Did Robert Parker Just Fumble On The Goal Line? (The Wine Advocate Possibly Sold To Investors In Singapore)

While we can usually count on the wine world for providing news that can best be classified as odd-but-quickly-forgettable (Exhibit A: anybody remember the wine snob ghost??), the recent coverage of changes coming to Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate reads like an elaborate April Fool’s (except it’s coming in December, 2012).

According to The Wall Street Journal, uber-critic Parker – who has quite recently vehemently and publicly stated his desire not to retire – is in the process of selling his wine newsletter to a group of investors in Singapore.

Felix Salmon has an interesting and well-written take on the news, and he sums up the collective “what the hell?!??” reaction of the fine wine world to the possibility of TWA moving in a direction that seems the polar opposite of what most wine insiders believed would be the future of TWA (and that includes insiders I know personally, who have direct access to Parker – so include me firmly in the “what the hell?!??” camp).

It’s long been believed that Robert Parker, whenever he decided to retire, would hand-off TWA as-is (given that he grew it literally from nothing using his own impressive hustle), grooming heir apparent Antonio Galloni to eventually take control of TWA (and speculated that Galloni, once given the full reigns, might shake up the editorial staff).

But the news coming from the WSJ suggests a very different path for TWA than what was brewing in the collective fine wine hive mind. Here are some of the highlights, as reported by Salmon:

  • TWA will be sold to a group of Singapore-based investors (described by Parker as “visionaries”), who according to Salmon have “no experience either in wine or in publishing”
  • Parker will retain the title of Chairman, but will be turning over editorial control not to Galloni, but to TWA’s Singapore-based correspondent, Master of Wine Lisa Perrotti-Brown
  • The print version of TWA newsletter will be retired (despite the fact that it’s profitable), and [see comments - RMP has corrected this via his twitter feed] there will be a specific Southeast Asian edition added, “aimed at corporate clients like airlines and luxury hotels”
  • A new China-based corespondent will be hired, specifically to report on the nascent industry of wines produced in Asia
  • Advertising – long shunned by Parker and often used by him as criticism against the intentions of other wine review publications – will be accepted at the electronic edition of TWA.

“What the hell?!??”

While one could certainly forgive Parker for wanting to bow out of the game (especially given the recent negative press levied against former TWA critic Jay Miller), this move to sell TWA doesn’t really pass the surface-level glance common-sense test when compared to how staunchly Parker publicized, adhered to, and defended the aspects and policies he felt made TWA stand apart from other critical wine publications.

Certainly no one is losing a ton betting on the wine frenzy happening in Asia right now, but other than financially the move just doesn’t seem to add up. Salmon sums it up best, I think, when he states that “none of this seems like the action of a man who wants to preserve his legacy” – certainly it doesn’t seem like the kind of consistent move you’d have expected from the man, particularly after his recent induction into the Vintners Hall of Fame in Napa, at a time when his favorable legacy in the wine world seemed all but a lock.

“What the hell?!??”

Will this move tarnish the legacy? Has Parker fumbled the ball at the goal line?

Assuming the deal actually goes through, then only time will tell…


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