There is a long tradition of American personalities promoting products in Asia that they would never think of endorsing in the United States. It’s all about artistic integrity over here, but over where their friend won’t see the ads it’s all about cashing-in.
So it is, apparently, with Robert Parker, whose relationship with wine distributors and importers is significantly more cozy in Asia than it is in the United States. For example:
The maiden, three-day “Ultimate Parker in Asia” event, which opens on May 1, is hosted by Singapore and London-based wine brokers and stockists Hermitage and will feature more than 250 vintages from 92 Old and New World wineries, including Dom Perignon, Chateau Angelus, Chateau Lascombes and Penfolds.
Parker associate Annette Piatek, contacted by email, flatly denies what seems apparent:
Mr. Parker does not make promotional appearances for wine importers or distributors anywhere in the world, U.S. or otherwise.
Parker may not think of his appearance as promotional, but his sponsors clearly do. And it’s worth noting that the “Ultimate Parker in Asia” event is not Parker’s first trip to the far east sponsored by commercial interests with a direct stake in his reviews. Two years ago in Beijing, Parker appeared at a private promotional dinner and conducted a trade tasting of eight fine wines being introduced to the Chinese market by ASC, an importer that features Parker’s endorsement on its homepage:
China’s greatest fine wine importer.
To be fair, there’s no way to tell if Parker is even aware of the website endorsement. Go-getter Chinese businesses have a history of overstepping the bounds of western copyright and right-of-publicity traditions. The statement itself feels like something said in the flush of the moment, the way Jerry Lewis introduces telethon guest Tony Orlando as the world’s greatest entertainer.
Still, the combination of the appearance and the website endorsement is not the kind of behavior you’re likely to see in the U.S., where the most influential wine critic in the world defends his consumer advocate credentials with the zeal of a bear protecting her cubs. But in the booming Asian wine trade, where corporations are establishing brand value and market positioning that will generate cash for the next half-century, the value of corporate association with Parker is huge and apparently irresistible. Arnaud Compas, founder of Hermitage Wines of London and Singapore, comes right out and says it:
“Parker is god when it comes to wine, nobody in any business is as influential as he is. He has vision, the ability to anticipate how a wine will develop, and he has always been spot on, which sets the benchmark for prices. Because of that, Robert Parker has created fortunes.”
For Parker, there may be more than short-term money at stake. The booming Asian market for wine is a booming market for wine advice, as well. While Parker’s Wine Advocate is not yet translated into Chinese, Parker is well aware of the value of his enormous database of reviews to Asian consumers. In Asia, where raw commercialism is so new that it’s still wildly celebrated, activities that might cause westerners to question Parker’s critical objectivity are franchise enhancements. Parker’s endorsement builds brands, certainly, but what Parker really seems to be doing is building his own profile. If that requires him to be more of a cheerleader than critic, he’s clearly willing to make that investment.
“China is well ahead of where the U.S. was 30 years ago. A lot of Americans in my generation traveled to Europe and got interested in wine. Here, you are moving much faster,” he said. “I want to play a part. I want to show my passion for wine.”
And that’s what he’s doing, just like Harrison Ford when he shows his passion for canned Japanese beer.