Wine Spectator’s Power Shouldn’t be Undersold
Let me say up front that I believe the Wine Spectator Magazine is extraordinarily lucky to have Jim Laube at the head of their tasting panel for California wines. Say what you will about preference, big wines, the 100 point scale or the influence of the magazine. The fact is, Jim Laube has one of the best palates in America. My guess is he could make far more money simply acting as a consultant and selling his palate to those who want an experienced set of taste buds sampling their wine. Mr. Laube clearly loves what he is doing now.
However, I think he understates the power of a great rating from the Wine spectator. Mr. Laube wrote the following in “90 or bust”, an article that appeared online yesterday:
But there’s so much more involved in achieving long-term success in the wine business than a mere rating. A high score is worthless unless the winery has an effective business plan, and a business plan is an empty shell if there’s not some core conviction about wine character behind it. One winemaker acquaintance put it well: those who live by the scores, die by the scores.
Having worked in wine promotion for a number of years and having followed the impact of high numerical ratings both as a publicist for wineries and at an auction house I can tell you that:
1. A high score is far from useless no matter what the business plan of the winery is. It turns out if your first wine out of the blocks is scored a 95 by The Wine Spectator you will sell it out, and sell it out quickly, assuming it is priced decently and there are less than 5000 cases.
2. It doesn’t matter what the core convictions are of the person behind the wine. If the 95 point or better score comes those convictions can be anything from “I just wanna be vintner who has fun” to I want to make the greatest wine in the world”. It doesn’t matter. The wine will sell out.
3. The character of the wine is of no importance if it is scored 95 points or better by the Wine Spectator. It will sell out if it is thin and acrid. This is a reflection of the consumer’s trust in the Wine Spectator and the retailers and wholesalers reliance upon the magazine’s ratings.
The Wine Spectator and Robert Parker have both done something very impressive. They started out as publications that only hoped to offer good solid information to consumers. Consumers were comfortable with their approach. This in time resulted in both publications becoming extraordinarily powerful. I don’t think either ever sought power. But with their scores, they have it.
Having that kind of power can only do one of two things to a person or organization. Corrupt them or push them to greater heights of integrity. The Spectator, Mr. Laube and Mr. Parker have all demonstrated integrity. But I think Mr. Laube understates the nature of his impact.