I never thought I could go from Cold Duck to Confucius in a matter of minutes, but all it took was a visit with the venerable Robert M. Parker, Jr. to do just that. Meeting the founder of The Wine Advocate—the most renowned wine critic on the planet—was an encounter of self-discovery, entrepreneurship and drive that comes only from someone doing what he loves.
A Maryland native, Robert M. Parker liked wine, having joined a wine group in college at the University of Maryland (and after pursuing a romantic interest in France in 1967), but his passion hadn’t yet taken over. He became a lawyer, but really didn’t like it. “Wine, at the same time, was fascinating … how it was made, how certain wines, you know, lived … almost 20 [to] 30 years in the bottle and improving and others didn’t,” Robert says.
So, in 1975 he made the leap and started The Wine Advocate as a newsletter. “I stopped practicing [law] in favor of pursuing the grape and couldn’t be happier,” he says. But don’t think it’s been a simple ride with a glass of wine in one hand and a baguette in the other. It has been work, work and more work performed by a motivated and passionate individual whose efforts paid off after considerable time, dedication and debt. It’s a frame of mind anyone can harness, granted they’re willing to work for it.
Remember, he wasn’t always a wine critic. In fact, his first wine experience was not unlike the typical unfortunate youth wine encounter. “It was when my high school sweetheart, who is actually now my wife of 43 years, had a birthday party and they served Cold Duck, and her parents made the mistake of letting this—you know, the 16 year olds—have a glass or two,” he says. “I never listened [or] liked rules too much, so I had more than a few glasses.” The experience may have soured him on Cold Duck, but not on a business that’s become his life for nearly 40 years.
“I really encourage people that if you love something just passionately, pursue it and … try and make a career out of it.” A wine critic, yes, but he looks at his job from a perspective that might surprise some. “I think as a wine critic, you want to give people choices,” he says. He encourages individuals to know their palates and make up their own minds about what they like. “If I were standing next to you and there was a wine that I had given 100 points … and you say ‘I just don’t care for it,’ I would have no problem with that whatsoever,” Robert says. It’s an independent “lone wolf sort of way of going about the business” that has served him well. Creating his business—or any self-driven endeavor—he insists takes patience above all else.
“Your time will come but you’ve got to put the time in,” Robert says.” It took him four or five years of consistent, hard work before he ever made a penny in the business. “A lot of people give up long before that—or would have—and I didn’t, he says. “I just was going to keep doing it … because it was the only thing I thought I would love doing the rest of my life.” So, for the world’s foremost wine critic, it boils down to what is often attributed as the Confucian view of, “Choose a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life.” It’s something I strive for everyday at The Wine Coach, and I can’t think of a better inspiration than how Mr.Robert M. Parker has put this into practice.