Parker points back

14 April, 2015

His knee saved him from more questionable action. “Guys were doing all kinds of crazy stuff. When I was there doing the physical, one guy did a poop on the floor. They carried him away to see a psychiatrist. He was probably totally normal but people were desperate.” 

The young Parker had a way of turning bad luck good. “The girl I was in love with at college had taken off to study in Strasbourg in France,” he says. “I had more worries than she did as I had this notion that French guys were romantics – little did I know they were highly overrated.”

Parker didn’t take any chances and dropped out of school to meet her in Paris. “She took me to a bistro and I had my first dry wine,” he says. Parker can’t remember what they ate (“she says escargot”) but he recalls she was still in love with him. “I had enough money for six weeks so we toured eastern France, went into Germany and Amsterdam, which as a 20-year-old was the coolest place. We drank wine almost every night – probably not the stuff I would drink today because it was too cheap – but it was different every time and it seemed to promote conversation. 

“What I loved about it, and still love, is that wine gives you an incremental euphoria. It’s a feeling of mellowness, a light high without losing control of yourself.”

Both back Stateside, the young couple got engaged, but by now Parker had another love. He had read books by wine writers Alexis Lichine and André Simon and formed a wine group among his fraternity.  “Most of the guys smoked joints – marijuana was rampant – but I wouldn’t allow any smoking. I even had a lieutenant who was the enforcer.” 

On a shoestring budget, Parker made runs to Washington DC, picking up inexpensive Côtes du Rhônes, Beaujolais and Muscadets. “As I got more money I climbed the ladder of quality and price and that established very strong consumer advocacy ideals. 

“The most expensive wines were the rarest and had the most literature written about them, but when you tasted them they weren’t necessarily the most inspirational. A myth had been created. The French are wonderful at this with their appellations systems, Grand Crus and the 1855 classification system. It was basically a giant cast system for price control.”

But the young Parker was curious. “We read that the most expensive wine was Lafite Rothschild so we pulled together some extra dollars. When we tasted it no one said anything. Then one guy said: ‘This is Lafite Rothschild? I don’t like it,’ and everyone chipped in.  It was a major let-down but an important lesson.”

At this stage Parker didn’t conceive of a career in wine and instead enrolled in law school because he “didn’t want to work”. 

“Boy I picked the wrong field – lawyers were just above garbage men in terms of public opinion, but it made my parents very proud. I didn’t enjoy law school. I was too confrontational and it was a lot of work. But through it I developed the 100 point system and developed a real strict standard of ethics – a result of the Watergate era and being a protégée of [political activist] Ralph Nader.”

Keywords: robert parker

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