Monday, February 2, 2015

The Six People You Want to Avoid in the Wine Business

Everyone has advice for whom you should know in the wine business. Article after article on the subject have appeared in online publications. And each one is self-serving crap, a way to say I already know all these people, I’m basically one of them, and if you play your cards right one day you might be important, too. Believe me when I tell you that you don’t need to know Raj Parr or Charles Banks or Alice Feiring, not for any reason. Really. Google these people. You think you want to know them? That this is critical to your wine career? Oh, boy, you know less about life than you know about wine. Send them fan letters! Invite them to your next wine tasting when you explore the wonder that is Pinot Grigio. Your chances will be the only thing thinner than the wines.

Such a tease. If you want to know the six people to avoid, you'll have to jump over to Tim Atkin's site. It's HoseMaster Monday! in Great Britain, and you won't want to miss out. And feel free to leave a witty comment there, or compete with my witless remarks here.


My brother-in-law sent me a link to the New York Times article about the Hill Wine Company scandal, asking if I knew anyone involved. I don’t. But the article made me laugh out loud repeatedly. Man, there are a lot of idiots writing about wine besides me. The assertion, discussed quite a bit over at STEVE!, from a quote from a MASTER SOMMELIER! (so it has to be true), “…that even top tasters like himself would find it nearly impossible to discern the true geographic origin of a well-made cabernet.” is disingenuously humble and funny. We’re not talking about top tasters, we’re talking about rubes stopping at Hill Wine Company’s tasting room at 4:30 on a Saturday. They also can’t tell the difference between the floor and the toilet bowl. It’s a quote that’s misleading on so many levels, but plays into most of the audience’s view that people who buy Napa Valley Cabernet are suckers—not just because the wines are expensive, but also because the wine buyers are ignorant and unable to tell a Napa cab from a Lake County cab. This is certainly true of some folks, but is not at all true in general. It’s a FOX News kind of assertion. “Hey, this Mexican is here illegally, so they must all be here illegally!” Mr. Kemiji, MS! concludes his point about Cabernets from different appellations with, “A lot of guys would be embarrassed.” If I’m the Lake County Winegrowers Association, this becomes our motto--“Lake County—Buy Our Wines! Embarrass Your Asshole Friends.”

The New York Times reporter got a belly laugh out of me with this quote, “Mr. Hill didn’t fit the stereotype of a natty winemaker in the most famous wine region in America.” Natty winemaker? In Napa Valley? Name one natty winemaker in Napa Valley. That’s like not fitting the stereotype of the meth addict with the perfect smile. 

Finally, just to cut this short, the whole article was fall-down funny, I had a luscious bit of schadenfreude reading how Mr. Hill had fleeced Dave Del Dotto of Del Dotto Winery out of a bunch of money. There’s the old switcheroo. Del Dotto made his fortune fleecing folks as a television pitchman back in the ‘90’s. Here’s a quote from the Seattle Times of August 14, 1998:

“Del Dotto, a former drywall hanger who says he has made a fortune in real estate, has given four seminars in the Seattle area this week, telling audiences they can qualify to buy homes even if they have no cash, no income and bad credit.

Most of the information Del Dotto gives out is "worthless," according to Cal Scott, director of the nonprofit Washington Community Housing Network. "It's old, reprinted manuals on foreclosures, information on HUD foreclosures that doesn't even apply any more, Xeroxes of old government forms."
And later in the article:

“Horn said Del Dotto misrepresents himself "as a successful, self-made millionaire" when, in fact, his record is littered with bankruptcies, foreclosures and "numerous enforcement actions" by state and federal agencies.”

Funny, even top cynics like myself would find it nearly impossible to tell the true geographic origin of a fast-talking con man.

Here’s the link to the entire Seattle Times article:

The entire New York Times article, writers and subjects, is filled with shitheads. It's a great time to be alive and a satirist.


nojomo said...

Where is it on his site? Can't find the link.

Francly Speaking said...

All the news that's fit to stink?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Gang!
The post is now up at Tim's. Turns out he is in New Zealand, where it's not Monday, whereas I am in Sonoma, where it's 1947. So a mixup.

We now return to our regularly scheduled crapola.

Marcia Macomber said...

Favorite line: “Really? List├ín Negro? Didn’t he lose to Mohammed Ali?” Actually very hard to choose amongst so many zingers.

Forgotten Dave Del Dotto's background (and with good reason, I guess!) Folks are still holding those seminars. Amazing they get attendees... Yup, that NYTimes article did a great job of reinforcing Napa wines as way over-priced, street mountebank shenanigans. I'm sure everyone in the valley appreciated that. (Cough, cough, wheeze, wheeze!)

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Marcia Love,
Kinda quiet around these parts today. Thanks for being a common tater.

This silly piece was triggered by an amazingly stupid piece on FoodRepublic, though pieces like it are often published. I was going to actually name six specific people you want to avoid in the wine business, but that could get ugly. And there are WAY more than six. Instead I did this generic list. Truthfully, I'm not a huge fan of this piece. But that won't come as a surprise to anyone.

I found the NY Times article laughable. The author may know journalism, but his wine ignorance is rather astonishing, and his "sources" for his opinions were probably duped, or quoted out of context. However, I, for one, am now going to stock my wine cellar with Lake County Cabernet--the "I Can't Believe It's Not Napa" of Cabernets.

Charlie Olken said...

It is not surprising that a NYer would write an uneduacated hatchet job of an article like the one is question. What is surprising is that it appeared in the NYT, not the NY Post.

Thomas said...

Charlie, you give today's journalism too much credit. Newspapers are all working on the cheap. Hell, the corrections department of the NY Times will soon need its own three pages.

Charlie Olken said...

Thomas, that article needed more than editor. It needed a brain. Faux journalism at 3700 words no less.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Charlie and Thomas,
Articles like that make me wonder if when I read other articles in the NY Times about a subject I know only a little about (which is to say every subject) somewhere people genuinely familiar with the topic are laughing at the same article I'm taking seriously.

This reading business is just so hard.

However, I did think the funniest line was about the natty dressing winemakers of Napa Valley. Natty Bumppo maybe.

Charlie Olken said...


I read that "natty winemakers" as yet another piece of stupidity in that the joker really meant, in my reading, "owners with deep pockets", whom he was adding to his hatchet list. But, of course, he did not even know the difference between a rich guy owner and a working winemaker, few of whom are natty, although some maybe naughty--and where is the Hosemaster expose on that subject.

Bob Henry said...

"Articles like that make me wonder if when I read other articles in the NY Times about a subject I know only a little about (which is to say every subject) somewhere people genuinely familiar with the topic are laughing at the same article I'm taking seriously."

There was a time not too long ago (before major metropolitan newspapers started hemorrhaging hundreds of millions of dollars in print advertising revenue to the Web) that the phalanx of fact checkers and proof readers and editors assured one of the general truthfulness of an articles.

Now . . . some wonder whether we are settling for “truthiness”?

Bob Henry said...

Regarding “The Self-Proclaimed Wine Writer” . . . the Infinite Monkey Theorem [*] asserts that if you unleashed an infinite number of chimps banging away on a typewriter (computer), ultimately one would produce a work of Shakespearean quality.

To which one social pundit [**] waggishly retorted, in essence: "The dreck found on websites by millions of self-taught, self-styled, self-edited Web content creators amply refutes that assertion."


[**Identity escapes me.]

Thomas said...


I second Bob Henry's comment about fact checkers, et al.

Not only was there a time when proof readers and fact checkers were on staff at newspapers, there was a time when giving assignments to knowledgeable people--staff or freelance--was the first consideration. The one with the most adjectives seems to get the assignment these days.

Unknown said...

Well, it finally happened.

Someone I know linked this article on facebook, followed by most of the Portland wine industry chiming in about what a bunch of BS this is. Unfortunately, someone beat me to the Portlandia joke. But you made a lot of winemakers with ideas very unhappy, and inspired an impassioned defense of Listan Negra

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Bob and Thomas,
It wasn't the "facts" in the article that I question, but the bias of the author, and the implications from the quotes he obtained from an MW. I don't think it matters, really, except it's disappointing that the NY Times published it.

It will never cease to amaze me how popular I am when I insult Parker or Wine Spectator, then how much people hate me when I aim my voice at them. It's the joy of satire, really. Make 'em angry, make 'em hate that people are laughing at them, make 'em think, make 'em defend their choices.

Listan Negro was just for the joke. I'm sure a winemaker with an idea will make a sparkling one soon.

Thanks for defending me, Gabe. You did defend me, right?

Thomas said...


Not to belabor the point, but uncovering and diminishing author bias in the face of facts is part of fact checking.

The quotes may also be the newspaper's fault. Every so-called lifestyle article assigned must include quotes from "experts." That's because the newspaper already assumes the writer doesn't know the subject, and it's because the newspaper believes that those "experts" lend credibility. When neither author nor anyone on staff has the knowledge to properly vet the "experts" the result is plenty of self-serving bullshit.

Unknown said...

Defend you?

I offered to round up the pitchforks and torches if they could help me track you down.


Blaise said...

Late to the party but I do love reading the NYT's corrections. Last week one had so many it ended "and finally" after about a half zillon errors. It never says what happened to the writer or editor, though. (Did you see it, Thomas?)
For many years in this post-reality age, I would ask the blogger to check facts when I saw errors (25 years as a newspaper editor did this to me). Now that errors have morphed from bloggers to NYT, I have given up.
P.S. Did Brian Williams ever talk about the time he and Angelina blended a superNapkin after tasting 60 barrel samples of Opus One in a helicopter?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Late, but welcome to the party anyway. I can always use a new common tater. And an editor.