Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sampling of Napalaise sentiments on Parker withdrawal from Napa Reviews

During my recent trip to Napa for Premiere Napa Valley, I took the opportunity to query a number of industry insiders as to the impact of Antonio Galloni replacing Robert Parker as the Wine Advocate’s reviewer of Napa Valley wines.  There was a lack of unanimity as to the impact but it became very clear that Galloni was not well known among this group.
At one end of the spectrum was Petra Martin of Martin Estates.  In her view, wine drinkers are no longer dependent on the views of one or two individuals to help them with their buying decisions.  Rather, she sees the buyers as becoming more sophisticated, and their sources of information much more varied, and these trends are signaling the death knell of Parker and his ilk.  Parker, in her view, knew “that the game was up” and got out before it all came crashing down around his ears.  I should note that Parker does not review the Martin Estate wines.
At the other end of the spectrum we find Claude Blankiet, proprietor of Blankiet Estate.  Claude describes himself as an advocate for Robert Parker and as being extremely disappointed when he got the letter from Parker stating that he was withdrawing from reviewing Napa wines.  Claude has tasted wines with Parker for over 12 years and has grown to admire him.  He sees Parker as “a great human being” who is “humble” and kind and maintains a low profile.  In his view, Parker stepped back for health reasons; he had been having a hard time with his knee after his surgery.  In fact, he struggled up the stairs to the Blankiet residence for the last tasting and they spent most of the session talking about his health.  Blankiet hopes that the fact that Parker retained his responsibilities for Bordeaux and the Rhone is not perceived by others as a statement by Parker that Napa is less important than those regions.  Claude is sure that Galloni will do a great job.
Jack Bittner, VP and General Manager at Cliff Lede, feels that it is unsustainable to keep up with tasting the volumes that Parker did on a regular basis.  He was, however, surprised that Parker had given up Napa.  Jack sees independent voices as important but, as does Martin Estate, he feels that today’s buyers are looking at many more sources of information including wine shops.  With the widespread use of the internet, we now have a culture that is accustomed to incorporating more data into the decisionmaking process.  As for most of his peers, Galloni is an unknown quantity to Jack.
There are three potential layers of impact associated with the Parker withdrawal: winery impact; retailer impact; and consumer impact.  At the winery level, the impact can be further divided into (i) the impact of Parker leaving and (ii) the impact of Galloni arriving.  In terms of Parker leaving, those wineries that have built up long working relationships with him will see a slight devaluing of that investment.  For those wineries who felt that Parker had given them short shrift, Galloni’s arrival may open a new window.  The retailer will be driven by the consumer and the sense in the valley is (i) consumers are coming into their own in decisionmaking and (ii) for those who still require handholding, it will be eight years before they figure out that Napa Wine Advocate scores are from someone other than Robert Parker; and they won’t care.

Everyone says that Galloni has his work cut out for him, especially given his new workload, but they all wish him the best of luck.

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