The last lessons of my mentor’s life took place every Tuesday in Monkton. There, lying in the shade of his gout-swollen ankles, Bobbie taught me about the Meaning of Wine. His lessons were drawn from his life, his experiences, his vast knowledge of the boundless gullibility of humans. There were no exams, no wine reviews to write, none of his buttboys around to affirm his omniscience. There was but one student. I was that student.
No grades were given, nothing on the 100 Point Scale, but one was expected to occasionally perform some physical chore. Moving Neal Martin around to where he was most comfortably Bobbie’s footrest. Chiseling years of foie gras from Bobbie’s navel. Adding three points to every Antonio Galloni score when he wasn’t looking. A kiss goodbye earned extra credit, though he had more chins than a Chinese phone book. There was no graduation ceremony. There was a funeral. With a coffin the size of his reputation, and the only mourners a newspaper photographer, the winemaker of Sine Qua Non, and Bobbie’s grieving father. Yes, only Snap, Krankl and Pop.
I had heard that my mentor was terminally ill. Outwardly, he appeared fine, but there were signs. He’d sold his most precious belongings--his publication, his editorial control, and his Lisa Perroti-Brown hand puppet--to three mysterious men from Singapore, one of whom looked suspiciously like Dorothy Lamour. The Wine Advocate was off on the Road to Singapore. Hilarity would ensue, but we’d be left without hope--and crosby. It certainly was a harbinger of Bobbie’s death.
His death sentence came in the spring of 2012. Bobbie had awarded nineteen wines his perfect score, an unheard-of orgy of critical sploogemaking. Wine critics recognized his creeping dementia, and they quietly began to whisper about it. They’d always done what Bobbie had done. Followed his every example, from his pithy, overblown, pornographic wine descriptions to his 100 Point Scale, they’d obediently followed his lead like he was Temple Grandin and they were cattle. They knew the steaks were high. Though it would leave the wine critics bereft and desperate for someone else to copy, they began to openly talk about Bobbie’s imminent death. The cattle stampeded.
I decided to pay a visit to my wine mentor. Bobbie seemed fine to me at first glance, hale and chipper, suitably snockered for ten in the morning, and he greeted his prized blobber warmly. “HoseMaster,” he said, “it’s wonderful to see you. Make me laugh and I’ll pee my pants for you.” Judging by his pants, he’d already had a few chuckles that morning. And one serious damn guffaw.
“Good to see you, too, Bobbie,” I said. It was his response, the clarity of his dementia, that broke my heart. “2013 was the greatest vintage of my lifetime in Napa Valley,” he said. “And I have a small fortune in Twinkies in my sphincter. Will you come every Tuesday?”
Though something was clearly eating his brain (I suspected that Zombie Stephen Tanzer, whose palate was clearly that of the walking dead), there were many hours Bobbie was lucid. He would speak eloquently about wine, about wine criticism, and about life. It was never stated, but it was clear that I was meant to be his last voice, share his fading wisdom with a world starved and ignorant when it comes to the bounty of the grape. Yes, there was a bounty of the grape, and Bobbie was our Captain Bligh, listing starboard and besotted with Port.
“Wine,” Bobbie said to me, “is proof that God loves us, and hates Mormons. Wine is meant to deliver pleasure. Pleasure is wine’s only job, like a cheap whore. Always remember this, HoseMaster, and your life in wine will be infinitely finer--wine is a cheap whore meant only to deliver pleasure and then be tossed aside. You can dress it up, you can make it look like Julia Roberts, but it’s still a whore. But how does one measure pleasure? Answer me, HoseMaster. How?”
“A fake scale?”
“Yes, Grasshopper, you have learned well! But you miss the real point. Just like with a cheap whore, deep down you always fear your own performance when it comes to wine. The scale, your assigning an imaginary and wholly worthless value to that wine, that cheap whore, validates your wisdom and knowledge and virility. Always seek control of wine, my friend, not mastery. Leave the ‘mystery’ of wine to the sissies, the lazy thinking proponents of Natural and Authentic wines. Let them talk about their ‘journey’ like they’re actually going somewhere, the cretins. You don’t need to master wine, you simply need to judge it. Gods don’t master, Gods judge.”
Naturally, there came a Tuesday when I asked Bobbie about his love for wine, his obvious passion for what is, after all, mere alcohol dressed like a six-year-old beauty pageant contestant.
“Maybe I just had to love something,” he said. “Wine has prestige and status, though no one understands why. Like soccer. We are defined by who we love, what we love and how we love. Love is the yeast that transforms us, and makes us palatable to other people. Without that yeast, we just smell like old barrels. Did I choose wine, or did wine choose me? There is life’s mystery. I like to think we’re one. I am wine, HoseMaster, and wine is me and only me.”
On our last Tuesday together, Bobbie had a few parting thoughts for me. I think he felt Death was near, though James Laube had just left and, well, he does that to most people, and he had a few truths to share one last time.
“Remember to dance, HoseMaster, preferably with your pants down. Remember that it’s only wine, and it’s only numbers—it's just fools and rich white guys that think they go together. Remember that love and wine have one thing in common—when you’re clueless about either one, just make shit up. No one will ever know.”
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."