Robert Parker Wine Advocate Acquired by Michelin Guides
You may have heard that Michelin Guides recently acquired The Robert Parker Wine Advocate (RPWA). It should not come as a very big surprise as Michelin purchased 40 percent of the enterprise a few years ago (2017). In addition, The RPWA and Michelin have been working together since 2016 in Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau on upmarket wine and dining events and the development of new digital content and services.
Nicolas Achard is the CEO of RPWA with a mission – to increase the geographical coverage of wines, incorporate the growing interest in wine in emerging markets, develop a digital eco-system combining gastronomy and wine and offer exclusive experiences.
The Parker Legend
The times and triumphs of Parker make a remarkable story. Born in Monkton, Maryland, Parker graduated from the University of Maryland Law School in 1973, practiced for 10+ years, and, in 1984, resigned from his position as Assistant General Counsel for the Farm Credit Banks of Baltimore.
In 1978 he started The Wine Advocate to educate consumers about wines that were not influenced by advertising. To accomplish this objective, he created a 100-point rating system (adopted universally) and then expanded his influence by writing books about wines, becoming the first and last word about everything linked to the wine industry.
His point system is based on his academic experience where 100 points signified a perfect score. Judgements about wines are made within peer groups with 60-69 points considered below average and 50-59 totally unacceptable. How to win points (or perhaps extra credit)? The Parker system considers color, appearance, aroma, bouquet, flavor and balance.
When Parker was active, he spent 3-months of the year in vineyards and 9-months tasting and writing. He considered his notes to be important and the numerical system a summary of his thoughts. After spending over 40 years of his life living/breathing wines he decided to slowly disengage, no longer spending 80 hours a week exploring more than 10,000 wines each year. He began to modify his work schedule with editor-in-chief, Lisa Perrotti-Brown who has known Parker since 2003. Her mission: to maintain the legacy of The Wine Advocate. The magazine has been totally funded by subscribers with some financial support from wine-tasting events for subscribers only and non-wine connected sponsors including airlines, credit card companies and luxury automobiles.
Michelin May Change the Game
The acquisition by Michelin may change the eco-system of The RPWA as Michelin is supported by revenue beyond guide buyers. In addition to the books, in 2017 Michelin acquired online reservation platforms (BookaTable), launched branded food and beverage events (that are profitable) and accepts corporate sponsors and tourism board commission. It has also expanded to new locales (which also increases the markets for its tire business).
The price of commissioning a Michelin guide depends on location and scope of project. An estimate from the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) reportedly pledged 144 million Thai baht (approximately US$4.4 million) in financial support to Michelin for 5 years, beginning with the first Bangkok guide in 2017. Based on “hope” and not facts, TAT pledged $880,000 per year “expecting” the guide to increase food tourism in the country (2018, July 18, Brenna Houck@EaterDetroit).
Houck (2018, July 18) also found that the state-owned Korean Tourism Organization (KTO) agreed to pay Michelin approximately 2 billion won (approximatey US$1.8 million) to bring the Seoul guide to the country. The initial payment started in 2016, roughly 400 million won a year has been spent to support the continued publishing of the guide.
Not every restaurateur or chef wants to be included in the Michelin guide. Eo Yun-gwon, a South Korean chef sued Michelin for including his restaurant, Ristorante Eo, in the 2019 guide to Seoul, after he asked them not to publish his business. He is taking action under a South Korean law against public insult that is similar to American laws that focus on libel and slander. According to Yun-gwon, The Michelin guide, “…is blinded by money and lacks philosophy” (2019, November 24, Marcus, L, & Kwon, J., CNN).
The South China Morning Post reported that Dorland Clauzel (former executive vice president of Michelin’s brands, sustainable development, The Michelin Guide and external relations) asserted that the guide was funded by corporate sponsors including Melco Resorts & Entertainment (a Macau hotel and casino operator), Mercedes-AMG, online restaurant reservation system Chope, water brands Badoit and Evian, coffee giant Nespresso and Robert Parker Wine Advocate.
In The Untold Truth of the Michelin Guide (https://www.mashed.com/126793/the-untold-truth-of-the-michelin-guide/) former Michelin inspector Pascal Remy (via the LA Times) found that, “..in France, where there are more than 10,000 restaurants that were theoretically up for review” only 5 inspectors were available and that the inspectors did not visit the restaurants they are reviewing each year. Remy also said that some restaurants were untouchable and that no matter how far they slid, they would be able to keep their stars.
While the financials of Michelin are kept very private, a February 19, 2010 issue of the Wall Street Journal reported that a disaffected inspector claimed a salary of approximately $32,800 per year.
There is Wine in the Future
What the future holds for the new wine/restaurant guide? It is likely that the information will become more equalitarian and accessible to a much larger audience through print, online and apps. The Michelin Guide recently joined with TripAdvisor and TheFork, offering diners the opportunity to locate their ideal dining experience, opening new global restaurant opportunities. The expansion will certainly enhance the visibility of chefs and restaurants while increasing reservations due to online booking platforms. Perhaps the wine expertise of the RPWA will be added to the database, enabling the visitor to book the restaurant as well as make the wine/food pairings in a few key strokes.
© Dr. Elinor Garely. This copyright article, including photos, may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.