Robert Parker, Jim Budd, and The Disappointing Silence of Other Wine Writers
Robert Parker announced last night that Jay Miller is leaving The Wine Advocate. Miller’s departure comes after a month of damaging revelations concerning his trips to Spain and the role that wine impresario Pancho Campo had played in organizing them. Last week, Jim Budd, the journalist who has driven this story, published emails, obtained by Associated Press reporter Harold Heckle, in which Campo and a colleague of his at The Wine Academy of Spain leaned on officials in the Madrid appellation to cough up 20,000 euros in exchange for a visit by Miller. This was on top of an email in which producers in the Murcia region were told that they would have to pay a fee in order to have their wines reviewed by Miller.
Miller, a longtime friend of Parker’s, leaves The Wine Advocate after five tumultuous years. Parker, in the announcement he posted last night on eBob, made no mention of the controversies that have dogged Miller. But Miller, in a statement released alongside Parker’s, alluded to them. “Finally, some may believe my stepping down is in response to my critics,” he wrote. “Nothing could be further from the truth…I leave The Wine Advocate with a clear conscience. I have never accepted (or requested) fees for visiting wine regions or wineries.” Miller said that he will now work part-time as a retailer in Baltimore. He also plans to write a book about Spanish and South American wines, and may even start a blog. Additionally, he hopes to study Spanish. Neal Martin will take over coverage of Spain and South America, while David Schildknecht will assume responsibility for Oregon and Washington.
Before this latest, and presumably final, Miller flap slides down the memory hole, two quick points. Last week, in response to the Madrid emails that Budd published, Parker posted a message on his site in which he said there was no truth to the allegations concerning Miller and Campo and that his lawyers had asked him to refrain from commenting on the matter “given the potential lawsuits by Jay, by Pancho, and possibly by TWA [the Wine Advocate] against these bloggers.” He also said that his lawyers had enlisted the services of an attorney in Madrid. It seemed clear at the time, and it is obvious now, that this was bluster meant to intimidate Budd and to scare others away from the story. Parker owes Budd an apology, and he should also be held accountable for trying to squelch an investigation into a legitimate scandal. Miller has been tossed aside, but if I were a Wine Advocate subscriber, I would demand to know if the claims that Parker made last week had any basis in fact or were simply intended to deceive and deflect.
While I’m in high dudgeon here, I will also say that it was disappointing that there was hardly a murmur from other wine writers about Parker’s effort to intimidate Budd. I’m sure that Budd received plenty of emails expressing solidarity and encouragement. But as far as I know, only W. Blake Gray openly addressed Parker’s threat of litigation and called on him to disclose how he knew that the allegations about Miller and Campo were false. Budd did tremendous investigative work—the kind rarely seen in wine journalism—to bring this story to light; the fact that Parker’s attempt to bully him into silence elicited almost no public reaction from other wine writers does not speak well of our field.
UPDATE: David Schildknecht emailed me to say that Robert Parker told him last January that Jay Miller would be leaving The Wine Advocate at the end of this year. David says that he was formally assigned coverage of the Pacific Northwest, pending Miller’s departure, in August.