Monday, June 12, 2017

Sam Euthanasia, World's Oldest Wine Critic, on the Napa Valley Auction


When I think of June, I think of weddings, Father’s Day, and the Napa Valley Wine Auction, none of which has any importance to me. I’m rarely invited to weddings, my father died in 1980, and if I want to see rich people pretend to be charitable I can watch Congress on CSPAN. This year’s auction raised $15.7 million for charity, a bargain compared to what the folks bidding should actually pay in income tax. I didn’t attend the auction (yes, I know, that’s a surprise), but I thought I would check in with Sam Euthanasia, the World’s Oldest Wine Critic, and ask him what he thought about the whole thing.

“I only went because Francis Ford Coppola was the honorary chair,” Sam told me. “I went up to  him and said, ‘Smell that? You smell that? Napa, son. I love the smell of Napa in the morning.’ That’s a quote from one of his movies. I think the actor who said it was Clos Duvall. I could be wrong. I’m old. But, anyway, I thought an ‘Apocalypse Now’ reference suited the occasion. War is hell, and so is the goddam Auction.”

Sam Euthanasia, a spry and incontinent 95, has been covering the Napa Valley Auction since its inception in 1981. “Back then, I think they raised a 100K. That’s chump change now. Jean-Charles Boisset spends that on sequined Depends. All I remember about that first auction is that it was hotter than tasting-room-only dessert wine, and stickier. I was sweating like a Treasury shareholder. Jesus. But it was fun. Mostly just normal people there. I think the highest bidder was a drifter who thought the paddle was for swatting the flies. It was pretty casual.”

“It’s perfect that Coppola was the honorary chair. Overstuffed chair, for sure,” Sam went on. “The Napa Auction is turning into the Oscars of the wine world, may as well honor Francis. It’s about wine about as much as the Oscars are about movies, which is to say, not hardly at all. The wine is basically the equivalent of the designer gowns and borrowed jewelry—just there to make the players seem like they have taste. If you’ve been a wine writer as long as I have, and I covered the wine by-the-glass choices at the Last Supper, Jesus White and Jesus Red, the Auction is the worst weekend of your year by far. It’s even more fake than en primeur week in Bordeaux. Just so much wine business baloney.”

Sam can be a bit cantankerous. I told him that at least all the money raised goes to charity. He stared at me for a minute, chewed on his ever-present cigar, and said sarcastically, “Yeah, the money goes to charity, and that’s why people attend. Like the reason there are beauty pageants is because of the scholarship money. Don’t be a putz. It’s another kind of beauty pageant. People competing to look more beautiful and giving than others. They sell overpriced wines to other rich people, auction off trips and dinners like a Silicon Valley ‘Price is Right,’ give the money to charity, and take a big tax write-off. They’re just tossing crumbs to the poor unfortunates the guy they voted for wants to send back where they came from. All the folks who tend their vineyards and pick their grapes. It’s modern day Marie Antoinette saying, ‘Let ‘em eat Cakebread.’”

“Listen,” Sam continued, “I’m all for charity. The money from the Auction has probably done a lot of good. How can you be against that? But how sanctimonious can it get? Isn’t there a way to do it with some dignity? Don’t these clowns see how the rest of the world perceives their annual wine debauchery? The Auction intends to help Napa Valley’s image. It intends to show how compassionate the wineries are, how much they want to do good in the world, how they want to help those less fortunate than themselves. By opening hundreds of large bottles worth unimaginable sums, getting lavishly shitfaced, eating meals that would shame the Roman emperors, and dancing to recording stars? By auctioning off trips around the world on private jets? Hey, why don’t you use those jets to bring in more people to pick Cabernet? Easier to get through security, and you’re going to need them. Is auctioning off priceless overpriced wine in huge bottles accompanied by dream vacations with other wealthy people the image that sells Napa Valley as a caring and compassionate community? It’s a public relations nightmare, only they don’t see it. They only see how wonderful they are, how caring, how generous. I had no idea Narcissus could see his reflection in a lake of Chardonnay.”

“You want respect for your charity, Napa, tone it down,” Sam continues. I’m beginning to wish I hadn’t brought up the subject. Sam looks like he’s going to have a heart attack. He’s chomping at his cigar like it’s an aspen and he’s one pissed-off beaver. “Have some dignity. Make it about wine, not consumer excess. Make it about heart, not about wallets. Then regular people might see it as beautiful and heartfelt. Yeah, you’re the big boys in the wine auction world, your wines cost the most, your Auction makes the most money for charity, take your bows. Just stop waving your dicks around like size matters, and waiting for the admiration to begin.”

Sam Euthanasia probably won’t get invited to the Auction next year. I don’t think he cares.

“Frankly,” Sam tells me, clearly exhausted from his tirade, “I’m too old for all this. I mean, there I am in Napa Valley, once this beautiful and humble agricultural Eden, looking at a huge hot air balloon in the shape of Marvin Shanken. I was so depressed. How much more self-indulgent and self-congratulatory can a charity auction get? Really, it was horrifying to me.

“And then a ray of hope! Turns out, it wasn’t a hot air balloon.”

15 comments:

Matthew Hayes said...

Most excellent, most true.

Keep on a hosin'; gotta get through the sit somehow.

Matthew Hayes said...

that'll be shit actually.

ruralangwin said...

No better coverage the the blessed event! Keep it coming!

Steve Lay said...

My only wish is that Sam would quit mensing words and tell it straight on :-) It does seem like the masses, that consume wine to any degree, appreciate: humility, being discreet versus discrete, eschewing self aggrandizement, so-on and so-on. Masses who enjoy wine and are willing to give to help the less fortunate, keep equilibrium in the wine industry by being a customer. Let wineries/distributors give $1.00 per bottle to help Napa's less fortunate. Let the County Commissioners cut fees and taxes for the less fortunate. Charity is becoming a salve.
Sam should also explain who actually gets the contributions from the event-the actual in-need people.

Matthew is correct-keep on hosin'.

Charlie Olken said...

These exercises in wretched excess are not new. It has always been thus. The rich pay lower taxes than the average family and they show their "appreciation" of the tax laws by engaging in events like this one.

There ought to be a better way--like making these bozos pay their fair share of taxes. But, look out, if the present tax proposals come even half true, then the uberrich will have to engage in more, not fewer displays of their "generosity".

Better we should make Trump pay his taxes.

Sam in pretty smart for an old fogey. That's what I am really in favor of. More old fogies who tell the truth. Are you listen, John McCain?

Tom In Real Life said...

Another gem. Maybe you can get Ann Noble to add "hubris" to the Aroma Wheel.

Zach said...

Goddamn this was spot on

Ziggy said...

LOL LOL. Sorry, but my cheeks are hurting after reading this.

Classic Hose taking his shots.

Zig

Bill Ward said...

Best. Kicker. Ever.

Paul Moe said...

The Napa Auction is for amateurs. Every year at the end of January, the focus of the wine world descends on Naples, Florida, for the Naples Winter Wine Festival. The live auction raised more than $15 million "all for the kids," says the charity event's guiding slogan. None of the 62 lots offering luxury experiences — overseas trips on private jets, fine meals by Michelin-rated chefs and a live private concert by country music star Darius Rucker — went for less than $100,000. It's more ostentatious, more over the top, and more disgusting than the Napa event. A couple of "highlights": The afternoon started off strong when Nan Kocourek, of Chicago, bid $210,000 for more than 106 bottles of 100-point wines in a large tent at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in North Naples. Jonathan Borisch, winner of a 2017 McLaren 570GT sports car, bid more than any other person. He donated $480,000 at the charity auction. That's enough with the highlights. I'm not going to link to the article these cuts came from, if you're really interested you know will know how to find it. I agree completely with the premise that these events are all circle jerks, and are a great turn off to the vast majority of wine consumers who think twice before plonking down $30 for a bottle of something.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Common Taters,
I wanted to write something about the ridiculousness of the Napa Valley Auction, and I thought Sam Euthanasia would be the best mouthpiece.

I wonder, all the time, if Napa is aware of its image in the real world. They want the Auction to be a kind of Hospices des Beaune affair, but it's so clearly a Roman circus. I'm more than certain they don't care what I think. They see themselves as bulletproof. Yet every study shows that when the Boomers die off, the Millennials who will replace them aren't interested in ludicrously expensive Napa Valley Cabernets. Will there be enough rich fools to support the industry then? Or are the Napa Valley Vintners too rich to give a crap? I'll be one of those dead Boomers, but I'd be worried if it were me.

And, yes, Paul, the Napa Valley Auction sees the Naples Auction as its rival in charity work. These events seem like festering sores to me. And those who go are carriers. Staging them in the name of charity is a game with little heart and enormous balls. But its their game, and their money, and it's none of my damned business. Except I can make fun of the whole thing.

By the way, I received a lovely note from Patsy McGaughy, Communications Director for the Napa Valley Vintners, saying how much she and her staff liked the piece, and how "honored" she was that the HoseMaster went after her affair. Refreshing response. Thank you, Patsy.

Miquel said...

This sums up my general feelings about the US's approach to charity in general wherein it's about making the donor either "feel good" or "look good" and far, far less about the recipient.

In a previous life I was working in the NGO sector and none of this is sustainable but Americans never want to hear that, just give, give often, and be of the belief that the money is always used in whatever "good cause" manner it should be.

Having actually worked in Napa Valley and then recently attended the Hospices de Beaune auction, the two concepts seem as compatible as the current president, and humanity.

Miquel
wineonsix.com

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Miquel,
Bidders at the Napa Auction don't go home and talk about all the good they've done in the world, they talk about the parties and the wines and the way they got their butts kissed by rich winery owners. And that's why they attended.

The fact that the money goes to help less fortunate people is the least important, barely mentioned, part of the whole bacchanal. They parade some poor kids wearing "Thank You" T-shirts around, and then go back to opening magnums of Harlan Estate. And think they're cool.

Miquel said...

The only thing cool about Napa Valley wines these days are that James Suckling reviews them. Thus...

Aaron said...

Refreshing to hear from the subject of your skewering in such a manner! Maybe, just maybe, there will be a bit more humanity and a bit less rich snobs next year?

Nah...never happen. Maybe what I'll do if I ever hit the Startup Jackpot is attend, and loudly announce that instead of doing the stupidity of the auction on wines I don't like anyway, I'll just give $$$ directly to the charities, and do so every year and never attend again. Set an example. Think it'd work? I doubt it would too.