Thursday, April 3, 2014

In Pursuit of Balance: A Love Story


The first time I looked in Raj’s eyes, deep and brown like an old premox white Burgundy, I saw it. I saw balance. I’d never seen balance in a sommelier’s eyes before. I’d seen cloudiness, a kind of protein haze; and I’d often seen a sort of emptiness, as though they’d been labeled “sommelier,” but were really filled with something else, something altogether fake, and they were but slick and convincing frauds sold to wealthy and ignorant dot-com zillionaires. But Raj was different. He had stillness, and balance. And I’d been looking for that. I’d always been in pursuit of balance.

And what is balance? I make wine, and I haven’t the slightest idea. I like to think of it like a Flying Wallenda might. You walk this small line utterly dependent upon balance, and you know you’ve achieved it when you don’t fall 150 feet to your death. So balance isn’t really that hard to understand from that viewpoint. Only a dead idiot doesn’t understand balance. Wine isn’t that different. Except sometimes the idiots aren’t dead, that’s about the only difference.

Here’s the irony: Raj’s balance made me lose mine. I fell, and I fell hard. Raj became my wine guru, my 12-pak Chopra. I wanted to give birth to something with him. I didn’t care what. Well, not a porcupine. I could sit and listen to Raj talk about wine all day. He knows everything about wine. Raj is my Wikipedia of wine. I know, because when I conduct a search in his pants, he comes up first. It was after one of our many conversations about balance that the inspiration struck me. Raj and I could give birth to our pursuit, bring our beautiful shared passion to the world, teach the wine world about balance. Why hadn’t it been done before? Surely, wines have always pursued balance, what else is there? What is a wine without balance? Aside from on the by-the-glass list at Fleming’s?

I was so excited I could hardly speak. I stared deeply into my Raj’s eyes and I wanted to cry. I was a woman pregnant with the future. Raj and I would give birth to Balance. And when Balance finally entered the wine world, when our baby was seen for the savior He most certainly was, wine would be changed forever! Balance would be King! Balance would assume His rightful place as the only true savior. And those who followed us would be rewarded, be seen as the true Lights of wine. We would take our message on the road, hold Balance conferences in great halls all over the country, invite the fallen, those poor wine lovers who mistake the whore of Ripeness for beauty, who worship at the satanic altar of alcohol, and open their eyes to what real wine is--What we say it is.

When I finally shared my vision with Raj, I could see he was speechless with love for me, and for our newborn King. He told me he had always dreamed of this day. That he had entered a world where Pinot Noir had been lost, had died for its Marcassins. Chardonnay was equally lost, a lonely old whore wearing too much makeup, flabby, and several hundred winemakers past tight. Raj knew he could save them. All he needed was a partner and a platform, and disciples to help spread the word. Balance is King, and there is but one way to Balance. Our way. Any other way can lead to only one result—a 150 foot fall to your death.

I don’t think my heart has ever pounded harder in my chest than when Raj told me that he knew of one winery where balance had already been accepted as Savior and King—mine! At that moment, I felt that Raj and I were one. Together, we would bring real wine to the world. Our wines. And the wines of those who chose to follow. At that moment, Balance was born. And I can still hear Raj’s words, words that have become our mantra for our Pursuit of Balance, words I never stop saying to myself, “Push, push, push, goddamit, push.”

Raj and I agreed that people had to come to understand Balance on their own terms, that we couldn’t push them too hard or they might come to wonder what was in it for us, which was pretty much the whole enchilada. We had to make them see Balance the way we saw Balance, our beautiful and sacred offspring, as the Savior of Wine. We needed a Manifesto. And nothing makes a Manifesto like vague and indefinable language. And I was staring into the big brown eyes of a master of vague and indefinable language.

Our Manifesto is brilliant. Through the time-honored conventions of obfuscation, vagueness, and out-and-out doubletalk, it achieves our goal. It brings us attention. That’s the main reason for all this. The rest is just a smoke screen of importance. For those of you non-believers, here are a few of the most brilliant pieces of the Manifesto of Balance:

“Loosely speaking, a wine is in balance when its diverse components – fruit, acidity, structure and alcohol – coexist in a manner such that should any one aspect overwhelm or be diminished, then the fundamental nature of the wine would be changed.” Oh, you know it’s brilliant when the only response to it is, “Duh.”

“Growing healthy fruit and maintaining natural acidity to achieve optimum ripeness without being overripe. What is ripeness and what is its relation to balance?” Love this! So smart. Optimum ripeness that isn’t overripe! That’s like optimum flavor without having too much flavor. Or optimum drinking without drinking too much. And then ask the question, What is ripeness? Beats the fuck out of me, but let’s get it to the optimum.

“Can balance in wine be achieved through corrections in the winery or is it the result of a natural process informed by carefully considered intention at every step of the way?” Ooh, a compound question! Those are fantastic! Like in grammar school, where the teacher is telling you the answer without telling you the answer. Johnny, is it best to be a conniving little liar who needs to have the crap beat out of him on a regular basis, or is honesty best?

We gathered disciples, likeminded people who understood that Balance in wine is truthfully defined as the interplay of fruit, marketing, self-promotion and faux philosophy. We made them pass a test, a test of faith and Balance, and then they were granted Confirmation. We preached that we should arrive at a definition of Balance that makes the most sense for us, and only us, and for where we grow our grapes. Who cares about everyone else? There’s this tightrope of balance that anyone can walk, anyone from anywhere. Skinny people can make it across without falling, fat people can make it, old people have a chance, tall people, short people...balance is possible for anyone. We just have to convince the wine-buying audience that we’re the only ones who can make it without falling to our death, that we’re the ones who truly understand Balance, and then they’ll see all the others as already dead.


36 comments:

gabriel jagle said...

Hilarious . I was laughing after the first sentence.

David Pierson said...

Walder declared himself a balance turd in a real eye glazer reply to a recent Parker column.. when I said I like some of those alcohol bomb Shirazes I forgot to add, fuck all those balance turds in their snooty palettes.. gimme a Shiraz that's got enough oak that you're picking wood out of your teeth, enough alcohol that it knocks out fat aunt Bertha on the couch after a glass.. enuff smoke, tar, leather, (mmm starting to salivate already) and tannins that ya gotta pry your tongue off the roof of your mouth and a box of extra strong baking soda to get the stains off your teeth.. whaddya mean I got a crap palette??? I can taste everything!! Well, maybe not after three glasses, but who's counting??

Thomas said...

About midway in reading this entry, I fell over. Must have lost my balance.

Richard Farter said...

David,

Based on your "palette" I can see why you love wood;)

That aside, I agree, give me POWER or give me death!

IPOP

renzo said...

Your words are like a palette cleanser. Essential for greater appreciation of wine... and bullshit... detecting-that is!
I was trying to explain "natural wine" and its place or role in the scheme of things while dining at a restaurant recently with my sons. They are new to drinking and really into it (wine particularly). I'm gonna just send them a link to your blog and quit trying to explain wine to them going forward.
I'll still share the beverage with them, but leave the dispensing of the wisdom to the master- hose that is!

Richard Farter said...

Renzo,

You, David and Bob Ross should all get together and have a drink. Your tastes seem to run alike, although I think Bob prefers turpentine as a "palette" cleanser.

Happy trees.

IPOP

Marcia Macomber said...

Balance, schmalance! :-)

Save it for teeter-totters!

I want some leaning wine. How about a flavor profile that "leans in"?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Gang,

All along I've had IPOB in my sights. I just couldn't find an angle that I liked,but then the other day I read their "manifesto" on their website and, after being astonished at its doublespeak, the whole thing just appeared. I have been around a long time in the wine biz, and can't remember a more laughable "movement." What amazes me is that there are some damned nice wineries associated with IPOB. A lot of them should know better.

But IPOB is a vanity marketing project, and nothing else. As self promotion, it's genius. As objective truth, it ain't. I hope it goes away. It's MY job to insult the other 3500 California wineries, not Jasmine and Raj's.

Thomas said...

Have to admit, I was in the dark about IPOB, but that's only because I am impervious to bullshit.

And what does all this stuff about a palette have to do with wine???

Thomas said...

OK, so I went and read it. Geez, I wish people would call me when they seek a writer.

In any case, I got the part when they called Chardonnay a "widely planted varietal" and I stopped reading.

It's a godammned grape variety--not a a grape varietal.

renzo said...

"You, David and Bob Ross should all get together and have a drink. Your tastes seem to run alike, although I think Bob prefers turpentine as a "palette" cleanser. "

Dick Farter,

Ha! Good one.The yucks are side-splintering. "Bob Ross", that's not at all a wooden delivery of a tiny joke. Thanks for playing.

Charlie Olken said...

Mr. P-- A palette is used to get wood in your wine.

It all depends on the forest from which the palette is made. I like a balanced palette myself, but there are those who like charred palettes, neutral palettes or even toothpicky palettes.

Ron-- I think you have downplayed the religious aspect of IPOB. It is more than my way is the only way. It is the virtual branding of the disbelievers as heretics that turns IPOB and its acolytes into vinous zealouts exceeded only by the biodynamic worshippers.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Puff Daddy,

I think IPOB is simple marketing, and rather transparently so. But it has been successful.

Wine is big enough that it can include all kinds of styles. One would assume that most small producers think their wines are the most expressive, IPOB just figured out a way to attach the word "balance" to their style before anyone else did. In magic, this is called misdirection. In both cases, magic and IPOB, it's simple sleight of hand. It fools an awful lot of people.

Thomas said...

Ron:

It fools only the unbalanced.

Charlie Olken said...

Ron--You are, of course, correct that there is a massive marketing motive behind IPOB, and if it stopped with that, then I would not be so bothered by it.

But, it is the "I am right and you are wrong" aspect of this that bugs me. Wander over to STEVE! today and read the first comment on his Carneros editorial. Some fool over there professes to have regained his interest in Carneros Pinot because he tasted on that reminded him of Oregon.

IPOB is more than a statement of preference, more than a marketing mechanism. It is a movement, and I would remind you that one of its leaders uses the word "Revolution" to describe his view on the subject.

Thanks for sticking a pin in their balloon, but I think it will take many more pin pricks before their religious ferver is exposed for what it is.

Finally, had a meeting with a winemaker whose wines are occasionally championed by the IPOB folks (two in the top 100 at the SF Chron) who is willing to go on the record with his opinion that these folks have forgotten the basic rule. Wine is not to be judged by formula but by what is in the bottle.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Charlie,
There is a religious undertone to my piece. I had vaguely in mind a virgin birth scenario, and I used some religious terminology, but I didn't think that was the point. If there is a point.

I checked Twitter, as I sometimes do when my stats blow up, and my stupid piece has been tagged by folks like Harvey Steiman, James Molesworth, and, yes, Raj Parr. Glad to have such a distinguished audience.

Though I don't care, I am accused in various circles of being pro-Parker, pro-Heimoff, untalented, unfunny, and,always when you write jokes, adolescent. I love that so many people hate what I do,it's validating. I simply write whatever comes onto my head. Agendas are for the dull-witted, and IPOB is a good, though successful, example of that.

I've stuck a lot of pins in a lot of balloons. But the amount of hot air in the wine biz, the nearly infinite number of balloons, makes it a Quixotic task.

Charlie Olken said...

Untalented, unfunny and adolescent.

Refer those folks to Gabriel Jagle's first comment on this piece. "Hilarious".

Sticking pins in pomposity may have a message but it is also about humor. Screw 'em if they can't get the joke.

John Kelly said...

Charlie, a pallet is what is used to transport your wine. A palette is used to hold daubs of paint. You need to be sure to keep your varietals of wood straight.

I agree that IPOB is all about marketing, and the idea of a "manifesto" and "revolution" are sure attention-getters for a demographic that grew up with overblown Napa Cabs as the ideal aspiration.

I see IPOB at its core as a conversation, a discussion that this generation needs to have.

Some who have been around longer [ahem] had this discussion a couple decades ago and have been living, growing and making wine by the individual conclusions we drew from it ever since. My personal reaction is [yawn].

Ron Washam, HMW said...

John,
I assume the "yawn" is for my piece.

I guess every generation thinks they figured out wine, and discovered balance. IPOB makes me laugh and so I decided to have some fun with them.

Thanks for chiming in, John. Don't be such a stranger.

Thomas said...

Ron:

I applaud your ability, not to mention desire to be yourself.

If wine biz people don't like being satirized, they should stop being so stupid about how they go about promoting themselves.

As Charlie said above, the subject of wine balance is about individual wines. There is no formula. What's more, it is not a mysterious activity that requires the kind of near-pompous babble found on that website, which I would never have visited had this blog entry not appeared.

Having said that, I think you have stirred Mr. Parker, who seems to be using your jokes and satire to bolster his rigidity, animosity, and overall sad expressiveness.

Dan said...

Fantastic. One of my favorite HMWs ever.

Charlie Olken said...

By the way, Ron, are you making wine? Had a Zin today whose name is HMW. Very scary whether it is you or somebody who wants to be you.

Oops. Just checked the label. It is HRW. Close but no Hosemaster. How could there be?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thomas,
Don't get me wrong. I welcome criticism of my work, and love how angry it makes some people. Where some see laughter, others see negativity. For the most part, the folks who disparage my work are often simply upset that no one is talking about their work. I don't care what anyone thinks of it, and never have.

When I've lampooned Parker, and that's often, people loved it. When I lampoon someone else and Parker approves, they think I'm a hack. I try to respect my audience's intelligence, but, frankly, many don't deserve it. I leave them to write their endlessly dull winery profiles, monotonous and worthless tasting notes, and second-rate opinions on third-rate sites. I'm just here talking to myself.

Parker, or anyone, can agree or disagree with my foolishness. I only try to make people laugh. I'm not here to proselytize, or educate, or campaign. I try to say original things in interesting and funny ways. I fail more often than not. When a piece like this blows up, and is talked about, I am dumbfounded. It's comedy. It's satire. It's trivial crap. It's sure not worth talking about.

Charlie,
Damn, I was hoping it was an HMW Zinfandel. I'd sue those bastards. With Parker as my attorney.

Thomas said...

Ron:

Whether or not RP agrees with you is not what I was getting at. I've seen something that he wrote regarding this particular blog entry. He has taken your satire and applied it to his animosity toward anyone who disagrees with his position, pointing out that you agree with his position.

It is of course a false comparison, and you can't stop others from using your writing to make believe you are on their side of a particular argument. It is the price we must pay for going public with our art and our ideas, but that does not mean it is a pleasant thing to witness.

HMW: His Majesty Washam, no?



Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thomas,
I get your point, but apparently it bothers you more than it bothers me. However anyone twists the HoseMaster's words, it's fine by me. The HoseMaster makes a living doing the same thing (well, not a living, but you get the idea). I can hardly complain when someone twists the HoseMaster's words, or insults him, or thinks my work is third-rate. You dish it out, you learn very quickly to take it. I learned that forty years ago.

I knew that making fun of IPOB was going to stir up the wine chat rooms, and that many would reveal their dislike of my work, and many would defend it. They spend their whole lives trying to be right all the time. As I've said before, you play Dungeons and Dragons to pretend you're a hero, you go on eRobertParker to pretend you're a wine expert. And a literary expert as well, sometimes. Many of them think reading my blog is a waste of time--this from guys whose identities rely on hours and hours on eBob or wineberserkers. It's laughable on the face of it.

I don't choose subjects in order to get attention or views. Behind the scenes, at least around where I live, a lot of people are fed up with IPOB's attitude. I just decided to have some fun with that. It's only wine. Some of it Natural, Authentic and Certified Sensitive, and some of it not. But for all of us, it's just wine. That I irritate a few of the soreheads and "experts," or that I gain some of their approval, it's not the least bit important to me.

renzo said...

"It's only wine. Some of it Natural, Authentic and Certified Sensitive, and some of it not. But for all of us, it's just wine. That I irritate a few of the soreheads and "experts," or that I gain some of their approval, it's not the least bit important to me."

... So says you. Even though it isn't likely to be completely true. What you said there about reaction to your words is the predominant takeaway. You really don't seem to care about "branding." (Ha!). Your self-deprecation is always on high. And you really are hesitant to take an unqualified compliment. (Except for shouted sweet nothings and double entendre from a certain bloggess).
I'll say it again anyway. Please continue doing whatever it is that you say your doing. You are a genuine trou normand -- never wooden, always refreshing :)

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Renzo,
First of all, thank you for the kind words, encouragement, and for being a reliable common tater.

I'm not being disingenuous when I say I'm not seeking approval. Simply put, you can't effectively write satire if you are seeking approval. Do I seek an audience? Yes, of course. I did, inadvertently, create a brand in the HoseMaster of Wine™. That was just luck, never intent. I'm glad, and flattered, but it just happened.

I will say it one more time--the vast majority of comedy writers are filled with self-loathing. That makes taking compliments very difficult. The upside is, it makes taking insults incredibly easy. And that's more important to the job.

I don't even know how long I'll continue. I've proven to myself now that I can sustain my brand of stupidity for a significant amount of time. That's what I set out to do. From now on, it's just habit. Habits die hard, but they do die.

Thomas said...

...and when you are done, you'll have palates, palettes, pallets (pick one) loads of material.

Ah, English.

Unknown said...

I had attended the IPOB tasting a few times, though I think they viewed me as "unbalanced" and this year I did not receive an invitation.
*****
But a handful of the wineries associated with that "organization" (if you deem them 'organized') make wines I find to be of good quality. Yet many of the wines being shown there are, from a consumer's perspective, quite unbalanced : they have heavyweight price tags and lightweight quality.
*****
Why wasn't the Siduri winery participating? I always thought Adam Lee pursued balance in his wines, no?
*****

ANONYMOUS I

Miran Kegl said...

Ron...

Had I not been hetereosexual and had I not been married I would love to marry you on the spot and give birth to something...special. Something us. I would never let you go, Ron...

The IPOB thing is a Masterpiece, competeing with the lost introduction of The New Californian Wine and Higher Alcoholics Anonymous for the top spot, in my humble opinion.

The best thing with your writings is the extra bonus offered. I can't decide which is more hilarious, you're written words or the comments from people who are rubbed the wrong way and now stand there - very annoyed - with there pants down, failing to see the satire and above all, no kidding, actually trying to defend such an absolutely ridiculous thing. As a market ploy, sure...kudos. But talking about putting a foot wrong with such an laughable name...in PURSUIT of BALANCE. How wonderful that at least SOME are pursuing this quest since we live in a world where most winemakers around the world don't. Yeah, right... :-)

LeoFerrando said...

Ron, thanks again for your fine irony nd sharp sarcasm, that unveil our frail defense against institutional stupidity. The iPob Manifesto is real, or just a bad joke ?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Miran,
Nice to have such a notable wine guy on my side. And you're the first person to propose to me since Marlene, though she's more my type, what with having girl parts and all.

I only received the huge reaction to this piece because Robert Parker liked it, and said so on his eBob chat room. My piece might be controversial, but he is really controversial. I don't flatter myself to think that it would have gotten much reaction at all without his words. As soon as someone like him, or Steiman or Molesworth, says I'm funny, the usual clowns say I'm not. They rarely argue the point of the piece, only the merits of my lack of talent. I always wonder why they read my blog, then. I don't read the work of writers I don't like, unless I'm going to satirize them. Bunch of chat room chuckleheads.

Thanks, Miran.

Leo,
The quotes in bold are taken directly from the IPOB manifesto published on their website. It's wine gobbledy-gook of the highest order, and was what really triggered this piece.

Joseph Comfort said...

Dear HMW -

Anything you might say that "stirs up a wine 'chat-room'" should be met with a parade. Some may declare you a miracle worker for slapping the paddles on those corpses!

Without grist for the mill, there just ain't no bread. Stick it out!

j. comfort

Joseph Comfort said...

Dear HMW -

Anything you might say that "stirs up a wine 'chat-room'" should be met with a parade. Some may declare you a miracle worker for slapping the paddles on those corpses!

Without grist for the mill, there just ain't no bread. Stick it out!

j. comfort

Eric Degerman said...

It's especially delicious when The HoseMaster takes an angle akin to the Stephen Colbert of Wine.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Eric,
Well, in fact, IPOB certainly does have the ring of truthiness, doesn't it?