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Parker Sells Wine Advocate?

In an announcement posted on his subscribers’ bulletin board yesterday, December 9th, Robert Parker revealed some significant changes to the structure of the Wine Advocate. Hidden within the announcement was enough information to conclude that Parker has, despite repeated denials that he intended to sell, indeed relinquished control of the Wine Advocate to a group of foreign investors. Although Parker does not reveal where these “highly qualified business and technology people and enthusiastic wine lovers” are located, rumours about Asian investment in the Wine Advocate have been circulating in Hong Kong for some time now, and with the other moves described below I would wager these new technology-based backers are also in Singapore or Hong Kong. And as is revealed in other news articles and blog posts (linked further down the page) the changes are much more sweeping than Parker admits to his subscribers.

Parker continues in his post with some soft news, describing his intent to increase coverage of “all the world’s wine producing regions“, by which he clearly means looking to up-and-coming nations such as China rather than more regularly featuring the Loire (thank heavens – prices there are going up enough as they are). He also announces the birth of the print version of the Wine Advocate as a pdf document, which will no doubt be music to the ears of current print subscribers; the time difference between receipt of the Wine Advocate in the post, and the publication of the same material online for electronic subscribers, has long been a sore point for print subscribers who felt they have been missing out in the chase for Parker points.

eRobertParker logoMore significantly, however, the Wine Advocate is turning towards Asia; Parker has long enjoyed the hedonistic hospitality on offer there, and with ever increasing levels of wine interest this new focus on Asia perhaps isn’t surprising. But the changes are sweeping; first, a new office is to be opened in Singapore, and while for the moment Baltimore remains, in Parker’s words, “the Headquarters“, I can imagine this balance of power shifting before long. Second, Parker is stepping down from his role as editor, in another move to reduce his workload. Having already turned over the review of California to Galloni, he is now appointing Lisa Perrotti-Brown (a Singapore resident) as editor-in-chief. Parker, meanwhile, will “focus on what I love most“, which no doubt means continuing to review the wines of the Rhône and Bordeaux.

Several key points appear to be missing from the announcement though, some of which can be gleaned from a Reuters blog post by Felix Salmon and a WSJ article (subscribers only) by Lettie Teague. The new nations deserving of coverage do indeed include China, with the appointment of a new Asian correspondent looming, and wine tasting events planned in China and Thailand. Wine tasting events mean new and closer relationships with wine producers, a significant shift away from the Advocate’s previously stalwart independent stance. This move is confirmed by the second point, that the Wine Advocate will accept advertising, although not wine-related. So the Wine Advocate is to become a glossy lifestyle magazine, with advertisements for watches, designer goods and the odd yacht, perhaps? Thirdly, the new investors (I read owners there; otherwise, why the sweeping changes in TWA practices?) plan an abbreviated edition, aimed at corporate clients such as luxury hotels and airlines, particularly in Asia.

This is a huge sea-change for the Wine Advocate; a new Asian focus, tastings of Chinese wine, and luxury-lifestyle advertising. This is a very new direction, surely indicating that TWA has, either now or imminently, in part at least, some new owners. And these changes have – behind the Parker paywall – been only partially revealed to Parker subscribers, it seems.

12 Responses to “Parker Sells Wine Advocate?”

  1. Follow up: At 11.23am Mark Squires (a well-known Parker employee who writes for TWA as well as running the bulletin board) posted on Twitter stating that he presumed there would be a forthcoming press release on this matter. He was unable to disclose what share of The Wine Advocate had been acquired by the new investors (because he didn’t know, I’m not trying to suggest anything shady is going on!), but did state that Parker remains (in part, presumably) “an owner”.

  2. The real change will come when Parker stops writing for the site. Then we shall see how much weight the rest of the staff of the Wine Advocate carry without him.

  3. Agreed that will be a major development Tim, although I think Parker’s love of wine is so strong he will surely not retire? Why, when he has handed over the drudgery of proof-reading and the like to Lisa Perrotti-Brown, would he want to give up the fun part of the job – travelling, dining and tasting?

    I’m looking forward to hearing more something official from Parker and TWA team on the developments and change in structure there.

  4. He makes a lot of money and doesn’t have the troubles about rumors and bad stories about his writers. And I think he will remain concentrating on Bordeaux, as long as possible.

  5. That’s right Helmut, to some degree. He remains on the board, so still has responsibility for the TWA and its writers. But he will perhaps worry less about, in his words from his blog post behind the Parker paywall “coordinating TWA content, editing and proof-reading, things that I have found enormously time-consuming and am thrilled to transfer”.

  6. Lisa sounds pretty different ;-)

    “We want to have more control over the reviews,” said Ms. Perrotti-Brown, “And all events will be cleared by us too,”

    And about signing on their current correspondents: ” If they decline? There is a plethora of good wine writers out there. It’s a buyer’s market,” she said.

  7. It certainly sounds as though the new owners, sorry…investors, are renegotiating contracts with the current WA writers, doesn’t it? Both Neal Martin and Mark Squires have publicly written, in one forum or another, that they find these developments exciting, so I expect they will be staying. I would be surprised if anyone left. The publication still has an immense following, and Parker is still on board as a colleague, for the moment.

    And to enact greater “control over the reviews” would seem to me a tightening of the management’s grip on employees, I would think to prevent a repeat of the Miller fiasco. That’s another important change.

    One thing I find very strange, in the announcement made by Parker on his bulletin board (and since also reproduced on the WA Facebook page – which I confess I didn’t know existed until today) is that the change in policy with regard to advertising wasn’t made clear. I think when that comes out on the Parker bulletin board there will be more questions from subscribers.

    Regardless of how this restructuring pans out, I wish Lisa, Robert and the entire WA team well with the new Wine Advocate.

  8. All very interesting. The achilles’ heel of the publication is that some of its correspondents are asked to pronounce on areas that they know little or nothing about. Is that going to change? I doubt it. Once Parker stops writing about Bordeaux (is tasting thousands of samples en primeur in hotel room or a negociant’s office fun?) it’s hard to see the WA retaining much credibility. But we shall see….

  9. It seems rather odd to shift things to Singapore as compared to Hong Kong, where it has always been regarded as the gateway to China. The sudden change of focus with the limelight all shining on Singapore is, somewhat, exciting. But, no less unnerving.

    Secondly, there remains a distinction between WA rating versus RP rating. With the latter being the predominant market maker, I am curious whether WA presence in Asia will be beneficial for the new ‘partners’ and Asia consumers.

  10. 您好 Wai.

    I agree that if your were looking first at a location in that part of the world it would be natural to go to Hong Kong. I expect the choice of Singapore reflects the location of the new buyers, and of Lisa Perrotti-Brown, who is a Singapore resident.

    You’re right about the distinction, but that tends to be blurred somewhat, in that many shelf talkers and lists simply regard all WA critics’ scores as belonging to RP, so incorrectly they are much less cited than RP is. That must be a very infuriating aspect of working for the WA.

  11. I agree with Tim. Asian ownership and the introduction of luxury lifestyle advertising in the digital edition may be just the boost the newsletter needs. However, for tomorrow’s TWA, the chance is real that incorporating the sharp Parker 100 front in a conglomerate of pen pals with palates on different and unfamiliar wine pages endangers that secure step towards succession on which to cash in.

  12. Sorry, but the nihilist in me hopes RP is selling and that TWA is soon filled with adverts for yachts and handbags the price of houses, for the simple reason that this is the logical conclusion, or at least next step, in the disassociation of wine the hype from wine the product. Whatever your views on the right or wrong of RP, he has done a great deal over the years for the industry and frankly I don’t see why he shouldn’t cash in on his endeavours. Let the money men and advertisers and all those with neither the interest in nor the passion for wine take over and inflate already stupid prices for a few top wines to laughable tulip-bulb levels. I hope RP realises this is a top-heavy ship that will soon enough roll over and that he’s going to get out while he can. If so, good for him. Hyperbole heaped upon hyperbole heaped upon ever-inflating scores and prices seems a one-way ticket to hell in a handcart. Sorry, this is needlessly gloomy but as a lover of unsung unheralded wine (Chris, your post about wines with food and wine in context sums it up; I would just add company as the key ingredient) I am happy to see this particular set of tail lights disappear over the horizon.