I was appalled and incensed, Friday evening, when I read a post by Robert Parker himself on the eRobertParker forum. I don’t often agree with Mr Parker’s taste, but I do have respect for what he’s accomplished and for the energy he’s put into advocating wine.
I’ve lost a lot of that respect, now, after an attack he has made on wine bloggers and on the Wine Bloggers Conference and those who organized it. And it’s not a question of opinion. Even as he accuses wine bloggers of spreading falsehoods, Mr Parker has evidently not even bothered to check any facts on what he states in his forum post.
Let me quote him.
First, on the Wine Bloggers Conference:
looking at that Bloggers Conference, it does look like a big and free sloppy kiss and then some from the California wine industry…with much more than minimal hospitality offered…love to see some transparency from the bloggers(how many of them are paying for travel,car rental,hotels and meals?)…
And it doesn’t stop there:
that conference sounds like a California wine trade junket to further the interests of the vast California wine industry that feels slighted by coverage from the more established press….as always there is a simple solution for wineries feeling ignored….make better wine…it will get attention faster than you ever dreamed….fascinating list of sponsors under-writing all the costs for that event…not one of them pro-consumer….all of them pro wine-selling business….
…hopefully the smarter consumers will recognize the game plan of both the California wine industry and the bloggers-they are certainly more in bed together than I ever imagined.
If that opinion was actually based on something tangible, this would be an argument, a question of point of view. However, the fact is that Mr Parker, here, is just spreading falsehoods (something he blames the bloggers for doing… but I’ll get to that in a minute).
Like just about everyone who attended the Wine Bloggers Conference, I paid for my plane ticket, hotel room, car rental and registration. Some meals were sponsored, as is regularly the case in conferences and industry gatherings. Free wine was poured, just like at any wine fair and expo around the world.
The fact that dozens of wine bloggers who, for the most part, are drawing no income (or hardly any) from their blogs took time from their day jobs and travelled to California on their own dime shows dedication and commitment to their subject, along with a real desire to share with other members of the wine blogging community. The idea that sponsors underwrite “all the costs” for the conference is, at best, a considerable exaggeration.
Also, the idea of wine blogger conferences was brought forward by bloggers for bloggers. Sponsors came in afterwards. There is no concerted effort from the California wine industry here, no conspiracy. Unless you consider the fact that wine producers from California would want to pour wines at a local event where dozens of wine writers are present a conspiracy.
Mr Parker’s focus on California is also a distortion of the facts. Should I point out that the first conference was actually in Spain? Or that there was a New Zealand wine tasting at the American conference? Or that many producers who were presenting their wines actually get reviewed by Robert Parker and Wine Spectator and the mainstream wine press – and actually get high scores from them? Or that other blogger meetings are set to take place in Long Island and Portugal? Or that – imagine that – bloggers don’t all come from California or focus on California? Even the most cursory search about the WBC or reading of wine blogs would have told him that.
As for the sponsors being pro wine-selling business rather than pro-consumer, I don’t get what he means. The Bordeaux Châteaux who spend a considerable amount of money on the En Primeurs campaigns are pro-consumer while the Dry Creek Valley producers are pro-business? From an ethical or business standpoint, I don’t see any difference between tasting barrel samples from Château Mouton-Rothschild in the cellar or new releases from Seghesio, Flowers and Quivira in a conference room. Every single wine producer in the world is out to sell wine, whether Mr Parker gives them 92 points or not. None of them are consumer advocacy groups.
(You can Read WBC organizer Joel Vincent’s reaction to the Robert Parker rant right here.)
Furthermore, Mr Parker is bashing the wine bloggers for accepting a free trip – which they did not – at a time when it is being revealed that some of his collaborators accepted free trips – which they did.
That particular fact is interesting not so much because taking an expenses-paid trip is a terrible crime in itself, but because Mr Parker’s ethical guidelines, presented in his Wine Buyers’ Guide, clearly state that “it is imperative for a wine critic to pay his own way. Gratuitous hospitality in the form of airline tickets, hotel rooms, guest houses, etc., should never be accepted either abroad or in this country.” (See a more extensive quote of the guidelines on this interesting Joe Dressner post).
Why should Mr Parker’s high standards, which he has apparently applied diligently in his own case, apply differently for his collaborators? If it’s terrible that bloggers are getting anything free from the California Wine Industry, why is he being so forgiving to his collaborators Jay Miller and Mark Squires, who got all expenses paid trips to various countries? And if that’s not a problem, why wasn’t it stated clearly in The Wine Advocate? A lot of bloggers, by the way, have a clear policy about disclosure, whether for receiving samples or any other freebies.
Statements from Robert Parker and his associates about the whole thing are extremely confusing. In this forum post, Robert Parker says that he has forbidden Jay Miller from taking any further trips, and that he had to clear up things with Miller. Yet at the same time, on the same forum thread, two days earlier, Mark Squires was saying that he had taken several expenses-paid trips and was planning to take more, all with Robert Parker’s explicit approval. What gives? Why can’t Mr Parker be clear about his policies? And is he holding the wine bloggers to higher standards than those applied to his own Wine Advocate collaborators?
Beyond the conference and the question of freebies, his statements about the wine bloggers in general are even worse:
…or should I say blobbers since they are the source of much of the misinformation,distortion,and egegious falsehoods spread with reckless abandon on the internet…something to remember
Notice he says “they”. Not “many”, “most”, or even “some”. So all of us spread egregious falsehoods and misinformation?
Mr Parker, I’ve been a professional journalist for nearly 20 years. Along the way, I have been responsible, as a production editor, for the front page of a newspaper, where printing inaccurate facts can have dire consequences. Throughout my career, I have made accuracy and truthfulness central tenants of my work. I know I made mistakes along the way, and regretted every one of them. Never have I voluntarily misrepresented the truth or willingly spread false information or rumors. I do my research. I check my facts as much as I can.
The same code of ethics and commitment to information and truth guides me as a wine blogger. I resent being called names by Mr Parker and being characterized, by assocation, as some kind of snake-oil salesman. I know he tried to catch himself a bit, later in that forum thread, by saying his position was “anti-blogging position… just anti irresponsible bloggers…”, and that there are blogs he enjoys, but even that statement leaves the impression that the great majority of bloggers are liars and propagandists of some sort. Mr Parker should know, as a lawyer, that such a statement is tantamount to defamation.
I know dozens of wine bloggers from the United States, Canada, France, Belgium, England, Switzerland, Germany, who do their work with dedication, ethics and due concern for the facts. Mr Parker’s violent condemnation of the whole wine blogging community is as unnecessary as it is unfair.
It’s obvious that in the last few days, Mr Parker felt attacked by Dr Vino, who questioned the standards of his collaborators. Whatever Tyler Coleman’s motives for asking these questions may be, Mr Parker was hardly forthcoming about the facts in question, something that will do him no good. If he had taken the time to reply to these questions fairly and factually, instead of going on a rant, and accusing everyone in sight, maybe there would have been a lot less reaction (see here and here and here) and he would be getting a lot less flak. “for the life of me I cannot comprehend all the negativity…”, he writes in a forum post, after making these brutal statements. Well, me either.
Mr Parker, through an incredible amount of work and determination – and salesmanship – has brought himself to the top of the heap in the wine writing world. After starting out as the “little guy”, acting as an independent voice, much like many of the wine bloggers of today, he now holds a position of considerable influence. He has claimed the moral high ground of consumer advocacy and independence and rigorous ethical standards. That requires him to hold himself to that higher standard, instead of allowing an apparent double standard. And that should make him refrain from spreading egregious falsehoods and attacking people’s reputation.
Sinking to the level of mudslinging he accuses others of doing to him will not help him at all. His reputation can only suffer from such exaggerations and calumnies.
Clearly, he should apologize. But I’m not holding my breath.