Thursday, July 2, 2015

EPHEMERA: Wine Blogging--Just Another Kind of Sad and Lonely Exhibitionism

I was a judge in two wine competitions in June, the California State Fair Wine Competition and the San Francisco International Wine Competition. That explains why I was absent for so much of June. Well, that and apathy.

I spend a lot of time wondering why I do what I do now, considering where I've been, and considering the big wine picture. It seems to be out of some sort of need for attention. Which is pathetic. Writing HoseMaster of Wine™ was originally a way for me to see if I could still write satire. But after five years and more than 400 pieces I think I’ve answered that question. No fucking way. However, I have received an awful lot of attention, much of it negative, and, like the flasher in a battered trenchcoat who lives for the reactions, I keep waving my weenie around hoping for applause for my limp apparatus. Maybe wine blogging is just another kind of sad and lonely exhibitionism.

The nominees for the Poodles were announced (the winners having just been announced) and I ill-advisedly perused many of the nominees. Ouch. I don’t know who the judges were, but theirs must have a terrible task, the equivalent of judging the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest and having to drink the hot dog water afterward. Yet this year I felt some compassion for the nominees. Most must have felt gratified to have been nominated. I lobbied hard not to be nominated, I hate meaningless awards, which is another kind of pathetic. I didn't vote for the Poodles, but I certainly hoped that Chris Kassel would win for Best Writing on a Wine Blog (he didn’t, but he won for Best Blog Post of the Year, ironically, for a post that had nothing really to do with wine, but with Robin Williams' suicide--Morgue and Mindy) because he’s smarter and funnier than I am, and comedy is so much harder to write than tepid wine prose. That said, I’m sure Chris doesn’t give a crap that he won. I never did.

I ask myself all the time, what am I trying to prove by writing HoseMaster of Wine™? I don’t know the answer. Maybe I’m not trying to prove anything. But it feels to me like I am. Only I don’t know what. If anything, it’s to prove that I love wine. Not particular wines, not the romance of wine, just wine. And like any great love, I can’t explain why. I can only say I know my life would have been empty without it. That my love for wine is what led me to everything good about my life. So I feel protective of it, and I dislike those who merely use it, those who talk about it thoughtlessly, those who pretend to love wine, pretend to know more about wine than they actually do, but are merely using wine to benefit themselves. And they are legion.

I’ve always hated the pretentiousness that surrounds wine. Smart people can be pretentious, which is shameful. And stupid people can be pretentious, which is laughable. Wine writing these days seems guilty of being both shameful and laughable. Not all of it, not every single instance, not every single writer, but far too much. On the cosmic scale of being human, knowing a lot about wine barely ranks above being good at pinball. The endless debates that surround wine elevate trivia to heights equalled only by TMZ and pledging sororities. Yet chat rooms and blogs are filled with the kinds of wine frauds that would make Rudy Kurniawan proud, and only because wine is deemed important. I love wine, but I’d never, in the grand scheme of things, attribute it much importance.

In 2014 I judged in six wine competitions. This year I’ve judged two, and I’m probably done for the year. I know why I attend competitions. For the simple joy of being around a bunch of interesting wine folks, many, if not all, of whom know more about wine than I. It’s kind of like attending Bible Study, only everybody’s nuts and drinks too much. So just like Bible Study. Judging reminds me over and over again how endlessly fascinating wine is, and how it unfailingly outmatches us, humbles our feeble senses of smell and taste. Wine isn’t about those senses, though in a strictly objective sense it is. Wine is really about camaraderie, congeniality and laughter, the simple joy of intemperance. Or it’s supposed to be. Too often that is missing from wine judging, and from wine writing.

Truthfully, it’s also flattering to be asked to judge a prestigious wine competition. Not getting asked to return can be disheartening, a kick in the old grape nuts, but when you’re the HoseMaster, well, you never expect to be invited to the cool parties in the first place. Satirists never are. Getting invited even once is pretty cool, makes me feel accepted and appreciated. So, again, we’re back to pathetic.

Pardon my little rambling essay. EPHEMERA has always been about sitting in front of the fucking blinking cursor and just expressing what’s been running through my twisted mind. I do wonder why I do this. I don’t need to; it isn’t keeping a roof over my head. It isn’t a path to fame and reputation—not the way I do it anyway. It’s not even very good, not a repository of wit or insight that the world will some day honor and read. It seems to be some sick way of caring about wine, some way to repay what I owe to wine. As if that were possible.


Don Clemens said...

I've been in this crazy business for more than 40 years. My love affair with wine has grown old and feeble, and I can no longer afford the beauties that I have been exposed to. Ah, but the memories! Thank God for the memories... So now, I try to find something that makes me happy and doesn't wreck the budget. Going to "big" wine tastings (like the Tre Bicchieri, for example) is somewhat of an exercise in masochism, but I'll still take advantage of the opportunities when they crop up. Your writing brings me solace, Ron. Don't stop!

Mike Dunne said...

You scared me, the way you started; I thought you were about to quit, either writing or judging or both. Thanks for not. But what I really want to know is why my cursor doesn't blink.

David Larsen said...

I think your questions about what you do are typical of people who work in the arts, i.e. people who work to create, rather than to make a buck. As a winemaker, I know I have the same questions but will probably carry on as long as I enjoy the process. So, I suspect you have plenty of company. Hope you keep on writing the funny stuff!

Marcia Macomber said...

You may wonder why you do this all the time, but we're sure glad you do! (Even when we've no time to comment and respond.) Hopefully you're doing it because it's fun. Because we sure come here to have fun and are always guaranteed it. It's a world where we're guaranteed a smile and a chuckle, rimshots and frequently coffee shooting out our nostrils when we're not careful. (And who wants to be careful?)

Why do we all keep coming back? Perhaps because it's a fun and very unique way to learn about wine. Not in a studious way -- but more lapping up the fun 'n' games with a side benefit of learning. (Lord knows we're not going to learn anything from the gazillion, boring, cookie-cutter wine articles and reviews that don't offer a unique voice!) Happy 4th!

Dan Fishman said...

I think I'm going to have to disagree with putting wine knowledge ahead of pinball... as far as I know, no rock legend ever wrote a song called "Wine Wizard." Although... a deaf, dumb, and blind kid might make a pretty good somm.

Charlie Olken said...

Their are a lot of reasons to write your blog.

--It is the best way to complain about all the things that bug you in the wine industry.
--How else could you have introduced the world to such lovable folks like Larry Anosmia and Avril Cadavril?
--You don't golf,
--Without common taters, you would be left with baked potaters.
--There is not enough baseball on television to keep you busy.
--If you did not have blogging, you might have to work.
--It's all about the free wine and we all know how you like wine.
--You enjoy saving us from having to read all those other blogs.

Paul Moe said...

Morgue and Mindy. You evil bastard. :-)

PaulG said...

Ron - You make many good points, as always. Just one tiny edit... "[Having lunch with my dog] reminds me over and over again how endlessly fascinating wine is, and how it unfailingly outmatches us, humbles our feeble senses of smell and taste. [Having lunch with my dog] isn’t about those senses, though in a strictly objective sense it is. [Having lunch with my dog] is really about camaraderie, congeniality and laughter, the simple joy of intemperance." And, I must add, a LOT more interesting than wine judgings.

Ben E Payne Jr said...

Thanks so much for columns like this one. I have been an "alleged" fine wine salesman for 15 years, and fine wine now consists of corporate brands from the biggest whores I have ever known, multi-national companies who create and discard brands on the merest whim. These created brands bore and disgust me. Enough about that. Your columns help keep me sane in an increasingly distasteful business.

Keep that tongue sharpened as many of us eagerly await your next missive.

Bodega Almaroja said...

I can´t beat Don - I´ve only been at this for 25 years - but I´ve been on both sides of the fence. I started out as a wine importer and ended up as a winemaker. I´ve tasted tens-of-thousands of wines, many of them the greatest in the world, but the best will always be those tasted in good company, with people of like mind, who understand me and make me laugh. You love wine, Ron, and you make us laugh. That is your purpose in life. You and I aren´t going to save the world - no-one is - but I get people drunk and you make them laugh. Two incredibly noble pursuits!

Thomas said...

As David Larsen wrote above, and as you know, Ron, perfection is impossible to reach, but it's what creative people seek, and so we keep trying for it. We'll know it if we see it, but will probably never see it.

Just this morning, as I struggled to work on a chapter in what I hope will be my next book, I screamed to no one, "Why am I doing this?"

It's painful to keep reaching.

How doesl this relate to wine? I've grown grapes, made wine, owned a winery, worked for wine distributors, owned a wine retail shop, judged wine, written about wine, and have been consuming wine since age 7. Do I know anything about the subject? Not as much as I will tomorrow, or on successive days.

Eric V. Orange said...

Ron, I knew this was coming. I heard shadows of it in your Blind Book Review. I even wrote in my comment on that piece that I hope we didn't get another sappy "I'm gonna quit" post.
Then I deleted that part.

Cause you do make me laugh. A lot. I know Chris is good, but he hasn't hooked me like you, from the start. You I have bookmarked.

I bet if you made decent bank on it, you'd feel different, but sadly, I don't know where that would come from. I can't use it. 5 percent of my subs would get it, if that. Personally, I would be glad to contribute a monthly or yearly subscription, but unless you offered something "special" for it, my guess is that would be too close to charity for you. I'd consider it a badge of honor to be a Hosemaster (What? Groupy..Supporter...tried to think of something witty related to hoses, but...a little help here?? ).

I admire your ability to produce funny shit like this;

"On the cosmic scale of being human, knowing a lot about wine barely ranks above being good at pinball." AND write it down. Consistently.

I think most people in this world think they can write. I know I can. I have full novels in me. Reams of shit in my head, I could cover pages. But that last little crucial step, putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, is where I (we) fail.
It's people like you, who "produce", that makes a difference. Paul G, Charlie Oaken, Mike Dunne...those are recognizable names because those guys PRODUCED, for years (and they happened to be in the comments above).
I'm not talking about Poodles.

So there, I entreat you. Grab that second bottle, smack the demons, and PRODUCE. Repeat.

And speaking of second bottle, I'll leave you with this famous quote I heard from some guy who might have been a winemaker at Foley or Frogs Leap (something with an F).

"Magnums just piss me off 'cause they are not enough for two people and too much for just one".

All the best, Hose.

BTW, does that "I'm not a robot" captcha work for you to keep down the auto-spam? I might use that if it does.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

This self-indulgent essay was not about quitting HoseMaster, but, rather, about why I bother to do it in the first place. The impulse is unclear to me, and it's my impulse. I wonder if pyromaniacs sit around and worry about why they set fires. What I do isn't that much different, only I don't get any cheap sexual thrill from writing the blog--hmm, wonder if I could... No matter. I've quit so many times, and hinted at quitting so many times, I get the reaction I deserve. Thanks for the kind words.

Are you saying Martha doesn't blink? As far as I know, she's your main cursor.

I think what's interesting to me is that I wouldn't quit writing, I don't think, I'd just quit publishing. But at the moment, I'm still plugging away, with no immediate plans to quit.

I'm sure I am nowhere near unique, in any sense. Your point is well-taken, David. It's just weird to have found an audience for my stupidity, not something I ever expected at this stage of my life. When I began, I was just curious about whether I could do it (it took me a long time to get my chops back). Then I was amazed at the reach of the Internet. And now I wonder why the hell I keep doing it.

And, as I've said before, Ephemera sometimes emerges from just sitting down to write and not having a particular target or conceit. I just write whatever comes to mind, and in this case, it was another of my "why do I do this" posts. I almost didn't post it, but, hell, on the Intergnats, content is king. Just hit Publish.

Marcia Love,
No, the work is not "fun." Not at all. Whatever tiny comedic gift I have demands I exercise it, so I do. The results can be fun, reading comments and having a rather strange reputation in the wine business is fun. But the work is not. There are writers who love the act of writing. I'm not one of them.

Tom Stolpman said...

Having been pretty darned good at pinball--ask my law school classmates--and then learning a lot about wine. . . now, thanks to you, Ron, I have a reckoning point on my place in the Cosmos! The next issue--Can any of us learn about something important, like, say . . . .?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Point taken. Maybe I should start a pinball blog. PaddleMaster of Balls™ has a nice ring to it.

Truly, I do it for the groupies and our weekly blind tastings.

Too soon? Yeah. And I really liked him in his Oscar-winning performance in "Good Will Hanging."

I enjoy lunch with my dog, though when he licks his balls after I get jealous. I wish I could do that. But when I try, he bites me.

Ah, an oldie but a goodie.

Welcome. Nice to have a new common tater. And you're right about that part of the biz, but 'twas ever thus. We get into the biz to immerse ourselves in the great wines, but end up surrounded by the plonk. There's lots of dishonesty and chicanery in the corporate wine game that is incredibly discouraging, and it does seem to get worse and worse. My voice isn't important, and I mostly tilt at windmills, but I'm certainly not the guy reviewing and promoting that swill. And won't ever be.

Thank you so much for the kind words.

Bodega Alma,
Thank you. Laughter is a noble pursuit, and to the extent that I succeed (there is some controversy about that--go on any wine chat room and you can find dozens of clowns who don't think I'm funny at all, which delights me), I'm proud. Though I always hate what I write, more than anyone else possibly could, I'm flattered by the smart and talented people who like it.

Thomas, my friend,
Yup. I write all this crap, and at the end of the year, there are maybe two jokes I like myself. The HoseMaster voice keeps me sane, or confirms I'm insane, but I wish he were a lot funnier.

I know less about wine than I did when I began in the wine biz. Or, at least that's how it feels.

Money wouldn't change the way I feel. You're right about that. Do I deserve to be paid for what I write? Tim Atkin thinks so, and I'm grateful to him for that. But the Intergnats have devalued everything. We expect everything to be free. Porn is free, why pay for HoseMaster of Wine™? Just cuz I'm a bigger dick?

Again, this wasn't a piece aimed at getting upbeat responses from readers begging me to keep writing. Though, in hindsight, it sure reads like that. And it's annoying that I think anyone cares about my creative struggles. I need to put a lid on this self-serving crap, but now and then it sneaks out, a fart in church. Excuse me. It my dog over there, the one licking his balls.

And, yes, the prove you're human tool keeps out 99% of the spam. Now if I could just get it to exclude my self-pity...

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Great to see you here. Wow, you're quite the triple threat! Law, pinball and wine! Not sure that's the right order of importance. Wow, pinball, wine and the law! Better.

Oh, you're never going to learn anything important here, Tom. You know that. Or on any other wine blog. But as for what is truly important to learn I'd begin with how to tie a bowtie properly, foreplay, and where the hell I left my car keys.

David Pierson said...

Went and read the Kassel piece and while I got what a bummer it is when people don't appreciate life enuff not to top themselves.. but anyone who's read Darkness Visible knows some people can only see it as a relief to bail.. thank God I never came close, grateful for that, we all get the blues, but I love life way too much for that, some sadness makes the kicks that more enjoyable.. but for the life of me, many things mystify me, but these 3 really do.. why Robin Williams is a comic, improv genius.. jeessuss.. please. go to Youtube and watch one of his improve rants and please explain to me wtf is so funny.. the Wire.. oh, it's the best series EVER!!! It tore my ass off with boredom!! Gave it 6 or 7 episodes, kept waiting for something to happen.. or get into the characters or something.. all these stupid cop clichés.. and wtf is so great?? And the writing of David Foster Wallace.. a Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again.. oh it's so smart and funny.. yeah, if you're a fuckin moron.. this condescending snark at the most easy of targets..
But on a fun note like Woody Allen at the end of Manhattan.. these are the things I hope I never get tired of until I kick it.. blastin the Stones 69-74 period, combined with innumerable gt's or craft beers, getting dressed to the nines with the lady and hitting a great restaurant, eating some blood rare meat with a wicked red, oh yeah!! then hittin the town.. goin into a new town and finding a classy bar, some highballs and finding the places to go, any bar car on any train in the world.. a wicked return down the line or makin the eight ball at 3 in the morning, havin some laughs with some old buds.. oh man!! Don't get me started!! I get happy just thinkin about it..

susan wu said...

Oh HoseMaster, we're so not used to it when you were feeling blue. I know you're under-loved, but here's the bigger picture: You're one of those who'll get inflated love posthumously. Imagine people will continue to read your wine humor and get good laughter out of your crap a hundred years later from now. Come on, I'm feeling jealous of you.

Why let yourself fall into the category of "having (noticeable) talent yet also possessing (obnoxiously) non-conforming character"? The simple fact that the Wine Blog Awards went to HoseMaster and Kassel shows the judging panel did something very right. Cheers.

Arthur Krea said...

good lord, you're beginning to sound like "on and off and on and off and on and off the wine trail" guy...we came here for laughs - pull yourself together, man!

Joe Roberts said...

"I love wine, but I’d never, in the grand scheme of things, attribute it much importance."

Eloquently stated, my friend. Maybe I am only agreeing because it mirrors precisely how I feel about wine (take the craft seriously, don't take yourself seriously). But I'm probably shallow that way.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Susan Darling,
Oh, I'm far from under-loved. If anything, I've gotten too much praise for this silly blog. And I wasn't feeling blue, so much as feeling introspective--I was in search of what makes my creative juices flow, why I have come to care so much about cranking out this crap. I didn't reach any conclusions, and I generated a lot of kind and sympathetic responses that I didn't anticipate, but I hit Publish anyway. It's what we do.

And a flat lot of good being loved posthumously will do me--I hate when society is necrophiliac. And in a hundred years, the Intergnats will be even more impenetrable and unimaginably enormous. My little blog will be but a dust mote on the Infinite and Eternal coffee table of the Universe.


Thanks, I needed that.

I'm sure the recent developments in your life have made wine's ultimate unimportance abundantly clear. For too many people, wine becomes a receptacle for their own feelings of loneliness and insecurity and fear. Wine can be a pretty good friend when we're feeling those things, and, then, suddenly, wine becomes really important to our sense of self, to who we are. That's a sad path to walk. And a lot of wine writers seem to be walking it.

You? Shallow? Nah. Only your wine review Tweets, not you.

Tom Stolpman said...

Ron, I am so glad you have both your and my priorities set up properly--BTW, I don't know anyone who reads the Hosemaster to actually learn about wine--but I look forward to Monday and Thursdays, thanks to Pete recommending that I tune in a while back.

Bob Henry said...

You write to exorcise your frustrations/pet peeves/anxieties/neuroses/demons.

An escape from the echo chamber of your own private thoughts.

A sounding board perchance enlisting the outside world when "Mrs. HoseMaster" has heard it all before and exclaims: "Enuf already! Go kvetch on your silly blog!")

And your appreciative readers provide succor for your soul.

The act of writing is largely solitary and vexing and humbling.

Writers judge themselves against their published heroes -- the best extant and extinct -- and feel woefully inadequate when compared against that high bar.

But their heroes' published works have gone through endless rewrites and edits to produce the seemingly effortless and elegant prose we know them by today. No one peruses the preceding drafts replete with bad grammar and syntax and similes and metaphors and inartful turns of phrases and groan-inducing puns.

We never see how the sausage is made in the factory.

We only judge the finished product . . . and stand slack-jawed in awe.

(Consider the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln anguished over every crafted phrase and sentence right up to its deliverance. And probably would have given it one last polish if time had permitted.)

Not every satirist's barb hits the mark.

So stop beating yourself up.

Or else I will retract my comment found here . . .

. . . "(Notā bene: I swear on Parker's grave I never said '[Ron] Put the H in wine critic.')"

Recall this motto:

"Humor In A Jugular Vein"


Bob Henry said...

How coud I resist?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I certainly make no pretense that I'm here to teach anyone about wine. I have no idea why I'm here, which is sort of the theme of this Ephemera. If anything, I'm trying to teach people to take wine less seriously, and to be skeptical about much of the hype and marketing and dishonesty that surrounds the selling of wine. Aren't satirists all crusaders? Only, unlike most crusaders, we try to make you laugh.

Glad Pete sent you this way. And thanks for being a common tater.

gabriel jagle said...

I can't speak for the entire country, but in Portland it would be very presumptuous to rank wine knowledge above pinball skills. If I could quit my job as a winemaker to become a professional pinball player, I would do it in a heartbeat.

Paul Moe said...

Gabriel, do not google "online pinball". I want my Sunday back.