The Culinary Institute of America recently announced its 2013 list of inductees for the Vintners Hall of Fame. Each year, a list of potential inductees is proposed and then voted on by a group of representatives within the wine media, who seek to induct “the men and women who have been responsible for the growth and world-wide prestige of the California wine industry.”
The 2013 list includes three fairly non-controversial names – farmworking pioneer Cesar Chavez, vintner Meredith “Merry” Edwards, and wine writer Frank Schoonmaker – along with one much more controversial name, one that will be stealing the spotlight, and will probably make the inductees and/or their families feel a bit like that dark-haired guy in the Dukes of Hazard (what was his name, again?): critic Robert M. Parker, Jr.
At this point in the world of wine, Parker is controversial no matter what the context, even despite the fact that he’s been pulling back on his wine review duties in The Wine Advocate and seems to be progressively handing over the reigns of the magazine to heir apparent staffer Antonio Galloni. It takes only a passing glance into one of his latest forays into the public eye to understand why; in a recent interview with Sommelier Journal, Parker dropped the gloves and used the Natural Wine movement as a punching bag.
And don’t get wine geeks started on the merits and pitfalls of rating wines with the 100 point system that was popularized by Parker – that one might get you into an actual fistfight depending on who you’re talking to…
Even if you loathe the 100 point scale, RMP deserves a place in the Vintners Hall of Fame as sure as anyone else who has their bust and names emblazoned in bronze in the Culinary Institute of America’s Barrel Room in St. Helena. Here are two reasons why.
Wine quality worldwide is higher than it’s ever been, due in no small part to the influence of Robert Parker.
There are a ton of good, affordable, clean, well-made wines available to consumers right now, and not just from California, either. Parker played a significant part in making that happen. How? He put wine producers to task. He ignored pedigree, history, and price, and decided to talk about exactly what was in the bottle – good or bad.
And people who rail against RMP and his 100 point rating scale now tend to forget that a ton of bad wine used to be made. Once he gained traction with retailers, distributors and collectors, Parker put those producers to task, and word was out on the street of the wine world: crappy wines were going to get called out.
The flip-side of this is that wines started to get made simply to please Parker’s palate, and that might have been partially responsible for a lot of the sameness and lack of character seen in a lot of wines at moderate price points these days. But blaming Parker for that is sort of like blaming George Lucas for all of the crappy, effects-laden sci-fi films that have been released since Star Wars. It’s not really his fault, people, and the good in this case far outweighs the bad (boring wine is going to get made anyway – at least now it has a minimum quality standard!).
Parker set the wine critic work ethic standard.
Did anyone work harder than Parker did when launching The Wine Advocate? It’s doubtful – in his heyday, the man’s stamina for packing in the stops and the amount of wines tasted at each when touring California (and other regions) is now legendary (for more detail on that, check out the excellent book The Emperor of Wine). That work ethic is now also deeply imbued within The Wine Advocate staffers, and is the standard against which all other wine critic work (and critical work in other fields, for that matter) is to be judged.
So don’t miss the forest for the trees, people – Parker earned that CIA bronze bas relief with blood, sweat, and a lot of swirling and spitting.