Thursday, October 1, 2015

EPHEMERA: The Insignificance of Wine


I don’t think there’s a more accurate, or predictive, verb to describe how I got into the wine business than “stumbled.” Believe it or not, the first time I drank any alcoholic beverage was the day I turned 21. Well, that’s essentially true. My older, mischievous cousin Allen once gave me a sip of his beer when I was about 13, I think it was a Miller High Life, the “Champagne of bottled beer,” which is like being the foie gras of pigs-in-a-blanket, but I hated it. It smelled like the laundry hamper after my sleepwalking brother had peed in it. I had no interest in drinking when I was in college. I had little interest in anything other than self-pity and comedy. Drinking made one better, but ruined the other. But once I tasted a few interesting wines, I was smitten. I don’t think I’ve ever liked the fact that wines make me drunk, but I am in favor of wines making other people drunk.

I never wanted to become a sommelier. It just wasn’t on my radar. Or anybody else’s, back in the day. But when a friend of mine turned down a sommelier job, I decided I’d apply. I would never have heard about the job I worked for 19 years if my friend’s father-in-law hadn’t been a regular customer at the restaurant. When I started as a sommelier, in 1987, in all of Los Angeles and Orange County combined, that’s about 10 million people, I think there were six of us—there may have been a few more, but it wasn’t more than ten. In retrospect, it was a very strange turn of events. I’ve often wondered where my life would have taken me if I hadn’t eventually taken that sommelier position. I sure as hell wouldn’t be writing this stupid blog. And I wouldn’t know much about wine. Nor would I have met my wife, or all the amazing folks I’ve met because of this stupid blog. I’d be drinking Miller High Life and chowing down on pigs-in-a-blanket.

In my dreams.

I know that I didn’t take the sommelier job because I wanted prestige, that became an unforeseen consequence, one I still don’t understand. I needed a new career. And that’s what I’ve been thinking about lately. Why people get into the wine business. What do they want out of it? Why wine as a career? And that’s tied into how I think about new people I meet who want to be in the biz, who decide to get an MS or MW, who write about wine, who pursue wine as a lifestyle. And the more I think about it, the more I’m struck by the insignificance of it all. Which is not a great way to reflect on your life or career. Truth is so damned inconvenient to how we view ourselves, and so widely ignored in the wine racket.

In many ways, the culture of wine trains us in the insignificant. The ubiquity of scores is the obvious example. Scores are now widely heralded as a “necessary evil.” Why is the adjective more important than the noun in that description? Also, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the vast majority of what is written about wine is tedious, meaningless, and too often regurgitated marketing (if that’s not redundant). There’s little truth in it, I know that. And, also, little joy. But it’s the current culture of wine. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s how overwhelming the wine market is now, how many wines are available. That leads to far more competition, and, thus, far more noise, far more hype, in order to be heard, to be tasted, to be purchased. Doesn’t matter, it’s the world we live in. If we choose to.

Wine is endlessly fascinating to me. I think I’m as transfixed by my own profound ignorance on the subject as anything else. But why does wine captivate me? I can get all poetic on you, but that would just be blowing the usual kind of smoke that Kermit Lynch is so good at, and Terry Theise, guys who sell wine for a living, the sort of smoke that passes for profundity in the pages of World of Fine Wine. The sort of writing that impresses me with its erudition, but leaves me feeling like I just finished a very expensive meal yet I’m still famished.

Truthfully, I’m rather embarrassed that wine is so important to me. It reflects poorly on my life’s priorities. It’s moderately shameful how much money I’ve spent on wine. Yes, it was my money, but it’s still something I try hard to ignore. Does anyone seriously engaged in wine want to actually see how much money they’ve spent on wine in their life? I don’t want to know. But, again, this is rather shameful, I’m glad I did. But why does wine have such a powerful hold on me? It’s not love, any more than being obsessed with a woman to the exclusion of your self is love. It may appear to be love to the casual observer, but it’s a distortion of love. And much as you might be defined by your obsessive love, you can be defined by your obsession with wine. Both situations are unhealthy.

Why is there so much competition to be thought of as an authority on wine? Wine! Really? At this stage of my life, I hope folks remember me as someone who made eight people laugh once a week, not as any sort of authority on wine. Yet I certainly spent countless hours reading about wine, tasting wines, thinking about wines, touring wine countries… What the hell was I searching for? The prestige that comes with being a sommelier? That’s illusory. I like to think I always knew that. Was I looking to define myself in terms of my extensive wine knowledge? I think so, I think there was a lot of that. And I regret that, now that I’m out of the game for the most part. Because it didn’t work. I think, if anything, wine helped me stay lost to myself. And I think that’s true of a lot of people I meet in the biz.

I wonder if the recently anointed MWs won’t regret their decision to spend all that money and effort to join that exclusive little club. That’s not sour grapes, as they say in verjus, that’s just a thought. I read Rebecca Gibb’s statement about becoming an MW, and she remarks that she did it partly so wine people would take her, as a young woman in the trade, seriously. Wow. There’s an indictment of the wine business. Women still aren’t taken as seriously as men. We all know this is true, but no one talks about it much. That’s how insignificant a world it is, how self-congratulatory and smug. Focused on initials and numbers and descriptors, not equality and fairness. But that’s a subject for another day.

Why become an MW? Because it’s the Everest of wine diplomas? Sort of a typical privileged attitude. Forget the Sherpas, it’s the white folks who conquer Everest. But how is an MW different than an MS to regular folks? And why do we care? Once, I’m sure, it was a ticket to a decent salary in the wine business, a real career. Is it now? I can’t say as I’m qualified to express an opinion on the matter. But it’s a much larger investment than it once was, and the return is unlikely to be its equivalent. So why do it? Because it sounds like fun? Or because you want to be defined as a wine authority? OK. But remember to acknowledge the ultimate insignificance of it. Don’t get lost in it. Lead a real life, too.

The wine world is awash in petty arguments. I participate, to be sure, on a comedic level (or so I tell myself). And what’s more useful at winning a petty argument than credentials? But they’re still insignificant, petty, hollow arguments. Why is there so much at stake on being right about wine. It’s comic, really. From the blowhards all over chat rooms, to the pretend heroes who comment anonymously on wine blogs (anonymous because they’re so damned important, they cannot use their names!), to the judges at wine competitions who are convinced the world needs to hear their opinions, their monumental, Thurgood Marshallesque dissents on why a wine doesn’t deserve a medal. There are a lot of people lost in wine. One could argue I’m the wine poster boy for the guy without a clue, a compass or a map.

All of us take wine too seriously. Which, I think, is at the expense of the things that really matter. More and more, I’ve tried to make HoseMaster of Wine™ about seeing behind the curtain, when I'm not just being silly. But it’s a gigantic curtain. And there are thousands invested in keeping wine behind that curtain, in making us think that what goes on in front of the curtain, in the spotlight, is reality. They write columns in wine publications that are self-promotion, pure and simple. They write online puff pieces that obfuscate but pretend to inform. They're really just infomercials, cranked out in a journalistically sloppy manner, and repulsively rank. They go on countless junkets and try to make every wine seem fascinating, every region special, every winemaker a genius. I use the word “they,” but you know who “they” are because I make fun of them as often as I can. Not that I think anyone is listening to me. But because it’s satisfying for me, makes me feel a little better for having led such an insignificant life in wine.

I’d ask you to ask yourself what you want out of the wine business, if that’s your chosen field. I think I thought I was following my passion, in the now jejune parlance of Joseph Campbell. I don’t think now that I was. Wine’s been good to me. It has never lost its charm. The wine business? I don’t know. It’s something of a trap. I wish I’d spent more time chasing character and integrity and humility instead. Ah, hindsight.

And now that we’re done here, I’m guessing you’re famished.

35 comments:

Eric V. Orange said...

" But remember to acknowledge the ultimate insignificance of it. Don’t get lost in it. Lead a real life, too."
Words of wisdom, Hose.

EVO

Marcello Cancelli said...

Thank you for that, sir. Wine folk take themselves way too seriously. I admire people who take care of people. You know, the ones with dementia; with cerebral palsy; people who can't take care of themselves. The peacemakers of the world; not interested in vanity and fortune like most doctors in Doctors Without Borders. Wine people, restaurant people... A fun and sometimes difficult craft. I'm all for less bullshit in our world.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

EVO,
Oh, not so much wisdom as warning. I'm fresh out of wisdom, though I'm having a sale on pretension. Thanks for being a common tater.

Marcello,
Thanks. Although without all the bullshit, I'd have little to lampoon. Which would be nice. I could finally be rid of this stupid blog.

Thanks for chiming in!

Jerome Hasenpflug said...

So true Hose master! We cannot all be the Pope or even Registry of Motor Vehicles clerks. The futility of wine is its intrinsic attraction. Different every grape or blend, every vineyard site, every vintage, sometimes every day, it's the differences and changes that keep me interested. Meaning and significance come from different things. Most wines taste good. But a really good wine takes you somewhere, and a truly great wine should not only take you somewhere, but bring you there with someone interesting. Too many people think their wines or their knowledge "signifies" something - but wine's "meaning" is only significant only in its enjoyment.

Charlie Olken said...

I don't know who this "Jerome" is, but he has hit the nail on the head. We get into wine, those of us who are not looking for way to justify our weary existence, because we find enjoyment in the product and reward in the study of it.

Writing about it is a different thing entirely. Like many college kids, we drank wine because it went better with our cheap red meats than whisky or coke. Somewhere along the line, we discovered that spending a few extra shekels tended to improve the flavors of our chosen tipple. That brand of learning and upgrade was all about enjoyment--thank you Jerome.

It was when I moved to California and friends introduced me to really good wines like Mayacamas and Ridge and Chalone and Joe Swan that I fell in love. Some people love skiing and spent more on it than I spent on wine or bought their first sailboat or old but collectible MG or Austin-Healy or Triumph.

Wine somehow took control of a certain portion of my life, just as tennis did at the same time. The only difference is that I seemed to get better at wine enjoyment but could never hit a backhand.

And then came the writing. Initially, the idea was to simply find a way to write off my growing wine purchases. Much of the wine writing of the day was wretched--and, boy, doesn't that still sound familiar. Later, in the process of defining what to write, it became clear that my wine niche, California, was very ill-served and a business opportunity existed.

Forty years later, the enjoyment of wine remains as high as ever. Jerome was right. I drink wine because I enjoy it. I happen to write about wine because I had an idea and some very nice folks listened.

John Agle said...

I've been "into" wine since the mid-80s, probably because it was legal. Draw your own conclusions. As I approach retirement, I'm sniffing around the edges of the wine business to see if something fits ... that I can afford. You asked us to consider WHY we're interested in the wine business. For me, it's mostly to see if I can make good juice, fill my time, and expense my wine travels. Not all that romantic, but I think it's a bite I can chew.

William Stephenson said...

You state that you are embarrassed that wine is so important to you. I get that.

I can talk about it at length with people of similar interest but if the other party is less enthusiastic I drop the subject like a lead magnum.

I recently looked at a fixer upper (I'm a contractor) and a couple rolled up who also had an interest. They were from Healdsburg so I automatically assumed they knew a thing or two about wine - good icebreaker, right?

Turns out they don't drink and further, have a strong dislike for the current state of Sonoma County. "Everywhere we go it's all wine talk. What are you drinking, what are you collecting, how big is your erec.., er, collection).

Then the conversation turned to entire tracts of land being turned over for housing developments with a few scattered trellises to give newcomers the illusion of living in a vineyard.

Turns out even anti-wine enthusiasts have plenty to say on the subject.

* * *

I am happy to have your site, STEVE!'s, and Bottle Talk available for me to get my wine geek on. It beats drinking alone.

Thomas said...

OK, so you lured me out of retirement for this one time.

As a student of wine histiory, I can tell you that the questions you ask about wine and people connected to it have been asked throughout the ages. Wine's importance to humanity began as a spiritual control device in the hands of patriarchal Mesopotamian priests. I believe that is the origin of its mystery. The fact that it began as a specialty product, and that it requires such a monumental level of dedication and work to keep it going at full qaulity, inevitably created conditions for wine to become the domain of the elite--and who doesn't want to think of himself as elite? (mostly, it's a male ego thing).

The development of sommeliers and sundry "experts" is merely a reflection of the human focus on personal ego as well as the human habit of inflating everything we do as if it is the most important thing in the universe,because we ARE the center of that universe, a belief that usually falls apart in the face of life-changing things like cancer and when the ultimate change to dust is before us. We have to have something to make us feel significant.

I am forever amused and puzzled over how wine became such a powerful instrument of the human ego, but I have reached the stage in my life where amusement and puzzlement aren't nearly enough to prevent most blabbering wine people from boring the shit out of me.

Don Clemens said...

Hardly a week goes by that I don't wonder at how I found myself, some 40 years later, still playing around in the wine biz. I was going to be a lawyer, practicing constitutional law - at least that was the original plan. In order to help defray the cost of law school, I found myself working in a small liquor store, and because I had been to Europe (thanks, Uncle Sam) and had actually seen some vineyards, I was suddenly an expert about European wines. I really did enjoy wine, but certainly had not PLANNED a life in wine. The next thing I knew, I was offered a chance to manage a really nice, new liquor store where I had close to ultimate power in selecting what went on the shelves. The money was better, and the wife was happier. Soon, a large vineyard company came calling. They were expanding their import portfolio and needed a district manager. This is where it becomes difficult. Was this a descending or ascending spiral?
I have had so much pleasure with tasting and learning about various wines and the history of the regions from which they are made; I've traveled to many distant parts of the world because of wine; I've had the pleasure of teaching people about wine and hoping that they would have some sense of the same feelings that wines have elicited from me. But, in the final analysis, I'd really like to have a bunch of good friends over, sharing stories and great food, without worrying too much about "which side of the hill" this wine was sourced.
As always, Ron, a great "Ephemeral" post; it made me think.

Bob Henry said...

Many folks enter the industry as the natural evolution of being wine enthusiasts, wanting to explore their passion more fully -- and wishing to share their discoveries.

(Who doesn't enjoy putting a smile on the face of an appreciative retail store customer or restaurant diner you have introduced a delightful wine to?)

Such retail and restaurant positions serendipitously facilitate meeting so many interesting people -- by profession and geographic residence. Friendships get formed that otherwise won't have, enlarging your social circle.

Those "psychic dollars" reward sustaining the work.

Bob Henry said...

. . . but let's not overlook this "prosaic" motivation to enter the industry: trade purchase discounts that help "underwrite" your burgeoning wine collection.

And let's not overlook this consideration: certain wine writers and wine bloggers desiring free "reviewer" samples to pad their wine collections. And free travel to the wine country via press junkets.

A phenomenon "called out" by David Shaw in his timeless Los Angeles Times front page exposé on wine writers:

http://articles.latimes.com/print/1987-08-23/news/mn-3198_1_wine-writers

David Pierson said...

Nice column Ron, and the usual good stuff from the common taters, especially Jerome's.. just one quibble, you get prestige for being a somm???If this weren't ephemera I would have thought the Hosemaster was making one of his usual, heelarious, fall down on the ground, laugh out loud jokes.. kinda like in Spinal Tap when David's girlfriend shows the band sketches of the characters the band can play on stage based on their astrological sign and Nigel says, Is this a joke??

Thomas said...

And just in today--this press release. What timing!


LOS ANGELES - September 23, 2015—Master Sommelier is more than just a title; it's a badge of honor—and to earn it you need to be a wine expert in mind, body, and spirit—an achievement measured by passing one of the world's most grueling exams. Only 230 people across the globe have passed the test in its 40 + year history, but this accomplishment allows a person entry into one of the world's most exclusive clubs, where membership can lead to some of the most desirable jobs in the food and wine industry. Produced by Left/Right productions, and based on the fascinating documentary "Somm," this one-hour, six-part docu-series will chronicle six aspiring Master Sommeliers preparing for, and finally attempting to pass, this ultimate test. Journey into one of the few worlds where drinking counts as studying, when UNCORKED premieres Tuesday, November 10 at 10/9c only on Esquire Network.

To pass the Master Sommelier test, one must have an extensive knowledge of wine theory, the skills to perfectly present and serve wine to the most discerning palates, and from taste alone - the ability to determine the year, grape variety and region of a wine (down to the exact, tiny village where the grapes were grown). Earning the elusive title takes personal sacrifice, confidence, a comprehensive knowledge of every wine from around the world, and... a really thick skin. They'll face harsh criticism from the Masters at every turn, but if they can endure and perform well in the finals, they just might realize their dream. The Sommeliers must pass all three parts (theory, service and blind tasting) in three years or they will have to start from square one.

Attending tasting events around the world—from Sonoma to Spain—each hour-long episode of UNCORKED, will feature the Sommeliers swirling, smelling and "slurping" a multitude of wines. They also enter competitions overseen by Master Sommeliers including: Geoff Kruth, MS (President, Guildsomm.com), Andy McNamara, MS (Chairman, Court of Master Sommeliers), Fred Dame, MS (Founder, American Chapter of the Court of Masters) and Laura Maniec, MS (Co-Founder, Corkbuzz Restaurant & Wine Bar in New York and North Carolina). Impressing these Masters Sommeliers along the way will gain the candidates a huge advantage, as they strive to achieve their ultimate goal. In the final episode, the six Sommeliers finally face the exam they have been working towards for years, in the hopes of becoming a Master Sommelier.

UNCORKED is produced by Left/Right with Banks Tarver and Ken Druckerman serving as Executive Producers. The directors of the documentary "Somm," Jason Wise, and Christina Wise, and Peter Goldwyn also serve as Executive Producers.

Don Clemens said...

Oh, my God. It's just going to get uglier out there. Beer is looking better all the time.

Tim Fleming said...

Hey Ron,

I'm glad you did take that gig because we had a blast at that restaurant under your regime! Many nights of insane wines (and diners), Cuban cigars and subsequent hangovers.
Those were, in my mind, the golden days as yesterday was my final day in "the Biz" - at least for now.

Tim

Unknown said...

Nothing wise to say about this piece, but I do think it's my favorite!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Gang,
Many thanks for all the articulate and thoughtful comments. If there are better common taters out there, I'd like to know which blog has them. Thanks all around.

What triggered this essay (and I use the word loosely--it's a very poorly structured piece) was thinking about the difference between people who fall into the wine business--like I did, and Charlie, and Don--and people who choose it as an avocation, then, maybe, vocation. And I was wondering why the hell someone wants to be an MS or MW, spend a large amount of money for the "privilege" of wearing that "badge of honor" (what a stupid thing to say) or, even crazier, put the letters CSW or WSET after your name. And I was genuinely struck by Rebecca Gibb's remark about becoming an MW so that, as a young woman, she'd be taken seriously in the wine world. It's sad that she's telling a hard truth, and sadder that it's so rarely addressed. Thomas' history lesson explains it, but, in this day and age, it doesn't excuse it. Wine is a very sexist business. Period.

Thinking about all those things, I just started writing. I'm not certain I actually said anything. Or answered my own questions. So thanks to all of you for your insights. Some really smart stuff here.

As for the SOMM TV show--don't watch. Well, I don't really care. But I guarantee you, it will be self-parody. What a group of blowhards.

Tim Fleming, hey Tim, glad to hear you're done with the biz--how's life?--was the friend who turned down the sommelier gig that I ended up with. That was a strange turn of events in my life, a decision that I was sure, for a while, was stupid. Maybe it was. But we did have a blast those nights, Tim! Wow. We drank a lot of astonishing wines, and far too much of them. Cheers!

gabriel jagle said...

Well after working back-to-back 15-hour days, this is a bit of a humbling blog to come home to. Many days go by when I wish I was doing something better for society than making booze, but usually I just stick to my philosophy of, "it's better than a real job".

Bob Henry said...

Tim,

What's next for you here in La-La-Land?

Bob

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Gabe,
Winemaking is humbling work, I'd think. Judging from much of the wine I taste, it should be humbling work anyway.

Now and then I get weary of all the hype and the gee-whiz bravado that suffocates wine writing, and I feel some need to remark on how ultimately foolish a devotion to wine is, how selfish and insignificant. It probably says more about me than the people it's aimed at.

Aaron said...

HoseMaster, thank you for another thoughtful and provocative piece. Wonderful writing (well, wonderful words in vaguely sentence like structures), and hopefully something to spread out there into the wine world, and make a few people think.

@Don Clemens, don't go to the dark side! Try some good ciders! Ciders have come a long way in the past few years, and it's easier than ever to get good ones, although you might have to hunt down a good shop that carries them.

Amy said...

The wine business is full of people who like to drink and don't want real jobs. That description suits me pretty well.

Plus, I mean, the wine business is like anything else. It's something to do. I mean, what's the point of doing anything really? (Channeling my inner soft core nihilist.)

I can't speak for the MS, but the MW is fun to study for.... if your idea of fun is being whipped with a barb laden stick for 7 yrs. That said, you do meet some really great people along the way.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thanks, Aaron. Spreading stuff is what I do.

Amy, My Sweet,
I do think achieving an MW is an impressive feat. But "The Guinness Book of World Records" is filled with impressive feats that I am also baffled by. I nearly applied to the MW program back in the early '90's when Wilson Daniels was sponsoring sommeliers for the program, but, well, I was too busy earning an actual living. Now, of course, I'm not only the Commander of Wine, I'm also the only HMW. I know you're impressed.

What motivated you to want to be an MW? Were you like Rebecca Gibb, and searching for validation in the boys club that is wine? Or just nuts? Doesn't it feel like you've written the lead for your obituary, like when you win an Oscar or a Nobel? "Master of Wine Amy Christine passed last Thursday, leaving behind a husband, and a couple of initials."

I think I need to write the HoseMaster's obit. That ought to be popular.

Smooch! I adore you.

Bill Klapp said...

"And I was genuinely struck by Rebecca Gibb's remark about becoming an MW so that, as a young woman, she'd be taken seriously in the wine world. It's sad that she's telling a hard truth, and sadder that it's so rarely addressed."

And sadder still that she has wasted all of that time and money, has her MW, along with the self-satisfied congratulations of the other 339 members of the half-assed attempt to breathe life into the notion of caste and exclusion that was the British Empire, and still has not a snowball's chance in hell of being taken seriously in the wine world. (Her boss Cho Lee should have demonstrated that to Becky by example. In Cho Lee, you have somebody bright enough to choose from a thousand impressive things to do with her life...and she founded Le Pan instead!) Thankfully, Becky's failure to gain acceptance will not be because she is a woman...it will be because she is a navel-gazing twit with nothing meaningful to say about wine (see some of those pithy Wine-Searcher articles...and now the one linked here?), a status which knows no sexual boundaries. (Read an Antonio Galloni or James Suckling tasting note if you doubt that is true.) No sexist beef with the MW program itself, however. It is an old boy's club that seems to be letting in mainly women of late. Especially those "there-but-for-the-grace of-money-go-I" former housewives with investment banker husbands. Nice work if you can get it, studying for the MW. Pointless, elitist, risible, but nice work if you can get it...on somebody else's dime. TRIGGER WARNING: the author of the above post takes a dim view of MWs and MSs, having had to work for a living his entire life...

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Bill,
Yeah, I'm with ya. Maybe my whole witless essay was about wondering why anyone thinks having letters after your name guarantees some sort of acceptance or status in such a meaningless pursuit to begin with. There are lots of things to be proud of in life, but knowing a lot about wine isn't really one of them. "Pointless" is as good an adjective as any.

And I always thought about my own career as a sommelier that it was "nice work if you can get it"--and completely elitist and risible. HoseMaster of Wine™ seems to be a way of trying to finally make good in the wine business.

gabriel jagle said...

Interesting point.

Winemaking has certainly been a humbling experience for me. But for a lot of winemakers I know, humble is one of the last words I would use to describe them. Winemakers are like MW's or MS's or any other TLA that I don't know - there are a handful of good ones out there, and there are quite a few that just like the prestige of saying that is what they do for a living. A lot of times I will lie to people about my job so I don't have to get into it.

I actually appreciate you calling out people who LOVE wine. I love my family and my friends and my dog. I like wine a lot, but I don't love it the way I love my 1-year old. Sometimes I worry that makes me less of a winemaker than someone who loves a bottle of Jayer more than they love their dog. But I am who I am. If that makes me a mediocre winemaker, so be it.

Aaron said...

@gabriel
Loving wine doesn't mean more than your family or anything. I would NEVER think less of a person (winemaker or otherwise) who loves their family more. Even if it means something happens and you mess up harvest, or miss time a step because you have to take care of family. That will never make you a worse winemaker. Just someone with good priorities :)

So don't fear that you aren't a good winemaker because of that.

BTW, what's your wine? Can I get it in the LA area? I'd love to give it a try!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Gabe,
There's a lot of grandstanding in the wine business. A lot of folks who profess passion, talk about "love," but are chasing prestige. Too many of them. I've often written about how I "judge" folks in the wine biz who I meet. I'm not judge and jury, except for myself and the HoseMaster and Lo Hai Qu, but I know a phony when I smell one. And lots have intials, and lots don't. Winemakers are the same, as you note. The truth is, Gabe, it shows in their wines. Almost always.

You're one of the most thoughtful and interesting common taters who shows up here regularly. I suspect your wines are equally thoughtful and interesting.

And at least, Gabe, pull a Bob Henry and send these nice folks a link to your wine website. The Mighty HoseMaster may just sell some wine for you.

gabriel jagle said...

Aaron,
Thanks for the kind words. My current wines are not available in California, but I spent the past 4 vintages (2011-14) as the Assistant WInemaker at Illahe Vineyards, and those wines have some CA distribution, so you should (?) be able to find them.

Ron,
I'm trying to work up the courage to send you my wines. At first it was just waiting for bottling. Then it was waiting for the pinot noir to be ready. Now I am just officially nervous. I can assure you that I am not making Rayas up here.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Gabe,
And I can assure you I'm not expecting Rayas from Oregon. Why you're nervous perplexes me, but do as you will. My opinions won't matter in the long run. Or in the short run either.

Daniel said...

Hose,
Wine is insignificant, and that is why we enjoy it so much. Wine should be like music, it fills a place in your life and changes with your moods, needs and time of the day or week. We got sucked into this biz because we enjoy the good company of people that actually get it; those who know that a bottle is meant to be shared with people you want to spend time with. And we endure the rest of the people and the nonsense for those moments.
After 20 years of professional drinking I've forgotten more than most people would ever want to know about spoiled grapes.

And the only letters I want after my name are the ones that make me the proudest...DAD.

Grazie!
Daniel

Bodega Almaroja said...

Two thoughts spring to mind: firstly, behind most wines over which people pontificate (I speak as a former pontificator) there is someone like me with black hands (I´d send you a photo of mine right now if I could) who spends most of their days with their arse higher than their head. Most of us that make wine are farmers, not poets. We don´t give a shit about letters after our names or spurious points. We just pray to god that it hails on somebody else´s vineyard. Secondly, Viv Stanshall of the Bonzo Doy DooDah Band, once said "If I had all the money I´d spent on drink - I´d spend it on drink." That´s how you should feel about all the money you´ve spent on wine.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Almaroja,

Brilliant stuff, and a great perspective. Bonzo Doy DooDah Band? OK. I'd google that, but I'm scared. And Viv is probably right. I probably would spend it on drink again, I just don't want to know how goddam much money it is. There's a house, and probably a couple of cars, in there somewhere.

Don Clemens said...

The thought of "how much money" is cringeworthy. There's probably a Lamborghini's worth down my gullet...

Nikki Goddard said...

I'm a little late to the party but I wanted to add another female voice to the conversation.

First of all, I loved this essay. I fell into the wine industry by accident at age 21 and never left, because I love wine, as well as most of the people I have been lucky enough to work alongside. There's a lot of bullshit to be found in the industry, but I do my best to avoid it by choosing my workplaces and friends carefully.

Nine years later, I still get mistaken for a 21 year old (which I really do not take as a compliment), and it is indeed difficult to be taken seriously as a young woman in this business. I am a research paper away from completing the WSET Diploma program, and part of my motivation for doing it was the desire to learn, especially about regions and grape varieties that I don't automatically get excited about. I've learned a lot through my studies that I wouldn't have bothered with otherwise, and I'm glad I pushed myself to do so. BUT I couldn't agree more with the idea that these credentials are helpful for a young woman who would like to be taken seriously in the world of wine. I don't bring up WSET unless it comes up organically or I am asked about it, but I can instantly see a change in the demeanor of the person I am talking to when I do. Since enrolling in the program, I have been treated vastly differently than I was before. I would absolutely credit part of that to my increased knowledge base, but there is no doubt that those magic letters have something to do with it as well.

I intend to stop at Diploma, with the hope that I can get by on my own merit from here on out.