"One of the disadvantages of wine is that it makes a man mistake words for thoughts."--Samuel Johnson
Monday, May 19, 2014
Dr. Conti Pleads for Leniency
It wasn’t my fault. It was that fucking Jackie Chan. I just wanted to be besties with Jackie Chan, and he wouldn’t give me the time of day unless I was opening bottles of Domaine Ponsot for him. I can’t afford Ponsot. Jackie Goddam Chan can afford Ponsot; he should have been serving me old bottles of Burgundy! Jackie Chan ruined my life. It’s like I’m Chris Tucker. Just another black guy going to jail.
Before you sentence me, Your Honor, I want to tell you that I am deeply and sincerely sorry for selling fraudulent wine to rich assholes. This was never my intent. My intent was to become a rich asshole. On the backs of wine connoisseurs. This is a time-honored tradition in the wine business, Your Honor, one that every auction house in America relies upon. One often hears that wine snobs drink labels. Well, I gave them labels. And damned fine labels, if I do say so myself. They fooled even the best wine experts at the most prestigious auction houses. Though that’s a bit like fooling a kid into thinking he’s got quarters in his ears. What else would explain the existence of the quarters? Where would they have come from except his ears? It seems too good to be true, but the eyes don’t lie. Magic quarters, magic cellars—it’s easy to fool those who want to be duped. That’s not fraud, Your Honor, that’s illusion! They can claim they were fooled, as the auction houses did, but what validity does that argument have when the five-year-old next to them sees right through it?
When I first moved to Los Angeles I didn’t have any friends. Yes, this is hard to believe given my natural charisma, but I swear it’s true. I was lonely. But then I discovered wine. What a lucky break! It turns out that almost everyone who is involved in wine, who passionately follows and collects wine, is a lonely loser. And the worst kind of lonely loser, a drunk lonely loser. Sure, they have lots of tastings to attend, and they have all kinds of internet chat rooms, and they have this little wine community, but, really, they’re just a bunch of lonely people desperately seeking some kind of attention and admiration, like puppies in the animal shelter relentlessly wagging their tails and licking strangers’ hands trying to find a home. But if you take one home, what does he do? He shits on your carpet. I’d found my people.
It didn’t take long before I was the toast of the wine world. All I had to do was open rare and expensive bottles of wine for my new friends, praise their discerning palates, laugh at their tired jokes, and I was in big demand. “Oh,” I’d say, “I’d only open this magnum of 100 Point wine for people who can appreciate it!” They’d all look humble and smug, nod their heads at my common sense, and then loudly proclaim the wine to be the finest wine they’d ever tasted. My credentials were quickly established. Everyone knew I had a great palate because I admired theirs. Lonely people are so easy to manipulate.
But, Your Honor, what harm was I doing? I never said the wines were real. Honest. I just showed them the labels. The rest, as always happens in wine tasting, they made up in their heads. I would open wine bottles they knew to be worth tens of thousands of dollars, had they been real, I’d do this three or four nights a week, and when they asked where I got all of these rare wines, I’d just say, “My cellar.” No one ever saw “my cellar,” or even asked to see “my cellar.” They didn’t care if the wines were authentic. I guarantee you, Your Honor, even after my unfair conviction, those same guys are still bragging to their friends that they’ve tasted ’47 Cheval Blanc that was direct from the Chateau. Yeah, Chateau Gullible.
Once I knew the wine business is populated with the lonely, it just got easier. But am I responsible for people not seeing what is right in front of them? It was just like selling a car, or a house, “as is.” That’s no crime. Or if it is, it doesn’t deserve a harsh sentence. I just consigned wines to Acker Merrill “as is.” I mean, I’d had lunch with people in their wine fraud department, asked them lots of “innocent” questions about how they spotted fake wines, all of which they answered in depth. I did everything but confess, when I look back. I mean, let’s say you sell large loads of fertilizer for a living and a guy shows up in a windowless van and asks you all about how dangerous it might be to carry a ton of fertilizer around in his windowless van that he parks in front of the local IRS, would you tell him how to make a bomb? Acker Merrill told me how to make bombs. Are any of them going to trial?
I’m the victim here, Your Honor. I did nothing but spread inebriation and joy. I gave happiness to some of the saddest and loneliest people on the planet—wine collectors. I fulfilled countless of their wine wet dreams. But that’s the thing about lonely losers, they can’t ever leave happiness alone. They pick at it and pick at it until it bleeds, and when they found out it bled money, they got mad. Now they want to kill the messenger. And I’m that poor messenger. My message to them was simple. Stop taking the joy out of wine, assholes. Wine isn’t about rarity, and labels, and stupid numerical scores given by people as easily fooled as you are, and how much money you spent on 25 ounces of yeast excrement. Wine is about genuine passion and pleasure, and not the gratification of your miserable, rich prick ego. I think I delivered that message to the wine world loudly and clearly. I should be thanked, not punished.
But I accept the will of the lonely losers, as they accepted mine for a brief time. I ask only that you show me the leniency and forgiveness I deserve, Your Honor. And fuck that Jackie Chan.
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.
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