Over the past 5 millenia, various people have influenced the wine industry in minor or major ways. From Jesus to the Pope, from Dom Perignon to Robert Parker, or even to dear old Dad or Purple Teethed Joe and his little wine blog, the list of names could run for miles. But more importantly, each of these people became, in our eyes, an idol of sorts... to the point that he or she became someone we wine geeks have looked up to or revered. And so the question must be asked:
Who is your wine idol?
E. S. Brown
For those of you who know me and know how much I rail on Robert Parker Jr. and The Wine Advocate's 100 point wine rating scale this may come as a bit of a shock, but Parker is my wine idol. Love him or hate him there is no denying his impact on the world of wine. In the last thirty years Parker has built an empire that is as diverse now as it was comically small back then. From what started as a mailer to friends and family in 1978 The Wine Advocate is now shipped to subscribers in over 40 different countries across the globe, and the magazine's website erobertparker.com is considered to be the most visited website of it's kind. Parker has been called the most influential critic in the world.
The futures market in Bordeaux is often set on Parker's assessment. The popularity of a wine is often made or broken based upon his opinion. And for every one person that I meet that says they think that reducing a wine to a bare number is sucking the soul out of the wine industry, I meet ten more Parkerites who come scurrying out of the woodwork to search endlessly for that bottle of wine that scored a 94.
More importantly Parker has encouraged a generation of wine drinkers to get out and try things that they never would have tried before. His clear and concise opinions, though headstrong and sometimes even bombastic, have brought descriptions of wines from all over the planet to our doorstep. Some say that wines are now being crafted to his tastes in an effort to gain his approval, but had you not read about that wine in the Advocate in the first place, would you even know what the original style should be?
My wine idol is not internationally famous but was very influential in defining me in the wine industry. Gene Parrino was a founding partner of Vintage Wine Distributor in Columbus, Ohio and was my mentor. I am sure most who read this have never heard of Gene, but he had a tremendous impact in the development of fine wine in the state Ohio. When Paul Mason, Gallo Hearty Burgundy, Lancers, Riunite and a handful of pretentious French wines dominated the wine business, Gene pioneered and took chances with virtually unknown California brands. A few of the no-name brands Gene took a chance on were Sutter Home, Ravenswood, Estancia, Clos Du Bois and Robert Mondavi. The early years for these wines were tough and they owe their success to Gene's vision and belief in the future of high quality wine from California. Gene represents an era in wine that has long passed, an era where quality and identity were more important that packaging and boxes. Gene passed away in September 2006, but his impact on the industry lives on in all the hearts and minds he touched. I miss him.
I have been hemming and hawing over who to choose as my wine idol, and after much too much deliberation, the best conclusion I can arrive at is that there simply isn't one person I most look up to. There are many, many people. Among them is a group of my peers who consistently inspire and educate me. There's my former boss, a guy who buys wine for a high-end retail market by day, and spins some of the most incredible jazz records by night. Many a memorable bottle of wine and a story have been shared in his presence. Then there's a woman who I buy wine from. She's got a vocabulary for describing wine that would make a Scrabble champion cower by his time clock. And her knowledge of minute details such as the soil types of specific vineyards in the Kamptal blows my mind. Of course, I couldn't leave out my former wine group… a mix-and-match gaggle of food servers who are as thirsty for wine education as I am. One of the group is now working at a premier Oregon winery, and another is selling the bottom out of a serious amount of wine in the restaurant business. And how could I forget the guy who proofreads my wine lists and acts as my anytime study partner? He's the person I idolize for motivating young women, such as myself, to succeed in the wine industry. Now, none of these people have written books or started major import companies, but each one of them has inspired me to learn more and keep my eyes open.
Hugh Johnson. Or "Huge" as we jokingly refer to him in my little circle of geeks. He authored (with a little help from Jancis Robinson) what was to become my personal wine bible when I first started geeking out over fermented juice – The World Atlas of Wine. I devoured that book twice over, and studied the maps until they were permanently infused on the backs of my eyelids. While there are countless ways he has left his impression on the wine industry, to me it was his detailed descriptions of appellations and their quaffs that kick-started my love for wine, and consequently my impetus for founding Winegeeks.