The Spain-based representative for an influential Baltimore wine reviewer defended himself Wednesday amid accusations that he asked wineries for money in exchange for a visit from the critic.
The wine world has buzzed for days over news that respected oenophile Jay Miller, former co-owner of Bin 604 in Harbor East, had resigned from The Wine Advocate after accusations that his Spanish contact had strong-armed payments from local wineries in exchange for his visits.
But Pancho Campo, president of a Spanish wine organization called The Wine Academy, told The Baltimore Sun on Wednesday that neither he nor Miller ever took money from a winery.
"Jay Miller has visited almost 100 wineries in Spain, and not one winery has ever had to pay for the visit or tasting the wine," Pancho Campo told The Sun. "Never."
The wine blog Jim's Loire, based in London, recently reported that Campo attempted to arrange a deal whereby struggling winemakers would pay 20,000 euros, about $26,800 by current exchange rates, for a two-day visit from Miller. The blog published a series of emails between Campo and a trio of Spanish wine executives sent in early June.
When the winemakers in the Madrid region demurred, apparently put off by the cost, Campo came back with more pressure and less subtlety, blogger Jim Budd alleges.
"Private visits off the set agenda, as this would be, rarely take place, and not for a price below 40,000 euros," Campo allegedly wrote to wine officials in a note that Budd published. "The fact that Jay has agreed to stay 2 days more, and for half the usual price, is a miracle and an opportunity that Madrid will find it difficult to have again."
Before signing off with "a kiss from Tuscany," Campo allegedly added, "I hope they reconsider, especially considering how difficult the market is for Spain and that any little push like this can help a lot."
Campo said in that exchange he wasn't arranging a visit by Miller to any wineries, but rather that he was negotiating fees for Miller to host a seminar. The speaking engagement — not Miller's first — had nothing to do with The Wine Advocate, and the governing body for the local wine region, not any wineries, paid for it.
"It was not an official Wine Advocate trip, it's a freelance," Campo said. "When he does appearances on his own, those have nothing to do with The Wine Advocate."
Part of what makes all this particularly intriguing for the wine world is The Wine Advocate's sterling reputation. Run by Robert M. Parker Jr. out of Monkton, the publication prides itself on editorial independence. Unlike other wine journals, the Wine Advocate doesn't accept advertising, and its reviewers pay their own way.
Miller confirmed Wednesday that Campo helped him arrange free-lance speaking engagements, events where he would receive between $8,000 to $15,000. At the events, often attended by several hundred people, he would talk about his favorite wines, and attendees could sample those varieties.
"It was always wines of my choice, wines that I previously rated," Miller said. "I know some of my critics are upset I would be making so much money. They don't think I should be making anything."
Reached in London on Wednesday, the blogger Budd said he remained convinced that Campo's dealings with the winemakers, arrangements he likes to call "No Pay, No Jay," fail to pass the sniff test.
"The conference/masterclass is a smokescreen/fig leaf tacked onto the program," Budd said. "The reason why producers and their [organizations] were prepared to pay these sums was because Miller was going to review and rate their wines for The Wine Advocate."
Miller, who is 66 and lives in Upperco, is a former clinical psychologist who diverged into the wine world in 1977, becoming a part-time consultant at Wells Discount Liquors. He also worked for stints at Calvert Discount Liquors in Cockeysville and The Wine Source in Columbia before partnering with restaurateur Tony Foreman to open Bin 604.
He started working for The Wine Advocate in 1985. He told The Sun that it's coincidental that his resignation follows the controversy. He said all of the required travel has gotten difficult as he has aged, and he had long been planning to leave the publication to write a primer on Spanish wine.