Do you read Spanish? If so, take a look at this piece about Jay Miller, the Wine Advocate’s reporter on Spain. If not, you could take a look at this translation, although be warned – it has the usual mish-mashed sentences of online auto-translators.
The essence of the article is this; a trip to Navarra made by Jay Millar, arranged by Pancho Campo’s Wine Academy, cost €100,000. There was a time when this would have been hotly debated on Parker’s forum, but now that it sits behind a paywall for subscribers only, not only is that less likely to happen, if it does you can’t see it. Nevertheless, there are a few paying subscribers willing to take Parker to task on this, and the thread made it to 46 posts before being locked by Mark Squires, the board’s heavy-handed moderator.
Parker’s response was to indicate that it was a paid lecture, and it was $15,000, not €100,000, and “and where is there any conflict? He, as all of us do, are paid to give lectures“.
Holy crap! $15,000 for a lecture?! For a psychologist turned wine retailer turned Parker side-kick? There’s hope for me yet.
One of the defences that has been wheeled out in this situation is that payment for a lecture is a reasonable expectation, and that it happens in many professions, for example medicine. Yeah, sure, but as a member of several academic societies and UK medical colleges, including a role as webmaster for one, I have a ball park figure in my head (I’ve seen the accounts) for the honorarium typically paid out. And it isn’t $15,000. It’s closer to 1% of that, with some travel fees on top of course. It’s frequently a fairly nominal payment. Parker’s blind to the issue though, as he writes “I can’t possibly see any conflict with what Jay has done,but if you actually know anything, I am all ears“. If Jay commands $15,000 for a single lecture, I can’t help wonder what payment Parker receives for his Asian tours when he tastes, wines and dines over a course of many days.
Is there a conflict of interest here? It’s a close call in my opinion, as this was a regional body paying, through the independent Wine Academy, for a service. I myself have been in receipt of assistance from such regional bodies – for example, when attending the Salon des Vins de Loire, I find that InterLoire are usually willing to pay for 1 or 2 nights at my chosen hotel (as declared in my annual Winedoctor Disclosures). That doesn’t influence what I say about any one wine, or any collection of wines. What really stinks here is the sum involved; nominal honoraria and travel expenses from regional bodies (not individual producers) seems acceptable. $15,000, however, seems excessive. For example, if that sort of payment were made between a drug company and a prescriber, it would certainly lead to investigation; the recently introduced Bribery Act (links to audio file) would see to that (not that I am suggesting there has been any bribery here, not at all, but in my experience in the UK the threat of personal prosecution seems to have made those with a hospitality budget more cautious, and thus under the new legislation such a payment would perhaps never happen). The linked file gives some indication of how dinners and similar hospitality might be viewed under this act.
What is really surprising though is the invective directed towards his more critical subscribers by Parker. “Is it me or is the internet turning into a refuge for hate-mongers and ad-hominem attacks on others?“, he asks. Remember, these are Parker’s paying subscribers, who he seems to suggest are “hate-mongers”. And also liars, when he goes on to state “You have made accusations about Jay’s conduct and standing that are totally false“. The response from the author of the allegedly false statements is just bristling with lawsuits, and it was just seven posts later that the thread was locked.