The world's most influential wine critic, Robert Parker, is stepping down from his position as editor-in-chief of the Wine Advocate, the bi-monthly newsletter he started 34 years ago. Over more than three decades Parker has been credited with not only influencing the style of wines produced around the world, but driving demand and pricing on everything from first-growth Bordeaux to Napa cabernet.
Lettie Teague reports for the Wall Street Journal that Parker has handed over his editorial duties to TWA's Asia-based correspondent Lisa Perrotti-Brown. He's also selling a "substantial interest" in the Wine Advocate to, according to Parker's message on eRobertParker.com, three nameless "30-early 40ish" Singapore-based investors and will be moving some of his outfit—which is currently headquartered in rural Maryland—to Singapore. Huh?
Considering the growth in Asia's market for Parker-approved wines, the move might make sense financially, but it's still strange considering most of Parker's 50,000 subscribers are based in the U.S. TWA also plans to bring on a dedicated correspondent to cover Asia's emerging wine regions (which really just sounds like pandering) and will be rolling out a Southeast-Asian version of the newsletter aimed at corporate clients.
Parker also announced that the profitable newsletter will go paperless before the end of 2013. When Teague asked him how he plans move his print subscribers to digital, Parker, getting all 2012, said, "Maybe we'll offer them Kindles." Cool!
In a more telling sign that hell might be freezing over at TWA, Parker also announced that they will now accept advertising—which he has long been fiercely against as a means of preserving TWA's independence—from entities not affiliated with the wine trade. TWA will also put a new focus on tasting events, something the publication has taken heat for following the ramp up in events led by critic Antonio Galloni and a recent scandal involving former Spain critic Jay Miller.
This announcement may come as a shock to many who believed that Galloni—a longtime critic of Italian wine for TWA, who now also covers the wines of Champagne, Burgundy, and California—was being groomed as his heir apparent.
Galloni, who is seen as having a greater appreciation for the more traditional, classic wines of Europe was considered, at least palate-wise, to be a more relevant successor to Parker whose preference for big, in-your-face wines has been the subject of increasing backlash.
But instead Galloni will have to choose whether this new trio of mysterious Singapore investors and the hairpin turn the magazine just decided to take, is really for him. If it isn't? According to Perrotti-Brown, if he or any of TWA's other critics decline, well, no big deal. "There is a plethora of good wine writers out there. It's a buyers market," she says. Ouch.
So is this the end of The Wine Advocate as we know it? Only time will tell. What's for sure is this is the beginning of a new, more Asian-centric magazine that wants to make a lot more money and doesn't seem too worried about softening the ethical hardline Parker once drew between the newsletter and the trade. Stay tuned for updates as the entire wine world weighs in.
Update 14:25 EST: Robert Parker takes to Twitter to clear a few things up. 1. He "never thought it would have this much attention," 2. "this will bring great things to subscribers like: a pdf :), virtual tastings, icon wine program, wine education seminars..." and 3. "no plans to eliminate the print edition." Also: "The Wine Advocate print edition will never take on ads."