Thursday, September 20, 2012

Somebody in The Wine Business


Oh, I used to be a Somebody in the wine business. Courted, wined and dined, praised, free mani-pedi’s from Heidi Barrett, tickets to Michael Vick winery dog fights, personalized Veuve Clicquot Segway, Jagermeister Girls’ panties delivered fresh daily, Jay Miller autographed winery bribes, Nicolas Joly manure in a limited edition cow horn…all the perqs. The wine business is good to those who have influence. It’s an endless parade of free lunches, free dinners, free trips, free rooms, and endless sex. Yes, I said sex. It’s the dirty little secret of the wine business. Scores for Sex. Oh, I’ve been there. I’m too much of a gentleman to discuss specifics, but let’s just say that when I was Somebody, I scored more tail than a sushi chef. And I wasn’t that much of a Somebody, not compared to a Marvin Shanken. That guy’s a machine. Jim Laube? Oh, man, he’s an animal. Harvey Steiman? OK, well, mostly talk. Go ahead, believe that the score inflation lately in wine publications is coincidence. Then ask yourself why all the want ads for Marketing Director on Winejobs.com include “Must like tub-o’s” under qualifications.

Yeah, I was Somebody. I was a Gatekeeper. Wineries just love Gatekeepers. If you’re a Gatekeeper you can tell a winemaker, “I’m going to bend over so you can kiss my latch.” And they will. So who’s a Gatekeeper? A Gatekeeper is a person who has influence over wine buyers, particularly affluent wine buyers. Gatekeepers are a big pain in the ass for wineries. They have to court them, they have to pretend to respect them, they have to nod their head when they say something unbearably stupid about their wines, they have to swear allegiance to Truman Capote and talk with a lisp, they have to dress their horses in designer pants, they have to put corks up their nose and pretend they’re from the Watusi tribe, they have to buy vowels and give them to the Gatekeepers. It’s all about humiliation. And in return, the Gatekeepers promote their wines and leave wet spots.

Sommeliers are the worst Somebodies. They work for restaurants that never pay on time, but act like putting your wine on their wine list at four times its cost is an act deserving of hand-kissing, feet-washing and flea and tick-removing. They don’t return phone calls or affection. They leak. They think their palates are wondrous, like the Taj Mahal or Michelangelo’s David, or Diet Coke. They “love”  your wine, but they buy the trendiest, least familiar wines available to show their superior knowledge and taste. A humble little red from the Canary Islands, a precocious white from Harvard, a little something pink from a Russian matchmaking website, something sparkling from Liberace’s crypt. Looking for something familiar? Unzip your pants and sext your volleyball team.

I was one of those Somebodies. I treated winery reps like the cattle they were. I superheated my corkscrew and branded them; I tied them up, got them pregnant and used their milk to make sales cheese; I never talked to them directly but had Temple Grandin tell me what they were thinking; I took them to Tijuana and introduced them to Manolete. I wielded arrogance like Luke Skywalker wielded a Light Saber, like Juan Marichal wielded a bat, like The Prisoner wields MegaPurple. I expected deference and respect, not to mention free shipping. I got tired of all the sex, especially at Family Winemakers. But I knew that an air of entitlement was the most important part of being a Gatekeeper. So I asked for free samples, I asked for hair care products, I expected to have the snot wiped from my runny nose with hundred dollar bills. I only reached for a check if it was made out to “Cash.” I only showed up on time for appointments if they brought me cookies or drugs or lingerie with my initials on it. I laughed at their measly little scores, their piddly Gold Medals, their tech sheets, their tech blankets, their tech laundry hampers. I lied to them because I could, I drew fake moustaches on their breasts, I made them confess to crimes they’d never committed by waterboarding them with the spit bucket, I kissed them like they’d only dreamed about being kissed, I left them voicemails with my sphincter.

It’s a dream to be Somebody in the wine business. I loved it. The taste of power is addicting, like starting small brush fires on playgrounds. I never paid for a wine tasting, I never paid for flu shots or extra cheese on that. I always walked away with swag, with free hats and logo shirts, with fancy lawn furniture and celebrity Q-Tips. I took my full allocation and sold the rest gray market, investing the extra money in my Twitter habit and saving for my date with Lettie Teague. I misspelled wineries on my wine list. “I’ll have a bottle of Geyser Pork,” still makes me laugh. I’d go on European junkets and never zip my fly the whole week, instead stuffing Serrano ham in it every chance I got. I phoned wineries and asked to speak to their dead founder in a Georgie Jessel voice.

I loved it.

Now I’m Nobody. I have a blog. Somebodies have power, Nobodies have blogs. Somebodies are Gatekeepers, Nobodies are on journeys. Somebodies have access to wealthy buyers, Nobodies have access to Blogger. Somebodies walk the Earth and the oceans part, the skies are always sunny and the tap water always clear and smelling of Oregon Pinot Gris. Nobodies sit here, and we type.

28 comments:

Mockingbird said...

First

"pretend to respect them"... and tell them what they like to hear, Like Romney at a private fundraising dinner. What whores...

Samantha Dugan said...

Wait, no I'm confused...I thought I was sort of a gatekeeper but I also blog. Thinking I must be more a blogger because it's been way, way too long since someone kissed my latch. I love you!

Stillman Brown said...

"Before you write about me or show me your wine list, let's do a few shots of Velcorin together."

Marcia Macomber said...

So many wonderful lines in here from a former Somebody. But actually, the one that grabbed me was this swag: "limited edition cow horn." Fabulous!

Kathy said...

Dearest winehosegatekeeper,
I'm having a hard time differentiating between wine and politics. I'm putting it all on a sheet.
I do have fond memories (before I discovered the wine memory eraser) of an election night at the Watergate with Jimmy the Greek.
BTW, is that used American sales cheese available online?

Thomas said...

Just wait till the barbarians are at the gate.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Mockingbird,
This is news to you? I know it's not. But every four years we waste a lot of time on this Presidential thing. FOX News gets richer, racism is alive and well, and we all get just a little bit older.

My Gorgeous Samantha,
Lots of gatekeepers are bloggers, but not many bloggers are gatekeepers, though they believe themselves to be. Sadly, I'm just a blogger now myself. This was a paean to my glory days--long gone.

Stillman,
If Velcorin helps kill microscopic organisms, it must work on wine critics. Sounds like another Pulp Fiction Classic plotline.

Marcia,
OK, I love it when a throwaway line earns top billing. Thanks, as always.

Kathy,
I love American sales cheese. We should ask Samantha what wine pairs with it. It's not available online, but I think Whole Foods has it in their Organic Salesman Bodily Fluids Department.

Thomas,
I think I hear them rattling my gate now, and they're speaking Italian! Must be Barberians d'Asti.

Dean Tudor said...

Another great posting, Ron.

In Blogland, you are a SOMEBODY.

Unfortunately, it does not pay very well.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Dean,

Thanks. Not sure that's at all true, except the part about the pay. And, anyway, "Somebody in Blogland" reminds me of a zen koan like "What is the sound of one hand typing?"

Samantha Dugan said...

Ron,

Not that it means dick to you but....I still think you're glorious.

Mockingbird said...

Ron

I'm a cynic to my rotten core. I'm not surprised, just wanted to call somebody a whore today....

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Samantha,
Of course it means a great deal to me what you think. I have this neurotic need to make folks laugh, especially at whatever they seem to take far too seriously. Wine, sadly, is one of those things.

Not sure I have much more of this left in me, but it's You, and people like you, who keep me going. Thank you for that.

Samantha Dugan said...

And all kidding aside dear Ron, your talent is aspirational. You make us laugh at ourselves and do it with wit and wisdom that lies far deeper than the jokes you lovingly crank out for us here. We take you and your gifts for advantage at times....but we all show up, laugh, shake our heads, even cringe but you make us think and I cannot think of another wine blog out there that does that. So My Beloved Ron, it is we that should be thanking You. Thank you and I love you so.

Samantha Dugan said...

For advantage?! Fuck me, that's what I get for commenting while writing three different things! Take for granted Love, sometimes we take your gifts and talent for granted. Argh. Maybe I should just shut up! xoxoxox

Fabio (Vinos Ambiz) said...

Hey, how does this latch-kissing thing work? Do I have to kiss somebody's or do they queue up to kiss mine?

Michael Vick said...

Juan Marichal? jeez you are effin' old

Thomas said...

Ron,

Worry when the Barberians d'Alba arrive. They are strongly acidic but also a bunch of fruits...

All day yesterday I was humming to the tune of: I ain't got no-bah-dee, but only I substituted sum-bah-dee for no-bah-dee.

Michael Vick, if you think knowing Marechal makes Ron old, what does my humming say about my age? Hint: Charlie Olkin is older than I, not by much, but enough to make me feel so young...oh boy, I'll be humming that one all day today.

Thomas said...

Oops, It's Olken, I believe.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,
I think you meant my talent was "inspirational," though "aspirational" is probably exactly the right word. Maybe even "perspirational." No matter, thank you for the kind words, Love. I love you with all my heart.

Fabio,
Oh, it works either way--your call. Though I find that when I get my latch kissed by the right woman I come unhinged.

Michael Vick,
Yeah, I'm old. That's why I'm not one of those morons on a "journey" to discover wine. I think I had Marichal on my mind because I had just seen footage of that historic incident when he used John Roseboro as a batting tee. And, aside from that, I do love obscure, outdated, odd references.

Thomas,
And that's "Marichal" not Marechal Foch. Though I believe Roseboro said at the time, "Foch Marichal."

Samantha Dugan said...

Aspirational, as in giving some of us something to aspire to.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Love,
I'd rather give you something to perspire to. And thank you for the sweet, touching thoughts, Gorgeous. I don't take compliments well, but yours have far more meaning than almost anyone else's.

I love you!

Brad Davis said...

"...I left them voicemails with my sphincter." That by far is the single best sentence I've read all week. Coffee spray on the floor from laughter is proof!

Candlestick Daddy said...

Howz this for old?

I was in the stadium when Mr. Marichal went slightly nutz.

I say "slightly" because f---in Roseboro was throwing the ball back to the mound within inches of Marichal's head. However, the correct response from Marichal was not to hit Roseboro with a bat but to give him a little chin music--like three pitches in a row.

And, Mr. P., I stopped counting ages ago so you are probably older than me now.

Dear Jose--My f---in compliments mean nothing to you? How about a little chin music to get your attention? :-}

Thomas said...

Marechal, Marichal; it's all sour grapes to me.

I, too, wondered about Sam's aspirational comment. Reminded me of an episode on E.R.

Charlie, I've been counting backwards. Try it. It works. I believe I'll be fourteen next year.

THE WINE GUY said...

I know what you mean.
I was the opposite of a 'Somebody' in the wine business - the ones that gave all those things to the 'Somebodies'.
I can recognise those sommelliers, supermarket buyers, chain store purchasers, winewriters etc collectively known as gate-keepers and opinion makers. Many were and are nice human beings. A lot though are shits and users.
As a person of influence, albeit on the other side of the equation, I enjoyed the trappings of the industry - the visits to top wine producers around the world; fancy wine dinners; wine competition tastings; sampling and evaluating wines way beyond what I would spend money on.
Now I blog.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Candelabra Daddy.
The irony is that Marichal ended his illustrious career, one no longer possible in this age considering his ridiculously high leg kick, with the Dodgers. It's truly amazing he wasn't banned for life for swinging a bat at another player--if that happened today, I suspect he would be. As it is, it's a signature moment in the rivalry of the Giants and Dodgers. I watched it live at home as a kid, and still remember it. In black and white, so that tells you I'm damned old myself.

Thomas,
ER? Damn, man, you could at least have said Gray's Anatomy. You are getting old.

Wine Guy,
Sad, ain't it. Blogging is the last resort of scoundrels, has-beens, and wannabes. Like politics, only way less payola.

Dave Miner said...

Ron,

I miss you man... come over and say hi!! I'll ply you with luxurious items, dancing girls, and butt plugs, just for old times sake. And, perhaps, a glass of wine.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Dave,
I am going to take you up on two of those three things--never mind the luxurious items.

I will certainly stop by your place soon. I'll give you a heads up so you can plan a vacation.