Parker Backlash from Biased Panel – Comments from Wine Opinions

The story I wrote earlier this week received quite a few comments, interestingly they were emailed to me instead of posted on the site. One of the emails was from John Gillespie of Wine Opinions, the originator of this study, and I thought it merited a repost on the blog. Thanks John and Christian Miller for taking the time to reply to my original post. I do feel however, that some of the points brought up should be addressed.

Attched you will find the origninal press release on the study, and a profile of the Wine Opinions panel. At the time we fielded the first Core Track survey, there were about 1,200 panel members. The survey was based on 403 responses. Today, the panel has grown to over 1,700 members. As you can see, they fairly and accurately represent that segment of the consumer market with the highest levels of consumption frequency and the highest levels of purchase of wines over $20. Our panel is in no way “biased,” as you speculate. It is simply respresentative of the 16.2 million high-end wine consumers in the U.S.

While I feel 1,700 members is a good number to draw information from, the Panel profile attached in the email reveals some problems. I’ve broken the data down. (Note: The national average figures were found in the Wine Opinions panel breakdown, and are derived from the “latest core consumer breakdown” from the Wine Market Council.)

Panel Profile: Wine Publications Read or Subscribed To

  • Wine and Food Magazine
  • 43%
  • National Average
  • 15%
  • Wine Spectator
  • 30%
  • National Average
  • 7%
  • Wine Enthusiast
  • 17%
  • National Average
  • No data provided
  • Wine & Spirits
  • 12%
  • National Average
  • No data provided
  • Robert Parker
  • 7%
  • National Average
  • 1%

Frankly, seeing this information isn’t helping me feel that this study isn’t biased in some way (that’s 109% by the way [I know, I know, the data]). The core consumer as described by the Wine Market Council is much less likely to be a Wine Spectator or Wine and Food Magazine reader than those from the Wine Opinions Panel.

Another issue I have with the Wine Opinions Panel is it’s demographic breakdown.

Here’s the information provided from the press release. (Again, the national average information represents the 16.2 Million regular wine drinkers information as collected by the Wine Market Council.)
Demographic Breakdown

Over 60
13%
National Average
22%

40-49
28%
National Average
19%

30-39
20%
National Average
18%

21-29
12%
National Average
15%

Female
65%
National Average
54%

Male
35%
National Average
46%

The study seems to lean heavily towards the Baby Boomer demographic.
From the Wine Market Council:

There are 77 million Baby Boomers (ages 40 to 58 in 2004), compared to a 44 million Generation X population (ages 28 to 39 in 2004). But the Millennial generation is a group of some 70 million.

Referring to the Wine Opinions Panel as “fairly and accurately” representing the Core high end wine consumer seems to be a bit of a stretch. The rising high end wine consumer is coming from a group of only 12% on your panel. These are the ones looking for some direction in the wine world, Robert Parker is definitely an influence for them.

In my experience, I tend to see more male’s making high end purchasing decisions. Although the National average still favors women, it isn’t to the degree of the Wine Opinions panel.

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The email continues:
I said: “If the study was to be unbiased, it would seem only fair that an equal number of Robert Parker and Wine Spectator subscribers would have been interviewed.”

Not true, there only has to be a representative sampling of sufficient numbers of each. Because our respondent mix is truly representative of the high-end consumer segment, there are a greater number of Spectator readers in that group than there are Parker readers.

As the data points out, the panel is biased towards two publications, exponentially more than the Core Market Consumer as researched by the Wine Market Council. Both Wine and Food Magazine, and Wine Spectator, appeal to a larger audience and have a larger circulation than The Wine Advocate. I agree that it wouldn’t necessarily need to be split between the two to be accurate, but unfortunately the Wine Opinions panel is unbalanced in this regard.

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I said: “The goal of the study was to find out who influences high end wine consumers (if you want to call over $20 high end, I think $50 would be a better number) purchasing decisions.”

There is plenty of research to show that even for affluential core high-frequency wine consumers, wine over $20 is a special purchase. A study defining high end as over $50 might well have a different result, but it would represent a miniscule (if important) number of consumers.

I can agree here, as I was just making a personal definition of what I consider high end.

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I said:”The problem is, if the majority of people interviewed don’t read the Wine Advocate or Erobertparker online, than they probably aren’t going to list them as a purchasing influence, aside from those that use information in retail stores.”

Of course, although the Parker number hints at how far beyond actual readership his influence may extend. But the main cause of our singling out Parker was not the low number citing him as an influence, it was the distribution of his rankings compared to other sources of influence. He had a much larger number of people giving him a “1”, compared to the others. If this was simply a matter of different levels of readership, then you would expect his “non-influence” ratings of 1-3 to be spread evenly or similarly to the other sources. We should also keep in mind that the number of people who see Parker ratings as shelf-talkers and in advertising is quite considerable. Mr. Parker’s ratings are also widely made know to consumers by sales staff in fine wine shops, so his presence as a critical force far exceeds his actual subscription base.

What I was trying to say is that if someone reads Wine Spectator regularly, more than likely they aren’t going to list Robert Parker as “Very Influential” in their purchasing decisions. As far as his reach, 1% of the 16.2 million daily/weekly wine drinkers is 162,000 who are Wine Advocate ‘readers’ according to the Wine Market Council data you reference. I’d say that’s more than a hint that his influence extends far beyond the reach of his actual readership. Again, the data showing people sighting his influence as low shouldn’t be taken as a sign that his influence is weakening. The majority from your panel already look to other sources for wine information.
Shelf takers who do not subscribe to any wine related journal’s don’t seem to be a part of your study, and therefore speculation on their purchasing patterns seems to be out of place in this discussion.

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I said:”A more accurate way to measure if Parker is losing his influence could have been interviewing consumers who were already looking at his reviews and have now moved to another source.”

We intend to do just that, with tracking studies each year. We do not state in our report that Parker is “losing his influence.” We merely point out that for every person who finds his reviews somewhat or very influential, there are three others who go out of their way to state that he has no influence on their purchase decisions.

Unfortunately, that data is misleading and the media took it as Parker losing his influence in all their headlines. The question seems unfair for the demographics of this panel. My point is, Robert M Parker Jr. hasn’t burned any bridges lately for a misrepresentation of any wine judged, so I can’t see how anyone could look at this information as proof that he is losing his influence. If someone doesn’t share his taste preference, they would be able to find that out rather quickly. I feel those who listen to one of his recommendations, try a bottle and like it, will continue to trust his opinion in their purchases.
A new generation of wine lover is emerging and they are looking at many sources for help navigating the world of wine. The Wine Advocate will continue to have a profound influence on the purchasing decisions of high end wine consumers, and I feel this survey provides no indication of that changing.

I can appreciate that your company was not responsible for the headlines. As I have described above however, I feel that the information on the Wine Advocate is incorrect and this panel is not a good means of gauging Parkers influence on the wine community. However, I am sure that your study was otherwise well thought out and executed and other aspects of it may prove to be helpfull to industry professionals. Thanks again for taking the time to comment.