Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Karen MacNeil Speaks to the Wine Bloggers' Conference

The featured speaker for the 2015 Wine Bloggers’ Conference is Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible. Many of us believe that The Wine Bible is the literal truth, and not just crazy superstitious stuff most people believe it to be. Especially the Book of Tchelistcheff wherein God reveals Himself to a winemaker as a burning bushy eyebrow. I, for one, truly believe that Parker created the wine world in six days, blind when possible, and on the seventh day He rated.

It should be interesting to hear MacNeil preach the Word to America’s wine bloggers, most of whom still await their blogs being translated into English. Luckily, I was provided with a transcript of Ms. MacNeil’s speech. I swear on a stack of Wine Bibles this will be her actual presentation. (Q: What do you call a stack of The Wine Bible? A: The remainder table.)

Good Evening, Fellow Wine Writers. Yeah, I do love to start a speech with a joke.

We’re here in the Finger Lakes, home of our best domestic Rieslings. Even the Germans are jealous of the Rieslings produced in this region. In the United States, you can use the Finger Lakes to pick your Riesling. In Germany, you use the Finger Lakes to pick your Nahes. Just don’t eat it.

But enough levity. I’m here to speak to you wine bloggers about the noble craft of wine writing, and why you’re ruining it. My latest book, The New Wine Bible, is about to be published, and it’s safe to say that there really isn’t much left for you to write about. I’ve covered just about everything, and in my own irrepressible and captivating style. And I wrote it by myself, not like Jancis Robinson and her stable of writers for The Oxford Companion to Wine. I’m my own team of experts. Jancis is just a franchise, the Brookstone of wine writers, each book filled with useless crap invented by loners and crackpots that you buy and then leave on your shelf forever wondering what the hell you were thinking. The New Wine Bible, or as I like to call it, “It’s Me, God Again,” makes all future wine writing unnecessary, like your tonsils, or Mutineer Magazine, which is to writing what explosive diarrhea is to art.

I know, you didn’t come to the Finger Lakes to hear me say wine writing as a profession is dead. You came here to pretend your voices matter. And they do. Just not to anyone else. Ask yourself, who would miss your little wine blog if you decided to quit tomorrow? You don’t even have as many unique hits as an NFL lineman’s wife. I’m not saying that you should quit writing. You can’t quit something you’re not actually doing. I’m saying you should quit typing.

You all look a bit thunderstruck. But, truly, I am doing you a favor. No one makes any money as a wine writer. You know what kind of advance I got for The New Wine Bible? The publisher put his hand down my pants, that’s what my advance was. Speaking of Finger Lakes. It’s not glamorous being a wine writer; it’s relentlessly dull. It’s the Prosecco of occupations, cheap and full of fake effervescence. You never get to tell the truth. Not if you want to be successful, not if you want to be welcome in the world’s great wine regions, not if you want to keep on getting free samples to sell to the neighborhood kids. You dispense romance, the very mother’s milk of the wine business. You’re just an engorged pair of tits leaking winery stories. Is that what you want to be? You want Marvin Shanken to be your breast pump? When his cup size is larger?

Even if it is what you want to be, I’ve read most of the nominated and award-winning wine blogs, and you don’t have the chops to make it as a wine writer. Your prose is like box wine—a collapsing plastic sack of crap. Reading your wine descriptions is like trimming your nostrils with needlenose pliers—excruciatingly stupid, and a waste of perfectly good tools. I usually wonder if you even tasted the wine, or if you just reworded the back label. I have news for you, back labels are NOT Cliff Notes for wine bloggers. That got you through the JC, but it won’t work as a wine writer. By the way, there are no Cliff Notes for The Wine Bible. You cannot summarize genius.

Wine bloggers have made a mockery of wine writing. Fools say we should treat you as peers. That’s stupid. Just because you have .docx doesn’t mean you’re peers. I’ve won every major wine writing award in English. Can Robert Parker say that? Can Eric Asimov say that? Can Terry Theise say that—well, OK, he doesn’t write in English, but you get my point. You’re all competing for a Wine Blog Award. Ooh, isn’t that special? They give that to a “Citizen Blogger.” What the hell is a “Citizen Blogger?” A rejected Orson Welles movie? A Wine Blog Award isn’t a major wine writing award. It’s a front for a travel company. You just got your ass time-shared—which, come to think of it, might qualify you to write for Wine Spectator. A Wine Blog Award…There is no such thing. You think I’m kidding? Show me one! They’re like natural wines, imaginary things you think will change your life only to find out the only ones making money are the people who made them up. And, hey, if it were a major wine writing award, Karen MacNeil would have several. Did you see my clever videos where I was dressed as a nun? I put the superior in Mother Superior. I looked hot. Elvis hot.

Wine writing in the age of the Internet has become self-parody. It’s a lot like wine itself. In one camp is the overblown and preposterous, think Napa Valley Cabernet and any issue of World of Fine Wine. Both slick and stylish but ultimately just a lot of posturing with very little of interest. Every issue, of both the wines and the magazine, is the damned near the same. And in the other camp, there’s underdevelopment and fake humility. Think low alcohol, self-proclaimed natural wines and the columnists for Wine Spectator. Both feature an awful lot of chit-chat, a parade of puffery, but deliver virtually nothing. We talk about energy in wine, but where is the energy in wine writing? You know it when you taste it, but when’s the last time you tasted it? Not in the pages of a wine magazine, and not on a wine blog. Wine writing is running out of energy. So I guess it’s resorted to fracking, and you, my friends, are the originals, the mother frackers.

Good Night.

I don’t know about you, but this seems a little harsh…


Eric V. Orange said...

This is funny though;
"I’m not saying that you should quit writing. You can’t quit something you’re not actually doing. I’m saying you should quit typing."


Andy Perdue said...

There's nothing like a wine bloggers conference to bring the best - and worst - out of Ron.

Anonymous said...

lots of tension in this post
-Louis V

Thomas said...

So glad I live in the Finger Lakes region. It seems everyone is coming here these days. I wonder if I can interest anyone in buying my property...

Unknown said...

A great hungover speech. Too much Sterling from the mini bar?

Charlie Olken said...

The very essence of comedy. Several pokes in the eye some of which may be exaggerated, and, that in itself is part of comedy.

Never mind that there are blogs that are literate and interesting. That was not the point.

So good on ya Ron. The good bloggers will understand. The rest will think that you were talking about somebody else.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Gang,
I confess that I hate this piece. What else is new?

I'd read quite a while ago that Karen MacNeil was the featured speaker at the next Poodle Convention, and I'd jotted a note to myself to imagine her speech. When I finally decided to write it, I used the time-tested comedy convention of having a speaker unexpectedly speak the truth to her audience. A convention best exemplified in the classic SNL skit where William Shatner tells an audience at a Star Trek convention to, "Get a life!" Wouldn't it be wonderful if MacNeil actually spoke to the convened bloggers in this fashion? I cannot imagine many professional wine writers actually having a great deal of respect for most wine bloggers (myself included), wouldn't it be splendid if one of them actually spoke from the spleen?

The piece has almost nothing to do with Karen MacNeil, which is its downfall. I'll leave it to others whether there are any funny lines in here. I like a couple of lines, but only the stupidest ones. It's pretty scattershot, and the tone never quite works, but, hell, it's only satire, and it's only a Tuesday in May, and, well, I'm tired. And that, ultimately, is what shows.

Marcia Macomber said...

Funny...before I hit the refresh button and saw your comment about writing in the style of an SNL skit, it's exactly what I thought of. And I could see Karen doing it! with the habit et al!

Seems to be the usual Washam self-loathing of the writing: We all think it's a hoot, but you are chastising yourself for the shortcomings you see only on your end. Happy Poodles!

Unknown said...

Jeeez wine and a bible. Got out of religion 50+ yrs ago, keep this shit up and I will be outta wine.

Stillman Brown said...

How long would it take a room full of drunken monkeys with typewriters to write a back label for a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Marcia Love,
Oh, it's my usual self-loathing, only once in a while, I'm right. But I'm glad you liked it, and always glad to get some of this venom out of my system.

Is there a difference between a Wine Bible and a Complete Idiot's Guide to Wine? Bible is a shorter way to say the same thing.

You know, I never really hated the Sulfite Warnings required on wine bottles except that it singlehandedly created the need for stupid, poorly written back labels to keep the sulfite warning off the front of the bottle. Back labels are the forefathers of Twitter--how stupid can you be in 140 characters. Apes are more evolved than that.

WineKnurd said...

Ron, one day my friend, one day, you will grow up and be a be wine writer!

Keep your feet on the ground but keep reaching for the stars!

Bob Henry said...

". . . America’s wine bloggers, most of whom still await their blogs being translated into [PROPER] English . . ."

How could I resist?:


Bob Henry said...

Karen's book being The New Testament, does she cover turning water into wine (a.k.a., "watering back" a California fermentation)?


Unknown said...

The picture of Sister Karen is dynamite.

It's amusing and entertaining as usual. But you sounded too humble in your earlier response. I'm always amazed by why alcohol cannot kill brain cells of yours. It may well have been the special effect of a double-edged sword-being proud and humble simultaneously-that did that.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

That sounds more like a curse than anything else. Thanks for that!

There's something weirdly offensive about a "Wine Bible." Like there should be a Gideon Society that puts one in every brew pub and Motel 6. I've always hated that title, but I have no idea why. It makes loving wine some sort of religion, a cult. Oh, it's just me.

Sister Karen was an ill-conceived "humorous" set of Youtube videos that Karen MacNeil did last year, and which she wisely seems to have removed from the vast wasteland of Youtube. They were dreadful. But I loved the Halloween photo of her as a nun.

In my earlier comment, I wasn't being humble, particularly. I'm rarely that. I often use the comment forum to talk about my writing as a way of keeping a kind of running diary about the blog to refer to if I ever have the courage to go back and look at what I've produced. It helps me remember what I was thinking at the time, and my own reactions to my work.

Thank you for your sweet, kind words, Susan. Much appreciated.

WineWonkette said...

You know Ron, if we wine bloggers carried the same insignificance to which you ascribe to us, you would have so very little about which blog. Thanks to us, you can start a blog, announce your retirement, get an award you claim to disdain, re-start your blog, nominate yourself for some more awards, and then muse you may again retire.

Wine bloggers are the Renee Zellweger to your own Tom Cruise as Jerry Maguire. Be honest, we "complete" you.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hi Amy,
Of course, you're right, about some of this. I've retired at least three times, though I never nominated myself for a Poodle. Thank God, this year no one nominated me at all. I claim to disdain the award because I do disdain the award. Pretty simple. And I will retire again, though clearly not soon enough for you.

I don't go after wine bloggers much anymore. Chalk that up to insignificance. I spend far more time satirizing Parker and Wine Spectator and Alice Feiring and, well, just about anyone I feel like having fun with. I just happened to read about Karen MacNeil speaking to the next Poodle convention and couldn't resist the opportunity.

Satirists need targets. The Daily Show needs FOX News. We all need George W. Bush. I might need dull and lifeless wine blogs, but I also need the entire wine business with all its follies and disingenuosness. Perhaps, Amy, it's you and the rest of the wine biz who need a HoseMaster. I don't need you to "complete" me, I'm already a complete Fool.

Ziggy said...

Well Ron you definitely stirred up some ca-ca for "The Fermentator".

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Wow, a wine marketing guy defending wine bloggers as supremely talented! What a shock. And in his usual BOLD-FACED style--as though that makes what he says more valid or more interesting.

It's always fun for me to get that kind of response. As long as they talk about you.