Catching up on the stack of magazines that's preventing me from reading fiction, I bolted right up and took notice. Ray Isle had a piece on how Robert Parker's predictions have come (or not) true.
The first one caught my eye for a few reasons:
Ray Isle In 1987, you worried that “the continuing obsession with technically perfect wines is stripping wines of their identifiable and distinctive character. It seems to be the tragedy of modern winemaking that it is increasingly difficult to tell an Italian Chardonnay from one made in France or California or Australia.” You added, “Winemakers and the owners of wineries, particularly in America, must learn to take more risks and to preserve the individual character of their wines, even at the risk that some consumers may find them bizarre or unusual.” Looking at things now, did winemaking move away from that trend toward anonymity, or did it continue?
Damn, didn't that sound familiar? I could well have written it, and in fact, starting in 2001, quite a bit later I did in many ways and in some ways, never stopped. But I fist became aware of it in the year 2000 when I read the Atlantic Monthly store on Parker as an essay Robert Parker wrote in 1999 entitled The Dark Side of Wine.
It's not unusual for a writer to plagiarize themselves but not in such a public way.But the 1987 article predated the elaborate on-line publishing and not searchable. That was when the world of writing was also safe, from technology, we could recycle material, if we wanted, with little fear of being outted.
But beyond that, the point is, what was Parker really thinking? When I think of technology and sameness in wines and I'm thinking marketers, enzymes, new oak, bacteria, tannins, MOX, RO, acidulation, etc. etc. I asked a friend who was a fly on the wall in 1987, was Parker really talking about fining and filtering? My friend said, yes.
He reminded me: Remember that in 1987 he was in the thrall of Bobby Kacher and Bobby was basically selling barrel samples. Bob jumped on the bandwagon of the time about no racking, especially.
Parker's point, at the time and now, he reminded me, was actually, was about putting everything into the bottle. Back then that meant sludge, which he took as a sign of authenticity. But you know what Velcorin can do, right? People can define intervention in many ways, usually to their own ends.
For some reason Parker never viewed the use of concentrator, over-used in Bordeaux, which is a mega-filter, as filtering. He was certainly knowledgeable of the technologies but never really accepted that they were used in fine wine for the collector, the wines he focused on.
We all have our blind spots. I strive for 360 vision, but fail. I rely on my friends and readers to call me out when I miss the dark corners.
Never the less, read that Dark Side, it is very beautiful, hearfelt rant, very relevant to day in many respects, especially in light of Antonio Galloni's recent jumping of ship and the conversations of the future of wine criticism. Parker gives sage advice to those wishing to be wine critics, and I think one can extend that to wine writers:
Independence.Courage.Experience. Individual Accountability. Emphasis on Pleasure and Value. The Focus on Qualitative Issues. Candor.
Parker embodied all of the above as much as he could. In fact, if he wanted to continue with his credo, he should, perhaps, let his Chinese Singaporean investors and his new editor Lisa Perrotti-Brown keep The Wine Advocate. And do what? If he didn't sign a 'no compete' he should follow Galloni's lead, jump ship and start his own publication, again. Because as he said to me, back in 2007, “Once the bean counters take charge, it’s all over.”