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A Brief History of the Wine Advocate

In the recent history of the wine industry, a host of publications have sprouted up to allow experts to give their opinions on the various vintages released from each country.

We have publications like the Wine Spectator and its famous ratings system, which we covered in a recent post. And we’d like to think that our own team has helped to point you towards some good Italian wines thanks to our reviews.

However, there are perhaps few publications that have been quite as influential as the Wine Advocate.

As the name implies, the publication has always been focused on celebrating the best of the wine industry. And many would argue that its founder, Robert Parker, is the most influential voice in the industry.

In this article, we’re going to take a brief look at the history of the publication and its overall effect on the industry as a whole.

But first, we think that it’s worth taking a closer look at the man behind the Wine Advocate. Robert Parker is one of the most important, and perhaps most polarising, experts in the wine industry.

This is his story.

Parker’s Rise to Wine Expert

Born in 1947, Robert Parker’s early career had very little to do with the wine industry. Though he’d always had a passion for wine, it was little more than enthusiasm that wasn’t yet married to the influence he would later yield.

Instead, he spent the first decade of his career working as a general counsel in a bank. 

But clearly, the work wasn’t what he wanted to do. And in 1984 he made the decision to quit his longstanding job so that he could focus on writing about wine.

Now, you may think that this was the year that the Wine Advocate came into being. However, Parker had been writing about wines for several years before making the big jump. And the first issue of his most famous publication actually came out in 1978.

Interestingly, that first issue was about three years in the making. Parker started writing it in 1975 with the aim of creating a comprehensive guide to wine. Over the years that followed, his writing would become more focused until he ended up with his first issue.

Now came the masterstroke.

Instead of trying to release his new publication to customers, he sent it out for free to a bunch of people on a mailing list that he’d acquired.

About 600 of those people signed up for the second issue, which came out a little later in 1978.

And it was in that moment that the Wine Advocate that we know today was born.

Over the next few decades, Parker became one of the most important voices in the wine industry. Each of his issues would feature his own opinions about various wines, with outside writers coming in to lend their own views later on.

His opinions became so influential that they actually generated a fair amount of controversy. That all came down to the 100-point scale that he created.

Critics argued that some winemakers became so obsessed with the idea of getting a 100/100 rating from Parker that they started crafting wines specifically for his tastes. The reasoning was that a recommendation from Parker would be enough to give any vintage a boost in sales.

We don’t think those criticisms were particularly valid.

However, the fact that such theories exists demonstrate just how influential the Wine Advocate, and Parker’s writing in particular, became during the 1980s and 1990s.

No Adverts Allowed

One of the main points that counter these accusations is that Parker always kept his publication independent.

At no point did he accept advertising for his magazine. As a result, nobody could accuse him of accepting money in exchange for good reviews. In effect, his reviews became advertising for the producers that received them. A good review from Parker would mean that the sales of a particular wine would shoot up.

Accepting advertising would have left his integrity, and by extension that of the publication, open to scrutiny. In fact, we’d argue that the lack of advertising is one of the main reasons why the Wine Advocate became so popular.

Instead of advertising, the publication used a subscription model to generate revenue. This only served to give the magazine a sense of exclusivity that played perfectly into its target market.

However, things started to change when the digital age arrived.

The Takeover and Where the Wine Advocate is Today

The advent of the internet has taken a huge toll on the publishing industry. Now, people have access to a ton of information that’s at their fingertips.

But for the longest time, the Wine Advocate held fast against the rise of the internet. While it maintained a digital presence, the publication still got sent out physically to subscribers well into the 2010s.

That began to change in 2013. And this change signalled a changing of the guard for the entire magazine.

It was in this year that a group of Singaporean investors acquired control of the publication. And much to many people’s dismay, one of their first moves was to oust to influential Parker from his position as Editor-in-Chief of the magazine.

From there, the new investors focused on making the magazine a digital-only enterprise. 

What was once an exclusive magazine suddenly became open to a much-wider audience.

The Final Word

So, did this takeover reduce the influence that the Wine Advocate has over its audience?

We’d argue that it didn’t.

While Parker is no longer at the helm of the publication, it’s still one of the most important wine guides in the world. The 100-point system that Parker created is still in use. And some would argue that having a wider range of opinions lends the Wine Advocate even more credibility.

All that we know is that the magazine has been a valuable resource for those both in and out of the industry for many years. And we suspect that it will be a long time before that changes.

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