Thursday, February 27, 2014

Lo Hai Qu Attends the Napa Valley Wine Writers Symposium

I don't know how she came up with the cash, there are things you just never want to know about Lo Hai Qu, but my rather crazy intern attended the Wine Writers Symposium at Meadowood a couple of weeks ago. She asked me if she could write about the experience. Like an idiot, I said yes. OK, buckle up, here we go.

So when I decided to go to the Napa Valley Wine Writers Symposium I was kinda thinking that it would be a lot of fun to hang out with a bunch of wine writers. Like we’d get wasted on really good wines every night, wake up naked with somebody new every morning, like, wouldn’t that be the coolest thing if you had Alzheimer’s?, and the rest of the time we’d do fun shit like steal golf carts from room service guys and play Demolition Derby. Yeah, what the fuck was I smokin’? Those people put the “simp” in symposium. I mean, I walk in there all pornstarred looking, you know, like five inch heels, fishnets, and tight skirt that’s so short that whenever that old lech Jay McInerney exhales I can feel the blow on my blowhole, and nobody hardly notices. All these dorks, and, wow, this is one ugly crowd, it’s like they took the castoffs from “Biggest Loser” and asked them to dress like they’re in a trailer park, and they’re the fucking trailers, and all these fools can talk about is Robert Parker. I’m not even sure who that is. He invented some scale, but, shit, I hope it’s one helluva scale cuz lots of these writer types would have no trouble busting some ordinary scale.

I wasn’t very happy after the first get-together with these people. I was down like Motown, all lonely and abandoned, and looking at nothing but stupid writing seminars on stuff I don’t care about like How to Write Tasting Notes, and How to Pitch Stories, and How to Get Over How Sad Your Wine Writer Dreams Are. But, I told myself, Lo, come on bee-atch, make the best of it, don’t worry too much about that shit, just do what you always do. Find a way to annoy these losers. That will be fun.

So like me, these people were supposedly wine writers. I guess if you can pony up the couple of grand to attend this deal, you’re a wine writer, like if you go a couple of nights to bartending school you’re a fucking mixologist. Yeah, I went to Meadowood to Wine Writers school and now I’m Jonné Bonné Bo Bonné Banana Fanna Fo Fonné. But most of them just had lame blogs or wrote for online magazines, cuz, you know, that’s where the future of wine writing is. Like, they think me and my friends are totally givin’ the old wine critics memberships in the Go Fuck Yourself Club and are gonna start reading shit on blogs about what wines to buy. Really? Me and my friends just drink whatever cheap wine that, like, rappers are drinking, or whatever’s in the 50% off shopping cart at the Albertson’s. We go online to read about ourselves, not stupid wine. Or, most of the time, to see if our girlfriends posted their tits on Reddit. I don’t know about those people at the Napa Valley Self-Delusional Fest, but I write about wines, I don’t read what other people write about wine. That’s how it works. You just walk around pretending you read other people’s stuff, like, “Hey, I loved that post where your dog says that terroir is wherever you lift your leg and spray your love juice,” only you didn’t read their blog you just know they’d write something douchey like that. And then they pretend they read your shit. “Oh, you’re Lo Hai Qu! Didn’t you win a Wine Blog Award for your piece on what wines go with stir-fried endangered species?” Ever notice how the smaller the talent, the bigger the need for acknowledgment? 
The keynote address—fuck, I was embarrassed, I thought they said Keno address and I kept asking people where to buy the cards—was by that Robert Parker guy. I texted my friend Loqueesha, sent her his picture, and asked her if she knew who Robert Parker was, and she said, no, but she thought he was one of those guys on “Duck Dynasty,” which I guess is some weird fucking show where they take that old TV show “Dynasty” and have ducks act out the parts. People will watch any shit they put on TV for free. Which is like wine blogs, right? Oh, free?, sure, we’ll read that. You want me to pay? Check your mail, I’ll be sending you a Go Fuck Yourself Club membership card along with my check for zero dollars and kiss my ass cents.

The HoseMaster wanted me to take some notes during the speech made by the Duck Dynasty guy, which I did, but, a lot of the time I was dozing off, so I probably got some of it wrong. It seemed like a lot of those wine writers came to hear this Parker guy but they didn’t like him, so it’s like paying to go to a Yanni concert if you have any taste in music. You hate him as soon as your clenched little butthole hits the seat. So that was weird, it was like this weird mix of people who had the Duck man up on a pedestal, worshipped him like he was something they’d never achieve, like an original idea, and a whole bunch of people who thought he was an arrogant old windbag who’d fucked up their whole pathetic little wine business, like he was to blame for all that’s shitty in wine writing, like he’s the fucking A-Rod of wine. So I wrote down some of the stuff he said, but I was kind of wasted from this lunch I had with this wine writer dude who turned out to be softer than a four dollar Moscato, so I might have misheard some of it.

“The climb to the top is what makes it worthwhile. Once you get to the top, there’s nothing there except a shitpile of money.”

“My alleged thin skin is actually quite thick, like my wallet. Chew on that, wannabes.”

“I wish I knew more of you, but, really why bother? I also wish Miley Cyrus would return my calls, so I wish all kinds of shit I don’t mean.”

“The truth is on my side. History is on my side. A tattoo of Michel Rolland is on my side. Your foot is on my side. Get off my goddam side!”

I got kinda depressed for the rest of the simp/osium. Mostly everything was about how to make money at something where’s there’s no money to be made. It was like telling homeless people who ask you for money to “Go get a job.” Yeah, that’s helpful. Homeless people can’t get jobs, and they dress better than most of the wine writers. I went to this thing where I was supposed to “pitch” ideas to some chick named Talia who runs this online magazine called “Punch.” So I Googled this Punch, and surer than FaceBook is for old people, this site is just like actual punch—all sweet and sticky, but pretty much empty and worthless, and totally forgotten two minutes after you finish it. So they named it right. Let me Talia, she didn’t much like the ideas I had. So, like, what’s wrong with interviewing leading sommeliers and asking them if they cry about how worthless their lives are? That’s cutting edge. Talia just kinda stared at me, but I know she was just jealous cuz I was rocking my “Yellow Tail” tube top. And she didn’t like my idea for an article on sleeping your way to the top of the wine writing business either, which is how I was gonna write off this whole conference on my taxes, so there goes that.

You know, for my money, the whole thing was a total waste of time, which I guess is like most wine writing. So that figures. Like all I got was some really good advice from these gurus, like, “Don’t give your content away for free, but good luck selling it.” And “Maybe writer’s block is a blessing in your case.” But I did get to meet a lot of real, authentic, natural wine writers, though I didn’t know any of them. They’re kind of a sallow looking group of people, kind of all yellowish most of ‘em, like their kidneys moved to Pakistan. Everyone said they were some of the most powerful wine writers in the whole country, except that the Duck Dynasty guy was the one they were tired of, and couldn’t stop talking about, when they weren’t talking about their blog stats, so I figured he was the real powerful one. Funny thing, they could all tell you a million things wrong with that Parker guy, see all the harm he’d caused in the world, tell you how the wine world would be better of if he’d never been born. Not one of them had ever looked in a mirror.


Charlie Olken said...

Lovely, and worth the read to get to the punch line. "Not one of them had ever looked in the mirror".

And LHQ has it spot on with Parker. Half love him. Half hate him. They all wish they were Parker. Except maybe Jon Bonne who thinks he is Parker reincarnated into a smaller body.

The Sommeliere said...

"Check your mail, I’ll be sending you a Go Fuck Yourself Club membership card along with my check for zero dollars and kiss my ass cents."

I am waiting patiently for my membership club card while listening to Motown's greatest hits...

Steve Lay said...

Seems to be a lot of people breaking the 11th Commandment. Certainly, there is no dearth of wine bloggers and writers... no shortage of supply and thus few are 'dear'. I mentioned to a wine writer recently that I liked your intellect and writings. He told me if I insisted on displaying total ignorance I should go and commit an act on myself that only an Indian Contortionist could do.
It is truly amazing how unskilled workers (bloggers and writers)can assemble into a mutual admiration event and still entertain each other for hours.
Oh, the 11th Commandment..."Thy shall not believe thine own BS."

Steve Lay said...

About Parker--I am a pretty good bull shitter but I sure enjoy meeting a real professional like Parker from time to time.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Gang,
After glancing at all the vapid posts about Parker's speech to the NV Wine Writers, all of these alleged wine writers taking time from their precious lives to scold Parker for not paying them more attention, not mingling with them enough, posts that are as shallow and whimpering as the notes boyfriends write to their girls after they've been unceremoniously dumped (I'm talking to you, Alderpated, and you, RJ on Wine, and you, David Terroirist, and also you, NorCal Whatever), I decided that Lo Hai Qu needed to have attended.

I'm always on the lookout for an excuse to be a transvestite writer and use Lo Hai Qu's voice. This seemed the perfect premise. It wanders a bit, it's unfocused and confused, but I'm happy enough with it.

Steve, there are wine writers who love what I do, and there are many who loathe it. Which makes me happy. As Robert Parker said to me personally on the only occasion I met him, a few months ago, "Keep it up, HoseMaster, there are a lot of assholes in the wine business." My tongue is still swollen.

Bill and Danielle said...

No words. I think I may have sorted some water up nose while reading though so that must be a good thing.

Unknown said...

I wanna read that article about crying sommeliers abut how worthless their lives are.. any chance Lo Hai can deliver it soon??

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Lo's pretty busy in the cellar, but I'll ask her. It would be nice piece. I can't believe Talia Baiocchi turned it down for Punch. I'll tell her to pitch it to SOMM Journal.

Thomas said...

Jonné Bonné Bo Bonné Banana Fanna Fo Fonné--Jonné!

Just had to finish the song.

This was quite a good one, Ron. Lo captures beautifully the snark of wine forum sites coupled with the obvious envy of so-called wine writers--and with Punch.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Well, as a writer, you know how every so often a voice comes along that you really enjoy writing, have a great feel for, and Lo Hai Qu is that for me. She's still a work in progress, but I can hear her distinctly when I write, as if she were whispering in my ear. She's fearless in her naivete, and weirdly wiser than her years. Though, to be sure, she's also meant to be a character written by another character, the HoseMaster, so she slips into anachronisms rather easily.

Long way of saying thanks for the kind words.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Oh, and as for Punch, whenever I look at it, which is when I need to get angry, I always see it at Wine's Waiting Room copy of Highlights for Children.

Thomas said...

Until today, I had not seen Punchdrink--and am unlikely to look again, but I am decidedly not in their target audience. I like my bubbly in the glass.

Eric V. Orange said...

Thanks for the chuckle, Hose and LHQ.
Always fun to stop by.


Unknown said...

whoa, Parker looks like he's been he's been living on Mt. Hermitage.

Unknown said...

Every commentary I've read of Robert M. Parker's appearance had been accompanied by a photo that suggests he demanded the photographer be at least 50 yards away and further blur his look as if he were in a witness-protection program. Did he or the Wine Writer Symposium sponsor a contest to see who could come up with the worst photo of Parker? Sorry, but Lo Hai Qu's shot is pretty good, taking her out of the running.

Bob Henry said...

Is it just me, or are Robert Parker and Marvin Shanken becoming doppelgängers?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Lo Hai Qu stole that photo from Richard Jennings of RJonWine. I had nothing to do with it. It's how she is. She crazy.

It's the wonderful world of clowns with iPhones. Now everyone thinks they're a writer AND a photographer.

It's pretty much always just you.

Samantha Dugan said...

A someone that woefully attended a couple of years ago I can say that Lo Hai Qu has pretty much nailed it. Professional Wine Writers my ass, bunch of creepy dorks with bad hair and even worse ideas. Ugh. Poor girl, you should have had her call me...
I love you!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,
I'd have had Lo Hai Qu call, but she's really jealous of you. As she should be.

Yes, it was your being at the NV Wine Writers Simp/osium that first exposed me to the event. And it was that experience that gave me insight when I wrote this piece. I tried to do too much in 1000 words, and the piece just rambles. They take themselves so seriously, as one must when no one else will, and Lo Hai Qu is just the woman to throw dirt clods at them.

Parker said, "I wish you all success" to the attendees. Wishes are about all most of them have.

I love you!

Thomas said...

Groucho's remark about not joining a club that would have him as a member seems to hold up well with the passing of time.

It isn't just the wine writer symposium, Sam...conferences are all alike.

Jack Edwards said...

I am enjoying the banter between Parker and Bonne! I am hoping at the next meeting they will start duking it out! Parker with his hand on Bonne's head and Bonne swinging wildly into the air!
Love reading your stuff my friend!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

You paint a great comic picture there, my friend. A classic.

Just a Writer said...

All of us are ugly?:

Ron Washam, HMW said...

One has to admire an aspiring wine writer cloaked in anonymity.

As for the Lo Hai Qu beatuy scale, I'd imagine she'd give the class an overall 87. Though one has to consider the industry's current grade inflation probably accounts for that.

Just a Writer said...


I am cloaked, as I was stunned about the *ugly* tag.

Clearly some 100 points (ok, just 1) exist within the images provided? You know something, even beauty, within the 80 pint scale is simply not worth exploring.

Fashion was also graded a bit broadly. Some of us dress(ed) with much class, polish, and finish.

I want to add, then I have to get back to my wine-work, Mr. Parker is not in the best of health, hence he may not look as good as some think they do. Please be kind about that if you can.

Whew! It feels good to have dodged the *ugly* tag!

Just a Writer said...

p-o-i-n-t, not pint.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Kindness and satire do not go hand in hand--but you knew that since you're a writer.

Since you're here, whoever you might be, I'd be interested in your honest perspective on the NV Wine Writers Simp/osium. Aside from some networking, what did you get out of it? Will you be a better writer, a better evaluator of wine, a future powerhouse wine critic? Was it worth it, assuming you weren't on scholarship?

What was your impression of Parker's presentation? I'd love to hear an anonymous point of view. Or send me a private message, if that's preferable.

Unknown said...

I'm a fan! LHQ is my kinda gal. Deffinately sending my check for Go Fuck Yourself Club membership!

MassWineGuy said...

Totally great article. The only folks making money are the ones putting on this "symposium." Telling anyone that there is a lot of money in wine writing is a total lie.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thanks for chiming in. I'm not sure anyone really believes they'll make money being a wine writer, not even the people paying to go to the NV Wine Writers Simp/osium, they want the lifestyle, and they want to be seen as a somebody in the mysteriously prestigious wine world. What's amazing is how few can write, and how little they know about wine. But, as Hickey would say ("The Iceman Cometh"), we all need to have our pipe dreams.

Unknown said...

A fellow blogger and I once joked about putting that on a T-shirt. Blogging is not a path to riches. Especially for wine. While a tech blogger might earn a decent living from Google’s Ad sense or the Amazon affiliate program, such a path is not really open to wine bloggers. For one, Google considers wine ads to be for an “non-family safe” content. So in order to allow wine ads on a site, a publisher using Ad sense has to allow adult content which could be opening Pandora’s box in more ways than one. Similarly, the small percentage that Amazon offers affiliates may go a long way on if the blog reviews plasma TVs and digital cameras. But wine books and corkscrews? Not so much.

However, there are some ways to make money in wine writing. Consider Allen Meadows, who writes a quarterly e-newsletter Burg-hound, focusing almost entirely on Burgundy. He told recently that he has about 7,500 subscribers paying $125 each. He also self-published a $65 book last year. So he has in excess of $900,000 of revenues a year. While that sounds like a nice chunk of change, it’s worth bearing in mind that Meadows had a career in finance, retired early, and has been writing Burg-hound for ten years.

Robert Parker, publisher of the Wine Advocate, was recently quoted as saying that he has 55,000 subscribers (“nearly all men”) before admitting that it was from “a few years back.” Subscriptions run $99 a year, so at one point, the top line revenue was in excess of $5.5 million a year (including books). Parker now has a several contributors to his publication.

Jancis Robinson and Steven Tanzer also run newsletters and subscription websites but no figures were publicly available. Various print magazines covering wine charge tens of thousands of dollars per page of advertising so their staff (and publishers) obviously make a living.

Developing software can be profitable–just ask anyone in Silicon Valley. Or in Seattle, where cellar tracker founder Eric LeVine told tech that he was on track to make over $500,000 in 2009. About 80% of Cellar Tracker revenue comes from voluntary payments from users who actually generate the site’s tasting notes.

Journalism writ large is grasping to find a business model that works. The NYT will implement a pay wall of some sort later this quarter. Although pay walls generate revenues from subscribers, they drastically reduce the number of visibility of the content (consider The Times of London’s 90% decline in traffic after instituting a pay wall). For wine writing, where the audience is small to begin with, the subscription model can only really work for a handful of outlets. And, it seems, only for those with tasting notes and point scores: readers appear willing to pay for buying guides but not for discussion and commentary.

Which brings us back to blogging. Wine blogs, in some instances, have demonstrated influence. But they have yet to be money spinners and may never be. So the best advice for bloggers is to blog for love. Or exposure for more profitable activities (such as selling wine or selling books or a TV show). However, trying to write a blog for money can be a fool’s errand fraught with conflicts of interest.

What do you think: is there a way for blogs (or wine writing that’s comprised of other than simply tasting notes and scores) to be reader supported? The app store offers a ray of hope.
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