Calling It Quits: Galloni Could Have Changed California’s Wine Trajectory

In Case You Missed it Last Week. 

Antionio Galloni Resigned From The Wine Advocate.

This was disappointing news.  In his new, powerful, position of writing for The Wine Advocate, Antonio Galloni was our greatest hope of allowing a diverse spectrum of winemaking styles to flurish in California.  California Cabernets, in particular, had been pushed into a very narrow definition of style of what could be considered great Cabernet. It was a definition that had been shaped over twenty-five years, by a singular, authoritative, voice. Robert Parker’s.

“Galloni had a vastly different palate than Parker.”

Two years ago, when Galloni was given the assignment of  reviewing California wine for the world’s most powerful and influential wine publication, we began to see a momentous shift in the editorial stance there. Galloni had a vastly different palate than Parker, and it show in his very first reviews. With these more diverse reviews, we saw the possibility that winemakers could escape from the pressures to make the uniformly fruit driven, immensely concentrated, and almost monolithic style that has come to characterize Cabernet here.  The question was, would Robert Parker continue to allow such a diversion from the style that was essentially synonymous with his publication? I was incredulous that it would be allowed to continue.

But Galloni was not relieved of his duties.  He was not muzzled.  And for a time, it appeared that the arc of California winemaking might forever be altered for the better. Now, winemakers that desired to make more refined, detailed California wines, would be financially encouraged to do so. There were already dozens of winemakers out on the fringes , making wine in niche styles, that could really benefit from these changes in thinking.

“There was no doubt now, California was poised to create the most brilliant wines in its history.”

Galloni‘s second major review of California Cabs was published in late 2012, with many stars of yesteryear among the list of high scoring wines. Imagine, if you will, that the Freemark Abbey Napa Cabernet got 92 points from any publication -other than the Enthusiast.  It happened in the Wine Advocate!  It was thrilling that so many wines were rewarded for showing honest complexity on leaner frames, while many of Parker’s former favorites struggled to stay above 90 points. Galloni simply did not seem to be impressed by their bombastic, viscous fruit, if once you got past the all the flash, they were ultimately simple wines. There was no doubt now, California was poised to create the most brilliant wines in its history.

And then, just like that, he is gone.  The Wine Advocate put him in the position, and I suppose, The Wine Advocate could take it away. But before making accusations, let’s go back.

*       *       *

From The Wine Advocate’s humble beginnings, Robert Parker’s message was clear. He challenged winemakers around the world to increase their quality, by pointedly writing that specific wineries needed a “wake up call“.  He never shied away from confrontation, and insisted they clean up their winemaking, reduce their yields, and stop doing whatever lazy, careless, or penny-pinching things they were doing.  I don’t think it was his intention for them to make wine his way, he simply wanted winemakers to care.  He tirelessly fought this crusade, making fierce enemies along the way. He called winemakers out on shoddy practices, and forced them to pay attention to the details.  His words resonated across the wine world; and not just with the winemakers whom he challenged, but also with his ever-growing, subscription-paying public, who enforced his words with the power of their wallets. The readership followed his every word, not only because he was beyond reproach in his candor and honesty, but because they could identify with the reliably accessible, big, rich, sweetly fruited wines he favored. 

“Imagine, if you will, that the Freemark Abbey Napa Cabernet would get 92 points from any publication -other than the Enthusiast…  It happened in the Wine Advocate!”

As the years rolled by, Robert Parker’s legions of fans bought what he recommended, and winemakers financially felt the enormous power of his pen. They discovered being a favorite of Robert Parker brought financial success, so winemakers sought to make wine to please him.

Traditionalists were alarmed.  Wines everywhere were becoming homogenized and uniform, and nowhere was this more true than among California’s premier Cabernets from Napa Valley. So when Robert Parker, who was positioning himself to retire, named his Italian specialist, Antonio Galloni, to write his the reviews of California wine, there was a great deal of surprise.  I can’t help but think Parker was very aware of the impact of his choice.   

The Traditionalist View: Funny Youtube Video  Hitler reacts to Robert Parker scoring a Napa Cabernet 100 points

But the winds were changing. In late 2012, Robert Parker announced the sale of The Wine Advocate for $15 million. The new ownership, a group of Singapore businessmen, named The Advocate’s Asia Correspondent, Lisa Perrotti-Brown, as the publication’s new Editor.  Antonio Galloni, whom many had considered to be Robert Parker’s heir apparent, had been passed over. He resigned, with plans to start his own website.  Did he quit, or was he pushed out?

I am certain that the wine industry will embrace him as a valid spokesperson, and critic.   Another voice is welcome, even though he will no longer have the high pulpit of The Wine Advocate to preach from.

About Antonio Galloni:

Antonio Galloni, born in Caracas, Venezuela, was the son of an Italian wine importer. American educated, he began writing about the wines of Piemonte, in a blog he named The Piedmont Report. He has already launched his new website, antoniogalloni.com, and will report on Italian, California and Burgundy wine, in short media-driven format.  It’s hard to imagine he will ever have the reach he had two weeks ago when he worked for The Wine Advocate.

The Wine Advocate

The Wine Advocate (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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