Thursday, July 30, 2015

EPHEMERA: Happy to Be a Recovering Sommelier

I keep a list of ideas for possible pieces on HoseMaster of Wine™. Now and then, an idea comes to me that I absolutely love, but eventually find unworkable. Many pieces are “easy.” They write themselves. The moment Randall Grahm’s crowdfunding proposal hit the press, I received five or six emails from people and friends in the wine business wanting me to lampoon him. It felt so much like a kind of Command Performance, that I thought about ignoring the whole thing. But then I read Randall’s proposal, and it’s comedy iron pyrite—and I’m the Fool who grabs that gold. I always hope that every piece turns out to be funny, perhaps enlightening, but also that, at the very least, it comes from an interesting angle. Wine writing on the Intergnats is so godawful boring.  But I always struggle with the fear that I’ve gone too far. I have to summon a bit of satirist courage to finally hit “Publish.” I don’t mind offending people, but I want to offend the right people. However, all that’s different than just having an idea that I can’t quite manage to express in my comedic voice.

My unworkable recent idea was deceptively simple. What if at the Wine Blog Awards ceremony they had a death montage? Every awards show worth anything at all has that two or three minute photo montage of those among its ranks who died in the past year. We all watch death montages intensely, don’t we? It’s gripping to see that people more famous and more accomplished than we are die, often gruesomely, or at their own hand. Why not have a few minutes at the Poodles devoted to all the wine blogs that died in the past year? You can see the satiric possibilities here. And I actually love the idea.

When I tried to write it, well, nothing happened. Everything I wrote stunk (no surprise there, I can here Will Lyons saying, the humorless douchebag). It’s happened before. Last month, I had another “brilliant” idea to write a piece about a telethon to raise money for Short Man’s Disease. I had about half of a public service announcement written, which focused on the tragic and heart-wrenching case of a well-known wine critic, but it just didn’t work. It tried too hard. Too petty, maybe. Which on this blog seems impossible, I know. So I simply abandoned it.

All of this to say that sometimes the best pieces are the ones I decide not to write.

I’m glad that I’m not a sommelier anymore. I’m a recovering sommelier. I’m glad because it’s become a young person’s game. A man my age isn’t really welcome in the sommelier community, unless you can do something for them, like give them some stupid degree. I’m a dinosaur, an oldfuckosaurus. I think it would be creepy for everyone involved if I attended lavish wine events at my age. First of all, it would be hard for me not to be annoyed by all the worst qualities of a young sommelier that remind me of myself at that age. Only, at that age, I was still on my way to becoming a sommelier. Not through exams or pursuing an alphabet after my name, but through learning restaurant service and hospitality, as well as humility in the face of the dauntingly difficult task of learning about wine. But I still possessed a number of annoying qualities that I see all the time in younger wine experts—arrogance, bald-faced lying about the extent of my wine knowledge, overindulgence, and stupid, childish wine oneupmanship. Sommeliers of both sexes are forever wagging their dicks at each other.

Comedy would have been the same way, I think, had I stayed part of it. Comedy writing is, also, a young person’s game. It consumes you. As wine consumes you when you first truly fall in love with it. You live and breathe it. And then one day, twenty years in, you realize it’s ultimately not that important. That being a sommelier isn’t much of an accomplishment. That writing endless setups and punchlines for someone else to deliver is more assembly line work than it is creatively rewarding. And suddenly the rest of your life opens up to you. You go back to other long lost loves, you spend more time with friends and family. You start to restructure your priorities, discover what truly matters in life. Love and courage and kindness. And that’s the point when the industry is done with you.

If you try to pass along that “wisdom,” who will listen? No one. Don’t get me wrong. I loved being a sommelier. I’ve rarely met anyone in life who loves his/her career more than I loved mine. And when I find someone new to wine who I think loves wine as much as I do, I try to help her. But I know I’m a has-been. Writing HoseMaster of Wine™ is simply a way to try not to be a has-been, both in wine and in comedy. It doesn’t work, but it’s fun. Unexpectedly, it’s been a place where my experiences in both lines of work has come together and made me happy. This is completely surprising to me, and also why I’m still here twice a week. Some of you come here only for the laughter, some seem to like when I talk about wine. I don’t much care. I like to do both. And so I do.


Eric V. Orange said...

Kudos Hose.


Vasily Raskov said...

Hi Ron, I'm so sorry I started reading your great wine comedy only recently. That's what I was missing all these years. It's nearly impossible to be bored with wine if your liver and wife permit, but the wine talk is mostly insupportably serious and pretending, or mentoring, or cheating. I would prescribe to read your blog to the most successful young sommeliers and wine journalists (the old generation is already lost) as a medicine, one piece with before breakfast, next one before wine tasting, third one in the middle of the night, just for fun. Finally it's a good literature it gives pleasure itself. Thank you very much for being and writing. Vasily

Batmang said...

To misquote Groucho Marx, the moment I clicked on your blog I was convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend reading it.

Keep up the good work Ron.


Don Clemens said...

Once again, thanks for the candid views - and crackling wit - contained in your posts. Every Monday, I get to savor your twisted, funny, occasionally raunchy observations of the business that I have been in since 1974. You rarely miss the target!
And now, I get to enjoy Thursdays, too! What a treat! Today's post seems almost as though you are writing MY biography, sans the comedy writing. I love wine, but learned long ago that being pedantic about the topic was not a sustainable lifestyle. My friends "know that I know", so they might ask my opinion. But I'm far less likely to hold court. I'd rather cook something on my smoker...

renzo said...

Please, keep on keeping on!

Thomas said...

"...a telethon to raise money for Short Man’s Disease. I had about half of a public service announcement written..."
Considering the subject, half-written is all you needed.

One of the things that gave me joy was to meet at my tasting room young people with wine passion. Some of those people went on to have a career in wine, and I was glad to be just one learning instructor to them. A few have turned out all wrong, but they'll get their comeuppance, I'm sure.

Ziggy said...

Jesus Ron, the further I read into this post the louder the heart pounded, all outside noise ceased to exist i.e. toilets flushing, sirens blasting, dogs barking, all the while thinking this was/could be the end of HMoW. Then the damn phone rang.

Samantha Dugan said...

Now I'm wondering if my blog was one you were going to eulogize.....
A girl can dream right?
Love you!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thanks, EVO. I'll see your kudos and raise you a hallelujah.

Those are very kind words. Thank you. I began writing HoseMaster simply to make fun of wine bloggers, the worst offenders when it comes to worthless wine writing. But the longer I do this, the more I just like talking about wine, and the wine business, in a lighthearted, unpretentious (I hope) way, with some foolishness thrown in. The satire is meant to be tasteless and angry, but EPHEMERA is meant to be a reflection of whatever is on my mind. Lots of folks find it dull. I don't care. They can join the Go Fuck Yourself Club™. I'm just a recovering sommelier who likes the sound of his own typing.

Classic! Thanks for that.

Thank you. What keeps me going most of the time is the support of folks who've been in the biz as long as I have, or longer. Well, that and the disdain and outright disgust that many others feel for me. When I make a list of who likes my work, and another list of who doesn't, I'm very, very pleased with who is on each list. A satirist is judged as much by his enemies as his fans.

Last time I cooked something on my smoker, he was pretty pissed off. But he's just my brother.

Renzo, I will until I don't anymore.

Thanks for being such a longtime common tater.

It's the grand tradition of passing along the gift. A few very kind souls helped me enormously, and for no reason, when I was first interested in wine. I can only repay them by doing the same for young folks I think have a similar passion to mine. So, really, it's kinda like an STD.

Here's the deal. When I retire, as I have more times than Cher, I won't write about it. I just vanish. I just stop. So never fear, just answer the goddam phone.

My Gorgeous Samantha,
No, Love, unlike the death montage at the Oscars, these would be blogs I'm thrilled to have seen die. I miss your work, Samantha. Yours is a rare and amazing Voice. That you hate the rat race of the Intergnats is understandable. That you quit writing is nearly unforgivable.

Just sayin'.

I love you, too!

Beentheredonethat! said...

Jose(no accent needed)
Long time reader, first time common tater:
I was fired from a wine job because I was "too cool for the place" I am indeed an oldfuckosaurus!!
I will keep that one in the vault for later use!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thanks for coming out of the common tater closet. We oldfuckosauruses have to stick together. Well, not literally. Let's not go there. Thanks for joining in, don't be a stranger.

Bob Henry said...

Geez Ron, that's some powerful EPHEMERA writing if Ziggy experienced acute anacusis (and possibly anosmia and ageusia?) while reading your piece.

Thankfully, no acute anopia. (Or anaphia if he did -- forgoing the Braille edition of HoseMaster.)

Tomorrow I will have a chat with dinosaur expert Bob Strauss at about updating his list to include Oldfuckosauruses that still stride across the landscape.


Bob Henry said...

From Bob Strauss's master list:

"Wannanosaurus" -- Probably the smallest of all the bone-headed dinosaurs.

The "wanna-be Cool Kid Group" ancestor to wine sommeliers?

Bob Henry said...

Yup, I'd say there's a very strong resemblance:

Something about that bone-headed thick skull . . .

Charlie Olken said...

Would not the proper plural form be OLDFUCKERSAURI ?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

It's my fuckosaurus word, I'll plural it how I want to. It's oldfuckosauruses, from the Latin for "fire lizards." Which is what restaurant managers do to sommeliers.

David Pierson said...

Ron, the death blog roll should be fall on the floor lol.. you really should do it.. What is it about wine that makes people so damn serious and don't get me started about their eye glazing blogs that they take so damn seriously.. as Lo Hi Qu would say these turds put the turgid in their turdish rants.. you know beer people aren't like that, genuinely fun people to be around.. about the only thing I can think of similarly would be Scotch drinkers.. get a bit too precious for my blood.. but I do like a nice, smoky dram now and then.. anyway, as Belushi told a writer at Rolling Stone, fuck em if they can't take a joke and don't back down..

Bob Henry said...


What species of lizard is this?:


Stella said...

This is my first time come to your blog. And your post is interesting. Thanks for Ron to sharing you story with us.

Stella Pan
The Wine Elite