Yesterday, Robert Parker posted to his site that the Wine Advocate is suing their former critic Antonio Galloni. They charge him with misappropriation of confidential information, defamation and fraud among other things. Courthouse News has a summary and Jeff Leve has published the full text of the complait to his site.
At the crux of the complaint, the Wine Advocate alleges that Galloni went to Sonoma on their dime and as the critic. (Apparently there are other pending reviews involving Burgundy, Brunello and Barolo.) I posted a few weeks ago that I thought Galloni should turn over whatever he had at that point and to withhold notes was petty and unseemly. In something of a defense, some people said that because he was an independent contractor, he might have been paid only upon submission of the material. However, the complaint states that he was paid a salary of $25,000 a month (plus $5,840 a month for expenses) for his duties to deliver certain material. The complaint alleges that he had a “secret scheme” to visit wineries “throughout the world” while developing his own wine reviewing business. In that business, the complaint alleges he will be using their “proprietary 50-100 point grading scale” and was authorized only to do so for their publication.
Since Galloni’s own web site has still not launched, it seemed a hasty decision to jump ship. As I mentioned in the comments of my last post, when he went to the Times to announce his departure from the Wine Advocate in February, it read to me like a giant “will work for food or Barolo” notice of his availability on the job market rather than an announcement of his own project. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. But one thing is for sure: Parker & Co. are making Galloni’s life difficult. Galloni has yet to reply to the complaint.
As to the Wine Advocate, the new editor-in-chief noted on eBob that they will be taking on “3 new very talented reviewers.” She cited “varying notice periods” the writers had to give their current publications as the reason for the delay in announcing their identities.
When Antonio Galloni suddenly left the Wine Advocate last month, he took the unusual step of asserting that he owned the copyright to his reviews, particularly the as-yet-unpublished reviews of Sonoma 2011. He has now posted on his new web site a detailed, legalistic play-by-play in an effort to justify taking the reviews.
Yet the choice is crystal clear: let the Wine Advocate publish whatever reviews were done as of his departure. He presented himself as the Wine Advocate’s reviewer when conducting tastings in Sonoma and the wineries and Sonoma County Vintners treated him as such. Taking the reviews now seems petty, almost as if he doesn’t think his new site will have enough interesting content to attract readers. Adding “out of my deep respect for Bob” and “in the spirit of collaboration” in the posting only underscores how little respect he has for Parker and appears an unseemly effort to scrape whatever readers he can from the WA.
Moreover, Galloni has twice raised protecting “editorial independence” as a reason for quitting. While the Wine Advocate has grappled with reconciling its vaunted code of ethics with the actions of some contributors over recent years, it seems the heights of absurdity that Galloni brings this up at his moment of departure. After all, he’s the one who asked the same wineries that he reviewed in the WA to contribute wines to his $1,200/head Festa del Barolo event. The fact that he has yet to articulate an ethics statement for his own web site or say how the WA policy irked him undermine this justification for quitting abruptly.
Galloni told the SF Chronicle a couple of weeks ago, “I don’t want to be an employee.” Clearly, issues with the new regime at the WA are his reason for quitting. Fair enough. But why not just leave it at that, be magnanimous, and move on? Keep the discussion about Burgundy, not Ron Burgundy. Stay classy, San Diego!
Antonio Galloni has announced that he is leaving the Wine Advocate, where he assumed coverage of California and Burgundy less than two years ago. He also reviewed the wines of Champagne and Italy for the publication.
He told the NYT-Diner’s Journal blog that he will be starting his own internet venture though he didn’t specify exact plans and said he is still seeking investors. In the past, Robert Parker derided those writing on the internet as “blobbers.” Galloni may well have an offline presence since he has organized several events, including the “Festa del Barolo.”
Galloni mentioned that the recent sale of the Wine Advocate to investors from Singapore played a part in his decision. At that time, the new editor-in-chief, Lisa Perrotti-Brown, left the door open to current staff departures, telling the WSJ, “There is a plethora of good wine writers out there. It’s a buyer’s market.” So did Galloni jump before he was pushed? The Wine Advocate has all the transparency of a papal conclave–and perhaps just as much smoke! Either way, I wish him the best with his new venture.
The Diner’s Journal post did not comment on who would take over for his coverage areas the Wine Advocate. But does it matter? With Parker selling his stake overseas, his diminished presence at the publication, his downplaying Bordeaux ’11 and ’12, and now Galloni leaving, the publication seems to be at a low. The Ralph Nadir of wine criticism?
Ray Isle, Executive Wine Editor at Food & Wine, digs through the the magazine’s 35 years of archives to dig up predictions that Robert Parker made in their pages. Then he presents those (often inaccurate) predictions to Parker himself. What follows is lots of contrition, honesty and humility. Well, not exactly. Click through to check it all out.
I find the prediction about distributors disappearing to be the most disheartening–did Parker really think these multi-billion-dollar oligopolies would just roll over and die? His lack of leadership on the crucial and related issue of direct shipping has been particularly glaring. Without direct shipping from retailers and wineries, tens of millions of wine consumers across the country face higher prices or simply can’t get many wines. Had he used his bully pulpit and renown to champion this issue, it would have burnished his reputation as a consumer advocate, papering over some of the cracks caused by the polarizing styles of wine that he championed.
Over on wine-searcher, I have a 1,300-word Q&A with Howard Goldberg. Howard has been writing about wine since the mid-1980s and just edited a compendium of wine writing from the New York Times.
Howard has lots of provocative views on wine writing and more; I humbly subit that it’s worth checking out.
Try on this shelf-talker: “Just think of a scene in a movie where the lead actress, obviously one of the greats, turns around slowly and walks away from the camera taking your entire attention with her.” A Chambertin? A ’47 Cheval Blanc?
Actually, it’s for a cheese. The Times ran a piece last week on cheesemongers and their descriptors. Their often serve up one part metaphor, one part tasting note and often are funny without being overdone. Cheese sales has an advantage over wine sales since a cheesemonger can use the shelf-talker to provoke interest and the consumer has the chance to sample, immediately reconciling his or her palate with the description.
Wine tasting notes have evolved from metaphor to the explosion of aroma wheel fruit descriptors and beyond. Of course, the culmination of wine shelf-talkers is point scores, a fate we would not wish befall cheesemongers. That would be stinkier than a ripe epoisses.
Writing good tasting notes is hard to do. What do you think of cheese descriptors–accurate? Annoying? Enticing?