"It's difficult to soar with eagles when you walk with turkeys."--Jack Rollins
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.
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."
"As serious as the world of wine is, it does allow time for humor. Each Monday and Thursday, Ron Washam customarily posts a commentary on his needling wine blog HoseMaster of Wine. Washam, a former sommelier and comedy writer – he might say they are closely related – is the most opinionated, humorous and ribald observer in the wine world. His body of work is irreverent and remorseless. It’s almost always satire and parody, though he occasionally drifts into straight commentary, sometimes even with tasting notes. This past year, one of his posts was named the best of the year in the Wine Blog Awards. His success has spawned several imitations, which in their awkwardness show just how difficult satire is."
--Mike Dunne, Sacramento Bee
Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2014/01/21/6089630/dunne-on-wine-wine-blogs-and-bloggers.html#storylink=cpy
"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
"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."