Thursday, December 13, 2012

So I lied... (or at least a change of heart)

Yesterday, I tweeted that I was abstaining from writing a blog post about Robert Parker, Jr.'s announcement regarding the changes taking place at the Wine Advocate. I had a change of heart. This seemingly game-changing news story has been so blown out of proportion that I figured I had to throw my two cents (and common sense) into the bloggers' ring of buffoonery. Yes, the way this announcement was handled could have been improved, but that seems to be Lettie Teague's fault (which comes back to Parker for personally selecting her to write the story). Aside from that, this news isn't really worthy of the massive attention it has received.

What we know is that Parker has sold (or is in the process) a stake (unknown amount) of ownership to three Asian investors. He is stepping away from the daily editorial and proofreading monotony he has endured for the past three and a half decades. Those fun-filled duties will now belong to Lisa Perotti-Brown, MW, who will head a new office in Singapore. Did the the wine world piss itself when Guy Woodward resigned as Editor of Decanter? No. So why does every wine writer need a diaper this week? There has also been mention of considering accepting non-wine related advertising. Big deal; every other publication accepts advertising. Other than that, no one (except those directly involved) know much more about this transaction. Does how much Parker made affect me in any way? Nope. My life will be about the same as it was last week. I am not doing this to support Parker; I don't subscribe to the Wine Advocate, I am not a supporter of the 100-pt system and I find some (not all) of his most highly rated wines unpleasant. I am simply trying to add some reason to the discourse that seems to have gotten off course.

This very well could be a huge deal that totally changes the landscape of the critical wine publications, but I very much doubt that outcome. Most likely, it is nothing more than Parker finding a way to expand and grow his brand. I spoke with Betsey Sobolewski, of the Wine Advocate, and she seemed to laugh off all of the speculation and misinformation that was making its way through the blogosphere and newspapers. She told me that they have seen an increase in subscriptions in the few days since the announcement. She also said that the Wine Advocate is interested in increasing the number of writers to expand their coverage of global wine regions; including but not limited to the Chinese wine industry. There was no mention of replacing current contributors, nor did I ask. She said their customers want to find out about more regions than Parker and his associates are able to cover in their current situation. Growing the brand is the only way to do just that.

The way I see this situation is that Parker probably sold a minor (or at least non-controlling) share of ownership to a group of digital media-savy Asian investors to have the capital and publishing expertise to grow his brand domestically and more importantly internationally. Do Americans actually care that their beloved American macrobrews aren't actually American owned any more? Nope. I do think that Asians (Chinese in particular and as an aside I did live in Japan for one year) would respect and trust an Asian owned publication more than one coming from some old white guy in his Baltimore suburb house. Parker is proud of the way and amount he has influenced the wine world. The past few years have seen many people announcing his irrelevancy. I think this is a way to show the world he still is Emperor and not slowly riding off into the sunset. Hell, every wine writer and his or her mother had to guess what the future holds for the Wine Advocate. Irrelevancy is the least of Parker's worries right now. This deal will allow him to reach a broader audience and cement his name as the number one critic in Asia. Parker needed to have a satellite office in Asia (and yes, I do believe that he still will be calling the shots from Monkton) to show the massive Asian market that he is focused on "advocating" for them. The still untapped market of Chinese wine drinkers is where the money and potential for his legacy lie in the coming years. Parker is ready to take control of both of those with this move.

He will maintain control and direction of the publication for the foreseeable future. He is freeing himself of the rigors of editing and proofreading thousands of tasting notes so that he can focus on covering his Bordeaux and Rhône beats. I think Parker sees the emergence of new wine regions as something that will require his attention. I think he will dip his toes into the wines of China, eastern Europe and even some of the other 47 states not named California, Oregon or Washington. Hell, about a decade ago he predicted that emergence of new regions would be one of the greatest attributes in the wine world by 2015. He has the power to make his own predictions come true.

So, I think that the Wine Advocate will look something more like the Wine Spectator in the coming years. I think ads will find their way on to the website and bulletin boards, but stay out of the print (and digital) versions of the actual publication. And when Parker says "pdf," I think he and his investors are thinking more of the subscription-based digital editions for Kindle and Nook rather than something that will easily be had by non-subscribers. I think there will be at least three new writers covering new and different wine regions and I bet Parker himself will write in-depth articles on new regions that have been ignored in the the past but now deserve his attention, and the consumers', attention. Much to his naysayers' chagrin, the Wine Advocate will actually grow and become even more influential in the years to come. The end is not in sight. Other than a little expansion, not much will change. Time to put your big boy and girl pants back on...

Oh, I reserve the right to be wrong...

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