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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Soldera to Parker to Galloni: Comets, Meteors and other Eclipses of 2013

"Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble"

If I have learned one thing on Planet Earth it is that every one, all 7 billion of us, consider ourselves the center of the universe. Because of that we go about our business like the others around us just don’t impact our life all that much. Until something runs into us.

This past week, in the rarified atmosphere of Planet Wine, there were some forceful encounters, some of which might affect Italy. No, I’m not talking about the election of the new pope or drawn out drama of Italy without a government. I’m talking about the really important stuff. The Wine Advocate vs. Galloni and Gianfranco Soldera vs. the Brunello Consortium.

Let’s start with the most important one, at least for one of the 7 billion centers of the universe.

Gianfranco Soldera has announced he is leaving the Brunello Consortium. He says he has been thinking about this for some time and it is purely coincidental that he made his decision at the same time a court sentenced Mr. Andrea Di Gisi to four years' imprisonment for his destruction of Soldera's wines.

Why is this big news?

Soldera is a comet, a mercurial one, but one whose light is bright and influential. Does one need to belong to the consortium in order to be able to call the wine Brunello? According to Eleonora Scholes, “All producers working in Brunello di Montalcino zone belong to the consortium.”

Will Soldera continue to call his wine Brunello? Does it matter? Will this weaken the Brunello brand? Does that matter?

When Angelo Gaja forsook the name of Barbaresco did it weaken the brand of Barbaresco? Hardly. Gaja pursued the Gaja brand with great success and Barbaresco continues on, gaining more devotees to the appellation as well. Barbaresco has not seen the tumult that Montalcino has seen in the last ten years, but with both wines soaring in popularity, Montalcino and the Brunello brand has been damaged.

Is Soldera a cantankerous curmudgeon just looking to cause havoc, a fireball streaking the heavens? Or does he have a plan?
Will we love the man (any more) or the wine (any less) if it has a different name? Again, I look to Gaja for a possible way to understand the trajectory, even though these two men could not be farther apart philosophically.

My sense is Soldera is looking to distance himself from the consortium with the time he has left on this grimy little orb. He’s 76, and like the new pope, he has work to do and doesn’t want to waste any time. His momentum in the heavens gains, stalls or reverses, depending on his mood. After all he is the center of his universe. And like the pope, he considers infallibility not an option but a right.

The other great fire upstairs is the clash of the titans, The Wine Advocate vs. Antonio Galloni. As the documents attest, this is an action of a corporation against a person. Robert Parker doesn’t own all of it anymore. He still indicates his admiration for Galloni. “Kindly Uncle Bob” (as Eric Asimov likes to call him) might like to distance himself from this behind the corporate cloak, but the Wine Advocate is still his baby (as majority owner) and this looks to be a stain that Comet cleanser cant bleach away.

We won’t really know until (or if) we see the contract that Galloni signed.Blake Gray claims to have seen the contract and on a recent blog post says, "Galloni told me he has ownership of all his old published reviews from the Advocate, and his contract appears to support that."

I have read everything I could get my hands on and know only this: it is now in the hands of lawyers. “A countryman between two lawyers is like a fish between two cats,” Ben Franklin once said.

I’m not sure what waters Antonio Galloni is swimming in right now, but I’d rather be swimming in his tank than in the sea of sharks Parker is swimming in.

The Wine Advocate brand has been languishing in the US for a while. When Galloni came onboard, it signaled a new energy, an interest in the future. Look, wine reviewing is hard work. Parker is tired, all very understandable. But who is pulling the strings behind the curtain on this one? My sense is his partners in Singapore live in their own little isolation tank and don’t realize (or don’t care) how this impacts the Wine Advocate brand in America. And they might be right. Will premium priced wineries in Napa stop pursuing reviews from TWA?

The sad fact is that here, in America, this damages Parker’s legacy and it stalls Galloni’s trajectory. Can we all get by without them? Absolutely. None of this is mission critical. But it seems to be an acting-out of a drama that elevates nothing in the world of wine. There will be no big winners with this one. To the gazillionaires in Singapore, this matters not; they are expanding their Wine Advocate brand into new uncharted lands. And the young wine drinkers in America don’t care about reviews that much anymore. Nor do some of us who have been around for a while longer. So the strategy is, lose 30,000 in the US but gain 250,000 in Asia. Five years from now what will it matter?

Five years from now, Parker will be 70+ and Galloni will be 45+. Galloni will still matter. Time is on his side. His star is still ascending, albeit in a holding pattern for now.

The heavens send forth fire and the souls on earth shudder as they look up. Our heroes are sputtering above us, breaking us out of our own personal universe(s) and forcing us to look at the larger picture. Let’s hope they too, will be able to break out of their own bubble(s) in time before more damage is done. Wine is a gift from the gods; far be it for mere humans to muck it up.


writing and vintage photos by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

7 comments:

  1. Alfonso, beautiful writing and logic but I would only point out the following two points.

    1. Gaja had surpassed the Barbaresco DOC in "Q Rating"(if you will) before he decided to proprietize most of his wines. Sig. Soldera does not enjoy that notoriety and has indeed gained a well earned reputation on the negative side of the reputation equation. What happened to him was ridiculous and for the perpetrator to get 4 years equally so, but I do not believe Soldera has the name recognition that Gaja enjoyed, ironically because of the SPECTATOR, and he certainly does not produce enough wine to make up for that lack of recognition.

    2. Parker/Galloni- I think you're on the money here. Mr. Parker has "sold his soul" as it were, and it will not be long before the corporate side of the Far East entity investing in his publication starts to wonder where all the profits are. Ironic considering I have always thought his heart in the right place and integrity unimpeachable. That said and turning to Galloni, please remember these two gentlemen are icons to the wine cognoscenti, not the mainstream consumer. You and I have been in the game long enough to know that RP enjoyed the advantage of being unique back in the 1980's(I called on the MD and DC markets for Palm Bay and Wildman back then and got to see the phenomena develop). AG does not have that advantage, though I find him far more enlightened on Italian wine than RP(which is why AG wrote about it for RP!). Thanks again for an interesting and entertaining blog.

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  2. Thanks, Tony....

    yes this is all so much "inside baseball" (as the beginning line in italic quotes portends)

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  3. "grimy little orb"...thank you for that!

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  4. Soldera is leaving the consortium because some of the producers( rather big and powerful ones) were and are guilty of adultering their wine and lowering the brand. One has to wonder if Gaja left before he was caught doing much the same thing. So it is a little different. I see the Parker/Galloni fight hurting both to some degree. But probably getting Galloni some press. So maybe it was part of his plan.

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  5. Alfonso:

    Along with each of us believing that we are the center of the universe comes the fear that we may not be the center of the universe. That's why stories like this one meet with the other result of longevity on earth: Schadenfreude.

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  6. A great cure to humans thinking they are the center of the universe is atheism. Not believing that there is a personal being out there that give a crap about what I do or not do is very liberating. If that doesn't help, there is wine. Wine makes you feel connected to the rest of the world. Who know there could be so much drama in wine.

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