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Miller Time, One More Time

2011 December 9
by Mike

On Monday, after I posted David Schildknecht’s email regarding Jay Miller’s departure from The Wine Advocate, another friend emailed me with a couple of thoughts. He said that if Miller and Robert Parker knew back in January that Miller would be stepping down at the end of 2011, it raises some obvious questions. One is whether Pancho Campo was apprised of Miller’s plans and, if so, when he was told. Another is whether the regions that paid hefty fees to have Miller visit them during his two trips to Spain this year were told. Navarra reportedly shelled out €100,000, or roughly $133,000, for a stopover by Miller in July. Valencia coughed up €35,000, or almost $47,000, to get a few days of his time on his swing through Spain last month, and Murcia paid €29,000, or around $39,000, for a multiday dog-and-pony show during the same trip. It’s hard to imagine that any of these regions would have agreed to such extravagant sums had they known Miller was leaving The Wine Advocate, particularly given the dire state of Spain’s economy and the financial difficulties besetting the Spanish wine industry. If it turns out that the information was not disclosed, my friend said, it would look really bad for Miller and The Wine Advocate, and for Campo, too, assuming that he was in the loop. I agree.

Parker appears to have done a complete volte-face regarding the Spain controversy. Last week, he threatened to sue Jim Budd, the journalist behind the story; this week, his assistant graciously replied to an email inquiry from Budd, and according to The Baltimore Sun, Parker has launched “an international investigation focusing in particular on Campo.” As for Campo, he had said that he would be announcing this week how he and his lawyers planned to respond to the claims against him; so far, there has been no announcement. Campo did tell that he will no longer be working with The Wine Advocate. Campo is a Master of Wine, and there are now calls for the Institute of Masters of Wine to open an investigation into his activities. Judging by what has come to light thus far, I suspect that if anyone is going to be sued, it is Campo himself.

In the meantime, the story has been picked up by the mainstream press. The Baltimore Sun, Parker’s hometown paper (Miller’s, too), has run two stories about the scandal. It even scored an interview with Campo, who insisted that no Spanish wineries ever paid money to have Miller visit them or taste their wines, and that any speaking fees Miller earned during trips to Spain were in a “freelance” capacity. (With Miller leaving The Wine Advocate under a cloud, Campo defending himself in the press, and Parker moving to distance himself from Campo, one can see the outlines of a circular firing squad beginning to form).  In a sign that the controversy has truly gone viral, Gawker posted an item about it Tuesday under a British tabloid-like headline, “Professional Wine Snob in Booze Junket Payola Scandal.” (Gawker said that The Wine Advocate is considered “very well-well-well by the la-dee-da set.” Sorry, Bob, but I am claiming that line for my motto. “Wine Diarist: Very well-well-well for the la-dee-da set.” I like it.)

Ironically, just as the Miller story has caught the notice of the mainstream media, some voices in the wine world are claiming that it is a trivial matter—jaywalking, in a manner of speaking—that has been blown out of proportion by bloggers who are jealous of Parker and looking to knock him down. A few of the tut-tutters seem confused about what the issue is here. The issue is not the fact that Miller pocketed speaking fees during visits to Spain; the guy is entitled to earn a living, and if he can get people to shell out thousands of dollars to hear him talk about wine, more power to him. This is not a speaking-fee scandal; it is a pay-to-play scandal. The emails Budd posted last week show Campo and a colleague of his, Adela Richer, telling officials in the Madrid appellation that a two-day visit by Miller would cost them €20,000, or around $27,000. The itinerary would include a tasting of wines that “have a U.S. importer and which Jay has not previously scored. (A prerequisite for their appearance in the publication)”.  Based on these emails, it appears that Campo was selling access to the pages of The Wine Advocate, something that is completely at odds with Parker’s ethical guidelines and inconsistent with any notion of journalistic integrity.

The question now is whether any of these regional associations were told that Miller would be stepping down at year’s end. The emails offer no answers, just clues. In an email dated June 3rd, Richer encouraged Madrid officials to agree to a Miller visit the following month, warning that if they failed to act “Jay won’t be able to do it until well into 2012.” After a lukewarm response to that email, Richer upped the pressure: “And, you know, the bus passes only once. In 2012 things could change and it could be that we may not even be able to taste Madrid wines.” Campo, in an email that he sent to Richer and one of the Madrid officials on June 3rd, said, “This is a unique opportunity for vinos de Madrid, seeing as how this DO is not in Parker’s plans to be visited in either 2012 and 2013. Private visits, off the set agenda, as this would be, rarely take place, and not for a price below 40,000 euros. The fact that Jay has agreed to stay 2 days more, and for half the usual price, is a miracle and an opportunity that Madrid will find it difficult to have again.”

What was being sold here wasn’t just the opportunity to have Miller review the region’s wines; it was the opportunity for local winemakers to mingle with him and to gain greater insight into his preferences—in short, to cultivate a relationship with The Wine Advocate’s Spain critic. Was the urgency with which Campo and Richer seemed to pursue the Madrid deal—even offering a deeply discounted price—indicative of anything? Impossible to say. But as my friend suggested in his email Monday, if the regional organizations that were hit up for money weren’t told that Miller was leaving The Wine Advocate, you have to ask yourself why that detail was withheld.

A couple of things to note. The proposed Madrid visit in July didn’t happen; according to Budd, the appellation balked at the cost. Despite Campo and Richer’s insistence that the July date was the only possibility for 2011, Miller ended up doing a tasting of Madrid wines during his most recent visit to Spain, free of charge.  Also, Robert Parker’s assistant, in response to an email from Budd earlier this week, said The Wine Advocate will be publishing Miller’s tasting notes from his last trip, but that they may only appear on the website.

I assume that this story will continue to unspool. If I were a Wine Advocate subscriber, I would want answers to the following questions:

-Why were Campo’s services enlisted by The Wine Advocate, and who made the decision to use him as Miller’s handler in Spain?

-Did The Wine Advocate pay for Campo’s services, or were they given free of charge?

-Did The Wine Advocate pay for Miller’s three trips to Spain this year?

-According to David Schildknecht, Miller and Parker knew back in January that Miller would be leaving The Wine Advocate at the end of 2011. Was Campo told of this, and if so, when?

-In the course of arranging Miller’s visits to Navarra, Valencia, and Murcia, did either Miller or Campo tell officials in those regions that Miller would be stepping down from The Wine Advocate at year’s end?

-Miller told The Baltimore Sun that he was paid $8,000-$15,000 for each of the speaking engagements that Campo arranged for him in Spain. Did The Wine Advocate receive any money from the events that Campo organized in Navarra, Valencia, and Murcia?

63 Responses leave one →
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  5. December 14, 2011

    Antonio David: “If I don’t secure some way of having the Big US Critics to discover my wines and write about them, I will never export.”

    This is not really true, although the Big US Critics and some people in the trade would like you to believe it. There are many paths to the market. Unfortunately, most require investing some money. I think it’s preferable to be spending a region’s money on publicity, distribution or sales promotions over which you have some influence, rather than throwing money at a critic and hoping for some high scores, which then must turn into repeat coverage, which then must turn into trade buzz and a general image for a region. What I find most disturbing about this scandal is the complete disproportion of money invested vs. likely return. Especially when you need that money for your tractor, etc.

  6. Michael permalink
    December 14, 2011

    I wrote the post and I do not want to go on the record. Although the general information of Pancho’s businesses is accurate I do have to admit that I do not know the extent of debt that he has left behind in his various business ventures. However, I believe I have given you all enough information to start digging.

  7. December 14, 2011

    Though I don’t want to divert attention from the subject of this thread, I would also like to see Michael and Giu post their real names. Michael tried to post the same comment on Pancho Campo on my blog, but I will not publish the comment until I know where it is coming from and have some documentation to go on. The info is juicy, but to publish it without attribution, no matter how much it supports the thesis, is not the right thing to do, IMHO.

  8. Jack Bulkin permalink
    December 14, 2011

    Giu could you and Michael please post your entire names so that we have some Idea who we are discussing this issue with? I realize that you both have your agenda that need not be disclosed, but first names reveal nada.

  9. Giu permalink
    December 14, 2011


    Could you provide information on Campo’s stint as a medical student in Dominican Republic and his father’s background?

  10. December 13, 2011

    I still think the demand side of this scandal is the most bizarre. Who crunched the numbers to determine that Jay Miller (not even Parker) showing up to taste a few wines, maybe post some reviews eventually and share his blinding insights into the market, would be worth 30-100k Euros? It’s a grotesque misallocation of funds.

  11. Michael permalink
    December 13, 2011

    In case Antonio Casado and his readers are interested. I have known Pancho Campo for the last 20 years and there is a long list of things that people should know about this man. First let’s start by saying he is Chilean and not Spanish and that he spent most of his life in the tennis world. Pancho is the ultimate showman. Unfortunately he lacks the ethics and all of his different businesses/schemes have failed one after another. Let me outline it for you:

    Pancho bought the rights to use the Bollettieri Tennis Academy name and by association Andre Agassi’s image; to launch several tennis camps in Spain back in the 80’s. This led Pancho to start the first European Bollettieri tennis Academy in Alicante, Spain. Although this venture was initially very successful, Pancho opted to cash out after a few years and left behind huge debts at the resort (Hotel EuroTennis). The Bollettieri tennis academy terminated the contract with Pancho after they also realized they had been mislead and no revenues ever reached Nick Bollettieri back in Bradenton, Florida.

    As Pancho still had a decent reputation in the tennis world in Spain he started to organize weekend tennis camps where clubs would pay him a fee to show up, bring a celebrity from the tennis world (the likes of Manuel Santana) and entertain the members for a couple of days. As it was not quite the “pay day” Pancho had anticipated he tried opening another tennis academy, this time in Madrid Spain. After a couple of years and following the same patterns, the academy had to close its doors and after a few other business attempts Pancho went to the Middle East.

    In Dubai, with the help of his rich father in law, he started as a concerts and events promoter. Although there are many stories to tell about Pancho’s ventures in Dubai…all that really matters is that his business antics caught up with him and landed him in the Interpol most wanted list and had to leave Dubai for Spain.

    Onto his third career. In trying to replicate the successes of his father in law. Pancho tried opening a U.S. style junior college in Marbella which unfortunately for him and his wife went south quickly. Again racking up huge debt.

    Right…so three failed careers so far.

    And now as you all know Pancho Campo is in the wine business and believe it or not a Master of Wine. It will not be long before he is looking for a fifth career as people in the wine industry, realize he is full of hot air and no substance. The way he uses Jay Miller and the likes of him for his personal enrichment is just another example of his antics.

    Good luck to those dealing with Pancho Campo the showman/businessman.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. This Budd’s For You: Pancho Campo’s Past, Jay Miller’s Unpublished Tasting Notes - My Wine Broker
  2. This Budd’s For You: Pancho Campo’s Past, Jay Miller’s Unpublished Tasting Notes | Mike Steinberger's Wine Diarist

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