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a new day

by Monty and Sara Preiser

Early in the 20th Century philosopher and essayist George Santayana brilliantly observed that, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” Better advice was never given, yet, sadly, it has been too often ignored over the last century – often leading to devastating consequences.

Hello Wine Industry. Wake up. You have the opportunity to take back your destiny.

Robert Parker, whom you elevated to God-like status, has retired, and in his place and stead appointed Antonio Galloni, who, according to the Bloomberg News, is a former director at Putnam Investments and Deutsche Asset Management, and has written about Italian wines in the Wine Advocate since all of 2006. There is no indication Mr. Galloni has any better qualifications or training than thousands of others, but whether he does or not is irrelevant to the point of this story.

In January of 2010 we wrote about the lamentable fact that vintners and winemakers the world over changed their styles and lost their individuality based solely on the whims and tastes of a very few people who had been styled as ultra critics – not necessarily so named by themselves, but so treated by almost the entire wine industry that succumbed to their palates. One of the glaring examples of this iconic worship surrounded Mr. Parker, who, astonishingly, awarded wine scores only after knowing what he tasted. No blind tastings for him. While there was nothing at all wrong in his choosing to operate in that manner, for the world to then make him its most influential critic could almost be equated to mass hysteria, always a frightening phenomenon. In actuality, Mr. Parker was empowered by those who feared his judgments – without that fear his non-blind tasting technique would have most probably relegated him to the status of many other critics.

Well, both the wine consumers and the wine producers of the world now have the opportunity to put things back in order. The consumer can search for critics and writers who hopefully have a palate and philosophy that mirrors his or her own. And the producers can, in effect, do the same. They can return to a time when they created wines of their own preferred style and taste because there is not, nor should there be, any longer one person who can literally cause them financial difficulties by a stroke of his pen awarding a poor score or, believe it or not, even a very good score of 89 out of a 100. If a wine did not receive a 90 or above from Mr. Parker, its fate as an average wine at best was sealed.

It has been disheartening to read some of the quotations by wine makers and others that work in and about the industry. Many of them are simply waiting to see what Mr. Galloni says in his first reviews before deciding how to proceed. Others did not know what to say – almost acting as if they were in shock to be leaderless for the first time. The universal response should have been to accept Mr. Parker’s retirement with grace and to realize what wonderful things can now be achieved through individual effort, creativity, and talent.

As Santayana so pointedly taught, the history of allowing one person to wield undue influence could be repeated again if people do not recognize the folly and take action to combat it. “Nonsense,” Santayana (who seemed to have a statement that fit every situation) also said, “is so good only because common sense is so limited.” That seems to have been the case in the wine industry for many years now, but, “Intelligence is quickness in seeing things as they are (propounded by guess who).”

It is time for those of us in the field -- growers, winemakers, vintners, retailers, writers, and consumers -- to exhibit such intelligence as it relates to ratings and influence. On a personal note, we have no doubt that if that happens we will have learned our lessons from history, and all of us will enjoy our respective roles even more than before.

Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.

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