"Comedy is an escape, not from truth but from despair; a narrow escape into faith."--Christopher Fry
Thursday, June 19, 2014
To Be or Not to Be
I’ve been struggling lately with whether I want to continue writing HoseMaster of Wine™. First of all, let me just say that this is not a plea to those of you who care to flatter me to chime in and tell me how brilliant I am, and how the wine world needs me. I’m not particularly good at accepting flattery. I do much better with vitriol. Rather, this is simply a peek behind my peculiar curtain, about how weary I am of this self-imposed gig, and also how I fear I’d miss it if I do quit. Those of you uninterested in this kind of navel-gazing, leave now. I’m sure there’s something really stupid to read over at PUNCH, the online drinks magazine for the dumbstruck.
I started writing HoseMaster to see how it would feel to write regularly again. I stumbled onto wine blogs, gazed upon their splendid mediocrity, and decided to jump in. So many wine blogs proclaim that wine is too pretentious a business, all the while adding layers to that pretentiousness with their own brand of solipsistic babbling. And in the seven years I’ve been at this, nothing has changed. Worst of all, HoseMaster hasn’t changed much either. Reading the “popular” wine blogs regularly is like eating the same damned food for lunch every single day. It’s depressing that you never get sick of it.
There are a lot of different motivations for writing a wine blog. For many, it has been a way into the business. The most successful of those bloggers have learned that self-promotion, social media skills, parroting disingenuous marketing stories, passing off Wikipedia entries as personal knowledge, and relentless buttkissing are a quicker way up the ladder than actual wine experience. These are the wine bloggers the trade adores. They are overwhelmed with wine samples and offers of free junkets. They’re the equivalent of the “reporters” for “Entertainment Tonight,” who pose as insiders, but really simply spew the copy handed them by actors’ press agents. It’s twaddle, it’s far more harmful than good for the wine business, but that’s what the Internet does best—give you the opportunity to lie about who you really are.
Then there are those wine bloggers who turn a one-sentence thought into an eight hundred word essay with a misleading blurb as a title. Most of these folks think of themselves as “journalists.” Because, hey, this is a journal, right? They climb the blog rankings with a talent for writing headlines, and nothing else. You click on the link because of the headline, you read the piece, and you think, “Fuck, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve read all day.” For them, you’re a stat, an endlessly stupid moth self-destructively flitting around their headline flame. Their contribution to the wine conversation is, “Me, Me, Me.” Though they think they’re really smart, and feel their contribution is, “Meme, Meme, Meme.”
There are aggregate blogs, the cheesy, overrated wine clubs of the genre. Why, every day our panel of experts sends you the finest dozen posts available at club prices! You’re free to cancel at any time, we’re just happy you’ve fallen for it for as long as you have! There are the sad little wine blogs started by people who just want to tell you about really good wines they’ve tasted. Oh, I know I’m not a wine expert, but I know what I like! And I think this has value. They’re like Poodle puppies leaving little puddles for you all over the house. Hard to hate them, but you wish they’d grow up.
All of them make me want to quit.
I’ve not been a popular guy with a lot of folks in the wine business. That doesn’t bother me in the least. I don’t see myself as a truth-teller, some kind of superhero dedicated to cleaning up all the hypocrisy and dishonesty I see. I write comedy. Where I succeed or fail is if I make you laugh—that’s my only criterion. I rarely choose my targets, my targets almost always choose themselves. The wine world is no different than the real world. It’s filled with buffoons, cowards, pretenders, blowhards, pinheads, idiots, stuffed shirts, sycophants, and assholes. I don’t use those words when I speak of them individually. I use satire, mockery, jokes, parody and ribaldry to make my points. I don’t have an agenda, except laughter. I’ve clearly screwed that up today.
I feel like I’ve run my course on HoseMaster of Wine™. I’m not out of ideas, far from it. But I may be out of motivation. Many days I fantasize about how nice it would be to never look at a wine blog again. Hell, I often fantasize about how nice it would be to never look at the Internet again. There’s a kind of peace in the very thought. No more wine blogs would be like moving to the country and discovering just how annoying and stressful all that fucking traffic noise was where you used to live—you were able to tune it out to a degree, but now that it’s gone you see how much it detracted from your life. I think about that. Which seems to imply that I’m ready to move away from the virtual world, all that incessant and meaningless noise, gain some peace and quiet.
I love wine, and I love the wine business. It’s why I write about them both. Out of love, not disdain. But maybe my passion for wine is better served in the privacy of my own thoughts. There’s nothing new to say about wine that hasn't been said more eloquently many times before. Wine outclasses us, and our feeble imaginations and vocabularies. I've tried to bring an interesting voice to the discussion, but it feels like that voice has worn thin. At least it feels that way to me. Oh, I’m still angry. I’m still angry about how we humans manage to trivialize, ruin and degrade just about everything precious in the world, wine being just one example. I’m angry that I’m a part of that myself. But comedy is about anger, its Creator is anger, it needs anger. But it can be tiring to channel all of that anger twice a week. I’m tired.
This isn’t a farewell piece. Or it might be. I don’t know. I’m wrestling with why I do this in the first place, and for what. For those of you who come here for the laughs and are still reading, my heartfelt apology. Every now and then I feel the need to be self-indulgent. From a career standpoint, wine has been my life. For too much of the past three years, HoseMaster has been my life. There’s the rub.
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."