Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Obituaries, and Other Good News

It's been a somber week for the HoseMaster. Death can do that to you. I mean actual Death, not the living death that reading Reign of Terroir can bring. It is my sad duty to inform my loyal readers of the deaths of the following significant figures in my life, and in the life of the wine business. I'd ask for a moment of silence, but that seems unnecessary given the quality of my comedy.


A renowned and important figure in wine, once the heir apparent to Merlot as the wine every
pinhead orders in a restaurant, a position now held by admitted sissy Pinot Noir, Syrah has died. The cause of death has not been announced, but Syrah had long been suffering from dementia and was thought to have been homeless for many years. When last seen alive, Syrah was noticeably disheveled and smelled gamey. His remains had washed ashore in Australia, the place widely believed responsible for his death.

At an early age Syrah made his reputation in the Northern Rhone Valley of France where his Hermitage was considered one of the greatest wines in the world. The Chave family, among others, adopted Syrah in his formative years and groomed him into greatness. But a falling out had Syrah fleeing to Australia where he changed his name to Shiraz after living with Peter Allen and falling in love with musicals. For many years thereafter people believed that Shiraz had originally been from the city of Shiraz in Persia. This rumor lives on today, though it's clear that there is no Chave of Iran.

Shiraz was an enormous success in Australia. Abandoning his familiar roots, no pun intended, in Hermitage, Shiraz put Australia on the map, though it must have been a pretty crappy map if it didn't have Australia on it, hell, it's damn continent, though a puny one. Within a few years, Shiraz was seemingly ubiquitous on the world wine stage. Syrah was quickly forgotten, his old identity hidden like Tom Cruise's sexuality beneath Nicole Kidman. Shiraz was at the forefront, sitting on top of the world from his home Down Under, like a viticultural Crocodile Dundee. Indeed, Shiraz would soon turn out to be a big Croc.

His fans came to expect him to be inexpensive. His fame rested on Rosemount, the pseudonym he used to infiltrate every supermarket in the world. Then he made some poor decisions and slowly drifted into the sexual underbelly of nearby Thailand, falling under the spell of Yellow Tail. It was the Yellow Tail that began his undoing, his addiction to wanting it often and wanting it cheap.

Shiraz attempted comebacks many times under his old name, but his public wanted nothing to do with California Syrah. His act was tired, he showed visible signs of stress, and in many of his California appearances he was obviously green and unpolished, as if he'd been left too long on his weary stems. But Syrah kept trying and trying to recapture his glory days, his days of high prices and high praise. But the public, the press, turned their back on him. His days in the limelight were over.

Syrah was pronounced dead by Eric Asimov in June of 2010. There will undoubtedly be attempts to revive Syrah, but he's dead. In a statement released today, Syrah's old friend Grenache said, "There was just something about Syrah when he was at his best. In his youth, he was muscular, yet charming, like Hilary Swank but not so butch. And even in his later years when he was fat, he had the ability to make you smile, to make you remember the beauty he once possessed. He will be much missed."


Once the up-and-coming player in the wine game, Organic fell prey to corruption and was discovered last month dead in a compost pile. From the aroma of chicken shit, authorities suspect foul play.

There was a time when Organic was the darling of the wine business. Wineries flocked to her like
wine bloggers to unemployment lines. Her name was on the lips of every winery owner, whether he actually knew her or not. When Organic allowed you to put her name on your wine bottle it was prestigious and hip. Wine lovers wanted her. Organic made them feel like they were contributing to society. Sure, they drove SUV's and drank water from plastic bottles, but at least they got drunk saving the environment. The illusion served Organic well, made her desirable and famous.

But her popularity was her downfall. Corruption followed success, as it often does in the wine business (see Wine Spectator, Chateau and Estates obits). Corporations lobbied her, successfully getting Organic to lower both her standards, and then her 100% Organic panties and show them her emergency evacuation route. Her name began appearing everywhere, often in places she never would have allowed before. Walmart produce, clothing made in Indonesia, chain restaurants, boutique coffee chains that herald the end of civilization as we know it. Organic became meaningless. But it was to get worse.

BioDynamics emerged as Organic's replacement and sounded her death knell. Created by Rudolf Steiner, and promulgated by a long list of delusional winemakers, BioDynamics quickly replaced Organic in the minds of short-sighted consumers. Organic had sold out. BioDynamics was pure and spiritual, the Tammy Faye Bakker of viticulture. It wasn't long after the appearance of BioDynamics on the American wine scene that Organic was found dead. No charges have been filed against Steiner's estate, but BioDynamics is under investigation. Authorities believe evidence has been buried in cow horns in an undisclosed location.

There was no one at the Organic service. No one cares.


abc said...

Authorities believe evidence has been buried in cow horns in an undisclosed location.

I needed a smile today.

I will miss my fine friend syrah.

Eric V. Orange said...

can you put a stake in Demystify?
he is well worn his welcome.


Eric V. Orange said...

okay, worn out.


Ron Washam, HMW said...

Amy Love,

Sure, you'll miss Syrah, but you never visited him when he was alive. Now Syrah is dead and you'll have to live with those regrets.


Where have you been? Welcome back.

I killed Robert Parker and Syrah and Organic. I've only got so much time. But, never fear, I'm sure more Obits will come one day soon.

Thomas said...

A memorial service seems in order. Maybe we can hold it at the orange wine festival.

Charlie Olken said...

It was not more than fifteen years ago that Riesling was dead. Fortunately, it has risen from the ashes.

Syrah will rise again as well. It is just hard to know when, but it will not disappear the way Sangiovese has fled the scene. Sure, expensive Syrah is a drag on the market, but Syrah sales have not died on the national scene.

Organic is a different story. This puppy never had a chance. For one thing, only hippies and nut cases made truly organic wine. And those who argue that sulfur is organic so it is OK to use it in the vineyard and in wine cheapen their own argument. And when they do not use sulfur, they destroy the wine. So, they have invented a new term. It is called Organically Grown. If the grapes were organic, it does not matter what you do to the wine in the winery if you are Organically Grown.

But BioDynamic is by far the worst offender. I went to a Bio-Dynamic conference once and learned the following. Every country has its own rules for BioDynamic. Some want to add water (try growing grapes in Australia without using water). Some wanted other elements not known to Steiner because that was how they made wine (think acidulation, megapurple, ion exchangers).

Ultimately, the BioD practitioner who was explaining all this proudly proclaimed that they were working on a compromise that would suit everybody.

WTF? You can't compromise with BioD. Either you believe that cow dung in horns helps and that elves live in the ground pushing up the fruit or you do not.

But here is what ultimately turned me off to BioD. At least half of the conference was spent talking about how to monetize the BioD name.

In that, at least, they beat the bloggers to the punch.

This was actually a very funny post, Ron. It just seemed to ring a couple of bells. Besides, rants are good for the soul.

Joe said...

HA! Pure rhinestone, sir.

Kathy said...

I poured some Syrah on its grave and drank the rest.

Charlie, while I do believe that the less junk in the soil the better (and therefore am a sorta cow horn girl), I went off Biodynamic TRADEMARK when I discovered that Demeter US had trademarked everything you could possibly make/want/do with the word (including t-shirts and all that stuff). This was after Demeter made a deal with/bought out the non-profit that had originally trademarked it for crop applications in the US (in '97, I think).
And I was told during a wild car ride in Italy that the reason why they trademarked all those words (go check it out) was to protect the sanctity of Biodynamic religion after organic had been spoiled by the lax church of the USDA. They have a point there, as we mourn its loss, but a monopoly is not a point.
Eventually, I lost interest in the politics of it all (actually, editors lost interest. I rarely loose interest in politics).

Sip with Me! said...

I predict Syrah will have more comebacks and more names than Prince.

They'll look for years and never find that cow horn, but then, years later, when they discover another cowhorn, Biodynamics will finally admit guilt and rot away in an Austrian prison.

All joking aside, fascinating information from Kathy about the politics of biodynamics movement and I love how she discovered that biodynamics had bought "protection".

Arthur said...


Those are not elves, they're gophers and they're not pushing up the fruit, they are kicking up the poison pellets dropped into their burrows.

Charlie Olken said...

Thank you, Arthur. Obviously, I need to go back and read my Steiner.

One of the other delights at the BioD, "how can we monetize the word", meeting I attended was the comment by one of the panelists who admonished the unwashed to stop describing BioD as a religion, and then was followed by five panelists who described it in religious terms.

I am entirely in favor of using whatever natural methods can be substituted for additives to the vineyard. But, when folks start telling me that copper and sulfur and other elements are natural and thus okay but water is not (except apparently in Australia where water is allowed by Demeter), my eyes glaze over.

Protect the land, honor it and make it healthy, but for goodness sake, talk to me about wine, not about how you can market your wines better.

Arthur said...

Repetitio est mater studiorum

Ron Washam said...


I have been kicking around BioDynamic satires in my head for a long time and never found one I liked. Yet. It clearly invokes a naturist religion every chance it gets, while sporting a hypocritical marketing angle at every turn. It's a lot like network television making a fortune promoting Mediums and vampires and Mentalists. We can make you feel good about believing in this stuff, AND make money doing it by selling you cars and makeup, and then use product placement to make even more money.

Promoting the health of the environment is obviously a good thing. But there's always a sort of defensive apologetic tone to BioDynamic people, an embarrassed tone when the details of BioDynamics are discussed. Which is where the comedy lies. Does BioDynamics work? Sure! It says so on the Internet.


Well, anything people get for free, like when BioDynamics was a non-profit, they believe is worthless. Pay for it, give them 25 cents a case for the right to use their brand name, and, bingo, you've got converts. I paid for it, I practice it, I put it on my marketing material and promote it on my bottles, and I'm no sucker, so of course it works!

It's good to know that there is a use for the manure from a lactating cow. Aside from me flinging it at everybody on HoseMaster.

And, Kathy, I'd love to know your background, who you are, what you do. If you want to stay anonymous here, that's fine. Email me at my private email,, to satisfy my curiosity.

You are very welcome here.

Ron Washam said...


Riesling is not Syrah. Its disappearance a decade ago or more was hardly noticed or commented on, and while it has come back, it hasn't been much of a comeback. Think Pia Zadora, not Betty White. People are more excited about the abhorrent Gruner than they are about Riesling. That doesn't say much for its comeback.

Cheap Syrah will be with us for a long time to come. But Syrah at the high end, say over $35, is deader than Gary Coleman. Everybody I talk to can't give it away, high score or no high score. It's a critical darling, but a public disaster. You are right that it will eventually make a comeback. I doubt it will be in my lifetime.


I don't get it. Repeat it ten more times.

Thomas said...

Che syrah?

Non ti media brettanomyces?

Jimmie Schnipke said...

At such a solemn time as this, we must take a moment to reflect. Look at all the good that has come from Syrah (Billy Ray & his daughter), Organics & BioD (new jobs for PR people) and the web sites (no real jobs for anyone!)

And on the eve of the pontification of STEVE! and Charlie's son @ the canine convention in WaWa,Wa., I say we raise a glass of '03 Guigal Hermitage Blanc...and toast the past and future.

Ron - I am beginning to notice a similarity between R. Steiner and a red-headed female wine writer from NYC.

VinoMama said...

How do I get some 100% Organic Panties? I strongly believe Vegen wine will be the next big wine movement.

Ron Washam said...


Oh yeah, you mean MenoDynamics.

I don't even know what that means.


There are already a few wines advertised as Vegan. I kid you not. They promise they don't use egg whites for fining. The wines go perfectly with anhedonist cuisine.

And 100% Organic Panties are the ones God gave you.

Dave said...

Heard it through the grapevine that it was a murder/suicide and Shiraz took Syrah Palin down with him. She was about to be booked at the Big Fresno Fair, if it's true there sure are gonna be a lot of disappointed and sad inbreds down here (not for Shiraz, nobody knows what the hell that is).

Kathy said...

A friend who practices generic biodynamie asked me if I could get a horn from the cows in the field next door or their farmer (really). I could not. (I was worried the bull might think my puny jigsaw is a puntilla.) Yet, I am a fan (as are workers) of what vineyard managers are doing to reduce chemicals. The taste is, IMHO, different in a way organic is not. Don't hold it against me, Charlie.
Without sulfur, long-life biogra wines will need the skills of Hardy Rodenstock.
Thank you, Ron.

1WineDude said...

And yet, the zombie Retsina is permitted to roam freely among us and terrorize our children...

Charlie Olken said...

Guess who I got a letter from regarding my comments about Demeter?

None other than Demeter. The writer argued that folks work hard to get the certification and they are serious about their soils and their wine, not just about marketing. OK, I agree with that. But, it is still a kind of religion to them, and it has marketing overtones, otherwise they would not have spent so much time talking about capitalizing on it.

And as I also pointed out, the wines of the leading practitioners of BioD do not convince me that Biod is changing the course of wine quality.

On the other hand, I do respect anyone who wants to farm with less chenical interference.

Thomas said...

Well, Charlie, isn't it nice to know that Demeter has someone scanning the Internet for use of its name and then sending a note to "set people straight?"

Kind of like the fellow from WSpectator who responds whenever someone makes a comment about the magazine that either doesn't fit the marketing scheme or threatens to expose something.

Anonymous said...

Dude, I saw him!

Syrah is alive and thriving in Washington state....

Paul G hangs with him and plays music, Dr. J(ay) talks about the Bosox with him and Harvey takes secret vacations to Walla Walla with him!

I can't leave my name because I have been known to add him to a Rhone party....

Ron Washam said...


I'm not surprised a bit that the Demeter folks contacted you. And they don't need anyone scanning the Internet, Thomas, they get a vibration. The vibration comes with a disclaimer, "If you wish to unsubscribe from this vibration, drop your pants and show us your cow horn."

There's no doubt using fewer chemicals is a good thing. Does it make for better wine? There's definitely not a one-to-one correlation on that score. But it sure sells wine to the rubes.


There are reports of Syrah roaming the great Northwest, much like the rumors about Sasquatch. Those photos and sightings are doctored. Dr. J wouldn't know Syrah if it married his sister. Syrah be dead.

Veronique - The American formerly known as Ceci said...

Love it! Tom Cruise and Hilary Swank comments were incredible. Hahaha. And the cow horns in the undisclosed location just about made me soil myself! hahahahaha!