Wine Advocate Writers Spark Ethics Debate – Wall Street Journal

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The Wall Street Journal has a story today on page D1 entitled, “Wine Advocate Writers Spark Ethics Debate: While Newsletter’s Founder Champions Independence, Two Reviewers Accepted Trips.”

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).

The Wall Street Journal story adds details that Miller accepted trips to Australia and Chile paid by wine industry groups. I contacted Wines of Argentina last month and their staff in Mendoza verified that they had also had paid for two trips for Miller to visit the country. Other parties verified that he was ferried around the country by private jet on one of those trips.

The WSJ story says that Parker declined to respond to interview requests, as did Miller and Mark Squires who has admitted to taking press trips to Portugal, Israel and Greece. Joining a press trip from a regional or national association is not out of ordinary for wine writers; it’s that Robert Parker laid down ethical standards years ago that state “It is imperative for a wine critic to pay his own way” and “it is imperative to keep one’s distance from the trade.” Parker’s lack of response to the reporter seems odd since not only would it clarify the situation but he encouraged reporters to call him just last month, writing in his forum “Today…most journalists don’t even call if they want to write about me…no sense having me provide a well documented rebuttal that undermines their story line……”

Wine Advocate Writers Spark Ethics Debate” [Wall Street Journal]

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91 Responses to “Wine Advocate Writers Spark Ethics Debate – Wall Street Journal”


  1. Where there’s smoke there’s ….?


  2. Since the initial charge against Parker was hypocrisy for an outdated statement of ethics, does this satisfy everyone?

    Parker now admits that his staff can take the very same junkets that Dr. Vino will gladly accept. Like Dr. Vino, Parker does not object to his staffers taking government sponsored free trips and accepting hotels and meals. In fact, Jay Miller and Dr. Vino can now share the same flights, no ethical concern needed.

    I’m deeply disappointed in Parker’s new statement. Parker runs the Wine Advocate and determines the policy there. If anything, he should demand the same level of honesty and accountability of his staffers as what he himself practices. He owns and publishes The Wine Advocate and he is the person who sets policies.

    The web now allows the Dr. Vinos and everyone else to self-publish their “wine criticism” for free. If Parker expects to stay on top of the game with a product that costs money and which seems quite successful, he is obligated to have a higher standard. He can sneer about bloggers all he likes, but not if his editorial policies sink to the same level.

    Blogs like this blog are a form of self-publishing freelance journalism. In the old days, when there were editors, there was fact checking and editorial vigilance. All this is gone with the web, but Parker has to keep it on a higher level to continue.

    Tanzer stays clean, so why can’t Parker?


  3. Joe

    We almost agree.

    I have been asking for the very things you mention for nearly two months now.

    Full disclosure and come clean. Thus far, neither has really been done.

    Why would Parker not see the chance to come clean in the WSJ? Where millions of people would read it? he could look like a hero. Instead he refuses to comment, and brushes it under the carpet on the Squires board, where he mentions getting a dog and tells everyone that they are all liars here.

    I cannot wait to see the next reference to terrorists.


  4. Daniel:

    It’s not Watergate and the question is not exposing Parker and his crimes against humanity.

    Parker has now stated his policy. What else do you want him to “expose.”

    The more important question is whether or not it is ethical to accept junkets. I agree with much of what Parker writes about the grey areas eating together, friendships, etc.) If Jay Miller wants to move in with Dan Phillips, that’s fine with me.

    The more important question is that junkets have to be avoided if wine writers are going to be taken seriously. Finance a trip and accommodations and you are stuffing money into the pockets of a journalist. When the journalist accepts the money, they are accepting a compromised relationship with the region or producers they are writing about.


  5. Joe

    Nothing really. He came up with an ethics statement. Here is the summary…

    My ‘independent contractors’ that write on categories that are less important, can do however they please, because I cannot control their actions, nor do I wish to pay for their trips to these unimportant wine regions that they cover.

    I am okay with that. I just hope that his paying subscribers read it as well. For 30 years, he has put himself on a pedestal. When he hired these ‘independent contractors,’ he should have told the thousands of people that pay for his service that policies have changed.

    He still claims that they taste for official reviewing purposes blindly at times.

    That is biggest ‘lie’ thus far. Squires even says that he does not believe in blind tasting.


  6. The Wall Street Journal has missed the mark on two accounts. This issue of ethics is a matter to be settled between wine enthusiasts and Mr. Parker. Wine Advocate stock is not traded publicly and even thought the Wine Advocate makes markets, it is a business that needs to be governed by Parker with his own future influence in mind. Wine enthusiasts can vote with their subscription dollars. The article misses the real Wine Advocate challenge. Secondly, the WSJ should be covering the challenges that financial engineering has created for the wine industry and enthusiasts. See WineZag post http://winezag.wordpress.com/2009/05/26/wsj-misses-in-coverage-of-wine-advocate-and-industry-problems/ covering this issue.


  7. C’mon Daniel:

    Parker never wrote:

    “My ‘independent contractors’ that write on categories that are less important, can do however they please, because I cannot control their actions, nor do I wish to pay for their trips to these unimportant wine regions that they cover.”

    That may be the correct interpretation but it is not what the man wrote. Please, a little accuracy.

    Why are you ok with paid junkets and obsessed with blind tasting? As an importer who tastes far less than Parker and gang, let me assure you it would be logistically impossible to taste everything I taste during the course of the year in blind tastings.

    Furthermore, I don’t hold to the immaculate conception of wine, that every bottle of wine is created equal and only a blind tasting is accurate.

    I have had DRC wines I did not like and DRC wines I loved. The fact that the label was from DRC did not really influence me. In fact, it largely informed me.

    Tasting a young Raveneau and knowing how it can evolve is also informative. Some vigneron’s machine harvested Chablis done at enormous yields with aromatic yeasts and enzymes may be more attractive six months after the bottling than Raveneau. Some prior knowledge about the two producers is always helpful.

    If people enjoy blind tasting, good for them! But it is silly to obsess about the format for tasting.


  8. Joe

    Blind tasting is important if you cannot put aside your personal life from your business life. When your best friend is a wine importer, I think it is inappropriate to review the man’s portfolio in a non blind format, especially when you praise him as the greatest thing to happen to Aussie wines since Shiraz was planted.

    As for my interpretation, it was meant as my interpretation, and I, too, as you, believe it to be correct.

    I am not all about blind tasting, I am about disclosure. Adam Japko does not think that a non publicly traded company ought to be scrutinized in the WSJ. I disagree. Subscribers will ultimately decide, however, they should be given all of the facts first.


  9. Adam Japko: If Parker’s scores were viewed, discussed and used only within the cocoon of his Wine Advocate subscriber world, your point would make sense. However, we all know that Wine Advocate scores are in play well beyond his little world. What’s worse — and what makes the revelations about Squires and Miller even more important — is the fact that Wine Advocate scores are routinely, MISTAKENLY nearly always attributed blanketly to Robert Parker. Check out wine.com. Scores for Italian wines, German wines, South American wines, Australian wines, etc. are ALL attributed as RP. THe fact that they are credited to Parker himself but are in fact generated by individuals whose personal standards (both in the acceptance of perks and the deovtion to blind tasting) are substantively different than RP’s makes this a very important exposure indeed.

    THis topic is not going away. Indeed, I expect it to bring greater scrutiny to critics and their scores in general. The sense of standardization the stems from the common use of a 100-point scale is a complete canard. THe differences among the raters are huge, important, and likely to draw attention to the overal UNreliability of ratings as a gauge of wine quality. Numbers are no more or less than an expression of individual critics’ standards and preferences; people will see through that in a Napa minute once the reality behind the ratings gains attention.


  10. Just for the record, this is not a direct quote, but an “interpretation” from me, sorry for the confusion.

    “My ‘independent contractors’ that write on categories that are less important, can do however they please, because I cannot control their actions, nor do I wish to pay for their trips to these unimportant wine regions that they cover.”


  11. It is one thing for an importer like Joe Dressner to taste wines with the label showing. He is going to buy or not buy those wines for his own account and if he makes a mistake, he is on the hook for it. When Jay Miller rates 90 wines from Dan Phillips at an average of 92 points, the consuming public is on the hook for it.

    As to Steve Tanzer, he tastes wines at wineries not blind. He may also have been sponsored to go to Argentina, but since I am not an investigative reporter, I do not remember the details so much as noting that he did go down to Argentina and get special treatment.

    And, as a wine writer who has also gone to Argentina on a sponsored trip, I have no objection to sponsored trips if they are working trips and if the wines subsequently reviewed are tasted blind in an indepedent setting or even if the writer comes clean on the circumstances.

    In the final analysis, it is about the validity of the recommendations first, and it is also, in the Wine Advocate situation, about the publication essentially saying one thing and doing another.

    On another front, I would love to examine the reasons why a qualified taster to whom folks pay good money for opinioins should need to see the label to tell the difference between a Raveneau and a cheap Chablis, because, frankly, if he or she cannot on a regular basis, then that person is in the wrong business. My mother could write wine opinions if she could see all the labels while tasting. She would not even need to have any familiarity with what she was tasting. She could just read all that has gone before and predict the results fairly accurately.


  12. Well said, Charlie, on all accounts.


  13. I like how Parker included the ethical statement in a bulletin board post in which he praises veterans, touts a Chateauneuf, and mentions that he has a new dog. Seriously.
    http://dat.erobertparker.com/bboard/showthread.php?t=202863

    Clearly, ethics rank on par with new puppies. They’re both cute, and piss on the rug. (huh!?)

    Dan Posner: hahaha re: waiting for the next reference to terrorists. I’m looking forward to the next outburst.

    Why wouldn’t anyone in the Wine Advocate camp respond to the WSJ on this? Seriously. They would have been well-served with a gracious response, but their silence just feeds the journalistic belief that there’s a story here. “It’s not the crime, it’s the coverup.” Or something.


  14. Tish,

    Completely get your comment on the Advocate fishbowl vs. the global wine market. It is a 50,000 person fishbowl of enthusiasts with higher than average awareness. So those that know better and understand the prestated code of ethics and multiple reviewer developments can proceed with cautions and navigate for themselves. Those that just see the scores on wine shelves and ads that don’t know WA from WS or ST are no worse off than when Parker stood alone.

    I


  15. That wine writers must by necessity (limited budget) take the goodies offered by the entities they are reviewing does not dismiss the ethical issue. Even if disclosure occurs it puts the person doing the critiquing in a conflict of interest situation.

    All sorts of consumer (and professional) product and service providers seek to gain the favor of those who can help or hurt the merchandizing of their widgets. Look at what’s going on in the contretemps between Big Pharma and Big Medicine (the grandest tasting I ever went to was held on all the floors of the Galleria in SF with tables staffed by our most illustrious vintners–all paid for by Wyeth for group of docs in town for their annual convention; now that’s all over).

    This is why we have Consumer Reports which has such a large readership.

    It’s also why sites like RottenTomatoes.com and Yelp.com–though there was some hanky panky there with hosted dinners–are so appealing. Any individual preferential treatment gets diluted by the large number of other assessments.

    The same logic holds for sites like CellarTracker and Snooth where no reviewer, who might have a golfing buddy who is a winemaker, can dominate.

    In short, the only way to really eliminate conflict of interest, whether real or perceived, is to rely on a group of enthusiasts. Either that, or work for a publication like the NY Times or the Wall Street Journal that picks up the tab for their critics.


  16. So Mr. Miller, after a trip to a continent that dare not speak its name (Ba-a-a-a-a-a!) proceeded to give the wines of the importer who hosted him an average score of 92, which seems rather high if you include the specimens of raisin soup unsaid continent is famous for. This wouldn’t be notable, except for the fact that Mr. Parker burst upon the scene in high dudgeon against the wine critics of the day, who he accused of being a pack of sticky-fingered shills. When he started a winery in Oregon with his brother-in-law, he solemnly promised never to review his own wines (such forbearance) but then proceeded to use the mailing list he had acquired as a critic to offer the wines to his subscribers; rather like Consumer Reports offering its own toasters; an apt metaphor given the level of new oak in the wines.


  17. For me, it is not the fact that they accepted the free trips but the fact that they are trying to obfuscate the facts and pretend that wine bloggers have some sort of vendetta. All we ask is for transparency.
    cheers
    Amy


  18. Mydailywine:

    So you want transparent unethical behavior?


  19. Joe

    What do you want?

    I want honesty, period.

    If Parker and TWA has no problem in what they have been doing, just be upfront and honest about it. Let the subscribers decide.

    Even on the Squires board, a place where people suck up as a part time job, the reaction is fairly harsh.

    Imagine the mainstream reaction.


  20. I knew about the imminent publishing of this article, and so did Mr Parker, hence the rather poor response on his board (non-subscription area). Strange that, as he may have many fewer subscriptions in the future. I have had huge respect for him and his ethical position over the years. Squires has undermined that hugely. Even today, he has defended his freebies and said that the thread about this subject will soon be shut down. Most of my UK friends have cancelled all their Parker subscriptions (paper and online) because of Squires. What is he on if he thinks he can cover up for his master by closing this particular thread. Too late, matie.

    Good for the Wall St Journal. Not fair in a lot of ways on Parker, but many truths there.


  21. Daniel:

    What I would like is for wine journalists and critics to have the same code of ethics that any good journalist would have. What makes a good journalist good is not that they expose all their corruption to their readers, but that they stay financially independent from their stories.

    I’m just an old fashioned guy.

    Is that too much to ask?

    Our wines get good press from various sources without us bribing anybody. It doesn’t seem so difficult.

    The “emerging region” qualifying for bribes is a bogus argument and classically corrupt. Basically, you’re saying that the region needs the press more than the press needs you and if you want coverage you’ll have to pay for us.

    Besides the obvious arrogance, there is no reason why the ethical standards for Bordeaux are any different than the ethical standards for Israel, Argentina or anywhere else.

    Furthermore, coverage of these areas can be a selling point for all the newsletters that still require a subscription — you get expanded and unbiased coverage that a free blogger cannot give you.

    Again, I hope Parker reconsiders and keeps Miller and Squires to the same standards he holds for himself and his staffers writing about Europe.


  22. Joe

    I agree with you, for the most part, again.

    The problem here is that for the same standards to be set forth for each critic, it would cost Parker mucho dinero, something that, as evidenced since this story unfolded 2 months ago, he is steadfast against.

    In the interim, I think full disclosure is in order.


  23. Fascinating on the Squires board threat on this subject.

    Closed now. Discussion on Parker’s own BB has been terminated by one of the two people accused of transgressing moral guidelines. Touche…. Nothing changes, and failed lawyers yet again can’t win arguments, by er, actually arguing their case.

    “There have been some jaw dropping comments made in this thread.

    In any event, you guys can disagree or not. I think it is important that lesser regions be covered and, be covered competently. And no magazine that purports to give serious wine advice can afford to ignore places like Portugal, Greece and Israel. Anyone who thinks those regions aren’t making wines worth paying attention–well, you haven’t been paying attention. This is the answer as to how to do it at the moment.

    If you don’t like this that is up to you. I hope you are equally bothered by any number of other issues, many of which dwarf this by any rational measure. Be that as it may, there was one person in this thread who made a comment about buying integrity. You want to talk about appearance issues–fine. Don’t confuse that with actual breaches of integrity. I’ve bent over backwards to be honest and I won’t take defamation lightly.

    Now, this thread is virtually a carbon copy of the one we just finished a few weeks back. It is time to move on, to stop flogging the same horse. I think we’ve had a good discussion(s). It shouldn’t go around in circles forever.”

    Pathetic.


  24. Daniel:

    I just did a Kayak search.

    A New York round trip flight to Athens would cost $590.00 on a non-stop flight in early September.

    A New York round trip flight to Paris would cost $613.00.

    Hotels are no doubt cheap in the Greek countryside.

    Israel is about $1,000.00!

    The sums being talked about are not astronomical.


  25. Yes Joe, and I posted that I spent 4 days in Mendoza in October and spent peanuts.

    How did they blow through $25,000 on a trip to Australia for Dr. J?

    I can only imagine what the strip clubs down under are like ;)


  26. Kidding about the strip clubs!


  27. @Daniel Posner and mydailywine, Bravo. Honesty is exactly what we need here. I’m an adult. If I have information, I can judge for myself whether or not a writer is yanking my chain.

    @Joe Dressner, A few weeks ago, when you were on a tear, posting about how anyone who ever took a free sip of wine was effectively bribed by the person offering the freebie, I wrote:
    “Unless you are independently wealthy, and can buy all the wine in the world, or have the financial backing of a huge corporation, there’s no way to taste wines or learn about wines without the help of others. Maintaining your independence is tough, but that’s why policies and disclosure are so important.” I stand by that. I think Parker has taken some steps forward by posting his policies, and laying to rest the notion that everyone at the Wine Advocate is a wine-sipping monk. His staff wasn’t following his own policies earlier, while he hypocritically hurled verbal abuse at all those who questioned him and his standards. Now, he has revised those standards. But *your* standards remain sky-high, and you continue to flog the “everyone who drinks free wine or goes on educational trips is a crook” line. You apparently want to ensure that no one but the richest of the rich, or those backed by a (dying) corporate publishing apparatus have access to the information about wine. How very elitist — and simultaneously simplistic.

    Take Eric Asimov of the NY Times — Do you believe that Eric Asimov is an unethical cretin, on the take? By your measure, he would seem to be, since he participated in a trade group-sponsored tasting, according to a recent blog post:
    “Old-fashioned, well-aged Rioja is a beautiful thing. This was reinforced for me at a recent seminar on gran reserva Riojas put on here in New York by a Rioja trade group, which offered a rare opportunity to taste recent vintages of gran reserva along with wines 15 to 45 years old.”
    http://thepour.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/05/22/spaniards-of-a-certain-age/

    I’m not accusing Asimov of anything wrong. Quite the contrary. Good on him for tasting these wines, even if they’re served by a commercial enterprise. He *should* be going to tastings, learning, and becoming a better critic. That’s not unethical. It’s categorically imperative.


  28. Dear Estaban No Last Name:

    I have to objection to samples. I don’t see any need for blind tastings. I don’t care if Miller tastes with importers or doesn’t. I am an importer and routinely run tastings and occassionally send out samples.

    I do not offer money to writers to go our growers. I don’t think an honest writer who wants to develop an independent reputations will stuff their pocket with money from importers, producers, trade groups, or governments.

    The Assimov example is ridiculous. Did the Rioja association pay Eric’s way to go to Rioja and put him up in hotels and pay for all his meals?

    I don’t think so. Furthermore, he would be in big trouble with his editor and publisher if he did so.

    I never wrote that anyone who took a free sip of wine was on the take. You apparently misunderstood me. When I offer to pay for a Wine Spectator or Wine Advocate writer to come to the Loire with me, all expenses paid by our company, that would be something else.

    I think we have pretty much discussed everything here and we are now beginning to go in circles.

    We’re going to be locking this thread now.


  29. Joe, for a man who’s obsessed with my last name, you sure have a nice way of misspelling Eric Asimov’s.

    Look, I don’t know the intricacies of NYT policy, but thanks to a quick Google search, I’m reminded that you yourself have claimed that Asimov never took anything for free. That standard was too high when you set it, and Asimov has now failed your test, too. You keep shifting the goalposts of what “journalism” is supposed to be, based on your self-proclaimed expertise in the matter.

    Yes, we’re going in circles. Because you keep beating that same, tired drum, and I feel compelled to offer counterpoint. Truce?


  30. Let’s move on.

    I’ve now locked this thread.


  31. So what proportion of the Squires Bored do people reckon saw this before it was closed? And what proportion of the Squeers Bored saw the WSJ article and wondered about the truth therein? And What proportion of Parker Board subscribers spotted that one of the two Parker employees damned in that article as not following the original Parker ethics closed the one thread there which discussed it, and defended his paid trips?


  32. Just spotted how many people accessed this. Over 5,000 in less than 8 hours. Then it was “locked” (i.e. censored). Interesting.


  33. 5000 views and Squires said it was old news. I am sure the decision to close the thread came from someone beyond him. He could not even delete anyone’s posts there because they were all clean. And yet he threatened a lawsuit.


  34. Please, lets move on.

    This thread is now locked.


  35. I disagree Dan. Squeers takes these decisions himself. He has taken many such decisions to close threads or delete posts on his own “authority”, and those decisions have damaged the Parker product, as has this decision.

    It was certainly not in Parker’s interests to close this thread, but purely in Squires’


  36. Hahaha… Thanks for the laugh, Joe! :)


  37. Esteban:

    Take it to e-mail.

    This thread is officially over.


  38. Let’s see if Squires dares to post here again on this subject now!!!


  39. Nigel:

    Squires was banned here already.

    Let’s move on.


  40. …Talk about going in circles… thread-closing joke was funny the first time, Joe… though not as funny as “Assimov”!…

    please enjoy my parkeresque ellipses…


  41. Joe–

    You may lock out Squires, but you have not locked out yourself. You said that your wines get good press from several sources without bribing anybody. Care to name these sources? Does Parker or Tanzer or WS or WE review your wines? If so, how did they acquire them?

    And if you are new to the market, and not Joe Dressner or Therry Theise, are you supposed to sit by idly and hope that somebody discovers you? You are by your actions a capitalist of some sort, yet you rail against wineries and regions that would promote themselves by any other method than large commercial tastings.

    Yet, you decry blind tasting which is one of the best assurances of independent judgment. OK, I can accept that as yor opinion even though I believe that your comments about needing to taste Raveneau with the labels showing in order to know what you are doing is 100% wrong.


  42. Dear Mr. Olken:

    Every time I write a reply it is deleted! Please contact me by e-mail to continue this discussion.


  43. @ Joe – Squires has not been banned here. Nor have I ever deleted one of your comments. Please, don’t make any more factually inaccurate statements. And please stop hounding other commenters here about this thread being closed, which is also not true.


  44. […] it, and check out blog entries from Dr. Vino and Wine Enthusiast columnist Steve […]


  45. […] viaggi spesati da aziende vinicole o simili forme di ospitalità. Ecco perché ha destato qualche scandalo, tanto da finire sul Wall Street Journal, la scoperta di due collaboratori della newsletter […]


  46. Is Mr Miller still a “contributor” in Dr R. Parker Jr. team at The Wine Advocate?


  47. And Ethics?
    And Common Sense?
    If Mr. Miller was paid 25,000 to trip to Australia before his visit to Chile and Argentina, why is Argentina taking all the blaming and Dr Parker said that Mr Miller would not longer take such tours to Argentina?
    Only Argentina…?


  48. […] habe die Reisen genehmigt, verteidigte sich Squires. Jetzt werden die Reisen aller Parker-Autoren von den Kritikern unter die Lupe genommen, die schon immer Parkers Unabhängigkeit in Zweifel […]


  49. SAM – I don’t believe Miller was “paid” money to go, but rather his trip was paid for… airfares etc.

    BTW, I don’t believe any of these trade organizations (Argentina, Spain, Chile, Australia) have done anything wrong. It is common to offer trips to journalists, the issue here is an apparent breach, by TWA, of stated ethics of not accepting trips.


  50. Tyler, you’ve been gaining some spirited debate on your comment threads as of late. I suppose rightly so, these kind of topics can’t help but flare passions–especially when big names are involved. The biggest issue people seem to have is that information was withheld from their judgement. One commenter pointed out how if a policy shift occurred they would have been fine with it were it mentioned directly to readers. When it comes to a situation like this, it’s not worth making a big deal out of it. An apology to those offended and a step forward in the direction they wished for is all it takes.


  51. Who says Parker himself doesn’t have a problem? Anybody else remember his admissions on Prodigy of the free ride from the Jadot firm to attend the Hospices de Beaune auction? How about the fact he bought a barrel and hired Jadot to finish the barrel for his adopted daughter? And the fact he later tasted their new wines unblind and (what a surprise) loved them?


  52. The Wine Advocate would appear to be conducting a classic illustration of self-destruction through poor branding strategy.

    Any successful brand must communicate a level of quality that is consistent – not necessarily high – just consistent. Consumers, for example, want to know that the McDonald’s french fries they are pondering today will be like the ones they had last month. This brand guarantee of consistency reduces consumers’ “search costs” to find the quality they want in products and services.

    Unfortunately, when it comes to the service of providing wine reviews the “Wine Advocate” and “Robert Parker” brands now convey no consistency – in palate or ethics. As others have pointed out, wine retailers often refer to the Advocate’s ratings as “Robert Parker” ratings whether or not they reflect the tastes of that individual. Fortunately, my own local retailer does indicate a “Jay Miller” number on the “Robert Parker” shelftalkers it posts.

    Just as damaging to consistency and the “Wine Advocate” brand, is the disclosure of varying ethical standards among “Wine Advocate” reviewers. When confronting a “Wine Advocate” rating and number, wine drinkers face higher search costs in determining the identity of the rater and the ethical standards under which that rater was working. The fact that this information may be publicly available is beside the point that the consumer must expend time and effort in searching for the information. If the consumer doesn’t incur those costs and simply relies upon “Wine Advocate” ratings as always reflecting the palate or ethics of Mr. Parker, the consumer will reasonably have less confidence in such ratings after learning the truth. In either case, the “Wine Advocate” brand is of diminished consumer value – a real shame for those of us who saw Mr. Parker as a hope for refreshingly candid, consumer-oriented information on wines.

    Inasmuch as Dr. Vino has frequently taught courses at the University of Chicago, it is only appropriate that “Chicago School” economic analyis illustrates why the once-promising, consumer-oriented “Wine Advocate” brand is now failing itself and consumers.


  53. @BoB Foster, say more about the Parker-Jadot connection… I, for one, have no idea what you’re talking about, and don’t see why attending an auction is controversial. I’m clearly missing something, but then again I’ve never attended a wine auction.


  54. Esteban,

    The Hospices de Beaune auction is in Burgundy, so the travel cost from Maryland is considerable, especially since the entire Burgundy world descends on the town that weekend for the auction and associated events, jacking up the cost of hotels.

    Also, tickets to the “Paulee de Meursault” are extremely hard to score, especially for Americans, so I can see why someone getting passes through the courtesy of a winemaker might have a reason to stay on their good side.

    (I’ve never heard the story about Jadot, though. The above is purely an answer to Estaban’s question as to why it might be controversial.)


  55. There is no allegation Jadot paid for the trip to France. Only that while on one of his trips Jadot hosted him as described.


  56. Thanks, Craig. I guess gaining access to the auction would be a perk, but that doesn’t seem to be such a big deal to me, in and of itself. Of course, it goes against the whole “keep the trade at arm’s length” mythology that Parker has written about himself. And that is the problem with Parker: It’s not the actions taken, it’s the hypocrisy.


  57. I’m told that it VERY expensive to attend the dinner/auction. It is not like some $25 ducat for a small local event.


  58. I am confused…a winery allegedly paid for a trip for Robert Parker to go to Burgundy, they had him stay at their domaine, etc etc etc…and some people will just brush it aside as a cost issue?

    If this is true, and I have no idea if it is, then it goes against the code of ethics and standards that he preaches…right?


  59. Craig,

    You mention cost is considerable from Maryland to Beaune? I have flown numerous times to France and been to Burgundy each of those times, I would hardly say the cost is considerable.

    Parker goes to the Rhone Valley and Bordeaux each year, unless Pegau is chartering a plane for him to go there, I hardly see any difference in costs to go to Burgundy.


  60. Oh, I was banned from the Parker site today, it would appear, unless I forgot my password after 7 years.


  61. Daniel-read carefully. No one said Jadot paid for the trip from Maryland to France. All they did was invite him to the auction.


  62. He was there on one of his own tasting trips (when he still used to go to Burgundy) The trip coincided with the auction. The key is the involvement with Jadot and then the unblind tasting


  63. Bob – Thanks for bringing this up. Most interesting.

    Daniel – That’s very unfortunate if you were banned, presumably for speaking to the WSJ.


  64. An absolute trainwreck.

    http://dat.erobertparker.com/bboard/showthread.php?t=203068


  65. From the link Dan Posner just provided above — Parker writes:

    This was not mentioned by the WSJ nor did you mention that I have also addressed all of these issues in a forthright, transparent and public manner on the eRobertParker.com Bulletin Board. They also did not report that I composed and publicly posted on eRobertParker.com the wine reviewer ethical standards that I will insist be adhered to from here on out.

    First off, if he’s so forthright, why the hell didn’t Parker simply answer the WSJ’s questions? Parker, Miller, Squires, et al., all refused to respond to WSJ inquiries, according to the article. Crying foul after having been given a chance to respond is childish.

    Second, Parker whines that the WSJ didn’t acknowledge the wine writer standards that create a two-tier system within his own shop. Maybe if he had answered journalists’ calls, he could have gotten a mention. But he only pointed to the existence of these “standards” (more like “double standards”) on the eve of the WSJ’s publication. When they went live is not clear, and they’re not exactly easy to find.

    Dan, I’m sorry to hear you got kicked off the site. Frankly, you’re probably better off. The censorship, defensiveness, and mutual admiration society on that board are sickening.


  66. http://dat.erobertparker.com/bboard/showthread.php?t=203068

    Indeed, Dan.

    No explanation why Squeers closed that thread, and if Parker approved the closure, he should be ashamed and any respect I have ever had for him (which was immense) has gone.

    If he didn’t approve it, Squires should be sacked immediately.


  67. […] Wall Street Journal? I know Jancis Robinson has written extensively about this issue recently, and Dr. Vino has played a big role in exposing some of the incidents that led to this becoming a hot topic, so […]


  68. Joe:

    I hope you have enjoyed the free publicity.


  69. Dan-welcome to the “I’ve been banned club.” They did it to me on Prodigy. They did it to TORB and now you. Parker and his sycophantws can tolerate disagreement. When it gets too hot they cut off the discussion or exile the poster.


  70. oops make that “can’t tolerate.” (I’ve got to learn to type)


  71. Nigel Williams,

    Your intentional misspelling of names and words is juvenile and undermines the points your are making.


  72. A look at the Squires shows that some are getting pretty angry at Posner’s banishment, while many others are praising RPs comments.

    I have no idea what Miller’s discipling was, but he should have been let go for this impropriety. We’ll never know the whole story.

    I think that the issue with WA/RP is more than just the Squires/Miller debacle.

    I think that the whole credibility of RPs stance as the comsumer’s advocate has been called into question. Not just by the recent articles and comments here, but in RPs release of his Bdx reviews during EP. As I’ve said he should not under any circumstances released his scores given his ability to move the market if he was looking out for the consumer.

    The only one’s, IMO, who benefitted were the Chateau owner’s who got better pricing than they should have. Which, IMO, were too high even with the price reduction.

    I’m not saying that RP was looking out for the owner’s, I think that with all the negative pre EP press and the overall lukewarm reception of the media critics that he was looking for another 1982, the year his reputation was made. We’ll find out later if he was right, but the result would not have changed had the scores/reviews been released 6 months or a year from now.

    The only difference would have been that the EP campaign would have amounted to much less than it was and perhaps this might have started atrend of price reversals which would have benefitted the consumer in the long run.

    His lack of commentary after visiting Bdx would have made a loud statement, much more so than in 2002 when he didn’t bother to go.

    To me this is the real shame, RP had a genuine opportunity to stand firmly with the consumer andlet it slip away.


  73. This is an interesting take on blogging ethics, and it’s pertinent to this discussion. Sort of…

    http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2009/05/28/conflict-of-interest-doesnt-apply-to-blogs-another-reason-newspapers-are-dead/


  74. I checked out the eBob thread today too, and clearly there is plenty of questioning still going on from within the ranks. The two main issues: whether RP was actually given proper time to speak to the WSJ article (he did; I spoke to the reporter as well after several days of RP’s silence had passed); and how/why Daniel Posner was banned from the boards.

    What was once murky (the trips) is now not so murky; Parker says he took care of that, and I’m happy to leave it at that. But RP’s lack of sensitivity to the entire situation has gotten worse. Now that he/Squires have axed a major critic from within the eBob community, he has moved from tone deaf to draconian.


  75. What amazes me about Parker’s post/letter to the WSJ is his claim of gratitude that the Miller situation was brought to his attention, thereby allowing him to fix it. What a liar! What about his ranting posts on his board attacking all those with the audacity to make “false claims” about the ethics of his contractors. he ranted on about the corrupt blogosphere. He locked down threads. He was anything but grateful that the transgressions of his policy were brought to light. Gimme a break. The guy got caught with his pants down. Period. He fought back viciously on his own board (his turf), and only showed some contrition once the issue went mainstream on the WSJ.


  76. I spoke with the WSJ reporter for almost an hour and a half. A lot of our conversation had to do with the roles of the different forms of wine publications (slick paper with adverts vs. subscription only newsletter without), the standards that existed at the time Parker (and I) got into wine writing and how those standards have changed over time.

    I found the reporter to be open, fair and interested in learning. Nothing I said made the WSJ print but some of the ideas did in the sense that they seconded things that Daniel Posner and Tish and presumably Steve Heimoff also told the reporter.

    I felt that he was fishing very hard for a story, and I warned him that he might not ever find more than was known at the time. Apparently he did not, and he wrote what I believe was a very tame article.

    Why Parker never responded to him directly is probably related to the very reasons why Parker has handled the rest of this issue so poorly. Regardless of how good his nose is, he apparently has a tin ear when it comes to hearing what people are saying.

    What confuses me, however, is that there are still practices with WA and other reviewers that have yet to called into view. Not so much to spank anyone, but rather to ask that they stop, if that is what folks want, or at the very least, to have them noted for the sake of transparency.

    I see folks now being upset over Parker’s unblinded reviews of Jadot wines. Good, it is about time that this practice of unblind reviews at wineries where you play with the owner (please, I did not mean it that way–honestly) was called into question.

    The Parker/Clape/Kermit Lynch bachannal with old wines from the cellar that no one could get ahold of followed by reviews of the wines has been publicly known. So is Parker’s (and Tanzer’s) unblinded tastings at wineries in California. You don’ think that Screaming Eagle and Harlan and Bond and Littoria and Rochioli and Kistler are shipping boxes of their precious goods across the country to those guys, do you?

    The questions that are unanswered by this long serious of posts have to do with standards going forward. It is time to address those issues.


  77. Tyler:

    Now that Parker has revised his ethical standards, will you now criticize him for being too extreme? He has ruled out all paid junkets, something you have no problem accepting.

    Certainly, Parker/Squires/Miller have handled this with horrible arrogance. Tyler, I suppose should be credited with this “exposé” although I think you threw in the kitchen sink and went too far and were too short of facts at first. Be that as it may, you certainly started this whole affair and got public exposure. Given Parker’s initial refusal to be accountable, I suppose throwing out a lot of charges was the only way this could possibly have played out.

    So, please let us know your final thoughts. Are the final Parker standards to strict for wine journalists?


  78. Joe–

    A couple of points. He has not ruled out junkets paid for by others. He won’t let a producer pay for it but he will let a non-aligned organization pay for it. You have strongly come out against all such trips. Do you now find them acceptable?

    Parker has seemingly ruled out most meals with producers. Yet, we know from his past stories and from Kermit Lynch’s accounts that these guys are friends, fellow musicians and have stayed up late with good wine made by good producers in the Rhone eating, drinking, hanging out and having great fun with one another. Are we now to believe that Parker and his posse will no longer hang out with their friends.

    The other day you left a message here for me to contact you by email since you had ostensibly been banned from this board. You left no email address so I went to your blog site and tried to register. I have yet to hear from you in two days. Care to try again?

    Finally, I asked you a direct question about how your wines received favorable reviews in print (from whom and how the wines were acquired). I am asking you those questions again as a way of shedding further light on the whole issue of how the wine review community should act.

    Respectfully submitted,
    Charlie Olken


  79. Dear Mr. Olken:

    My e-mail is captaintumorman@gmail.com

    Parker wrote in his letter to the WSJ:

    “As for Mark Squires, I gave him pre-approval to take government (not industry) sponsored tips to Israel, Greece, and Portugal, all wine regions I call “emerging” and that are not covered in depth in my publications. He has been allowed three trips to visit these viticultural regions. However, I have decided that this has to be discontinued as well even if it means sacrificing coverage in these areas. All of this was a useful review of my ethics and standards, but all of it was resolved a month ago when Jay’s conduct came to my attention. ”

    That seems pretty clear.

    Parker/Squires/Miller have done everything they can to avoid accountability and have acted in a heavy-handed manner that borders on the comical. They’re awfully think skinned for wine critics.

    So, Parker now has a stronger ethics policy than Jay. Does Jay find that policy too strong?

    I don’t see being a wine critic as a monastic or scientific calling. I don’t care who their friends are, who they eat with, etc. I only care that they pay their bills.

    The question of blind tasting is ridiculous to me. I am actually against blind tastings, but that’s another discussion. As academic exercises and parlour games they can be interesting, but a good taster, let alone, critic, is only helped by informational background. Its an academic argument quite separate from all the other discussions.

    How do our wines get to the critics? They ask for them. We don’t send wines to anyone, critics have to request them. If they do, we decide if it is interesting for us to get involved. Samples cost us money.

    Additionally, several critics visit our growers abroad and taste at our growers or at grouped tastings. They make these arrangements through us or on their own.

    I’ve never vacationed with anyone or bribed anyone or bought them dinner. Furthermore, I have a rather unappealing character and no one really wants to spend time with me. Understandably.

    So, how come we have access to critics and Joe Blow Imports does not. There’s a real world out there and we have been doing this for 20 years. It is only recently we have received a great deal of press and we would think it has something to do with our reputation and the quality of our vignerons. We worked hard.

    Furthermore, we rejected the Bernie Madoff scheming of many of our colleagues who went off to foreign lands looking for gobly extracted wines to score points and put them in the big money.

    Even when we get good reviews we make no effort to publicize the reviews. We want our customers to buy and sell our wines because they like the wines, not because they have a Madoffesque scheme to get rich off points.

    We have great professional respect for some of the people we give samples too and think little of others. We do make the samples available to a wide enough range of writers to appear cooperative. It is a compromise.

    Selling and marketing wine is rather distasteful and invariably involves us in something resembling commodity trading. My only regret is that we have too much wine to sell and cannot just drink it on our own and sell to one or two retailers. This way we could avoid all this mess and lots of expenses. But we are in business to work with our vignerons and to make sure a way of life in the European vineyards can continue. We have to sell.

    I have not seen Mr. Olken’s journal for several years. Frankly, the name itself is an oxymoron for me. The last time I looked at your journal, you liked a large range of wines I find undrinkable. I don’t care if you tasted them blind, on a trade junket, at home, on a luxury yacht steered by a ex-Vice President Chaney, or on a bribe. We don’t have the same taste and the process by which you come to your conclusions has no real interest to me.

    Joe Dressner


  80. Joe–

    The name of my rag is Connoisseurs’ Guide To California Wine. You could learn from my late hero, Tip O”Neill who once said, “I don’t care what you say about me so long as you spell me name right”. Could you not have at least done that?

    And if I am ever on a yacht steered by Dick Cheney, I am likely not to get back to shore in one piece. Please don’t send me there.

    Maybe on some other day, we can debate the merits of blind tasting and whether any critic worth his salt should not have to see the label to tell the difference between a Raveneau and a cheap Chablis.

    Charlie


  81. As far as I know, Tanzer pays his own way on wine trips. In the case of his Argentina trip, he was invited by the Club del Vino, an Argentine wine club with more than 15.000 subscribers, to be one of three international judges in a week-long competition featuring Argentina’s top wines, which the judges tasted blind. He took the opportunity of his trip to Buenos Aires to travel to Mendoza for a few days of winery visits and group tastings and paid for this trip out of his own pocket. I’m not aware of any special treatment he received while tasting in Mendoza. Saying someone “may have” gone on a sponsored trip is an irresponsible charge to make in a public forum, especially when it turns out to be misleading.


  82. Victor–

    Let’s be clear. “Someone” did not say it. I said it.

    And let’s be further clear. I also said at least five times now that I don’t care and that I also went to Argentina on a sponsored trip.

    Steve, with whom I share an internet platform at WineAccess, by the way, took a trip to Argentina. I have no axe to grind on that score. The comment was not untrue.

    I do not know, nor care, whether Steve or anyone else goes on trips so long as that person does not review wines tasted with labels open and the winemaker present. I have no idea if he did that or not in Argentina. I have been told point blank that he does it here in California and that I could do the same thing.

    I declined because I do not think it is the way to produce independent, unbiased reviews. You can differ with me on methodology–and you won’t be the first, but let’s be clear about this. I support the usefulness of visits to other places for learning purposes. Full stop.


  83. Charlie:

    Can I contact you directly? Or please contact me at victorhonore@yahoo.com

    Tks. Victor


  84. […] financed by wine producers, have finally been reported by the mainstream media in a recent Wall Street Journal […]


  85. […] Regulates the Bloggers?” Blue starts by coming to defense of Robert Parker with respect to the recent brouhaha that Tyler’s article drummed up on his Dr. Vino wine blog. You might recall that Tyler uncovered what appeared to be very inconsistent behavior by some of […]


  86. Tyler:

    With recent events involving Jay Miller, it appears that you were ahead of your time when you raised questions about Wine Advocate’s code of ethics a few months ago.

    I hope Dave Kesmodel writes up a follow up article on the WSJ to vindicate him from the attacks Parker wrote about him on his bulletin board.

    Joey


  87. […] about a wine tasted the previous evening, ‘I really enjoyed it, but I looked it up in Parker [one of the more powerful wine critics in the States, but also a big jerk where wine bloggers are […]


  88. […] alas Coleman, who has come by a “Parker head hunting” reputation honestly, declared proof of thesis in […]


  89. […] para “trabajo”) pagados por bodegas o grupos promotores de intereses vinícolas, en clara violación del código de ética establecido por Parker para su publicación, The Wine Advocate. ¿La respuesta de Parker a esto? Que el código ético aplica únicamente a él y […]


  90. […] that it reviews. Parker 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 […]


  91. […] about wine critics’ ethics in the past 12 months (a good starting point for the discussion is this post on Dr Vino’s blog) it has amazed me that a wine merchant (Vaynerchuk’s base is Wine […]


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