No wonder the burgundy paint on the Parkers’ front door is called “Wine.” It is a fitting introduction to the birthplace of the esteemed Wine Advocate magazine and the comfortable abode of renowned wine critic Robert M. Parker, Jr., and his wife, Pat.
The couple, who recently celebrated their 50th anniversary, have lived in their countryside home north of Baltimore since 1974, when they bought it from Pat’s parents. It was her childhood residence, and hosted the reception after she and Bob wed in 1969.
“We always loved this property,” Pat says. “It can’t be beat.”
Her husband—called Bob by friends and Dowell, a childhood nickname, by family—agrees, “The property is beautiful.”
Over the years, their four acres grew to seven, cocooned by Gunpowder Falls State Park and Prettyboy Reservoir. And the Parkers’ original three-bedroom, two-bath rambler, perched atop a winding roadway, blossomed eventually into a two-level residence with four bedrooms, four baths and two wine cellars. Each is crammed with bottles from floor to ceiling—including a 27-liter behemoth of 2003 Sine Qua Non Grenache that’s the size of a baby. While Bob won’t put a number on his collection, suffice it to say that the Parkers won’t run out of wine anytime soon.
Pat estimates there have been 15 renovations to the house where they raised their now-grown daughter, Maia. Most projects were completed without an architect, and the result is a succession of flowing rooms. The kitchen is a favorite hangout.
The duo has welcomed numerous culinary icons to their table, including chef Daniel Boulud, owner of the Michelin two-star restaurant Daniel in New York, and Yannick Cam, chef/owner of Bethesda’s Bistro Provence.
Bob also hosts charity wine dinners at local restaurants such as Magdalena in Baltimore and Vito Ristorante in Cockeysville, or occasionally at his home. He plays an active role in each affair. “I confer with the chefs and provide all the wines,” he explains. With dinners bringing in $25,000 to $150,000 apiece, Bob estimates that they have so far raised $3 to $4 million for groups such as U.S. Navy SEALs, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the T.J. Martell Foundation, which supports cancer research. “It’s one of the more gratifying things I can do,” he says. He’s currently discussing a possible charity dinner with DC chef and humanitarian José Andrés that will take place in the Parker home in the coming months.
In fact, Bob’s altruism is one of the reasons he founded The Wine Advocate in 1978: He wanted to provide independent reviews about vintages, vintners and grapes without accepting advertising. He also devised a 100-point system to guide consumers in their choices—a rating system now used around the world.
But Bob’s love for wine emerged even earlier, when he traveled to Paris to meet Pat, then his high-school sweetheart, who was taking her junior year abroad. During this six-week sojourn, the couple sampled new wines every day—and he was hooked. After returning to his studies at University of Maryland, Bob devoured books on wine and immersed himself in tasting groups. Though he initially practiced law, he left the field in 1984.
The Wine Advocate began as a mom-and-pop venture; Pat, a former French teacher, was the copy editor and worked for the guide that now bears her husband’s name—Robert Parker Wine Advocate—until 2012. Though he traveled several months a year to vineyards around the globe, Bob settled into his home office to write and conduct tastings—minus the three-piece suits. “There was no dress code,” he says with a laugh. “It was nice to be freelance.”
The business was a low-key affair, with offsite writers contributing content and three assistants handling other duties from a house on the Parkers’ property. Bob produced the magazine at home until 2015, when a Napa Valley office was opened. By that time, he had sold a major stake in the company to investors.
After nurturing The Wine Advocate into one of the most respected wine journals in the country, Bob officially retired in May, when Michelin assumed 100-percent control after having acquired a 40-percent stake in 2017. “It’s time for the younger generation to take over,” Bob reflects.
The Parkers still lead busy lives. Bob is contemplating a memoir. And Pat, a master gardener and liaison for the Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland, takes pride in her home landscape. Ornamental trees, seasonal flowers, a koi pond and whimsical outdoor sculptures dot the property, along with a chicken coop that Pat gave to Bob for his 70th birthday.
As the evenings grow crisper, the Parkers, both 72, end their days in the TV room by a crackling fire with their three dogs. They don’t see themselves living anywhere else. “I’m going to die in this place,” Bob quips. But before then, there’s more wine—and life—to enjoy in their home.