I've been a dick for years. Many would argue my whole life. But I'd never seen two dead bodies in one day. I felt like I was at a reunion of my ex-wives. First, there was Lorna at Les Mars Hotel, her neck broken like the Three-Tier Distribution system. Now I was looking at another young lady, apparently in town to take the M.S. exam, dead in her bathtub in the Hotel Healdsburg. It might have been an accident--most accidents take place in the bathroom, unless you count the ones I'd had in my bed as a kid that had been intended for the bathroom, though now, as an adult, I usually had a different three sheets to the wind--but for all of the corks floating in the tub with her. Which Jessica was putting into a trash bag.
"Maybe you should let me take a look at those corks, Jess, they might be clues."
Jessica shot me a sarcastic look, and, well, she was a crack shot. Which reminded me of my view of the victim. "Clues? I don't know, Hoseapalooza, I think you're barking up the wrong Quercus suber."
Wow, I thought, a cork joke. Maybe Jessica knew more about wine than she was letting on. "Just let me look through them."
Chief Jokes handed me the bag of corks. It was an impressive collection. Corks from many of the finest wines in the world. Chave, Rayas, Margaux, Leroy, Opus One... Opus One? How did that cork get in there? Man, I'd forgotten that turds float sometimes.
"Every one of these corks is from a great bottle of wine."
"So? She's been studying for her M.S., Hosedope, you don't exactly learn anything about wine drinking the slop they serve by the glass. They're probably all the corks she'd collected from her M.S. study group."
Everyone studying for an M.S. would form a group with other M.S. candidates, pool their resources, and get together weekly to taste wines from all over the world. Maybe Lorna and our still unknown victim had been in the same study group. That was an intriguing possibility. Which, among other things, meant that there were probably a few more members of that group around. Yet more sorry souls who had traded in their young lives for a longshot chance in the sommelier sweepstakes, trying to win an M.S. as if it were the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes Grand Prize and Ed McMahon would show up at their house and award them a gigantic cartoon tastevin, only Ed McMahon was dead, floating in his own bathtub gin of disappointment. I needed to find out who the victim was.
The victim's body, and a lovely body at that, like the silky smooth body of a fine Vosne-Romanee, though the only Romanees I'd been able to afford had come not from Vosne but from Safeway, had been discovered by a Hotel Healdsburg maid. The room was supposed to have been empty; it hadn't been registered to anyone. The last people to have occupied it were an elderly couple from Albuquerque who'd been in town celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. A much slower death. There were no clothes to be found anywhere in the room, no purse, not a single clue to the victim's identity. But Jessica had known she was an M.S. candidate. That's what she'd told me in the square when she'd gotten the call. It wasn't like her to jump to conclusions. She usually limped to them. But I decided to let her think I hadn't noticed. And, besides, the corks sort of proved her point. But how had she known?
"Sure was a lovely young woman," I said.
"Yeah, Hoselimp, you've got a real eye for the dead girls. Married several, didn't you?"
"I have an idea for how we can ID her. May I use your cellphone?"
I dialed Veronica's number from memory. 1-800-38D2436. I'd found a way to commit it to mammary. When she answered I asked her to come to the Hotel Healdsburg right away. She asked why, but I wanted to surprise her, see if I could tell anything by the look on her face. It was a bad idea.
When Veronica walked into the hotel bathroom she let out the kind of blood-curdling scream I hadn't heard since I'd asked Jessica to our high school prom. OK, I didn't mean to scream, it just came out of me. Veronica rushed over to the dead girl, her tears flowing like Korbel Brut at a low-rent wedding, her beautiful face contorted in agony, like she'd just judged the under $12 Chardonnay category at the Livermore Valley Harvest Fair, and plunged her arms into the cold water and around the lifeless sommelier, if lifeless sommelier isn't redundant. Jessica and I stood by silently respectful.
"Oh, God," Veronica cried, turning her lovely face to stare angrily at me, "she's my sister."
After 19 years as a Sommelier in Los Angeles, twice named Sommelier of the Year by the Southern California Restaurant Writers' Association, I moved to Sonoma County to explore the other aspects of the wine business. I've spent, OK wasted, 35 years learning about and teaching about and swallowing wine. I am also a judge at the Sonoma Harvest Fair, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the San Francisco International Wine Competition--so I can spit like a rabid llama. I know more about wine than David Sedaris and I'm funnier than James Laube. Stay tuned for an informed but jaded view of everything wine and everything else.
I'm living proof that alcohol kills brain cells.
What the Critics Are Saying About HoseMaster of Wine
"If you want a great hoot and howl moment or two...go read the HoseMaster's year-end reflections...that guy is without a doubt the funniest SOB in the blog-world...and thank him for having the brains and balls to target his laser of laughter on anybody...HoseMaster for President...HoseMaster for Blogger of the Year...although he would be the first to say the bar is so damn low for that award, he should win it every year..." --Robert Parker
"No one is immune from California sommelier and wine judge Ron Washam's skewering. He polishes that skewer with boundless enthusiasm and acuity."
"Please let this guy write the scripts for Saturday Night Live which has gotten so lame...his newest "wisdom" is worth an Emmy....I wonder if he is the genius behind all those Hitler/Parker,etc. clips? No one else is remotely as funny or as talented.And the wine world sure needs someone to poke fun at all the nonsense and phoney/baloney unsufferable crap out there."
"Washam uses his own blog, HoseMaster of Wine, to skewer the industry in general and wine blogs in particular. If your mouse scoots to your browser's close box while reading a wine blog, Washam may be the blogger for you."
--San Francisco Chronicle
"...that guy Hosemaster has real talent...if you ask me sign him up for Comedy Central...he's the funniest guy since Adam Carolla's hilarious book...IN 50 YEARS WE WILL ALL BE CHICKS..."
"Ron Washam, former sommelier, is easily the most bitingly funny blogger/wine writer that we have ever come across. He is an equal opportunity crusader who pillories big wineries and amateur bloggers alike, as well as everything and everyone in between...One needs a sense of humor and a tolerance for earthiness to enjoy reading The Hosemaster. We must have both because this guy deserves a wider audience, in our humble opinion." --Connoisseurs' Guide to California Wine
"In my opinion, and that of many others, his blog is one of the best. And in terms of satirical or parodic wine blogs, it has no peer. Ron’s alert eye catches every pretense and skewers it with laugh out loud mercilessness."
"This site should carry a warning label. It's sort of a Dave Barry/George Carlin approach to wine. The Hosemaster (real name Ron Washam) skewers fellow bloggers and industry savants with glee, while offering hilarious wine guides such as his Honest Guide to Grapes..."
--Paul Gregutt, Seattle Times
"Washam is a skilled wine judge (I have judged with him) who is willing to judge wine double blind, in public. To my knowledge, Parker does not do this and never has. So Ron's credentials are in place, and so is his sense of the absurd."
--Dan Berger, VintageExperiences
"...I consider Ron a very talented writer and I’ve long been an admirer of his scathing wit..."
"And if any free sites think they can conquer the world, there’s always the Hosemaster to take ‘em down a notch."
--Tyler Colman "Dr. Vino"
"Those of you who know Ron either love or hate him, because he throws jabs like a punch drunk boxer, and we’re all in the firing line. He’ll throw them if he hates you, and he’ll throw them if he loves you. He’s a satirist of exceptional quality."
--Jo Diaz "Juicy Tales by Jo Diaz"
"I must say you are an idiot. I've never liked you. I have no idea why people find you funny."