Robert M. Parker Jr. stepping down at Wine Advocate

Lettie Teague at the Wall Street Journal reports this morning that the world’s most followed wine critic is stepping down. Robert M. Parker Jr. will no longer be editor in chief of the Wine Advocate, an influential newsletter the former lawyer started in 1978, with a loan from his mom.

A Bloomberg story by Edmund Lee reveals that the Wine Advocate has taken on three investors from Singapore. The new editor will be the Wine Advocate’s Asian correspondent, Singapore-based Master of Wine Lisa Perrotti-Brown. The headquarters will remain in Maryland, where Parker lives, but the newsletter will open a second office in Singapore, the better to serve the expanding Asian market.

In the beginning, when the publication was a mere handful of pages, Parker’s focus was on Bordeaux. But the little subscription newsletter grew and grew to encompass wines from around the world and to attract a subscriber list of some 50,000 readers (at $99 a pop). The thick, buff-colored newsletter arrived in subscribers’ mailboxes every two months, filled with Parker’s densely written tasting notes and, most importantly, revealing the scores that caused grown winemakers to weep with joy or terror.


Big changes are coming.

In a tweet today, the 65-year-old Parker dispelled any rumors that the print publication would cease -- “no plans to eliminate print edition . . . focus pdf first and improvements.” In another tweet, he touts great things coming to subscribers, citing “a pdf, virtual tastings, icon wine program, wine education seminars. . .”

Parker, it has to be remembered, popularized the 100-point system, and boy, did those points sell wine. Retailers loved them.

“His 100-point system has made all of our careers in the wine business, because the point system quantified the quality of the wine,” says Christian Navarro of Wally’s Wines in West L.A. “Parker’s publication has changed the landscape of wine in general. Now everywhere in the world, that’s how wine is rated. If you’re in Istanbul and a wine is 90 points, then you know it has a certain quality. Parker was at the forefront of this.”

Some restaurant wine lists relied on the points to sell wine too. Why have a sommelier when you can simply list the Wine Advocate scores next to the wines on the list?

Parker isn’t exactly retiring from the scene, though he is slowing down: He will remain on board as chief executive and head of the Wine Advocate’s board. He will also continue to contribute tasting notes in his areas of greatest interest, Bordeaux and the Rhône.

Maybe his grueling tasting schedule just wasn’t all that fun these past few years. After all, he’s been over-exerting his palate for decades, and would go out on the road, tasting, for months at a time.

How the Wine Advocate will fare under new stewardship remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: We probably won’t be going back to the point when one palate could make or break the fortunes of a winery or a vintage.

In his boisterous love of wine, Parker made wine count. That’s a wonderful thing. And it’s just not going to be the same without him leading the publication he started as a young lawyer in love with wine.


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