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Tuesday Tributes: Best of the Blogs
A Collective Sigh of Relief—And Then Reality Set In

By Charles Olken

On Saturday, Robert Parker stepped down. By Sunday, the collective sigh of relief was heard throughout the California wine industry. A half a dozen blogs, and those are the ones I know about, commented breathlessly. And then the worrying began. What will happen to California wine when Mr. Parker’s palate no longer dominates the landscape? Will the shift in wine styles that we talked about in this space yesterday be accelerated? Who is this new voice that Mr. Parker has anointed?

To get the answers to these and other questions, I went back to those several blogs and their near choral harmony of comments, and, in case you have not read them yet yourselves, they are featured below as the best of the blogs.

Jon Bonné, the San Francisco Chronicle wine editor, deserves mention for taking a moderate and thoughtful stance that sees first that the tea leaves have not settled and whose comments “What this means for California is a mixed deal — but ultimately I think it will mean very good things. Those awaiting the demise of big, hedonistic cult wines are probably out of luck. (Did you think Robert Parker would choose as his replacement someone who’d suddenly toss Bryant Family on the heap?)” rings so true for me that, in my mind, it trumps every other comment that I have read.

Still, consider the following—some of which are quite funny while others are outrageous and most are simply rank speculation.

In The Gray Market Report, Blake Gray had me in stitches with “My first thought on learning that Robert Parker will no longer review California wines was, what's Enologix going to do?”. For those who do not know, and why would anybody outside the industry know, Enologix is a consulting firm that claims to know the secrets to getting big scores based on wine color and other measure of saturation and extraction. If the new California reviewer for the Wine Advocate has a different palate than his master, Mr. Parker, does Enologix now have to change its model? Or are they simply out of business?

And consider this knee-slapper posted in the comments section of the Gray blog. A poster using the name Portland Charcuterie Project offers this conjecture, “No more 90+ point California Pinot Noirs... that's for sure.” Gee, I wonder what this guy has been tasting—or smoking. Obviously not the new Williams Selyem Pinots, that’s for sure. And maybe he is unaware that Jancis Robinson, the only winewriter in the world whose words carry a force nearly that of Mr. Parker, commented that the Russian River Pinots are the second best in the world after Burgundy. Sorry, Mr. PCP, but I rather think your comment is full of baloney, and not very good baloney at that.

Alder Yarrow, whose blog Vinography, throws very few brickbats, although his rants can be fun—just not frequent enough, thoughtfully commented, “Many will dismiss this event as non-news, and might suggest (with some degree of truth) that Parker has been fading in influence for some time. Watching the unraveling of the ParkTator critical hegemony in this country has been fascinating sport, and it's clear we're in the midst of very interesting times when it comes to American wine criticism.” OK, we are all getting older, and I have said several times in different forums (fora?) that folks like Parker, Laube, Olken, Heimoff are going to fade from the scene. We are all in our sixties, and while we have outlived Elvis, we cannot go on forever. But, frankly, I will be surprised if the important wine review vehicles lose their places any time soon. There is nothing to take their places at this point, and it may well turn out that the bylines on the reviews change but that the names of the vehicles do not.

I am a fan of William Allen’s blog, Simple Hedonisms, but it is hard to avoid the notion that he has allowed himself to get a bit too carried away with the following, “It is the dawn of a new wine era. I can hear the likes of Alice Feiring and Randall Grahm (and many more) breathing a sigh with a hope that the era of big, tannic, extracted, dark color wines will transform into a Renaissance of Old World style.” In the first place, the shift to a new paradigm is well under way. Read yesterday’s blog for an extended discussion of that notion. In the second, Parker not only liked big, bold wines, but he recently gave 97 points to a Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet that registered 13.2% alcohol. And finally, while I do not know Alice Feiring, but do think she has her own narrow view of wines and that her view will never be a dominant view, I do know Randall Grahm. Randall Grahm is a friend of mine. And Randall Grahm spends no time worrying about Robert Parker. Quite simply, he does not dance to other people’s drums.

This topic, the semi-retirement of Robert Parker will be with us for some time as we do what Jon Bonné has so perspicaciously suggested—watch the tea leaves settle.


The King Is Dead. Long Live The King
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:2/8/2011 11:11:28 AM

There are two suppositioins in the title. One is that the king is dead. That may not be at all true. Mr. Parker is simply pulling back from reviewing CA wine and some other parts of his domain. But he is still going to review Bordeaux, his greatest strength, and he is still in charge of his domain. The second is that his influence will now diminish measurably and not be replaced by his chosen replacement at the Wine Advocate--or indeed by anybody else.

Stuart George, the English blogger, tells us that the end of the world as we know it in wine journalism is upon us. The time of the blogger has arrived. If that is at all true, it is part of a process that was borne of the Internet, not of Mr. Parker's retirement. And, so far, it is not clear that any blogger has a paid audience to compare with even the most modest of the subscriber supported vehicles like the Spectator or the Enthusiast, let alone even like Connoisseurs' Guide, Dan Berger's Wine Experiences and Steve Tanzer.

by Ron Washam, HMW
Posted on:2/8/2011 1:01:18 PM

Charlie, I broke this story two years ago when I revealed that Parker is dead. Bonne and Gray and the like are pikers. Parker pikers.

Nothing will change about the California wine business, nothing. Except that nature abhors a vacuum--and what's more vacuous than wine blogs? It's only fair that we send Suckling to ruin Italian wine scores at Gambero Rosso, and they send Galloni to sabotage CA wine scores. Sweet serendipity.

Turn About Is Fair Play
by Charles E. Olken
Posted on:2/8/2011 2:02:35 PM

Or, we call it, "what goes around, comes around". On the whole, however, California may have gotten the better of the deal.

Parker is the walrus
by W. Blake Gray
Posted on:2/9/2011 10:03:13 AM

I can't resist responding to Ron Washam's comment.

Parker is dead? You mean like Paul McCartney was dead?

Or you mean that, two years ago, you were the first to predict that Parker is not actually immortal? Wow, that is a scoop.



Parker is the walrus
by Christian Miller
Posted on:2/9/2011 1:07:35 PM

If you read Parker's Turley vertical tasting notes backwards, they say "I like White Zin."

Carried away
by William Allen
Posted on:2/10/2011 9:17:34 AM

Hi Charlie

I am a huge fan of your writing, and am honored to know you follow my blog.

I try and keep emotions and especially drama out of the blog. Even though it inspires intra-industry traffic and comments, it's not my cup of tea.

It's interesting my article was the most widely read in the blog's 18 months; 1k readers and 26 hits in one day. Small potatoes to some, but a spike for me. I didn't take a 'carried away' stance to drive traffic; perhaps I let early morning emotions get away from me, but I enjoyed writing the piece, it flowed, and I got lots of great feedback on the Twitterverse.

My comments re: Alice Feiring are mostly from her book. I wish I could say I am best buds with Mr Grahm; I have met him, corresponded a few times (and more with his brilliant team at BDV.) I admire all he stands for, and I have enjoyed when he takes little pokes at industry giants on Twitter and his book. Its fairly clear through his words that he 'doesn't dance to others drums' I think, yet another reason I admire him so much.

My opening title may have been dramatic, but I wanted impact, and it was the emotional wave I was riding. Deeper in,  I refer to the time a change will take to impact on the masses palates, is indeed more accurate. Beyond a doubt this had already begun at a grass roots level, its just my opinion (the Sociologist in me) this change has the ability to accelerate it.

Again, thank you for reading and a mention. I will endevour more greatly to be worthy.



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