatever reason as long as they state that everything was paid for.

    What about Wine Reviews on Wines made by friends they have met in the industry. I know just meeting a wine maker for the first time and getting along that I actually like the wines more because I like the guy, or the guy who makes good wine but because he is a jerk I tend not to like as much or I wouldn’t buy?


  7. Tyler,

    Another well written piece of journalism. Despite the few that are blasting this on Parker’s site, it appears that many in the wine community are very interested in the facts in this case, rather than the “terrorism” mentions.

    Keep your eye on the prize!


  8. I’m all for uncovering facts, and of course we need to keep each other honest (one way of doing this is to point out where our own policies might be being violated, etc.).

    Having said that, you should expect a strong reaction from Parker – this examination could be construed as an attack on some of the basic tenants that govern his writing and his business…


  9. Keep up the great work. Show’s the true side of Parker and how paranoid he and his Empire are of new media (ie anything not related to WA).

    Relating blogs to terrorism is laughable.

    Stay classy Parker/Squires.


  10. Outstanding investigative reporting Tyler-

    I would like to point out that to me, the important issue here is that there was no disclosure of the trip being financed by “Wines of Argentina.” As a subscriber to eRobertParker, I have no problem with Mr. Miller having his trip comped- I would just like to be made aware of the fact before I read the piece.

    As a blogger (and wine director of a restaurant) I have accepted samples, been invited to dinners, vineyards, etc. That said, the first sentence of any write-up I publish is a full statement of disclosure that outlines what was comped. My readers know that unless I specifically state I was given anything free, that it was on my own dime.

    Transparency is the key- the level of objectivity in writing can be left up to the reader as long as they have been provided with all the facts.


  11. Most writers go on trips like this unless they happen to work for a small handful of very wealthy companies. Most of us, however, are not associated with the NYT or the WSJ or TWA.

    Most writers fess up to those trips. Good writers taste wines blind if they are going to write about them, and do not review wines they tasted with the winemaker, the winery owner and the winery dog all standing there licking his hand, boots or ego.

    What has not been discussed here is how these trips lead to reviews of particular wines or not. When a writer makes a sweep through Argentina or Bordeaux or California and gives us hundreds of evaluations from non-blind, non-objective tastings, those opinions are worthy of question. It is not the trip in and of itself that is the problem. It is the wine reviews that should concern us.

    I have been on one of these trips to Argentina. I now know a lot more about the wines and the people who produce them, but the only reviews of Argentinean wines I have ever written were of wines that I bought here and tasted blind.

    To me, that is a lot more revealing statement about the independence of my opinions than who paid for the trip.


  12. Great posting, Tyler. It’s an important and difficult issue. I write occasional wine articles on the Internet, which often include my opinion on specific wines. I have occasionally been given some modest freebies — a few sample bottles, a dinner paid for — but nothing of any significance. And I find that I am more likely to be swayed in a positive way where I’ve met the winemaker/proprietor and found him/her to be very friendly, likeable and competent, than simply where I’ve been given a free meal or samples. On the other hand, I can see a problem when the size of the freebie becomes much more substantial. I think Jancis Robinson’s recent discussion of this issue on her website was very illuminating.


  13. There is something about the group of Squires/Parker posts that feels funny now, and I don’t know exactly what it is.

    It might be “who appointed you as wine writing ethical watchdog?” Or, “when did you become obsessed with unveiling Parker and his employees as unethical, and is that your true motivation, or are you using that as a way to write posts that are certain to generate 130 comments and loads of traffic?” Or maybe it’s “Your previous persona as a blogger has been light-hearted and uncontroversial when it comes to people – you don’t attack people. Why start now – why are you now such a responsible whistle blower?”

    This is just a respectful question to you, Doc, about why you’re doing what you’re doing. It would be easy for some people to view this group of posts as an attention-grabbing stunt in which you attack an easy target, even if they do hit at something worth examining about Wine Advocate.

    Are you re-casting Dr. Vino as an investigative journalism site? I hope not – I like your site the way it is/has been. If you keep going with this Parker thing I hope you will do so in such a way that makes it clear what your motives are, that makes it impossible for anyone to get the wrong idea.


  14. Maybe Mr. Parker, and the Wine Advocate (as well as the other wine publications), has to be “transparent” or if he claims to be now, more transparent, like Obama is trying to be with Government. It would certainly help us to determine the true value of his recommendations and how he assigns his point value.

    There is, and never was, anything wrong with good journalism in fact the better the reporting the more likely people will believe it and the more they will trust it. and nothing in the thread that was deleted was “bad journalism” it summarized the fact as they were report in other quality publications.


  15. Bravo.

    Way to get the truth.

    I have no problem with junkets as long as people are honest about it, and that they have earned my trust.

    I have lost some trust with WA over this.


  16. Wow, think Argentina is Dr. Jay’s Waterloo?


  17. Wait, I came here for the Taliban…

    Well, no matter. Make no mistake, we *will* ferret them out, blobber smokescreen or no.


  18. It is unfair, in my opinion, to single out Argentina. Chile was reviewed one week later. It would be interesting to see what is WoC´s policy towards expenses.


  19. Ditto on what Dirty says above, “no problem with junkets as long as people are honest about it.”

    Nice job, Tyler – on a sensitive subject.


  20. The thread (now locked) on eBob seems to be an attempt by TWA to paint the picture that “everyone does it” to a certain extent: bloggers, critics, etc. Rove tactics that are falling flat. I admire Parker as a critic — I hope his organization learns the rules of 2009 before it does them in. They certainly received a lot of good, free advice on that thread.


  21. (Forgot to paste a link the thread I was referring to: http://dat.erobertparker.com/bboard/showthread.php?t=200356 )


  22. The good doctor can tell you why he is looking at JM’s trip to Argentina, but, in reality, it is not really Argentina that is at issue here, but questions of openness, independence and conflict of interest. Those questions pertain whether the focus is a trip to South America by someone from the Wine Advocate or my 45 minute drive up to Napa to meet with Joel Aken at Beaulieu. How is independence assured? How much does openness help offset subsidized trips or even $10 lunches. What is the tasting methodology for wines that are recommended?

    I am still waiting to hear how wine critics justify writing reviews based on open-label tastings at wineries.


  23. This is so beyond Argentina. This is all about journalistic integrity. No one wants to believe that there is anything wrong in Monkton, MD and yet all of the players are very silent at the moment. But this train is picking up speed and heading downhill…

    http://www.forbes.com/2009/04/23/robert-parker-squires-steinberger-vaynerchuk-opinions-contributors-wine-advocate.html


  24. [...] Colman posted a follow up defending his position. But journalism is precisely what I’ve been doing all along. I [...]


  25. Seeing is believing…
    Will see from now on…


  26. Which are the other publications Dr. Miller contributes to?


  27. …Need…. more… popcorn…!!!


  28. Fantastic journalism, Dr. Coleman.


  29. It looks like this topic has hit a nerve with brooklynguy? I am sure this is not the first time this has happened either. Good work Dr.V! Doesn’t everyone understand that it is human nature to eventually be corrupted by money or power or both. Just the fact that everyone in the parker camp is being so devensive is proof that they know they got caught and now their best policy should be honesty and not making excuses.

    Definitley need more popcorn!

    Kevin


  30. Parker is digging his hole deeper and deeper in his effort to shift the topic of conversation from HIS organization’s violation of his own published policies to the ethics of trips and tastings, writ large.

    Tastings and trips per se are a red herring. Legally, it sinks to the level of the Chewbecca Defense.

    The point is not trips or tastings, period, and it’s easy for posts and comments to drift that direction. Many writers, magazines, and sites don’t have a policy against trips, so there’s no violation if they take one. Parker has a policy. He allowed that policy to be broken, and then cried “Taliban!” when he got caught. It’s about a violation of policy, and the cover-up that followed, not about a trip or two.

    The published correspondence between Colman and Parker (and Miller) was completely fair, journalistic, and warranted on the basis of a factual, published record. For Parker and his minions to bash those who question his organization’s policies or ethics as a “jihad” or “Taliban” is pathetic. It does great disservice to the journalistic profession and to wine journalism in particular, Parker & Co. included.

    Parker has
    a) NOT clarified any change in the WA policy, even if he reprimanded Milles,
    b) NOT specified that *all* trips are off-limits (he singled out Wines of Argentina, which is unfair to them, and fails to address the problem),
    c) NOT demonstrated any awareness at all of how poorly his reaction reflects on him,
    d) NOT shown any class whatsoever in this.


  31. Great work Tyler. Just looking at the thread linked the vitriol Squires has for bloggers means he is afraid. He should be. We have a voice and it will only get louder.


  32. Keep at it, Tyler. You have merely drawn attention to a an important issue. It’s about time the industry members and consumers alike realized the wine ethics in general are not beyond questioning.


  33. Wow, there is a lot more to this story than what is presented over at ERP. Parker appears to be complicit. He is discovering that it is a royal pain in the behind to control your employees. He needs to learn another lesson in damage control.

    Squires et. al have accrued a large amount of built up antagonism with their heavy-handed approach to the board. They are now reaping the harvest. Can’t say I feel too sorry for Squires, but I do feel for Parker as I bet he has little experience or expertise in dealing with these issues. He needs to know that his brand is diminishing by the day. As Michael Jordan has found out, being the best player in history does not help you in judging talent or running an organization.


  34. Mr. Kang

    Much of this stuff woud have been deleted on the Parker board. While I am taking a beating over there, I think it is for a good cause. I just wish that more people would come here and see what has really occurred.


  35. I find myself agreeing with Brooklynguy above, and I also can’t help but think that all this is a tempest in a teacup anyway. Squires’ responses to Steinberger were childish yet largely unsurprising to anyone who has spent a little time on eBob. Anything after that, the Weekend at Bern’s, lavish trips to Israel, Argentina, so what? If wines reviews that are published are always tasted blind, then where is the conflict. And frankly, even if reviews of wines tasted on these jaunts make their way to publication, so be it. I’m no real fan of the whole “blind-tasting” format of evaluation, I think it allows for better scores for wines with a big presence and minimal drinkability (to co-opt Bud Light). I’d rather see reviews of wines in real world settings, how many people drink wine brown bagged, numbered, in flights of 40?
    The Forbes article that Daniel Posner posted above calls into question the old paradigm of wine journalism. Can’t we all just get along????
    What bothers me more than any of this is the Wine Advocate not bothering to publish tasting notes for many wines that score under 88-89 points.

    Forgive me if I free-associated here a bit but I think there are a lot of deeper and subtler issues bubbling under the surface here…., perhaps this is all just another sign of the coming wine-journalism Apocalypse?


  36. Jon

    Jay Miller does not taste blind for his reviews.


  37. Jon Webster says, “If wines reviews that are published are always tasted blind, then where is the conflict.” Not only weren’t published reviews tasted blind, many were only tasted on sponsored trips or on vacation with BFF importers. There’s your conflict.


  38. Anyone interested in this issue might want to check out importer Joe Dressner’s comments on his blog (“I’m Declaring a War Against Wine Writers”): captaintumorman.com


  39. By the way (forgive me for playing ‘psychologist’ but I am one and therefore can’t help thinking this way), Bob in one post asked (paraphrasing) “I can’t understand how come there’s so much anger out there around this.” One of the posts above talks about the pent up anger at Squires for his erratic, heavy handed behavior and attitude. Indeed, this whole thing got started when he accused Dan Posner of being biased, and then deleted the thread once Dan retorted with the comment about TWA independent contractors being biased. In effect, it was Squires’ own behavior that fueled this, together with the hubris in his emails to Tyler. Many have warned Parker about Squires—I did so in a private email a year or two back to Bob, warning him that Mark’s behavior and style were damaging to him. Bob appeared to not want to hear it, and replied by a resounding defense of Squires, and ill-advisedly forwarded my email to Squires, who has never forgiven me. Not wanting to say “I told you so”, many really did warn Bob there was a danger in keeping Squires on, but he didn’t want to hear it. We’re seeing repercussions of that attitude now.


  40. Michael Jordan was arguably one of the best basketball players of all time. He is a horrible GM. ‘nuf said!


  41. Wilfred,

    Excellent analysis.


  42. Which are the other publications Dr. Miller and other “independant” writers related to The Wine Advocate contribute to?
    I still can not find anything…


  43. captaintumorman.com
    I hope this is resolved quickly and that Mr. Parker does the right thing. Like him, I’m also sick of bloggers throwing mud at him. Dr. Vino, who started this, accepts hand outs. Today, I met a guy at our LA tasting who went on two freebies with the Doctor. So, I view his “reporting” as pure gossip and vindictive mucking-about meant to make Dr. Vino’s reputation. Dr. Vino seems to be accusing Parker’s staff of accepting handouts that he would gladly accept. To me, this is just a silly publicity stunt against Parker. Mr. Coleman only admitted to taking government sponsored trips during the discussion vilifying Robert Parker!


  44. Like so many others, ‘lovevibe’ misses the point. One of the foundations of the Wine Advocate has been its independence from the whole wine pr machine. Parker has essentially made a contract with his readers (especially prospective ones who have no experience reason to trust his palate)that he is removed from influences as much as possibe, even unconcious ones. When he added other personnel (and his ‘independent contracter’ stuff is the oldest dodge), that penumbra was implied for the WA brand. Businesswise, those principles are part of the value of the brand. Not only that, but Parker goes so far to promote that value by taking swipes at everyone else (long before this)as not being equivalent. Differentiate yourself in the market – that is fine.

    Except now, parts of the WA are part of the wine marketing pr machine by going on sponsored trips. Whereas Parker realized that the appearance of imprompriety needs to be avoided to protect his personal brand, he didn’t extend that to Jay Miller. The problem is not the trips or socializing themselves, but that they are counter to exactly the product differentation the Wine Advocate has been selling. I don’t know of any other wine writers who make this seperation as part of the product they sell.

    If the Wine Advocate wants to changes its proffer to what is essentially everyone else’s ‘trust me. verify with your own palate. then trust me more,’ that is fine. They likely won’t lose any subscribers and have enough of a credibility bank to carry on successfully. The WA brand will lose value though and that is exactly why they get so aggressive in these cases.

    A.


  45. Very good point, Andrew. Even if I do respect Lovevibe (aka Joe Dressner) and see his point, too. Frankly, I think the Wine Advocate became The Emperor’s New Clothes a long time ago. I was one of the earliest subscribers to the WA way back, but dropped my subscription almost 15 years ago. I began to feel that Parker’s taste had changed, and that his opinion of wines was so divergent from mine. If anything, that feeling was reinforced over the past 15 years. And then when he added “independent contractors,” that really ended it for me. Just because Parker may (or may not) have the greatest palate in the history of wine reviewing doesn’t mean that the people he hires have any palate whatsoever. Sort of like the time we looked to hire a house painter, and one that came highly-recommended said he was too busy, but that his cousin could do the work. We didn’t hire his cousin; as far as I know, painting ability isn’t genetic.


  46. Thanks for all the kind words.

    @Brooklynguy This is a hugely important story that fell into my lap. As I said in this posting, previous comments brought up serious allegations and I also received many unsolicited emails from people in the trade. I have pursued it thus far but, as pointed out above, some questions remain unanswered. At any rate, this topic at least brought you back to the comments after a prolonged absence–welcome back!

    @lovevibe it’s not about the trips; it’s about the policy and violations thereof. Miller & Squires violated policy; I didn’t. cf Andrew Hall above. And also Jancis Robinson’s recent posting on ethics, particularly the section on travel.


  47. Tyler, don’t forget about the free stuff apparently taken by other moderators of Parker’s wine board who post regularly (and generally very favorably) about those who give them those freebies. Parker is not only demeaned by Squires’ poor behavior and possibly by conflicts by his other critics, but moderators like Jeff Leve, in my opinion.


  48. Wilfred has it exactly. Bob has circled the wagons with the “indians” inside. For someone living in a tower, you would think he could have seen this one coming…

    No more comment on Mr. Leve from me, but I have made my feelings known to Bob directly on that front.

    It all reflects very poorly on Bob’s hard earned reputation, which I have applauded for years, which is sad.


  49. I am touring the West Coast and have no time for a lengthy response.

    I am not lovevibe though. Lovevibe is another poster.

    More tonight or tomorrow….

    I met someone else last night at a public tasting who told me how Tyler gladly takes handouts. Tyler never talked about his handouts before this set of posts.

    I for one, demand the same disclosure on Tyler’s part that he is demanding of Parker. What handouts has Tyler Coleman taken over the years? Please write in detail — trips, meals, junkers, etc.

    When I was getting my Masters in Journalism, the taught us that a successful journalist is always pursued by flacks. What distinguishes a journalist from a hack, it they take nothing from a flack.

    Tyler: please give us full and detailed disclosure.


  50. Sorry for all leaving an illiterate posts. My last paragraph should read:

    When I was getting my Masters in Journalism, they taught us that a successful journalist is always pursued by flacks. What distinguishes a journalist from a hack, is they take nothing from a flack. They are independent.


  51. Joe, though I agree that Tyler should be up front about what freebies he gets, Tyler is just (no offense) a blogger and not a wine critic, and certainly not a wine critic that both is widely read and able to move markets and one that professes a specific policy of “no feeding at the trough.”

    You are describing apples and oranges in a clear attempt to change the subject.


  52. Joe, can you please post a notarized copy of your transcript, so we can verify your bona fides?


  53. And, so not to lose the point, one of the key problems on Ebob is the CENSORSHIP. It is rampent. Posters who post things that criticize are regularly censored – their posts are “approved”, or not, by the whims of Squires, or they are outright banned. Hardly free speech over there any more.


  54. Joe, this isn’t about Tyler’s policies. He has stated his policies already.


  55. Coleman is a journalists. Bloggers are independent journalists using a non-traditional medium for medium. The notion that only traditional journalists or critics are obligated to write with integrity while bloggers have no standards is ridiculous.

    The web allows anyone to self-publish their opinions. That does not mean they can create facts or conceal interests.

    I write a commercial blog, joedressner.com and captaintumorman. I make it clear that they are commercial spots and meant to be humorous and ironical. I made no claims that I am an independent voice and journalist. I am an importer and obvious like my wines.

    Coleman is using the web to further his career, promote his books, and to position himself as a self-publishing journalists. He even sees this thread as something along the lines of a Woodward/Bernstein expose.

    Woodward and Bernstein were obligated to work following a code of profession ethics. My asking full disclosure of Coleman’s freebies seems to me a fair question.

    The initial posts by Coleman were a lot of mud thrown at Parker. It turns out that what sticks is Miller accepting trade association money and Squires accepting Israeli junkets.

    The Berns story has been dropped because everyone knows that Miller paid his way.

    Parker should be held accountable for the Squires and Miller trips. They should be fired, reprimanded or forced to conform to Parker’s editorial policies. Not to avoid hypocricy but to be good journalists.

    Coleman’s readership should demand the same ethics on his site, because Coleman claims he is an indenpendent journalist. Having Coleman denounce Miller and Squires is the pot calling the kettle black.

    Now, I’m going to miss my plane, which was paid for by the Cour-Cheverny trade assocation! First class, no less!


  56. Please forgive my first paragraph above.

    Is should read:

    Coleman is a journalist. Bloggers are independent journalists using a non-traditional medium for distribution. The notion that only traditional journalists or critics are obligated to write with integrity while bloggers have no standards is ridiculous.


  57. This is just silly killing the messanger, Joe.

    Tyler should be upfront about any interests he has – just like the moderators on Parker’s board should be for any freebies they get while under affiliation with Bob’s Board.

    That does not change ANYTHING about what Tyker is reporting here. It just seems like you are trying to point the finger away from the topic at hand.


  58. It is not so long ago–except to those of you who are too young to remember–when the standards in wine criticism were quite clear.

    If you were a publication that took advertising, you did not write wine reviews.

    If you wrote wine reviews, you were in a different category altogether and you, the readership and the industry all knew the difference and respected it. You purchased the wine that you were going to review and you tasted it blind. You did not take trips at someone else’s expense and then write about the trip except in general background terms and you did not review wines tasted during trip. If you took such a trip, it was for your information only–and nothing was expected of you. And if you subsequently wrote about the wines of the areas visited, those wines were purchased and tasted blind.

    The publications of the 1970s, for that is the era of my entrance into the profession, were clearly differentiated. Robert Parker was a late entrant to that mix, but his rules were the same as the rest of us. There had to be an arm’s length separation between the industry and the review. Period. Full stop.

    Things changed, of course, and they changed long before the Internet came into existence. But the necessity of keeping an arm’s length relationship at the reviewing end of the equation has not changed.

    The expansion and subsequent reduction in the cost of travel, the increasing money in the business, including lots of new money flooding into what was once a “gentleman’s game”, and the expansion of wine writing itself all changed the world. Into that game also came thousands of new labels from all over the world trying to get a piece of the pie. Did anybody really talk seriously about Argentina or Israel, let alone Austalia and Spain, in those days? Hell’s bells, you could barely find widespread commentary on California in the early part of that decade.

    All of the above conspired to change winewriting, in part because folks like the Wine Spectator proved that one could take advertising and still review wine. And the number of wineries who needed access to the wine critic community grew so rapidly that we all changed our policies and accepted the occasional sample.

    Even today, many publications still purchase a fair percentage of their wines, and a larger number will accept samples but will not solicit wine.

    Regardless of how much any of us would like to return to the good old days of no samples, no trips, those days are gone forever.

    Parker’s policy, the Robinson policy, my policy at my small venture, are pretty much similar when it comes to trying to insure our independence.

    But, there is a difference that is only partially recognized by the discussion here about travel. There are writers who review wines tasted at wineries with the labels showing and the winery personnel standing there telling them what they are tasting. To me, it matters not whether they pay for their own travel or not.

    It is not the trip that is the problem. It is the way critics tasted and report to the public that is the problem. This debate about policy is useful but it does not go far enough.

    Robinson goes a lot further, and while I disagree with her to a certain extent, I do accept that she adheres to her own standards. Parker may pay for his trips, but if you have read his or Kermit Lynch’s accounts of how they have spent long evenings together in northern Rhone cellars with the winery owners tasting vintages that the average person will never taste, and then you read Parker’s review of that person’s new wines tasted in that same cellar with the label showing, it seems to me that you have the same conflict of interest when it comes to the independence and the integrity of the review.

    Bottom line, the takeaways from this long discussion are several–

    1. If you are going to review wine, you ought to review it in blind tastings away from the wineries.

    2. If you take trips, whether to Argentina or to Napa, you ought to go there to learn, not to write reviews of wines you taste with the producers or even the sponsoring organization.

    3. You should not be accepting unusual hospitality from producers if you are a critic or even a blogger. A puff-piece, whether about the beauty of Tuscan hill towns or the joys of floating down the Rhine, ought to be identified as to the sponsors of the trip and should not contain wine critiques as such.

    4. The days of only tasting wines you buy at retail may be gone, but if you accept samples, you should taste them blind. That applies to Dr. Vino, Dr. Miller, Alder Yarrow and James Laube, Jancis Robinson, little old me and to you. In other words, it applies to all journalists, and any journalist who ever reviews a wine not tasted blind should say so upfront. I may not always agree with Dan Berger (hey, who does?), but at least he will tell us when his recommedations come from wines he has tasted unblinded.

    FINALLY, please feel free to add to this list. It is useful for all of us to examine what standards we expect of the wine writing profession. They ought to be high.

    Respectfully offered,

    Charlie Olken
    Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine


  59. It appears that Mr. Squires has shut down his computer… And even close the entries to TWA and/or his site.


  60. Working fine for me, SAM. Maybe somebody has been censored. :-)


  61. Nice post….. I am fairly new to the wine industry and I did not know it was so intense, and fiery. Event though i am not surprised about this guy getting all these nice treatments.


  62. I don’t understand the issue with Tyler or any of the other bloggers.

    I’ve posted this elsewhere but here it is again. There is no problem with freebies, etc., per se. Let’s say someone offers you a free flight. Why not take it? And dinner. And wine. And whatever else you would like.

    You will have a problem with credibility if the people who provided all of these things are the same people who will be sitting next to you discussing their wine as you are writing your reviews.

    And honestly, even that is OK.

    It is of course impossible then to claim that the resulting reviews are in any way impartial or unbiased. Ironically, a guy like Squires, who elicits such passionate commentary from so many, is probably the only type of person who can claim impartiality with any degree of plausibility.

    So you write your review as a travelogue and there are some people who won’t mind that. They are happy to read that as you watched the sunset on the mountainside and you were enjoying the finest foods of the region, you thought the wine was 95 points. Of course, the poor schmuck who buys the wine in the city and takes it to his tiny apartment isn’t going to have nearly that same experience, which is why I think it’s much better for critics to taste and score blind. As a wine consumer, I don’t want to know about dinners on the terrace, I want to know about the wine.

    In any event, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t allow yourself to be “handled” and also claim to be impartial. So decide what’s important and go with that one.

    Mr. Parker set himself up as an independent critic, willing to make his calls as he saw fit. Can anyone truly say that he hasn’t done that admirably over the years?

    Bloggers, or any journalist really,(I agree with Joe that bloggers are journalists too) can choose an entirely different approach to wine. Rather than evaluate the wines in the manner of a critic, they can go to the wineries, take pictures, post shots of themselves in the cellars, etc., and write about their experiences. That’s completely valid. Obviously in that case they’re not independent and impartial, but who said they have to be? They need only be interesting and if they are good writers, they can be quite interesting – even if they go so far that they become mere shills for a few producers.

    As consumers of those products, i.e. the blogs and critical reviews, we decide how much to value the evaluations provided by either approach or anything in between.


  63. Just to reiterate what Greg has said, I for one, have NO problems with the free trips. Joe D seems to have a big problem with it. If they are disclosed and protocol is followed as Charlie has pointed out, trips benefit everyone!

    What is not beneficial to ANYONE except the importer, is when you score the wines on the trip, when you sit down in a restaurant and meet with an importer and let him pour his wine for you (NOT BLIND), when you take a vacation with an importer and score wines on the vacation, when you pronounce the importer as the savior of a particular wine region, when you ask your business partners to post on your website blasting bloggers for bringing out the truth and then when confronted with the reality of what you just did, you tell everyone to go to hell.

    No, hell is where the Wine Advocate is going and fast, if this bullshit continues.

    It is dishonest.

    Tyler is not dishonest. He is a wine blogger. Who gives a crap if he got a free trip or a free super sized value meal at McDonalds. He is not on trial here. He is a journalist and he posted the truth.


  64. The Wine Advocate should try telling the truth!


  65. Sorry Charlie I appreciate where you are coming from, but that blind style of wine reviewing reminds of when I did statisical work on Cheez-it tastings. Industrial. An attempt to make humans into sensory apparatus – which works really well. And it has many applications. Wine is just not one.

    I have no problem reading about Jay’s experiences of being fluffed by Dan Phillips while drinking Bitch. Like nearly all readers, I am capable of both appreciating the writing, the fun and teasing out a core that says that wine would make me barf. More seriously, I don’t want a Parker, a Kolm or a Gilman to become a neutered sensor. What makes their writings both valuable and interesting is NOT that. It is their experience and wisdom. I want RP to know he is drinking a young Cos and make assessments based on 30 yrs of drinking young Cos. That adds information. Valuable information. Claude and John are fantastic because of the years and depth behind what they say even when they are tasting wines elbow-to-knee with Aubert Villaine. And similiar, if I am reading about a less serious wine for patio drinking, an enthustiastic amateur who drank it with a hot dude in a swank club provides both interest and utility even I am not replicating her experience.

    I hate the point of view that wine is some Truth to be revealed. It is an experience. It is almost unique gustatory product for which each encounter is a snapshot of something in motion. When reviewing it becomes like a tasting panel of Cheez-its, I have no interest. And I think that the classical position of looking at it that way is demeaning to the reader who is fully aware that any snapshot not their own is not going to be their experience. If anything, that Singular Truth position is one of the most degrading influences Parker has had on wine criticism, but that is his brand, his IP of methodology.

    My beef, like others, is that he is falsely extending that brand in deceptive ways. While he has earned my respect of his indepence, he is trying to extend that penumbra to others in the WA brand. (And two warrant it through their own doings.) But two are not willing to pay the price or do the work necessary to merit that value.

    Tyler and others are right to call out the WA brand and Parker’s role in it as they are attempting to sell a false bill of goods. That others are selling the same product w/o the false packaging is not relevant. It is like saying our car is better than others because it has Mega anti-lock brakes when it has the same brakes as anyone else.

    A.


  66. Tyler should be condemning Parker for allowing his employees to accept freebies. Parker owns the Wine Advocate and his stated principals are sound journalistic principles. I hope Parker once again enforces them, as Steve Tanzer and other people do.

    But Tyler does not object to the freebies and his only objection is that Parker has not been forthright about his employees following his policies, policies that Tyler supports and practices himself. Tyler believes he has an investigative scoop because he has found that Parker’s staff does what Tyler routinely does.

    I think Parker’s initial principals are entirely correct. I don’t think only Parker follows them, but all credible journalists follow these ethical and honest principals. It is what distinguishes fluff journalism from independent journalism.

    I’m not alone in this feeling. What does the New York Times call for in its ethical policies:

    Paying Our Own Way
    30. When we as journalists entertain news sources (including government officials) or travel to cover them, our company pays the expenses. In some business situations and in some cultures, it may be unavoidable to accept a meal or a drink paid for by a news source (for example, at an official’s residence or in a company’s private dining room). Whenever practical, however, we should avoid those circumstances and suggest dining where we can pay our share (or, better, meeting in a setting that does not include a meal). Routine refreshments at an event like a news conference are acceptable, but a staff member should not attend recurring breakfast or lunch meetings unless our company pays for the journalist’s meals. Whether the setting is an exclusive club or a service lodge’s weekly luncheon, we should pay our way.

    31. Staff members may not accept free or discounted transportation and lodging except where special circumstances give little or no choice. Such special cases include certain military or scientific expeditions and other trips for which alternative arrangements would be impractical — for example, an interview aboard a corporate jet where there is no benefit other than the interview. Journalists should consult responsible newsroom managers in advance when special circumstances arise.

    32. If permitted by the local newsroom policy, staff members may accept press passes or free tickets when explicitly assigned to review artistic performances or cover athletic and similar events (for example, auto shows, agricultural fairs or flower shows). But no staff member except the assigned one — not even an editor in the arts, feature or sports department — may accept free tickets. And even when paying the box office price, a journalist may not use membership on our staff to obtain scarce seats unless the performance has a clear bearing on his or her job.

    There are not extreme practices, but standard practices for writers and journalists. They are the ABC of journalism.

    Unfortunately, like many industries, the wine industry has developed an intertwined complex of writers, flaks, consultants, internet writers and various service providers where it has become difficult to distinguish who is on the take and who is not on the take. It is even more difficult who is on the take but trying to remain critical and who is being cynical to rake in fees, promotions and money.

    Blogging, which I also do, is simply way to deliver articles to the public. There are not fact-checkers, proofreaders and enforced ethical standards. So, it is difficult to figure out who has integrity and who is a fly-by-night operation. I run two blogs that often invent stories and are often fictitious because I think it is import to satirize the Blogger as purveyor of truth. Today, for instance, I took a plane from San Francisco to New York. If I like, I can write on my blog that I sat next to a celebrity, a Californian winemaker, someone who was waterboarded in Guantanamo, or someone who went on a junker to visit Northwest winemakers with Tyler Coleman. Or I can say I sat next to my 23-year-old son.

    Blogging is not reporting and not criticism. I just read a wonderful article on Waterboarding in the New York Times. No blogger is going to write such a story with the resources of a major news organization. As with wine, The Times has more access, more money and more personnel than the lonely blogger. Their report can stay free from conflict from their sources because they are on the payroll of The Times. Which makes me take a deep breath of relief that The Times still exists despite the internet.

    The problem for wine freelances who mean well is the seeming collapse of independent news organization and the difficulty of making a living as a freelance wine writer. What freelancers always say is that they can’t afford to live and support themselves if they don’t accept money. Because lets make it clear, when you accept a free trip (like Squires or Coleman) you are accepting money.

    That’s a choice but not an ethical one. I know it is difficult for freelancers now but it was their choice to get in the field. I just had a very successful tasting tour of California, but I never forget how I once had a tasting in New York and two people showed up. I wanted to import a certain type of wines and fought to do so. It took a long time and I’m not rich but I make a living.

    Right now, if you want to be an ethical wine reporter it is an uphill battle. But it remains a voluntary one.


  67. Great points, Andrew Hall. Ditto, Joe Dressner, even if they might be somewhat contrary. In fact, I’m amazed at how many of the comments I find worthwhile even when they are at odds. And I think it’s great that the comments have almost uniformly been thoughtful, and have not been snide or degrading.
    From my perspective, I hardly care who accepts what, because I pay almost no attention to wine scores. When someone says to me, as they describe, or pour a wine: “and this was a Parker (or Spectator) 92,” my response is usually: “that’s OK, I might like it anyway.” Ultimately I trust no one’s taste other than my own. There are a couple of wine shops I frequent, and I trust their taste to a great extent (plus they know what styles of wine I like), but even then I always try one bottle of any wine before making a larger purchase.


  68. Andrew Hall writes <>

    Andrew–

    Tasting with Aubert Du Villaine or Mark Aubert or anyone else is always informative. It simply is not the way that critical evaluation of wine should be done. There is nothing antithetical to good and well-informed reporting in tasting blind abd then using one’s background to help form a full discussion of the wine.

    Seeing the label while tasting means that one is, at least to some degree, tasting labels at the time of the first impressions. Tasting blind means that you form your impressions without outside influence, then see what the wine is and bring your experience to bear as part of your understanding and explanation of the wine.

    A good taster is not neutered by tasting blind. He or she is, however, challenged to first judge the wine on its own, and only after seeing what the wine is to allow experience to broaden that experience.

    I once tried to buy some limited production Russian River Pinot Noir from a top-rated producer so they could be reviewed blind in my publication. The owner of the winery suggested instead that I visit him and taste the wines with him. I told him that my publication does not judge wine that way and he said, “Well, Parker and Tanzer come here and taste the wines here”. I asked him if he felt that such a procedure was a valid way to make independent judgments. He laughed and replied “I get better scores that way”.

    Now, it is nice that you do not care about scores, but surely you must see that elevated scores relate directly to elevated commentary. You say you want folks who review wine, and I have been in this biz for over three decades, to bring perspective. If tasting with the labels showing and the winemaker/owner at your elbow raises scores, then it also means that the perspective you seek has been compromised. I would respectfully suggest that perspective is not lost by tasting blind but that accuracy and candor are.


  69. Re the previous post, I somehow lost the words I meant to quote. Andrew Hall said that tasting blind neuters tasters because they can use their past experiences with wines like Cos (his choice to mention) when they talk about it.

    Obviously, I disagree. It is our experience and the ability to use it in offering informed commentary that makes good tasters useful and accurate. We do not lose that perspective by tasting blind.


  70. Perspective is a better word than bias as bias implies there is some Truth from which there is deviation. When it comes to wine commentary, I don’t think there is that Truth. I think that blind tasting doesn’t introduce clarity, but a very dangerous form of distortion to the perspective. It is dangerous because it denies that it is distorted – equivalent to ‘we report, you decide.’

    Why would one want less information? How is a blind note of ‘green elements’ useful vs knowing it is Producer X and that historically those elements translate into something nice? And how does this green compare? If someone has tasted 20 vintages of young Dujac and formed a mental picture of what the intervening years bring, why should that be tossed aside when they taste?

    To me, placing a primacy on blind-tasting is a relic of a time when the relationship between producer-merchant-consumer was assumed to be adversarial. In general, it just isn’t. Most winemakers view the process as being cooperative and this trend should continue. The assumption of hostility is the whole premise of the Wine Advocate. Another Boomer relic, really.

    The whole process of blind tasting is just so wierd and unnatural. It is what Nabisco uses for quality control on Cheez-its! It can be informative and it can be fun, but blind tasting just reduces wine commentary into horse races.

    A.


  71. Andrew – some of what you write is why I don’t have a problem with accepting some freebies, or even tasting with a producer or importer. It’s more information and it’s educational and you do get a better perspective.

    But here’s an example. Say you take ten or twelve or fourteen wines from a given area. Let’s say Chateauneuf du Pape. If you don’t know the wines, then use the ratings of various critics to help select, or the opinions of producers you may know, or prices. Get a peer group, which is how RP says he tastes and is IMO the best way to taste. With Bordeaux or other classified wines it’s a little easier but it can be done for any region.

    Have someone pour them all, sit with them for an hour or two or three, evaluate them and score them. If you’re inclined, don’t unveil and repeat the next day.

    I do it with one group or another pretty much every week and have been doing it for a long time. What you find is that over time, certain wines seem to sort out into the top or bottom of your tastings. That’s your palate preference and it’s 100% valid. You are also evaluating the wine as wine, not as a First Growth or a Gran Reserva or whatever.

    Is it the only way to evaluate wine? Not at all. Like I said, sipping on the terrace is a wonderful way to evaluate it. But if we’re tasting the wine this way and against its peers I only give wine F 85 points, I’ve put it into context with equivalent wines. Any critic worth a damn should be able to do a tasting like that. So if I’m a critic and you care about my rating, at least you know that among its peers, I consider wine F to be lesser than several other wines of equivalent stature. That was the revolutionary approach of Parker and I think it’s still valid.

    More importantly, if wine F happens to have been yours, I wasn’t at all influenced by the label or our friendship. If on the other hand, I’m tasting a group of your wines and we go through some steely whites, some oaky ones, some young tight reds, a few fuller-bodied ones, and some sweeties, and wine F is somewhere in that mix, exactly what does that do? How is it compared to its peers? Cripes, how do I know?

    Both tasting methods have their pros and cons. But again – if I’m having it with you and you’re my buddy? This isn’t science; it’s very subjective. I defy anyone to very cleanly distinguish between 87 and 88 or even 89, or between 89 and 90 or 91. If I’m well disposed towards you anyhow, you might just trend a little higher than you would have were I tasting blind. And if you’re smart enough to orchestrate the whole thing for me, how independent and fair can I claim to be?

    It’s not reducing the human to a mere sensory recorder at all. Like I said, I do it all the time. It focuses you. And going back to Cos – if you do this enough, you should be able to identify it in a peer group. But you’re never 100% certain. And as far as green notes, if you’ve been tasting wine for a while, you have a general idea of what might happen based on the sugar level you detect, the acidity, the quality of the tannins, etc.


  72. [...] Parker is bashing the wine bloggers for accepting a free trip – which they did not – at a time when it is being revealed that some of his collaborators accepted free trips – which they [...]


  73. the more I think about this, the more disgusted I am. I have enjoyed reading the wine advocate so much in the past. I do find it ridiculous though to claim these descriptions are objective. it’s exactly the subjective parts that interest me. I don’t understand why the writers at the WA have such a hard time to admit to subjectivity. they really ruined it with their snotty behaviour. paid trips under the strict parker guidelines are a no go. period.


  74. Hats off, again, Tyler, for bringing these issues to the light of day, cyberstyle. Interestingly, a colleague emailed me over the weekend a two-part feature in the LA Times, by David Shaw, that ran back in 1987 (the year before I got into the wine biz); he raised many of these same issues regarding access and subjectivity and potential for undue influence. In other words, the basic parameters of wine writing ethics are not necessarily anything new. The big difference is how the Internet has shifted the debate to blogs, where it is being played out with greater democracy and speed.

    I trust you will post again if/when RMP and/or Dr. Jay and Mark Squires respond to your appropriate questions.


  75. I wrote this up on wineberserkers.com this morning…

    Let’s not lose sight of the big picture here. No one is saying anyone critic profited off of tasting wines. No one that I know of.

    However, Jay Miller did not seek out wineries, they sought him out. Wines of Argentina paid for his trips to Mendoza. Any wineries that did not pay for his trip, but still wanted reviews, were asked to chip in $500 cover admin fees for the trip.

    Jay Miller did not seek out wineries, importers sought him out. Jay Miller did not travel to Spain alone. He traveled with Jorge Ordonez and Eric Solomon and possibly other importers. The importers showed him the wines that they import. In many instances, when smaller importers of these wine regions send samples for his review stateside, he does not even bother to taste.

    Jay Miller did not seek out wineries, importers sought him out. His best friend is Dan Phillips, owner of the Grateful Palate. His travels to Australia have been with his best friend. Dan shows him his wineries and then they have, on at least one occasion (presumably more often) vacationed together.

    In none of these instances has Jay Miller tasted and reviewed wines blind. This is all about bias. This is all about The Wine Advocate, one of the most influential wine publications in the world, showing favoritism beyond recognition to certain wineries, importers, etc.

    Read this blog from 2007. Read Jay Miller’s comments, when questioned about his review style. All lies, as was pointed out by Victor Honore in 2007.
    http://www.drvino.com/2007/05/21/decanting-the-critic-tasting-with-dr-jay-miller-the-right-hand-of-robert-parker/

    I DO NOT CARE ABOUT THE FREE TRIPS WITH TRADE ORGANIZATIONS. IF IT HELPED MARK OR JAY UNDERSTAND THE REGIONS, THEN ALL THE BETTER. BUT MARK HAS ALREADY SAID THAT MOST OF HIS REVIEWS ARE NOT DONE ON THESE TRIPS. JAY HAS NOT AND CANNOT MAKE THAT SAME CLAIM.

    THAT IS WHERE THE BIAS EXISTS. THAT IS WHERE JAY MILLER NEEDS TO BE FIRED. HE HAS DONE DAMAGE AND WILL CONTINUE TO DO DAMAGE TO THE WINE WORLD. HIS BEST FRIENDS ARE IMPORTERS. HE DOES NOT REVIEW THEIR WINES OR ANY OTHER WINES BLIND.


  76. I agree with Greg and Daniel above. The issue with the bias is NOT the WoA or WoC paying for the reviewer to come and see what their neck of the world is all about. To write articles about unknown or evolving regions, it seems almost necessary to have writers visit first hand. Someone on another blog mentioned that there was a payment of $500.00 per bottle charged for Miller to taste in Argentina. I don’t know if that is based on fact or just a guess, but if that is indeed the case, something is not right with that picture and Miller’s credibility should be basically caput.
    To me as a TWA reader, I want to know that I am getting nonbiased wine reviews. The wine region reviews are a different subject. Those should be a follow up from wines that were discovered when tasted blindly. But I know that all importers do not share the luxury of personally introducing and tasting their wines with Miller or any other taster for that matter. It is easy for Parker or anyone to stand back and accuse the winery owner or small importer of being jealous for not having gotten the 90+ points. Make better wine? It does not matter how great a wine you make if you are passed over by the taster because your wine perhaps was not served in the optimal conditions. In Spain there a many, many small producers passed over by Ordonez, Solomon, Mata or Grapes of Spain to export their wines in to the US market. Some don’t want the conditions they require others want more control on their wine and where it goes. Many of these producers are making exactly what the US consumer is asking for… excellent QPR, boutique wines. How many of these wines are tasted by Miller and just passed over because they are NOT imported by his friends? My .02 worth says even the playing field; accept all wines on the same ground, tasted within this time period, blindly. Then if there are wines of regions that are worthy of trips, then go, tell the readers about it. But there needs to be much more transparency for TWA to get their credibility back.


  77. Andrew, I don’t know why it has to be either-or. Blind taste the wine, give it a tasting note and score. Then, when the wine is revealed, place that into the context of the winery. Is that so hard?


  78. Tom Wark of Wark Communications offered this very wise quote on EBob:

    the emergence of the wine blogosphere is the most important development in wine writing since the emergence of the professional critic. And the emergence of consumer-driven recommendations via web 2.0 technology, combined the emergence of direct shipping, is the single most important development in wine marketing in the last decade.


  79. [...] Policy and practice at the Wine Advocate – Parker responds [...]


  80. I’ve posted some documentary proof showing bribery and corruption in the wine trade. Its time to clean house!

    http://captaintumorman.com/#246


  81. Wow, Joe, I guess no one heads over to your blog, so you have to redirect traffic from here?

    A few funny commentaries. Lyle can be bought for much less money for future reference.


  82. [...] ¿Que de qué estoy hablando? De un tema que hoy está algo hot en ciertos circulillos del mundo del vino. En el blog de mi querido Dr. Vino, por ejemplo, se ha armado la tendalada gracias a algunas acusaciones y contra-acusaciones sobre la ética, sobre hasta dónde y desde dónde el periodismo de vinos puede llamarse independiente. La polémica envuelve a Jay Miller y al propio Robert Parker, dos papas de la crítica mundial; el segundo, autodenominado paladín de la independencia; el primero, empleado de Parker y responsable de los vinos sudamericanos (y españoles y australianos) en la influyente publicación The Wine Advocate. Si quieren seguirle el hilo a esta polémica, echen un vistazo aquí. [...]


  83. What an excellent way of increasing traffic to your blog! However, I believe that a serious wine blog should focus on wine not on this kind of stuff. Reminds me of British tabloids.


  84. [...] Policy and practice at the Wine Advocate – Parker responds – April 23, 2009 [...]


  85. Bob Parker posted the following on Squires:

    “Nothing secret..in fact it is very common public knowledge…..I have been tasting with small specialty importers for 25+ years…I visit and taste at wineries,I do both blind and non-blind tastings…I taste at negociants,at centralized locations,at specific chateaux and domaines…I taste in peer groups whenever possible…name a manner in which to taste,and I have done it…..as for the small importers,the only way to grasp their entire portfolio and philosophy is to sit down with them and TASTE…doesn’t anybody remember the very early TWA profiles of high quality importers such as Kermit Lynch,Neal Rosenthal,Peter Weygandt,Eric Solomon,Jorge Ordonez,Leonardo LoCasio,Vias,North Berkely,Robert Kacher,Dan Kravitz,Robert Chadderdon,Kysela Pere et Fils,Alain Jungenet,Peter Vezan,Dan Phillips and many others….it is essential to find and support the small importers/brokers as many of the finest wines emanate from them(none of us have ever sat down and tasted with the giant industrial importers)….any wine critic NOT covering the wines from these small specialists is hardly interested in giving the consumer info about what some of the most conscientious people in the wine trade are doing….seems to me a lot of trolling is going on…and of course I visit many wineries…taste their wines, and learn first hand what they do…if any note is colored …positively or negatively by the fact that an owner or importer was in my presence, then I should go back to lawyering…any legitimate critic evaluates wine in a vacuum…it is all we are asked to do…if you are so easily swayed or intimidated by an owner or someone in the trade,you won’t be working for The Wine Advocate….
    Critics are,and should be independent and judged by the results of what they taste and write…consumers agree or disagree…….there is not one instance of bias,prejudice,or influence in any of the tasting notes all of us have written and published..and it is why I hired the people I did…
    All of us have acquainances in the trade,some can be friends…professional colleagues we have tasted with and visited over the years-my professional relationships and those of David as well as Jay go back 30+ years….yet I have no problem criticizing anybody’s wine …and neither do Jay nor David……we deal with trade people we respect enormously as well as those who are colossal jerks and egoists…their wines all get treated equally,because at the end of the day…each one of us…Antonio,Jay,David,Neal,Lisa,me ,and even the much maligned Squires(who may have the hardest job in the world trying to balance freedom of speech with civilized conduct) …are wine consumers…we put our pen and money where our palate goes…we believe in what we write….so until someone can show just ONE instance of favortism in the 10,000+ tasting notes we write and publish each year,I remain very proud of all of our accomplishments.”

    LET US TAKE UP THE SUBJECT OF “FAVORTISM” FOR A MOMENT, SHALL WE? Let’s say that there was a tasting with a Spanish wine importer with whom Bob has a long term relationship. If objectivity is maintained, it’s no different than tasting samples mailed from producers or other importers, right? But let’s assume: (1) some “friends” of said importer, which friends are professionals of various stripes (producer/critic etc), are sitting in plain view at another table at the Oregon Grill where the tasting is conducted and they are introduced to Bob, (2) there are several bottles of each wine to be sampled boxed up at the table of friends, (3) in addition to multiple bottles, the different bottles have been opened at different times in advance based on prior experimentation focused on how much air-time highlights the young wine the best, (4) the table of friends, in specific recogntition that there will be variations among the bottles, taste the various bottles and carefully selects the one to be tasted by Bob, and (5) all this is in plain view. Relative to the poor slobs who are mailing in samples, can anyone detect any element of favortism in such a fact pattern? After all, when he is tasting, Bob does so in a “vacuum,” totally objectively. If the bottle of wine that Bob tasted during such an occasion was substandard, notwithstanding the prior preparation and selection process, Bob would call a spade a spade – no doubt about it. Of course, that was the no-favortism policy of the past. We all know Bob does not rate Spanish wines any more, and he has separately written on the Squire board that he does not hold his contractors to the same lofty standards….


  86. [...] publicly revealed, with evidence to back it. At that point, Parker had no choice but to respond, and he did, basically saying that neither he nor his guys would have anything to do with the organization down [...]


  87. Quote from Calvin “LET US TAKE UP THE SUBJECT OF “FAVORTISM” FOR A MOMENT, SHALL WE? Let’s say that there was a tasting with a Spanish wine importer with whom Bob has a long term relationship. If objectivity is maintained, it’s no different than tasting samples mailed from producers or other importers, right? But let’s assume:

    (1) some “friends” of said importer, which friends are professionals of various stripes (producer/critic etc), are sitting in plain view at another table at the Oregon Grill where the tasting is conducted and they are introduced to Bob,

    (2) there are several bottles of each wine to be sampled boxed up at the table of friends,

    (3) in addition to multiple bottles, the different bottles have been opened at different times in advance based on prior experimentation focused on how much air-time highlights the young wine the best,

    (4) the table of friends, in specific recogntition that there will be variations among the bottles, taste the various bottles and carefully selects the one to be tasted by Bob, and

    (5) all this is in plain view. Relative to the poor slobs who are mailing in samples, can anyone detect any element of favortism in such a fact pattern? After all, when he is tasting, Bob does so in a “vacuum,” totally objectively. If the bottle of wine that Bob tasted during such an occasion was substandard, notwithstanding the prior preparation and selection process, Bob would call a spade a spade – no doubt about it. Of course, that was the no-favortism policy of the past. We all know Bob does not rate Spanish wines any more, and he has separately written on the Squire board that he does not hold his contractors to the same lofty standards….”

    Calvin, we don’t have to assume any of the above when it comes to Jay Miller’s tasting methods…it is all in there. He has come out and stated that he does not give the small importer or the boutique winery not imported by his friends any merit, because they are not worth his time. Pretty damning evidence that he does not adhere to RP guidelines and he is NOT a WINE ADVOCATE but rather he is advocating his allegiance and bias of his friends.

    Hopefully Mr. Parker will make good on his word “….so until someone can show just ONE instance of favortism in the 10,000+ tasting notes we write and publish each year,I remain very proud of all of our accomplishments.” Is it not Favoritism Mr. Parker to oust the small producer that you have held at such a high regard and defended them because they do pour so much heart and soul into the wines they produce? Is it not Favoritism, to openly state and publish the partiality of the top 4 or 5 Spanish Wine Importers but those that don’t aren’t personal friends and submit their wines the way that JAY HAS TOLD THEM TO DO SO are NOT WORTHY OF HIS TIME TO REVIEW?

    This is scandalous and abhorrable for a critic to call himself impartial and have no shame. Mr. Miller you should be ashamed of yourself and Mr. Parker you should re-read what your Spanish Taster has written and if you do and you see nothing wrong, then you too share the guilt and likewise you should be ashamed of yourself. The burden of this proof should not be to hold up the sacrificial importer for all to see and feast on, it should be to change the habits that Mr. Miller has grown accustomed. There should be clarity and fairness from the first glass poured to the last drop tasted, could an advocate do so much to save his reputation?


  88. On the Parker Bulletin Board, Parker asked for people to show him signs of favoritism from any critic he employs towards an importer/winery, etc.

    Rather than list the many instances that I can think of off the top of my head, I mentioned how Jay Miller went to Massachusetts to taste with Jorge Ordonez, in Jorge’s hometown, rather than Jorge just submit samples (which Miller more or less says is a waste of time). Here is his EXACT quote…”It’s when I open unsolicited samples from importers that I don’t see face-to-face that a different picture emerges. In many cases, they have gotten into the game later and the top producers have already been signed up the Solomons, Matas, and Ordonezs of the importing world. The quality level here is not nearly as high.”). Talk about a disadvantage for a small importer from California with just a few Spanish wines! If they cannot afford to fly across the country to sit down with Big J, then why even bother submitting samples?

    Or, Jorge could come to Baltimore to taste like many larger importers have done for years with Parker and the Wine Advocate.

    Nope, Miller elected to visit Jorge in Massachusetts.

    There was never any reply from anyone at the WA and the thread was quickly closed thereafter. Parker asked for signs of favoritism…Miller showed it to him…


  89. Daniel–

    Nicely said.

    The question now arises. Who is to blame? Yes, Parker in the first instance both for allowing it, but really for doing similar things himself.

    The information that Parker and Co. do not taste blind, taste with distributors and producers, party with them all night the way Parker has told us that he does with Kermit Lynch, Chave and others and then review their wines openly in the morning has been known for years.

    Who has ignored this information? Who has accepted these violations of protocol? We have. The wine world has allowed it to happen for decades. We used to have a “code of conduct” in the winewriting business that if you took advertising, you did not review wine, and, if you reviewed wine, you did it in blind tastings with wines compared to their peers.

    Yes, Parker, the Spectator and others have changed the rules, but it is all of us who have read them and let them get away with it who are to blame in the long run.

    Now, someone has dared to speak up. Frankly, it is about time. But, unless this small beginning becomes a movement, nothing really will change. We do not see a code of conduct emerging. We do not see a thousand paid writers across the country all rushing to make their tasting methodologies transparent, we do not see thousands of readers of publicatiions or bloggists complaining.

    I agree and support most of what I have seen here. A similar discussion has taken place on Steve Heimoff’s excellent blog. Will this focus on inappropriate methodology change the world? I hope it does, but I fear that we are a small band speaking to ourselves.


  90. Charlie, Daniel. This discussion is far more than “a small band” and likely to gain more steam because of the fundamentally more deomcratic wine world we now live in thanks to blogs and social media. It may go dormant for a while, but will rear up again next time a specific wine or incident pops up.


  91. In Chile the very same thing happened. Jay Miller went there financed by Wines of Chile. Non members to the organisation were not allowed to invite Jay Miller to see their vineyards/wineries. I mean, one could invite him, but the answer would be “no as wines of Chile doesný want me to go outside the programme” (or something like that).
    Every participant had to pay U$139 for the wines to be tasted by Jay. This money was for Wines of Chile I suppose.


  92. The Wine Spectator has now weighed in on this issue as well

    https://wwws.winespectator.com/Wine/Blogs/Blog_Detail/0,4211,2544,00.html


  93. Daniel–

    For those of us who do not pay for the privilege of the WS online (paying for print is enough for me, thanks), could you summarize the points being made?

    Thanks,
    Charlie


  94. I believe this is what we call the “money shot”

    “At Wine Spectator we have strict ethics policies. While we do accept samples from wineries, we always taste them blind to remove any potential bias, either real or perceived. And we do not accept any junkets—we pay our own airfare and accommodations when we travel, and set our own itineraries. That way we remain independent and avoid any conflicts of interest.”


  95. More proof that this is still growing. For Wine Spec to even mention Parker is the equivalent of Halley’s comet.


  96. Pls, focus in the main theme: Ethics. Nobody is writing about these anymore. Dr Jay Miller and Mr Robert Parker appeared to be untouchables. Specially fot those “another ebob reader”…


  97. [...] Parkerin suhtautuminen korruptioon hänen omassa tiimissään on tahrannut miehen mainetta. Tiukasta eettisestä koodistostaan [...]


  98. Someone kindly forward me the text of the WS blog entry on recent ethical sutff. By James Molesworth. I stand corrected: sadly, JM does NOT mention Parker by name (or Tyler). It’s all “we” “we” “we”… which amounts to wee-wee given the scope of the issue. It is par for the course, though. As soon as WS starts acknowledging the existence of other voices in the wine universe, they begin to undermine their own authority. Instead they blather on as if they taste wine in a moat-surounded castle. The most ethical castle in the countryside, mais oui.

    One last point: James Molesworth (who may well just be the corporate messenger here) writes: “While we do accept samples from wineries, we always taste them blind to remove any potential bias, either real or perceived. And we do not accept any junkets—we pay our own airfare and accommodations when we travel, and set our own itineraries. That way we remain independent and avoid any conflicts of interest.” Interestingly, he says nothing about meals. Is it OK to get a little sullied by dining on wineries/PR people’s tab?


  99. Molesworth leaves far more unsaid than said. For example, when the WS critic for Australia and New Zealand goes down under, how do the hundreds of samples get to him? Where does he taste? Who supplies the stemware, the spit buckets (he must spit–right?), the napkins, etc?

    It can be as innocent as a local writer in the turf being visited or it can be a friendly winery–in which case, that conflict of interest is far more bothersome than having a meal with someone.

    But even that pales by comparison to the egregious practice, which Parker and Tanzer and others defend, of reviewing wine tasted at wineries with the labels showing and the winery owner and winemaker standing there telling you what to think. I will repeat a story told to me by a very highly regarded winery owner. When I refused to taste wines that way, he said that Parker and Tanzer do it. I asked if he thought that it was a fair practice, and he said, “I get better reviews that way”.

    The standards here are simple enough. Taste wines blind in your own controlled setting. Call them as you see them and avoid once and for all the questions of bias. A fam trip to Argentina is not the issue. The rigor and independence of the tasting and evaluation methodology for recommmended wines is the issue.

    Transparency is nice–let everyone tell us once and for all how they got to the point of recommending a wine. But, for me, a strong buying recommendation for a wine tasted at lunch with the winemaker is always going to be less valuable than one for a wine tasted against its peers in blind, independent tastings.


  100. It is my understanding that the reviews done on WS trips to regions are not official. Official reviews are done in the offices, blindly.

    That is what I assume.


  101. I don’t necessarily agree with Parker’s evaluations but have always respected him because he (supposedly) didn’t take “bribes”. You are 100% right in going after him on this. This is the best revelation since the Wine Spectator Restaurant Awards fiasco.


  102. The Policies at TWA were just made clearer…

    http://www.winesofchile.org/article/87

    So much for blind tasting…midnight buffet in Santiago anyone?


  103. Yaacov’s posting that link with “(no affliation)” on eBob was brilliant. What a rascal!

    A.


  104. Miller says the reason he does not taste blind is that he can aggregate the producers that way. What a crock. He could just as easily have the wines poured for him by producer without knowing which producer it is.

    And the idea that he is tasting somewhere north of 180 wines a day and assigning finite points to those wines is a questionable practice at best. Think about it. If he allots only three minutes to each wine, which includes an allowance for cleaning his palate, getting up and stretching, going to the bathroom, etc, he is tasting almost non-stop for nine hours a day. If he stops to eat, go outside for some fresh air, etc, he would have to be tasting 12 hours a day. Quite simply, he is not.

    And if he is alloting less time than that, then he is virtually tasting labels, not wine, because unless a wine is spoiled beyond recognition, it can be interesting overall and the only way to know is to smell it, taste it and give it due consideration.

    This whole procedure and the number of wines brings into question the reason for tasting with the labels showing. It raises the nagging notion that a certain amount of prejudging is going on. That may be OK for the ordinary punter, but it is highly suspect for a wine review publication that wants to be taken seriously.

    It is one thing when Alder Yarrow goes to public tastings and gives us 120 scores without tasting notes and does not charge for it. I don’t like the practice, but Yarrow makes no bones about what he is doing. He is very upfront about it.

    We, all of us, pay for Parker if we read the WA. This is not what we should be paying for.


  105. http://www.thoriverson.com/faq.html
    The myth of independence
    The ethics of wine criticism
    The myth of objectivity
    The importance of negativity
    Wine writing vs. wine criticism

    http://oenologic.blogspot.com/2009/03/i-in-wine.html

    Does arrogance go hand-in-hand with professional criticism?


  106. daniel,

    I have a comment that I would like to make, or a suggestion(s) but would rather do it privately. Do you have a direct email account @ grapes? Or if you like you could just email me.

    Just a couple of ideas that have fluttered into my head, rather then just stur up more controversy when I am only going on gut and instict.

    Thanks!


  107. The Wall Street Journal has a reporter, not the wine couple but a regular biz reporter, looking into the wine review ethics story.

    He has been calling people who have posted to this topic so do not be surprised if he reaches out your way.

    He seemed more interested in the “trips and resulting wine reviews” angle than in overall tasting methodology. I made the point that I have stated here already that it is not the trips that bother me so much as what one does with them and how transparent that one is about it. And he did express surprise that Parker would have said that his writers did not have to adhere to his own standards. He might make something of that as well.

    We talked for a bit, and he seemed to understand the issues quite well. I am not sure if he thinks there is a broader story here or just a tempest in a wine geek tea pot, however.


  108. This topic has now heated up a bit on Steve Heimoff’s blog. It is not going away, and maybe, just maybe, will cause both writers and consumers to be more transparent about their practices and more outspoken about their expectations.


  109. [...] Reporter David Kesmodel details the divergence between policy and practice at Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. He acknowledges reporting on this blog that initially raised the questions (see my original correspondence with Parker and critic Jay Miller here and a follow up here). [...]


  110. [...] source for the hubbub originally came from Tyler Colman’s Dr. Vino site, which published a response from Parker—who personally adheres to some solid ethical guidelines. Parker was none too [...]


  111. [...] dinners etc. How else are you going to try 40 Barossa reds in one sitting? (Yet just look at the kerfuffle when these self imposed rules are broken in the [...]


  112. I’d like to point out that “disclosing” a conflict of interest does not remove it. In my humble view, wine raters who charge for their ratings should not have their accommodations, travel or anything else paid for by the organizations whose wines they taste. Seems pretty simple to me, actually.


  113. David

    Disclosing conflicts of interest and being honest would be a great start.


  114. All this stupidity is what has driven consumers away from wine in Europe. Bloggers, critics wanna be and all that gang should drop their egos and their anger for their lack of success for making a living in wine. Focus on creating more enthusiasm amongst young consumers. I am sicken tired of this line.


  115. @F. Fielder,

    If you really believe that the big, bad bloggers have killed demand for wine in Europe, then I feel sorry for you and/or the industry you seem to promote.

    If young Europeans aren’t drinking as much wine, maybe it’s because they don’t have the time to sit down for meals that their grandparents did. Or maybe it’s because there are stricter drunk driving laws. Or maybe it’s not being marketed in the right channels.

    And why is the decline of wine sales to younger consumers seemingly a problem only for Europe? Here in the USA, sales of wine are up in the younger segments of the market. Are Americans just impervious to bloggers and critics?

    Get your head out of the sand.


  116. I am not blaming the bloggers, I have nothing against blogs, I believe they are great and fun. I am against sensationalism and gossip. This thread about Parker, Jay Miller , etc. has become repetitive, boring and useless. Doesn´t Tyler have more important topics to cover, specially in the current times?


  117. Where is the sensationalism? Tyler asked questions, posted answers. The fact is that Parker and Co. have a powerful influence on the market. If they are taste arbiters, then, like it or not, their practices matter. Scrutiny of the subject is fair.

    If the thread itself is “boring and useless,” why are *you* adding to the discussion and making this an issue now? This is a 3-month old post from April. I only saw your comment because I saw it on the “Recent Comments” on the front page of the site.

    I’ll let Tyler speak for himself, but I would argue that his site offers a range of subjects, which occasionally includes discussion of critics. If that’s too much for you, fine, that’s a matter of taste.

    But to go back to your earlier point, I still don’t see how this issue is scaring off European wine consumers.


  118. Fielder,

    So wine consumption has plummetted in Europe over the last 3 months because of Dr. Vino’s blog? Wow, strong analysis, any proof to back this up?

    Did you see el mundo vino (newspaper in Spain) cover this story just a few days ago?

    I guess while some, like you, want it to go away, it cannot go away, until Parker and friends just come out and tell the truth. Till then, more media coverage should be expected. I recommend you change the channel.


  119. No comments, dead end.


  120. At least you responded, that is more than Parker is doing these days on his own bulletin board.


  121. Note to F. Fielder. This horse is out of the barn, and bitching about it after the fact is not going to put it back in.

    Dr. V Coleman has done us all a favor. He has turned a spotlight onto ethics in winewriting. There were rules once. Mr. Parker endorsed those rules. Then he broke them, and now, with new media coming into being, the need for honesty, openness and fairness is accentuated.

    It is not old-fashioned or out of place to ask for these things.


  122. [...] He further suggests that I “cast aspersions” at Robert Parker and his staff in my two posts from April and uses the word “allegedly” to describe the trips taken by contributors at [...]


  123. In the meanwhile, in the far east, a Dr Vino article made its way to Asia and particularly Japan from which
    interesting feedbacks were received.

    An article published in Wands The international Wine & Spirits Magazine for the trade in Japan is bringing new information to the scene.
    (Wands website: http://www.wine.or.jp/wands)
    Scan is just over here : http://img40.imageshack.us/i/wandsparker.jpg/

    Quick and dirty translation comes below :

    “Something not brought yet in Dr.Vino’s blog is that Robert Parker himself is not irreproachable.

    From 1998 upon the request of a Japanese importer and in exchange of enormous amount of money, Parker participated to seminars, and contributed to the business of that importer. That company is producing in Japan a white wine from Koshu grape, and is the sole distributor of that wine. In May 2008, Robert Parker scored the wine after drinking it in a high class sushi restaurant located in Ginza, and published it on his website”

    Due to the fact that the original article is in Japanese, such information might never be revealed to the erobertparker.com’s member…The trade will certainly be aware sooner or later…

    The article statements can easily be proved using the following sources :

    Website for the wine scored by Parker.
    http://koshu.org/en/index.php
    “Robert Parker praised each vintage of Shizen wine, including the Shizen
    2007 vintage on a trip to Tokyo in May 2008. Shizen Cuvee Denis Dubourdieu
    remains the only Asian wine reviewed by Robert Parker.”

    Hedonist Gazette
    After reading the hedonist gazette, it’s easy to find the wine Koshu
    (tasted and scored twice !!! Indeed as the name seems slightly different,
    it’s nothing but the same wine)
    http://www.erobertparker.com/members/gazette/hg224.asp
    http://www.erobertparker.com/members/gazette/hg430.asp

    Post from Parker on Mark Squires’ Bulletin Board
    Parker states that the “wines are the brain-child of my Japanese publisher”

    http://dat.erobertparker.com/bboard/showthread.php?t=146327&highlight=shizen

    The importer producing the wine / Parker’s Japanese publisher is Millesimes. This wine can be found in their PDF catalogue with parker points on page 29.
    http://www.millesimes.co.jp/download/wine_list/0904_millesime_wine.pdf

    Japanese explanations are saying that this wine is the first Asian wine to be ever tasted by Robert M. Parker Jr.

    That’s quite funny to see such publicly available information not mentioned because of the language differences.


  124. [...] (right sidebar). Thanks for visiting!Mike Steinberger posted a synopsis earlier today of the recent policy transgressions, changes and general tone deafness at Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate. It advances the [...]


  125. [...] previously said that he paid for 75 percent of the wines, but amid the furor last year over the free trips that two of his contributors, Jay Miller and Mark Squires, had accepted, he scaled back that [...]


  126. [...] up with my reading and, oh course, tweeting. A few weeks ago Tyler Colman, who blogs as Dr Vino, posted some legitimate questions about policies at The Wine Advocate. What transpired was a discussion of wine writer ethics that at [...]


  127. [...] in particular, Dr. Vino, that we discovered that Parker was allowing Wine Advocate contributors to flout his ethical guidelines—guidelines that were a critical element in his [...]


  128. [...] the imbroglio of 2009, Parker modified his ethics statement to read: I expect the writers to learn about the regions [...]


  129. [...] a longtime friend of Parker’s, leaves The Wine Advocate after five tumultuous years. Parker, in the announcement he posted last night on eBob, made no mention of the [...]


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