Life After Parker

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Revel - Cellar Designs for Fine Wines

OK, I know I’m a little late to the game with this blogging thing, but hopefully we will be providing our readers with timely and useful information from this point forward. For those of you who don’t know me and don’t know Revel Custom Wine Cellars, I suppose a little background is necessary so that readers can decide pretty quickly if our topics will be of interest to them.

I founded Revel Cellars four years ago, based on a ground-up re-envisioning of how wine racks in high-end wine cellars should be designed and built. As a long time collector, I had grown frustrated with the traditional “racks” – couldn’t find what I was looking for, couldn’t find my odd sized bottles and damaged the labels hauling bottles in and out of the wooden slots. As after 22 years in commercial real estate design and construction, I knew there had to be a better way. Still, I loved my job, and decided to start Revel as an absentee founder, which made it a little wonky from day one. Our patented designs have won us numerous awards and a slew of positive press, including an article in Forbes declaring us “World’s Best Wine Cellars”.

I retired from my day job in August, and my mission is provide Revel with the attention it deserves. The typical Revel client is a person who cares about more than an efficient way to store and display wine. Our clients also care a great deal about the functional utility of their cellars, and the visual impact of their designs.

This blog will be targeted to existing Revel clients, prospective future Revel clients, and the design community that has serviced and will service this unique clientele.

I do not intend to do wine reviews, or discuss wine topics in general. My focus will be on the three topics that my clients care about: the art of collecting wine (aka collecting as an end in and of itself); management and enjoyment of a collection; and the design of facilities that house fine wine collections.

With that preamble out of the way, the topic on my mind today is what happens when Robert Parker exits the wine ratings business. I have seen much written on this topic, and this man has probably had more of an impact on the wine world that any other in human history. He basically invented the 50-100 point scoring system that almost all wine critics use today, and the scores he awards often make or break the wines he evaluates.

He is getting on in years, and has recently sold his primary business entity, the Wine Advocate, and while it was clearly his plan to set up his business in such a way that his departure would have minimal long term effect on this business. This seems unlikely to happen.

As a result, there is a distinct possibility that once Mr. Parker retires, there will be no universal standard for wine ratings, and wines with original Parker ratings will be distinguished as a class from other wines. The implications for a fine wine collection are significant. Like it or not, Parker’s ratings have a huge impact on wine prices, particularly at the high end of the spectrum.

Parker’s ratings are so important, that wineries around the world have evolved in their winemaking practice so as to appeal to Mr. Parker’s very distinctive set of style preferences. In fact a cottage industry has developed around consultants that assist wineries in raising their scores from Mr. Parker.

So, what happens when there are no more Robert Parker ratings? This could take any number of directions, all of which can have an impact on the value of an existing collection.

Scenario 1 – Wines with high Parker scores could appreciate dramatically. Consider the relatively few wines over the years that have achieved perfection in Parker’s view and won a highly coveted 100 point score. While these wines have already benefited from this, just think about a world where there will never be another 100 point Parker wine. They will become increasingly rare, and as long as the standard retains its credibility, conventional wisdom would indicate that would translate into price appreciation. Implications for the collector – start accumulating these wines now – IMHO, it is not too late.

Scenario 2 – Parker scores will be discredited. Much has been said about the manner in which Mr. Parker has managed the transition around the sale of his business, most of it negative. This blog isn’t about casting stones, so I will leave it at that – it’s a pretty easy topic for our readers to research and then formulate their own opinions. The implication for a collector is that if the standard loses its shine, so too will the value of wines in the collection that have been accumulated (at a price premium of course). This would argue that a collector proceed in exactly the opposite direction described in Scenario 1.

Scenario 3 – A new standard for evaluating wines will quickly develop and fill the void left by Parker’s departure. This is clearly what Mr. Parker was trying to create in his transition plan and that the reviewers he hired and the publication he founded would continue to serve as “the standard”. The implications here would of course depend on what that standard is, and how it compares to Parker’s. If the new scoring system were to closely parallel Mr. Parker’s, maybe not a lot would change. If it were to be substantively different, there would likely be considerable upheaval in the wine making business due to attempts by winemakers to mold their products to the new standard.

Robert Parker is a unique individual, and it is unlikely that another like him will come along in the foreseeable future. His departure from the business of wine reviews and wine ratings will certainly leave a void, and regardless of one’s opinions of him, a savvy collector will want to monitor this situation closely.

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