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Doug Frost MS/MW http://dougfrost.com

A Brief Interview with Robert M. Parker Jr. – Wine Bloggers and the Internet

Robert Parker is arguably the most powerful voice in the wine world, or at the very least in the  US wine world today. His point system, which is both heralded by some and scorned by others, nonetheless causes markets to shift and wines to sell. Personally, Robert Parker is also one of the reasons I first started to get interested in wine some 12 years ago. At the time, I read his books and often purchased the wines he rated well. Ironically, this exploration and education by Robert has led me to follow his suggestions less and to trust my own palate more when it comes to buying wines. (photo by gastromia y cia)

As a result of new media bubbling to the surface, wineries, wine consumers and wine media are looking towards the rising influence of blogs and as a result this has led at times to tension between both the old media and new media, at times coupled with unfair attacks on all sides, often without good information. Last year, this came to a head with several online “scandals”; one of which consisted of Dr.Vino questioning, quite fairly in my opinion, the ethical standards of Robert Parker’s writers. The follow-up scandal involved Robert himself claiming that “blobbers” (derogatory for bloggers) are in some way in bed with the industry. Read the full story here. Both of these events resulted in more bad blood than serious dialogue.

At the time, when I saw Robert’s statement, I was hurt that someone I respected spoke so poorly of bloggers, claiming they lacked of ethics without properly investigating his remark. Seeing that it was on a forum, I chalked it up to a bit of frustration, posting the comment without enough forethought and consideration. Thus, I was excited to meet Robert this past year at the Wine Future Conference in Rioja, and although we didn’t have time to chat one on one, I was able to garner more insight as to who Robert is, rather than who the media portrays him to be.

Robert Parker is a wine lover. Yes his palate has been given too much power by what is largely a lazy wine consuming public; but whether or not you agree with him, Robert has a pretty damn consistent palate. I don’t always agree with it, and feel that some people tend to follow him blindly, but I do hold great respect for what he has done in his life. For this reason, after hearing him laud the internet as fundamental to wineries self promotion at the closing roundtable of the Wine Future Conference, I knew I needed to offer him a place to respond to the wine blogging world. What follows is a short video on his thoughts about blogs taken from Wine Future, followed by a short interview we sent to him by email, and finally, a second video on wine and the internet.

If you are winery reading this, please listen carefully. The internet is no longer an “option” to sell your wine more effectively, it is a necessity.

Ryan Opaz

1. At Winefuture, you spoke of the future and how important it will be to communicate about your product directly to the consumer. Blogs are one way to support your vision. Since blogs are simply another form of the printing press, what do you see as their benefits and weaknesses as pertaining to: publicity devices, personal journals, wine reporting tools and educational platforms?

Blogs are like any journal, although they tend to be much more personal, and one does see an enormous variation in quality, from excellent ones that are informative, balanced, and very well-researched, such as Catavino.net, to ones that are axe-grinding, vicious, and largely irrelevant. Certainly, blogs are here to stay, and the good ones will rise to the top and become more and more successful and read by people throughout the world. People have to remember that blogs can reach anyone on the internet, and clearly have an instantaneous worldwide impact.

2. You yourself started as an amateur wine lover, learning much of what you know on the job. Some have even called you the first blogger. From your journey, what do you think is most important lesson for the next generation of wine communicators to hear or learn? What advice do you have for amateur wine lovers who want to follow in your steps?

I think responsible journalism, whether it is on wine or any other specialty field, is first and foremost the obligation of any blogger. The good blogs benefit from writers who are conscientious, who do their research, and who present informed opinions. People want personal opinions, but they also want fairness, balance, and accurate information, and this is the most important message wine communicators need to provide on their blogs.

3. The Internet was change dramatically in 5 years. What do you see as the Internet’s role in the wine industry in the short term? What technologies, or tools, do you think are fundamental to a winery suceeding today? What technologies do you hope to adopt and use in the future?

Certainly the wine industry has continued to lag behind in the use of blogs and the internet to the extent they should. Every winery that produces a wine should have an informational website explaining their vineyards, how they make their wines, the differences in vintages, the terroir, growing conditions, and some family history if deemed relevant. They should also have a message board for fans of their wines to post and get immediate feedback from the producers of the wines. This is what the wine world is moving to — instantaneous dissemination of information, accountability, and important feedback from the producers themselves. Unfortunately, too little of this is done, most of it today is primitive and speaks to an already captive audience, providing very little in the way of meaningful information.

4. Finally since Catavino is an Iberian Wine Blog, what do you think of Spain and Portugal’s future beyond Rioja and Port wine?

As I have written many times in my journal, Spain and Portugal (and especially Spain) have extraordinary potential in terms of wine quality in the future. Spain already has extraordinary terroirs, lots of old vines, a winemaking history, and a remarkably diverse climate, with an amazing array for different wines, from dry, crisp white wines to full-bodied, powerful reds. Portugal is still somewhat of an unknown, but based on some of my tastings, it is another country with enormous potential from varietals that most consumers know very little about. All of this plays to the internet, where the dissemination of information and so much teaching can be done through the internet.

Thanks again, Ryan, for the chance to respond, and congratulations on a great wine blog.

Robert M. Parker Jr.

  • http://blog.vinternet.net Philippe Hugon

    Great interview. Congratulations Ryan for catching him say
    “Every winery that produces a wine should have an informational website explaining their vineyards, how they make their wines, the differences in vintages, the terroir, growing conditions, and some family history if deemed relevant. They should also have a message board for fans of their wines to post and get immediate feedback from the producers of the wines.”
    If only wineries were to follow these words as they do his notations;-)

    • http://www.cortesdecima.pt Carrie Jorgensen

      Absolutely Phillippe! And even more important in our economic environment, this is easy to achieve with a LARGE investment of time and passion, but a SMALL investment of money, thanks to Facebook, Twitter and Blogging platforms like WordPress! Cortes de Cima actively uses all these tools, but believe me, it is more than a fulltime job!

  • http://www.uncorkedventures.com/WineClubs Mark

    Interesting interview, Parker definitely comes off much less anti-blog then we have been lead to believe. He makes a great point about wineries, explaining your winery history and environment should take about a week of writing….the return could be huge in terms of consumer sentiment, yet so many of them don’t bother.

  • http://www.uncorkedventures.com/WineClubs Matt

    Great article and good timing with Robert joining the world of Twitter recently. Robert seems to be embracing the new media more and more and by his comments he believes wineries should be as well.

    Like many businesses, wineries will need to figure out what information is merely informative vs. helpful to the consumer and how best to package it.

    What an interesting time we live in.

  • http://www.wine-a-day.com Chris

    Very good piece Ryan! I enjoyed it a lot. I have great respect for the “gurus”, such as Mr. Parker, for getting to where they are. They have a lot of knowledge and can provide great insights into the industry. I agree there is a laziness with the bulk consumer which I, and probably many bloggers, find frustrating. I hope these “gurus” do not go away, however I also hope the consumer look at more than a number by 1 person when they choose a wine. The local wine shop owner is a great start!

    Thanks again for the blog!

    • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella Opaz

      Chris, thanks so much for bringing a much deserved limelight to the local shop owner. These are the people who are doing the grunt work for little or no acknowledgement, despite the fact that their passion (for some) has been the impetus to get their consumers hooked on wine exploration. Clearly this is a pool of knowledge that is often overlooked and/or taken for granted.

  • http://www.michiganbythebottle.com Shannon Casey

    Great interview and interesting video clips. I find it ironic, though, that the panel discussing the future of wine is made up of no one younger than 45– people who will not be relevant in 25 years. If these types of conferences are serious about exploring the next generation, they need to start engaging with some of the younger wine lovers.

    • http://www.ryanopaz.com Ryan

      Your not the only one to find that a bit odd. Hopefully the fact that it was so “unbalanced” might serve as a wake up code by some.

    • Steph

      I agree. It’s time for the ‘gurus’ to to open their arms and minds to some fresh eyes and ideas. Its amazing what the new and old can accomplish together.

    • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella Opaz

      Shannon, not only younger, but of the female gender as well. As you’ve rightfully noticed, the current generation of wine lovers is widely diverse and should be represented as such.

      • Steph

        Music to my ears! Thanks Gabriella.

  • Steph

    Whether you love him or leave him, it’s a relief to hear Parker’s opinion of the importance the internet to the world of wine. A voice this big is easy to hear and even easier to follow. If the new, smaller wineries would take advantage of the fact they literally have the world at their fingertips, the information, feedback, and communication flow would benefit all. It evolution of communication. Let’s hope Parker’s influence works its magic this time. This is an interesting, important topic with the ability to evolve our delicious world of wine.

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  • http://www.wineup.it Monica

    Well done Ryan, interview and video are interesting indeed!
    Most of all I agree with Robert Parker’s call to responsibility and consciousness of bloggers, and the necessity of giving balanced and accurated information.
    In addition I totally agreed with the call to give more attention to the communication with consumers.

    I think the previous comments concern interesting and important topics too, such as the invitation to the wine industry to give more attention to women, also as wine journalists, and young people. Millenials will influence consumptions and market trends for a long time, how could it be possibile to ignore their preferences?

    I hope my English is comprehensible, best regards from Italy.

  • http://www.maxwellwines.com.au Paul

    Thanks Ryan – very interesting and timely indeed… I work for a small family owned winery in McLaren Vale, South Australia, and would you believe it, over the last few months we’ve been working towards bringing to our own website exactly what Robert Parker has now suggested, although I think we beat him to it…!

    Launched only last week, the impetus for the redevelopment of our site was to provide our winery’s customers with a portal for direct access and communication, and to enliven conversation and discussion. It’s in its infancy – but go and have a look: our winery is Maxwell Wines – http://www.maxwellwines.com.au. Have a look around the home page, then click on ‘News’.

    From reading what everyone else has said above, it would seem that we’ve launched this new functionality right on time! We’re looking forward to the new level of communication with our customers. And while you’re on our site, please leave a comment, even if just to say G’Day. I wonder if our small McLaren Vale winery has a world first on its hands?

    Cheers, Paul @ Maxwell Wines, McLaren Vale, South Australia.

  • http://www.snooth.com Philip James

    Ryan – I disagree with “They should also have a message board for fans of their wines to post and get immediate feedback from the producers of the wines”. This is something I’ve publicly argued against for several years (it comes up at every lecture or conference talk I give).

    Wineries do need to be accessible, but they are not technology companies. They get asked to build a website (which many now have, and something that I do feel is a necessity). They get asked to blog (which very few do, although they do have things to say, and an audience that would likely read it). Now they are being asked to host a forum. As soon as they do that, people will ask them to support user account creation, private messaging, threaded responses and so on. This is not a winery’s core business, is expensive to maintain, and will result in them being behind the curve at all times.

    It makes much more sense for them to adopt the tools and networks already in use by their fans and customers, and so, its Facebook/Twitter and so on that the wineries should be using. Leave it to the technology companies to create the platform, but once its there, we should push the wineries to adopt the platforms that will allow them to shepherd their brand.

    • http://www.cortesdecima.pt Carrie Jorgensen

      Phillip, As I understand what Robert Parker is saying, it is just that – make Facebook and Twitter your message board/forum. At Cortes de Cima, we use both to that effect, providing immediate feedback through answering people’s questions/comments, but also allowing other wineloving fans to answer each others questions. It is time consuming, but essential to have that open and rapid response line of communication to our wine drinking public.

    • http://www.ryanopaz.com Ryan

      Phillip I think this is where Robert show’s his lack of vocabulary on Internet topics. I think he would agree, or I hope he would, that a BB is not the way to go, but rather a place to “ask questions” or “leave feedback” as Carrie mentions. Facebook and other networks are real time sounding boxes for customer feedback!

  • Andrea

    Great interview Ryan, I’ve had pretty much the same opinion as you on Robert Parker in the past and it’s good to hear that he is acknowledging and embracing the internet and social media finally. I have to agree with Shannon too about the panel having no young and/or female speakers on it, that definitely needs to be acknowledged and I hope that we see them represented in the near future!

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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ryan7968 ryan opaz

    D.Steph, I'm not sure what you mean? I think we're all arguing that we can learn from the past, but you can't talk about the future without engaging the youth as well. I had a wine shop and I still talk to my customers many of who are much older, and enriched my life. But I also connect well wtih them, since they seriously engage me, and look to my opinions.

    So I think your missing the point. While Shannons comment is a bit harsh, it is true that the conversation about the future of wine in 25years will be a very differnet one than it is today!