There’s been “big” news in the wine world over the last few weeks. I made sure to use the quotes as this news is completely meaningless to most anybody who isn’t deeply embedded in the comings and goings of wine critics as it was announced that Neal Martin would be leaving The Wine Advocate to join Vinous. And then, The Wine Advocate announced that William Kelley would be coming full time with them.
Kelley has generally reviewed for Decanter and as he is still quite new to the wine writing world, the real monocle dropper was Martin joining Vinous. This is the publication headed by Antonio Galloni who was also at The Wine Advocate before taking off several years back to start up this new publication. It should also be noted that Jeb Dunnuck, known for his Rhône coverage on The Wine Advocate, also left recently to start up his own site.
It’s hard to say where a problem might lay as these people, from what I understand are paid quite well so to jump ship speaks of something larger going on, especially at The Wine Advocate. It seems the first batch was when it was sold and the second when partly sold again. Regardless, it seems that the answer to whatever is brewing behind the scenes at The Wine Advocate or basically all other wine publications is, to stand out and be noticed, you do the same as Agent Smith in The Matrix Reloaded when confronted with an incomprehensible force wherein you go with, “More…“.
As I mentioned earlier, Decanter is focusing on having reviews coming hot and heavy with its Decanter Premium. At The Wine Advocate, they’re going from 30,000 to 50,000 reviews annually. And of course at Vinous with the “Martin Acquisition” it seems they’re planning on more reviews as well, especially as there will be some duplication of regional coverage.
This build up of staff and content is all well and good as I assume it’s being done with the intent that there “shall be only one” authoritative wine publication someday. So, if you have the most reviews, then logic follows that everyone will flock to you. But this is AppThink and the idea that simply amassing more of something will automatically make it better doesn’t play in the wine world. It just gives a massive wall of choice which in wine, is a bad thing.
Whenever I’ve presented a new wine book, the first question everyone always asks is, “What’s the best wine of the region?” No one cares about the other 500 references tasted. They just want to know what #1 is. The reason for this is that human beings, despite claiming otherwise, hate choice as well as change and so they want an authoritative statement where all they have to do is decide whether to listen to or not.
I’m watching everyone running around trying to be the next Robert Parker but they’re doing it all wrong. Yes, the man reviewed a great deal when he was fully active but the reason he became known is because he became authoritative and people (whether right or wrong) bought based upon his judgment of the wines he was able to review. I have yet to see anyone else really pull this off or understand the concept of: “fewer done well is better than many done ho-hum.” I know from judging large quantities of wine that you definitely wear down and fatigue sets in so there’s no way that doing more can ever possibly be better in and of itself.
Sure, people will say that the reason no one has become the next Parker is because there are too many reviewers now or there are apps that “crowd source” reviews or (my favorite) Millennials just buy wine different. Yes, there is indeed a lot of noise that, even as much as I keep up with wine things is hard to cut through. But without some kind of authority and some kind of return to writing about wine in a way that’s approachable and interesting to people, you can write about one or 100,000 wines a year and you’ll go nowhere, ironically just being part of the noise you’ve been blaming for not getting noticed.
How do you create authority? How does an actor create stardom? Some people just manage to do it and a lot of right place, right time plays into it. But without this, you’ll just be the annoying chaff tossed to the side as people keep looking for the easiest wheat to grab. Anyways, back to my flight of 200 wines I’m tasting for an article tomorrow.