The news this week that Robert Parker was not elected to the Vintners Hall of Fame was not surprising. Too many of us who write about wine hold a grudge the way Scrooge McDuck holds onto his cash — and we’re just as silly about it. Or, as wine guru Doug Frost, who voted for Parker, said: “I’m sure jealously had something to do with it. It has been fun and easy to bash Parker for years.”
Parker invented the 100-point scoring system, which gives every wine a score from 1 to 100, with the higher the score the better. As such, he is the most important person in the wine business, and may well be the most important person in the history of the wine business. The 100-point system, for better or worse, has changed changed the way the wine world works. It has been copied by almost every influential wine critic and publication in one form or another, and retailers use it to sell cases and cases and cases of wine (often without regard to quality). Perhaps most importantly, winemakers not only covet a Parker score, but make their wines in a style that Parker likes so they can get a Parker score, a process that’s called “Parker-izing” them.
In this, keeping Parker out of the Vintners Hall is like keeping Babe Ruth out of the baseball Hall of Fame because you don’t like home runs. But Parker’s not in. Why this happened and what it says about the wine business after the jump:
Disclaimers first: I don’t know Parker. Also, I don’t like and I don’t use the 100-point system. I think the 100-point system is an excuse for lazy wine writing, and that it does just the opposite of what it’s supposed to do. Consumers have been taught to judge wine by the score someone else gives it, instead of whether they like it. Elitism doesn’t get much elite than that.
So this is not a defense of a close personal friend or of a system that I believe in. Rather, it’s about doing the right thing, which has long been one of the Wine Curmudgeon’s faults. But tilting at windmills is a noble profession, and I’m going to keep doing it until I can’t tilt any more.
Robert Parker should be in the Vintners Hall of Fame, and I can’t think of a legitimate reason why he isn’t. He has been nominated each of the past two years, but has failed to get enough votes. Yes, hall of fames are a tricky business, and yes, several people I talked to questioned whether a writer should be allowed in something called a “vintners” hall of fame. But the vintners hall exists, and the people who run it say writers are eligible. So anyone who votes should accept those conditions.
Who does vote? W. Blake Gray, the chairman of the nominating committee, said this year’s class was chosen by 74 people — wine writers and the dozen or so living past inductees. Gray said the Hall does not release the names of those who vote, but the voters have included the Wine Curmudgeon for the past two years. There is no cutoff in terms of the numbers of votes required for admission. Rather, “the top vote-getters are inducted,” Gray said.
We chose five people: Joel Peterson of Ravenswood; Vernon Singleton of the University of California at Davis; and Bob Trinchero, owner of Sutter Home Winery and Trinchero Napa Valley. The late Richard Graff and the late August Sebastiani were elected as “pioneers” — people who made significant contributions to the California wine industry and died more than 10 years ago.
I didn’t vote for Parker last year, because I thought he would get in. Call it a protest non-vote. I voted for Parker this year. I also voted for Fred Franzia of Two Buck Chuck fame, Vince Petrucci, the guiding force behind the world-class wine program at Cal State-Fresno, and farm labor organizer Cesar Chavez, none of whom got in, as well as inductees Singleton, Trinchero, and Sebastiani.
So why didn’t Parker get elected? I think Frost is right, though I don’t want to believe it. The only explanation is that the people who voted, most of whom were wine writers, were jealous of Parker’s success. Which is ridiculous, and not just because so many of them have adopted Parker’s methods. It’s because most of us would not be doing this if not for Parker. His success made wine writing a legitimate profession in this country. Before Parker, wine writing was the province of the English, and Americans who did it were few and far between. Not coincidentally, Gerald Asher, who is in the hall and is probably the best known U.S. wine writer of the pre-Parker era, was born in Britain.
Parker was an American who took wine seriously. When he started writing about wine in the late 1970s, there weren’t many who did. That, by itself, is almost enough to earn him induction. Let’s hope my colleagues keep that in mind when they vote again next year.