Washington winemakers will now have to impress this guy.
While Jay Miller's seemingly sudden departure from the Wine Advocate has provoked suspicion among wine bloggers, who wonder whether the decision was connected to allegations that Miller's appearance coordinator solicited payment from winemakers on Miller's beat, the shake-up has special significance for the Pacific Northwest.
Miller - a former assistant to Robert Parker -- covered Oregon and Washington, bestowing near-perfect scores on wines from Quilceda Creek Vinters and Betz Family Winery. Industry observers wonder whether his replacement will seek out new favorites to celebrate.
"It's an opportunity for some of the new winemakers that aren't entrenched in Jay's world and those who haven't been looked at so favorably by Jay," says David LeClaire, founder and general manager of Wine World Warehouse.
Charges of ethical impropriety have previously been lobbed at Miller, who was spotted dining with big-name wine importers in 2009 and discovered to have accepted travel fees from trade groups the previous year. But the wine industry doesn't necessarily consider relationships between critics and winemakers untoward, and Miller cultivated friends in Washington whose wines he wouldn't ignore or publicly pan. LeClaire thinks the new critic might "take down someone who's always been held up" as a way of establishing credibility.
That kind of non-conformity could encourage wineries who felt they didn't have a chance with Miller, LeClaire adds.
"People don't necessarily submit their wines for judging because of biases they've experienced in the past," he explains.
Although Wine Advocate doesn't have the prestige it did when it was the lone rating voice in the wine universe, a high score from the publication can still signal a breakthrough for a winery, LeClaire says. "It's still relevant," he says.
Miller will be replaced by David Schildknecht, a highly respected critic whose previous coverage region included Germany and Austria. According to the Wine Diarist, he accepted the Pacific Northwest beat back in August. Before his hire, Parker praised his "legendary tasting abilities," although there's been slight online speculation about what he'll like and dislike in Washington wine.
"Whenever there's a lack of history, it's an opportunity for new people," LeClaire says.