In a stunning turn of events, the Wall Street Journal reports that Robert M. Parker Jr., the single most driving force in the wine industry in the last 30-plus years, wine's most influential critic and populist, is stepping down from editing his influential journal The Wine Advocate.
According to Lettie Teague of the Journal (some of whose account has been deflected by Parker in a flurry of Monday tweets), “a significant interest” in the Advocate has been sold to a trio of Singaporean businessmen who will oversee its financial operation; at least some of its operations will be moved to Singapore and away from Monkton, Md., the Baltimore suburb Parker calls home; and “non-wine” advertising might one day accompany print and/or online editions of the publication.
Lisa Perrotti-Brown, who is Singapore-based and is currently the critic of wines from Australia and New Zealand, will take over as editor.
Even as we've had nearly a half-dozen years to contemplate this inevitability (Parker has been easing back from his daily duties, adding writers and critics, and hinting at retirement for some time now), it's still hard to conceive of a wine world without Robert M. Parker Jr. In these three decades, a global industry has taken shape and grown exponentially, especially in the United States, with American interest in wine reaching unprecedented heights. Through it all, Parker has been at the podium, baton in hand, instructing his audience on what to buy and why, introducing a lucid if simplistic 100-point system with which to evaluate wines. He clearly has enjoyed his sway upon consumer and winemaker alike.
Parker shaped the market landscape as a wine lover first and foremost, and as an advocate of pleasure and taste — he has been instrumental in cultivating the American palate, even as his preference for wines of ripeness and swagger limited its range, and obliged producers to alter their winemaking in deference to his proclivities. It's as if Roger Ebert's movie reviews were the only reviews in the entire world that mattered.
The Wine Advocate had become more heterogeneous in the last half-decade largely through the addition of other voices, including Perrotti-Brown, David Schildknecht, Antonio Galloni and Neil Martin, but Parker's critical influence on the wine industry has been, for decades, utterly inescapable.
It appears that that influence now shifts to Asia, where a huge population of potential enthusiasts await. Parker has been doing dinners, tastings and appearances in Hong Kong, Singapore and elsewhere for many years now, expanding his presence there — it seems like a canny move in some respects, even as he cedes the pulpit at home, in a market that may well have outgrown him, in whole or in part.
Who, or what, will replace him, is anyone's guess.
Patrick Comiskey, our drinks columnist, blogs at patrickcomiskey.com and tweets at @patcisco. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.