Imagine if the legendary wine critic Robert Parker Jr. Would the wine reviews catch your eye a little more?
In a manner of sorts, now you can find out. We recently stumbled across the video wine reviews of one Sophie Parker, otherwise known as Lady Parker Wine Reviews. We were impressed with the...um...what was she talking about again?
Oh, right — wine. Along with the name, it turns out this Parker, too, is a lawyer who decided to try investing a little more in the passion of driving consumers toward better wine choices. Unlike the more famous Parker, however, this one grew up in a winemaking family in New Zealand — and all throughout her legal studies, tried to show her beer-swilling classmates the joy to be found in drinking the country's best wines, instead. (And, for now, she's keeping her reviews restricted to the country she knows best.)
We recently spoke with Lady Parker just ahead of her bar exam — which might explain any lull you see in her posting of wine reviews at the the moment — to learn about her early exposures to wine, which other wine writers inspire her and how Kiwis are reacting to her reviews so far. Read on for our full interview with Lady Parker...which we give 99 points.
So...Lady Parker.... What's your real name?
[Laughs] Sophie Parker, so there is some truth to the pseudonym. Robert Parker Jr. is a huge force in the wine world, obviously, so this is a New World spin on it, I guess.
I'm 22, and I live in Queenstown, New Zealand. I'm finishing off the course for being admitted to the bar, having already done my degree. [After that, we] must go through a 20-week legal course, which is more practical law training. I don't really have any plans to go into law after; I'm much more focused on the wine side of things, but at least it's there for me.
Growing up in Gisborne, on the North Island, did you have a lot of exposure to wine, or was it just that farming thing on the other side of town?
I did grow up very much involved in wine. My father is a winemaker, [and he] won a scholarship for wine studies back in the early '80s. He went to Australia and finished his degree there, [and after he began making] a méthode champenoise and a Beaujolais-style red. I pretty much spent my childhood in the winery even though I didn't take a great interest in it at that stage — it was really only the last five years that my interest and passion built.
We moved to Queenstown in late 2001. We've got about three hectares of Pinot Noir that my parents have. They're not concentrating on it in any great commercial sense, but it's more for the wine-tourism thing. It's more of a show vineyard, just outside of Cromwell en route to Queenstown; but [my father] makes some Pinot Noir and some rosé off that vineyard.
So you studied at Otago in Dunedin, arguably the beer-making and beer-drinking capital of New Zealand...and you were drinking wine the entire time?
I guess I had to conform a little to the scarfie standard of the quality of drinks, and certainly enjoyed the odd Speight's, but I must say I was pretty much a wine snob — and I took it upon myself toconvert my flatmates throughout that entire time. So, needless to say, they did drink some quite good Central Otago wine during their university days. And that's how Lady Parker really evolved as well, since people knew I was really into my wine and from a wine family, and always happy to share knowledge and thoughts about different wines. People were always asking for opinions and what to get their fathers for Christmas. That's what led to posting wine reviews online, and then on YouTube, and it sort of grew from there.
I feel good that my peers and the younger generation are wine drinkers, and are watching my wine reviews and learning a bit and becoming more appreciative of what they have around them.
Are you only reviewing New Zealand wines?
At this stage I am, since that's what's in my backyard, and I've lived in a few of the different wine regions. My intention is to be able to expand to other wines, but it's so hard to get good-quality wines from elsewhere in the world. We've got some Chilean wines and quite a bit of Australian wines, but nothing really of substantial or considerable quality, unfortunately.
What is it about Robert Parker, in particular, that interests or inspires you?
I guess I can identify with him because he was a lawyer, and I love the story about how he initially began writing a newsletter that would go out to his clients who were interested in the new Bordeaux wines that were coming out — and how that grew. Now that he's such a success, he's something to aspire to — and the fact that he has so much influence. I know that he's quite a controversial character as well.
Along those lines, why use a 100-point scoring system, the one measure of criticism that's pretty much dismissed if not outwardly derided in Australasia? (Most use awards shows or a five-star scale.)
I guess because it's known. I agree, some have left it and it sometimes can be quite confusing, especially for first-timers. But I'm not settled on that scale, either. I just use it because it's recognized, and using stars can be even more ambiguous, in a way. Because there are so many variations in wine, it doesn't sit well with me to just stamp a number of stars on a wine as the quality of it. In a way, the 100-point system should be fine as a total rating, but there are so many different elements: The nose, the palate, is it a food wine? There are various ways to rate a wine, and it's something I'll work on in the future, because the 100-point scale is a bit antiquated, and people are becoming less enthused with it. For the meantime, I'm happy to use it.
Which other wine writers or bloggers do you follow?
Of course, Gary Vaynerchuk. Of course, he's evolved beyond WLTV, into books and public speaking. But he's great, really the paradigm of video wine reviews. And there are a lot of people who've followed in his footsteps.
There's Jayson Bryant, who reviews the wines he sells in his shop. The key of Lady Parker is maintaining independence. And I don't even like to receive unsolicited samples. And another thing is to use approachable language in wine reviews, without dumbing it down — and still keeping the intellectual element there.
What sort of feedback or reactions have you gotten from winemakers and viewers?
The wineries have all been really supportive; they're really behind it. And there's been lots of positive feedback. There have been a lot more requests for other wines in New Zealand and other varieties, and I like to take all that on board. I'm looking forward to having more time after all the law stuff to focus on developing the concept.
We've watched several of your videos and we've yet to see you give a bad review. Are you playing it safe to start, and chosen not to upload the bad reviews?
I probably wouldn't at this stage, upload all of them, since I don't review any wines that I don't enjoy myself. For now I want to keep the reviews on the premise that the wines are really good quality, and that I would recommend them to family or to the wine-drinking community.
So you've tasted wines that were bad and stopped recording?
Yes, I have. If that happens, I just won't publish the review...and I use it as cooking wine.
What's the absolute best wine you've ever had?
Two of my favorite thus far, would be a wine I tasted on my 21st birthday. It was from the year my father started making sparkling wine (out of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Gisborne), which was the year of my birth, 1988. I had that with my friends and family. It was really dry and toasty — absolutely beautiful.
Another favorite of mine was a 1996 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet, which my brother found tucked away in the restaurant cellar where he worked in Perth. It was a tricky cork to get out but it was absolutely beautiful! The bottle was covered in candle wax which made me have doubts about the drinkability of the contents — but it truly was enthralling.