As you may have seen, there’s a new flap involving Wine Advocate contributor Jay Miller. Producers in the Murcia region of south-eastern Spain received a letter last month informing them that if they wanted their wines tasted by Miller during his upcoming trip to the area, they would have to pay $275-$415 for each wine submitted. If they wanted Miller to visit their properties, they would need to cough up $1375. For a mere $700, they could have one of their wines included in a “masterclass” that Miller will be conducting during his stay. The story broke on a Spanish blog, and was subsequently picked up by Jim Budd and Dr. Vino. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that this looks like a case of pay-to-play. According to Budd and Dr. Vino, Miller’s trip is being arranged by Spanish wine impresario Pancho Campo. Who is pocketing the money is as yet unclear.
I don’t want get into another discussion about the Wine Advocate and whether Team Parker is abiding by its own ethical guidelines; it is a topic that is pretty well exhausted at this point. But there are two things that perplex me about this latest imbroglio. First, why does Miller need Campo to organize his trip? Can’t he make his own appointments, or have some importers schedule visits for him? Pick up the phone, send some emails, book a flight, a car, and some hotel rooms, buy a map, pack some Maalox and Imodium—done. Relying on local promoters and trade associations invites exactly the kind of problems that have now surfaced, and Miller’s trip has been irredeemably tainted as a result.
The other thing that I don’t get is why producers would pay these fees. I understand that many of them are eager, even desperate, for publicity; indeed, Bloomberg ran a story yesterday about declining domestic consumption in Spain and how winemakers are increasingly looking to export markets such as the United States for salvation. But with all due respect to Miller, he doesn’t wield a lot of influence. As far as I can tell, his ratings hold little sway with retailers and consumers. Are Spanish winemakers not aware of this? If a rating from Miller can’t help these people sell their wines, why would they fork over hundreds of dollars to have their wines tasted by him? Someone is apparently profiting from Miller’s trip, but it is not going to be the producers.