Monday, October 13, 2014


The Young HoseMaster with Karen, 1975

On special occasions, I used to take my college girlfriend Karen to Hungry Tiger for dinner. (Are there Hungry Tigers still? Aside from those in Detroit? Are there Victoria Stations? Those chain restaurants seemed special when I was in my 20’s.) In those days, it seemed every restaurant in Los Angeles had the same wines on their wine lists: Mateus, Lancer’s, Wente Bros. Blanc de Blancs, Charles Krug Chenin Blanc, Mouton-Cadet, Weibel Green Hungarian, Blue Nun, Soave Bolla and Valpolicella and, for house wine, Inglenook Chablis. But it was at the Hungry Tiger that I discovered a much finer wine list, and Karen and I often ordered the Callaway Chenin Blanc—a boutique wine from the up-and-coming region of Temecula. We were connoisseurs.

Today is my 62nd birthday. Does anyone ever believe they’ll live to 62? Not at the Hungry Tiger in 1974 I didn’t. But it wasn’t even on my mind. Karen was on my mind. I was crazy in love for the second time in my life, and, little did I know, I was also falling in love with wine. I haven’t seen Karen in more than 30 years, but I’m still happily married to wine. We have no children.

I am often asked how I first “got into” wine. “Got into” is an ugly phrase, but it’s the phrase that seems to always be part of the question, a very poorly turned phrase that is tiresome but ubiquitous in our inarticulate society. I always think one should ask, “How did you and wine meet?” One doesn’t ask, “So how did you get into your wife?” There might be a good story, but it’s rude.

My parents didn’t drink. I never saw my father drink any alcoholic beverage. My mother only rarely drank. This may be hard to believe, but I never drank alcohol until my 21st birthday. I tasted a beer once—I think my wayward cousin Allen let me taste his beer when I was about 12—but other than that, all through high school and college, I didn’t drink. I was working in a restaurant when I turned 21, and after my shift that night, everyone bought me drinks. I was a waiter, and at that steakhouse, the waiters wore rugby shirts. Very trendy back then, though I’m not sure I knew rugby was even a sport.

I got insanely drunk. I don’t remember much of that evening, except I was the center of attention for several sexy cocktail waitresses I wanted, in my imagination, to bed (I had no chance, but their flirting with me on my birthday was important to me and my fragile ego), and I just kept drinking what they put in front of me.

I woke up on October 14th, 1973, magically, in my own bed. I was naked and alone, with no idea how I’d made it home. I knew I hadn’t driven—someone had wisely taken my car keys early in the evening. My clothes were neatly folded on a chair. I had had about as much chance of folding my clothes neatly as a monkey has of passing the MW exam. Only happened once. I think he works for Diageo.

Obviously, I’d never had a hangover. Yet I knew exactly what one was, as though humans are genetically predisposed to recognize a hangover like they instantly recognize a snake as dangerous. I got out of bed and puked. In that order, luckily. Then I grabbed my work rugby shirt, folded so nicely on the chair, and put it on.

I was wearing a dress. I looked like the ugliest transvestite in the world, if you don’t count Jean-Charles Boisset. My rugby shirt was suddenly five sizes too big. I thought that maybe all that alcohol the night before had caused me to shrink, like Alice in Wonderland eating part of a mushroom. I had no idea what was going on, waking up naked and losing four inches of height in the same morning, but I was too hungover to care.

That is how alcohol and I met. I ended up naked and a transvestite. If that isn’t love at first sip, what is? I later found out that my friend Pete had, at one point late in the evening, dumped a screwdriver over my head, soaking my rugby shirt in orange juice and vodka. One of the other waiters, a football player, a guy about twice my size, had an extra rugby shirt in his car, which he kindly loaned me so I would be dry. One of the sexy cocktail waitresses, Kristy, a genuinely beautiful woman, had driven me home and undressed me. It sucks when your fantasy comes true and you’re not even there. Though Kristy kindly, and dishonestly, did tell lots of women I had a cute butt.

I’ve never really been much of a hard alcohol drinker. At 62, I have even more trouble with hard alcohol, or hard of any kind. Alcohol and I were love at first sight, but wine and I grew together slowly, almost invisibly, as the great relationships always do. But how we first met, I cannot honestly recall.

It seems as if wine has always been a big part of my life, that there was never a time I knew almost nothing about it. But, reflecting on it here on my self-indulgent birthday, I can recall the first time I had 1974 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon, the Estate Bottled. I can recall the first Ridge Geyserville I tasted. I signed up for Ridge’s wine club. This was in 1976, I think. I’m still in their wine club almost 40 years later. Interesting that Ridge Geyserville is still one of California’s great wines, while Caymus has become a sad parody of itself, the Jerry Lewis of wine—all slick and bloated. I can remember my first taste of ’74 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard, given to me by a sommelier at a restaurant where I worked. I’d never had wines like these before. And I only lived a few hundred miles from where they were grown. I was smitten. Wine had driven me home, removed my clothes, and taken me to bed.

We spend our youth passionately pursuing hobbies that we think we’ll never tire of—skateboarding, slot cars, surfing, shoplifting. So I always believed I’d eventually grow weary of learning about wine. Even when I was a sommelier, I believed that. Maybe I still believe it. I am certainly weary of the wine business. But I’m more in love with wine now than I ever was. I can’t wait for wine to get home at night. I think about wine, study wine, try to impress wine. I wish I were more like wine. I adore wine. And aren’t those the signs of a healthy romance?

Wine, for me, isn’t just linked to memory, it’s actually most of my memory. Were it not for wine, nearly every significant person in my life never would have entered my life. I doubt accountants say the same thing about keeping books. I’m trying to think of a significant memory in my life after about the age of 25 that isn’t somehow linked to wine, and I can’t think of one. Even the tragic ones are linked, somehow, to wine. When wine and I met, wine became a significant and immutable fixture in my life. And I am deeply in love.

Wine, what would I do without you?

I’ve spent a lot of energy on HoseMaster of Wine™ the past five years mocking, parodying, flaying, insulting, and satirizing anyone and everyone that has much to do with wine. I feel some need to protect wine from all the buffoons, pretenders and wannabes that she has also seduced. And they are legion. It’s a foolish, Quixotean, pursuit, but it brings me an odd kind of satisfaction. Maybe all of us think our relationship to wine is the most intimate one she has, that we know her better than anyone else. So while we want everyone else to understand how remarkable she is, to honor wine and treasure wine, we also want it known that we understand her so much better than anyone else can imagine. It’s simple and foolish pride.

Birthdays seem more precious to me now, though less cause for celebration. Wine has given me an interesting and wonderful life. And I am deeply grateful. I’m also grateful for all the kindness and generosity and love I’ve received from so many of the people who read HoseMaster of Wine™. Thank you for allowing me this silly little reminiscence today. I know you come here to laugh, or to be angry, or outraged, but it’s my birthday, I get to do what I want.

I’m sure I’ll drink something old and rare tonight in the company of my brilliant and beautiful wife and a dear friend. I’ll think about all the people I’ve loved who wine brought into my life, some who wouldn't live to see 62. I’ll wonder how many more birthdays I’ll see, like people who seek answers and reassurance for how long they should keep a bottle of wine, “How long do you think it will age?”

“No one knows,” is the answer.


Samantha Dugan said...

This is lovely
You are so lovely....
Thank you for letting us, Me, in if only for awhile. Happiest of all birthdays to you, Dear Sweet Ron, you are a rare and wonderful gift to us all. I love you.

Unknown said...

I'll never forget my first set of books. There've been many since - some fat and flabby, others racy and edging on fraud - but they've all been special to me and I've learned from each of them. Take it back.

Happy birthday from a lurking CPA,

Jim Caudill said...

All the best 1974 in Detroit I was discovering Fog Cutters at Trader Vic's downtown on special ocassions, Chianti in straw bottles and Lancer's after I picked the candle wax off the bottle. And then, for some inexplicable reason, I bought some Robert Mondavi Cab (a 71 and later, a 74) for the birth years of my first two daughters and decided to try some myself. The 71 ended up in some spaghetti sauce when my now wife found the wine in a rack and thought that might be a good use for it, but hey, that's another story. I'll tip a glass to you tonight, or maybe even today, I'm not hung up on dayparts....

Marcia Macomber said...

Cheers and Happy Birthday, Ron! May your romance with wine continue another 62 years! (or at least your HoseMastering) ;-P

Thank you for all the fantastic Hosé posts these last few years!


Charlie Olken said...

Well, my goodness. We all knew you could write--comedy. This is something else again. A insight into your inner workings.

I am older than you and I can tell you that, the lord willin' and the creek don't rise, those birthdays do keep coming. My horizon has always look forward for the next twenty years, and even though that may be optimistic, I encourage you to think that way too.

Thanks for this sweet, strong, fragile piece. It explains a lot about why HMW, that other voice in your head, rings so true.

Thomas said...

Happy now you are eligible for early social security payment day. That wine list you remember from 1975 in LA--same one on this coast. I once sent a bottle of Mateus back; to this day, I don;t know how I knew it was off.

As Charlie intimates, twenty or more to go. On many days, that will seem like an eternity, especially when it rains and the bones make their unhappiness clear. On other days, however, all the age and seeming wisdom does make you feel whole, like a wholemaster.

Nigel said...

Very nicely put Ron! I started to make home made wine from fruits and flowers when I was about 14. I used to get empty bottles from the fine restaurants in my village in England for my wine. I studied the labels and sniffed the residue and vowed one day to buy some of this "good stuff." Still waiting for Gevrey Chambertin and the like but I've progressed from orange and dandylion....

Eric V. Orange said...

Nice piece.
Happy Birthday Hose.
Love to host you if you ever get back near Philly.


The Sommeliere said...

Happy birthday, Ron! I bet you will continue to age as well as a DRC!

Unknown said...

According to wine writer Deuce Luce, "After drinking it for more than fifty years, selling it for more than thirty I have reduced it down to this: there are only two kinds of wine. There's good wine and there's bad wine." Happy Birthday, Ron from another escapee from Detroit--Mumford High, no less!

Mark Paley

Rico said...

Happy Birthday!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,
Oh, I'm no one's gift, more of a booby prize. And I do prize your boobies. Thanks for the birthday wishes, Love. You know I love you, too.

Of all the things I've written here that I should take back, that's probably not high on anyone's list, but thanks for emerging from your lurk-cave to become a common tater. Is a CPA like an MW for pencils?

Big Jim,
A Fog Cutter! Now we're talkin'! And I suspect Robert Mondavi wouldn't have minded his Cab being turned to spaghetti sauce. The winery is, after all, now owned by a bunch of meatballs.

Marcia Love,
Thank YOU for reading all my crapola and being such a loyal common tater. It means more than you know.

I've always been the Luckiest Man on the Planet. I expect another 20 years, but I sure as hell never expect to be 82. Funny how the mind works.

The HoseMaster voice is about being irreverent, raucous, ribald, and crazy. He's this voice that lives in my head, and often emerges to embarrass me at crucial moments, and to teach me my own fears and weaknesses. His voice rings true, I think, because we all have that voice somewhere in our heads when we hear pomposity and prevarication. He speaks to that voice.

You sent back a bottle of Mateus? Man, that's classic. All I remember is how tight the damned corks were in Mateus. If the bottle had been in the fridge for a long time, it was a hernia waiting to happen.

Yeah, a bad bottle of Mateus. There's your redundant phrase for the day.

Welcome. Home made wine at fourteen? Way to go. I was out stealing Playboy Magazines from mailboxes on my paper route at 14. Different strokes...

Thanks. Who knows, I might take you up on that one day.

Marlene Darling,
Thanks, Love. One of those DRC's from Dr. Conti? Yeah, I'm a well-aged fraud, alright.

Thanks. I'm not actually from Detroit, just making a joke about the Tigers. I grew up in Long Beach, California.

Deuce Luce might be right. Which makes my whole career relatively trivial and an utter waste of time. So, yeah, completely right.


Unknown said...

What a good read! Brought back lots of memories. The first full case of wine I ever purchased was Ridge 72' Geyeseville, sharing a taste of Sauternes with David Benion was very cool as well, and I remember Charlie Wagner trying his best to talk me out of purchasing The "Special Selection" and wanting me to buy the Liberty School. This was when he tasted in his garage next to the aged Ferrari. And Heitz was downright rude!
All of this nonsense started around 74-75 and yes, the birthdays aren't so much fun anymore, but rather a regular reminder of our own demise. I'm 63.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I remember Charlie Wagner's old garage as well. Back when they made about 150 cases of Special Selection and it was, in fact, a Special Selection. And what would Heitz be like without rudeness? I had maybe the worst tasting room experience of my life at Heitz, and I treasure being in that huge fraternity.

I don't mind the birthdays, Ken, but I mind that there are too many loved ones who cannot come to the party.

Unknown said...

Ron, With your delightful mix of sage wit and juvenile humor, I think 62 is the perfect age for you. May you stay that way and keep us smiling forever! Happy Birthday.

Unknown said...

I have to find out from your f#$%ing blog that you are dumping me from the dinner plan in favor of some "dear friend"? That is bs, man! I get that you are going with your wife, because, except for her inexplicable taste in men, she is perfect. But that you would dump me in favor of some "dear friend" -- well that just takes the cake. And I was going to bring something special from my cellar. Not rat droppings with shiny bits of foil. That is only funny once or twice. I was going to bring fine wine. Something with a story on the back of the bottle that we could have a sommelier read to us out loud as part of the corkage service. You blew it man! I hope your "dear friend" chokes on whatever wine you bring.
(Happy birthday, Ron. I've finally become a common tater.)

wine man boy said...

Happy Birthday Ron! I too grew up in a family that never consumed alcohol. Then I read James Michener's Iberia, went to Ibiza and met 2 German girls. We ate in the same restaurant every night. Coke was .75cents a glass and wine was .65cents/bottle. I fell in love and I fell in love with wine. I'm still in love with wine...not sure where the German girls are. Thank you.

Bob Henry said...


Does it make it easier to call it the 23rd anniversary of your 39th birthday?,7112355

~~ Bob

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I like the phrase "sage wit and juvenile humor." I'll happily try that on for size. Thank you for the birthday wishes.

Oh no, not you, not as a common tater! Welcome aboard.

OK, my wife insists you stay invited tonight. And if you bring something from your cellar, I just hope the restaurant has a children's menu for her.

See you later!

Wine Man Boy,
Weird how we revolt against our parents. My parents not only didn't drink, but they didn't have sex. Could be those two things are related. Two German girls? Perfect. The wine you fell in love with must have been Zwei Geld...

Boy, a bad German pun. I must be old.

Nicely done. A Jack Benny reference! All I can say is,


enobytes said...

Happy B-Day hosey!!!


Ron Washam, HMW said...

Oh, thank you, Pamela. One of these days we'll get to meet. I'll be the Old Guy.

Andy Perdue said...

Well, Ron my friend, thank you for sharing. I turned 50 last week. Among the many, many bottles I opened was a '72 Lancers Vin Rosé. It wasn't half bad.

Bob Henry said...

Andy writes:

"I turned 50 last week. Among the many, many bottles I opened was a '72 Lancers Vin Rosé. It wasn't half bad.'

How much further beyond "half" was it "bad"?

~~ Bob

Unknown said...

Ron-I come here for the shock and awe of your scathing wit, but awe shucks your heartfelt pieces always seem to strike a chord. I saw California for the first time in 1974 when I skipped my high school graduation in Illinois and hitchhiked west. That may have been the start of my beautiful relationship with wine. Happy birthday from a total stranger and first time commom tater.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Andy,
Wow, '72 Lancers! I didn't even remember that Lancers was vintage dated! I thought it just had a Use By date.

Happy 50th, my friend!

It seems when I use my own voice, not the HoseMaster's, I get more new common taters. Welcome, become a regular, gain fame and fortune!

Thanks for the kind words, Don. The love for wine seems to always last a lifetime. I don't know anyone who ever fell out of love with wine. It's a powerful passion.

Unknown said...

Happy Birthday Ron! You're one of a kind and your authenticity endears us to you. I hope it was a wonderful celebration of you.

all the best my friend,

Bill Klapp said...

And while Jim was drinking the Fog Cutters, I was drinking the Suffering Bastards and the occasional Tiki Bowl. (I have always wanted to open my own tiki bar and name the drinks after wine reviewers. Parker's would be the "Insufferable Bastard".) Hey, did you see that one of your well-wishers is Don Carter, one of the greatest professional bowlers of all time? The stars are all coming out tonight for the main man!

Felice compleanno, Ronaldo, and may you have many more Depends-free birthdays like this one!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thanks, Gorgeous. It was a lovely birthday. And I like to think of myself as more "natural" than "authentic." Explains the smell.

Wow, love the inside bowling reference! And nice drink choices, too. I used to occasionally drink Scorpions. Yikes. Have no idea what was in them, but it certainly was a poisonous sting.

And when I visit your tiki bar, I'll be ordering the Dead Palate. Could be named for anyone, but let's say Laube.

Unknown said...

Late to the party as usual but just had to wish you a happy 62nd.

Having followed the HMoW for some time now, I've always marveled at your wordsmithing ability but have come to realize that it is your "voice" that gives it the meaning, power, and relevance Looking fwd to another 20 years of fine aging.

Cheers, Dave (yeah, that one again)

PS My wine awakening came from the 1974 Ridge Geyserville, at a little upstairs place in Santa Cruz circa 1976, iirc.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thank you; and thank you for being such a loyal follower of HoseMaster of Wine™. This is an entirely stupid pursuit, a complete waste of time, but I do it for the laughs.

"Voice" is a bit like "terroir." Hard to pin down, hard to describe, hard to understand, but a real thing nonetheless. Like everything that matters in life.

Thanks for the kind words.

Unknown said...

Ron.. missed this column somehow in my email.. but late to the party but happy b-day ya bastard and good on ya.. love the column.. I came to the wine party late.. spent my 20s writing about rock n roll, 30s sports and entertainment, then in my 40's discovered how much fun it was to interview food and wine guys.. they don't get jaded like the above, that's why I'll do it to the day I kick it.. hope you do too...

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Many thanks, my friend. So much of the fun for me in writing HoseMaster has been hosting the common taters. Thanks for your many contributions here. I'm still enjoying the ride.