This Budd’s For You: Pancho Campo’s Past, Jay Miller’s Unpublished Tasting Notes
Last week’s update on the Pancho Campo scandal had a beer-themed headline, and I thought I’d do the same with this week’s. Fear not, those of you suffering Pancho fatigue: I’m not planning to make this a regular thing; I will only post updates if there are noteworthy developments. The past week has seen a few interesting twists. Just today, the Institute of Masters of Wine announced that in response to a formal complaint, it has opened an inquiry to determine if Campo violated its code of conduct. Campo became an MW in 2008. Also, Jim Budd just published more emails concerning Jay Miller’s recent visit to the Murcia region of Spain.
Robert Parker is now also looking into the Campo affair. On Monday, he issued a statement announcing his investigation, along with a statement from his lawyer, Steve Haas, whose firm, Cozen O’Connor, is conducting it. Haas said the probe was undertaken because of “allegations and innuendoes posted by various internet blogs concerning visits made to Murcia, Spain by Jay Miller.” He didn’t mention Miller’s visits to Valencia and Navarra, which are also at issue, or Miller’s proposed visit last summer to the Madrid appellation, which is at the heart of the scandal.
In his statement, Parker said there was no evidence that Miller had compromised The Wine Advocate’s independence or accepted money to review wines or visit wineries. But no one has accused Miller of doing those things: the issue is whether Campo sold access to The Wine Advocate, as the Madrid emails indicate that he did. To prove otherwise, Parker would need to show that those emails were fake or taken out of context. Judging from his statement, it doesn’t appear that he can do either of those things, which perhaps explains why he focused on Miller’s conduct rather than Campo’s—he was conveniently arranging the goalposts, you might say. Parker did acknowledge that Campo is a “lightning rod for controversy” but said he was at a loss to understand why. Regardless, the fact that Parker’s investigation is being conducted by the law firm of his personal attorney suggests that Parker probably doesn’t need to sweat the outcome.
Understandably, there is a lot of consternation in Spain about what happened, and about the damage that this scandal may have inflicted on the wine industry. One particular concern at the moment: The Wine Advocate has not published reviews for hundreds of wines that Miller tasted during his four trips to Spain in 2011; efforts are underway to determine exactly how many have gone without reviews. With Miller now leaving The Wine Advocate, the fear is that many of these wines will have been submitted for naught. It’s possible, of course, that a lot of the missing wines didn’t merit reviews; The Wine Advocate publishes tasting notes only for wines that receive 85 points or more. Hoping to get some clarification on this matter, I emailed Miller yesterday, and he was kind enough to respond. He told me he has around 400 Spanish wines still in his notebook, and that “likely 275-300 will be recommendable.” He expects that all of his remaining tasting notes will be posted on erobertparker.com by the end of January.
Presumably, the unpublished tasting notes would be a source of anxiety in Spain regardless of whether or not Campo charged for access to Miller and The Wine Advocate. But several regions did fork over a lot of money to gain access to them, and the fact that people are now counting up the missing wines suggests these payments may have created certain expectations. It will be interesting to see if anyone in Spain releases their own tally of how many wines have not been reviewed, and if that number squares with Miller’s.
Campo is obviously attracting a lot of scrutiny now. He has a colorful past. He turned to wine after a stint as an events promoter in Dubai, where he ran into legal troubles that for a time made him the subject of an Interpol arrest warrant. Before that, he worked in tennis, and evidently had a connection to legendary coach Nick Bollettieri. This part of Campo’s background intrigues me; I’ve written a lot about tennis and have interviewed Bollettieri. Doing some Googling this week, I came across an April 1991 article from El Mundo Deportivo, a Spanish sports daily, in which one Pancho Campo was quoted discussing Andre Agassi (Agassi, who was 20 at the time, was a Bollettieri protégé). Campo was identified as a Bollettieri associate, and the article said he was planning to open a facility similar to Bollettieri’s Florida tennis academy in the Spanish resort of Denia. I don’t know if that happened, or what became of Campo’s career in tennis (other than the fact that it ended at some point). I reached out to Bollettieri earlier this week; I will let you know when I hear back.
Christopher Hitchens died yesterday of cancer. He was 62. It would be a stretch to say that he and I were colleagues at Slate; we both just happened to write for Slate. I never met Hitchens. A few years ago, I saw him at Penn Station in New York; I thought to introduce myself but decided to leave him alone, a decision that I now regret, of course. Had we met, and had time permitted, I can imagine that one of us might have proposed a drink, which would have yielded a memory. A friend of mine, then working as an editorial assistant, once had to bring Hitchens a proof of an article. Hitchens invited him in and asked if he cared for a drink. My friend noted that it was mid-afternoon, a little early for cocktails, to which Hitchens replied, “In this establishment, young man, the bar is always open.”
Like pretty much every other writer I know, I was in awe of Hitchens’s erudition, adored the elegance and energy of his prose, and was completely freaked out by stories of how quickly he could produce flawless copy. Just to experience that for one day….I also admired the intensity with which he lived. He was cheated out of time he deserved, but he clearly made the most of the time he had.
He once ventured onto my turf, writing a piece for Slate denouncing obtrusive sommeliers. It was a welcome encroachment, a delicious Hitch rant that is well worth a read.