Thursday, 8 December 2011

Campogate - some fine investigative journalism by Jim Budd

As a follower of various other (mostly wine-related) blogs, I've been watching with great interest the ongoing saga on Jim Budd's blog that has become known as "Campogate". As a wine journalist who has done much sterling work in investigating the more disreputable wine merchants and wine investment dealers via his investdrinks website, Jim has latterly been devoting more of his time to blogging - mostly about his favourite wine region, the Loire Valley.  But that hasn't stopped him getting his teeth into this rather intriguing and possibly far-reaching wine "scandal" that has been the subject of much discussion on various wine blogs and forums. It centres on the rather shady dealings of a character by the name of Pancho Campo MW, born and raised in Chile, but now resident in Spain. Briefly, one of Señor Campo's recent activities (amongst many - see his rather grandiose CV on the Institute of Masters of Wine website) has been to facilite/coordinate visits to various Spanish wine regions by Jay Miller, who just happens to be the official taster of Spanish wines for The Wine Advocate. In other words, Miller's boss is none other than Robert Parker.

The "Campogate" scandal centres on a series of emails between Campo and the representatives of certain Spanish D.O's, in which he attempts to solicit some rather hefty fees for a proposed series of extra-curricular tastings/lectures/masterclasses by Jay Miller on his recent visit. I use the term "extra-curricular", because the code of practice applied by Robert Parker to all of his employees at The Wine Advocate stipulates that  visits should be made entirely at the expense of The Wine Advocate and should not be financed in any way by the growers or the regional wine bodies. The reason behind this (so-called voluntary) code is Parker's - and therefore The Wine Advocate's - wish to remain completely independent and free from any suggestion of favouritism or hospitality. Indeed, during a long and (depending on your personal palate) distinguished career in wine, Parker's own reputation for independence has remained squeaky clean.

That money was paid out by at least two different D.O's in order to guarantee Jay Miller's recent visits now seems certain. The big question of course is exactly whose pockets were lined? I guess it will all come out in the wash. For his part, Miller insists he has "never accepted (or requested) fees for visiting wine regions or wineries", although his subsequent departure from The Wine Advocate (did he jump, or was he pushed?) hardly serves to dispel any doubts about his possible involvement in this episode. Pancho Campo, on the other hand, seems to be left holding a smoking gun, although he denies all accusations levelled at him  and has indeed made threats (yet to be carried out) of legal action against Jim Budd. To his great credit, Jim has refused to be intimidated by such threats.

I'm not sure that any laws were broken during the making of this drama (though I am no legal expert), but it certainly calls into question the morality of the main player(s), whilst also not doing an awful lot to enhance the reputation of the wine journalist fraterity as a whole. Furthermore, it has more than likely caused a great deal of damage to the Parker "brand", especially since Robert Parker himself reportedly issued veiled threats of legal action against "these bloggers", from the sanctuary of his (subscription-only) discussion forum. Again, nothing has yet come of these threats, presumably because Parker now realises that he has nothing to gain, and an awful lot to lose.

Were it not for the efforts of Jim Budd and his associate Harold Heckle (a Madrid-based wine writer who first uncovered the emails in question), this scandal may never have been successfully investigated. And whilst it does have potentially serious implications (at least for Campo, and possibly for Miller) there is something almost comical about Campo's bungling attempts to stifle this investigation and deny the existence of the offending emails, despite the seemingly overwhelming evidence. One has to assume that Jay Miller now rues the day he ever met Pancho Campo. As Oliver Hardy used to say to Stan Laurel, "Well, Stanley...... here's another fine mess you've gotten me into!"
Edit: Jim has asked me to point out that credit must also go to Vincent Pousson, who originally broke the story on Facebook on 26th October, with the email sent out by Asevin (the Murcia winemakers Association) on 4th October detailing the now famous tarif for samples and visits.


Jim Budd said...

Leon. Many thanks. Credit, however, should go to Vincent Pousson who originally broke the story on Facebook on 26th October with the email sent out by Asevin on 4th October with the now famous tarif for samples and visits.

Harold and I were then in the happy position to run with it.


Leon Stolarski said...

Thanks for that, Jim. I've now added an edit to my post, acknowledging Vincent Pousson's rather important contribution(!)

Vinogirl said...

Great post. I'm sure this type of thing goes on quite a bit, some just don't get caught.
Thanks for the L&H quote, loved them as a kid.

Leon Stolarski said...

Vinogirl - As you may be aware (though I assume you are quite a bit younger than me!), we used to get loads of L&H films on the BBC, but they haven't shown one for donkey's years. Shame. :-(

Warren Edwardes said...

It is all about transparency. Any wine writer that claims to be independent rather than a vendor (like the two of us) or a PR vehicle should publish a register of interests - like Chris Kissack.

"Wine Writers should Publish a Register of Interests"