The founder of the Wine Advocate is the first wine critic to be inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame.
The induction ceremony was Monday at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena. Parker couldn’t make it because of a bad back, but he joked in a telephone interview that wine critics are a “necessary evil” for wineries and said he suspects he was a controversial pick.
The critic has learned that being controversial is part of the job. He was, in fact, nominated five times before he was inducted.
What Parker said he likes most about being a critic is the “thrill of the hunt … trying to discover up and coming producers who are serious about quality, without ignoring the Old Guard.”
The Wine Advocate, now in its 36th year, has the power to make an obscure winery an overnight success and Parker finds it gratifying.
“If you do it fairly, with no axe to grind about certain styles, we can be a good spokesman for quality,” he said.
The other inductees this year are vintner Merry Edwards of Sebastopol’s Merry Edwards Winery, and the late Cesar Chavez, a labor activist for Latino farm workers, as well as the late author Frank Schoonmaker.
Parker, 65, will become a familiar face in California once again, taking a hands-on approach to Napa Valley and the Central Coast reviewing, in part to replace out-going Antonio Galloni who’s launching his own website.
In December Parker stepped down and named Lisa Perrotti-Brown as the new editor-in-chief. Parker also took on a trio of Asian investors and opened a second office in Singapore. The Wine Advocate’s main headquarters remain in Monkton, Maryland. The changes reveal Asia’s rise as a prime consumer of wine.
Parker said the transition doesn’t mean the publication is retreating from California. On the contrary, he said California is ripe with potential.
“The late ‘80s were not great vintages in California, but the ‘90s brought a revolution in quality, a “Golden Age,” he said.
That said, the revolution in quality comes with a challenge, California wineries have to be careful not to price themselves out of the market, he said.
“They just have to keep the relationship between pricing and quality realistic and egos should not be factored into the equation,” he said. “A younger generation is beginning to repudiate very high-priced wine.”
Parker said he’s looking forward to spending more time in Wine Country. He refers to California as “Shangri-La-land,” musing over the fact that here he can go to work in shorts.
“A lot of bloggers always seem to talk about my demise, but I’m not ready to be planted on Boot Hill,” Parker said, with a laugh.
Tasting wine, Parker said, requires a great deal of mental focus, and he’s amused when some people say they hear he tastes 700-plus wines a day. He actually tastes anywhere from 40 to 200.
At the end of the day the controversial critic is happy he decided to sip for a living.
“Can you imagine being an accountant and working in a window-less office?”