Monday, March 28, 2016

Remembering the Great Sommelier Eradication

Gone, but quickly forgotten

Sure, there were some protests, a few heartfelt complaints. None of that was unexpected. The kamikazes at PETS (People for the Ethical Treatment of Sommeliers) were their usual strident selves. A handful of women openly wept, but they were mostly mothers of sommeliers, and people understood. A few ethicists wondered if it was the right thing to do. But now that it’s over, it seems everyone agrees it was the best course; indeed, it was the only course. There were simply too many. And an overpopulation calls for the simplest and most direct answer. They had plenty of warning. It took years before the decision to cull the sommelier herd became official. And now that most of them are gone, I think we can all recognize that the world is a better place.

When we began to produce so many sommeliers, some time around the turn of the century, we didn’t realize how successfully they would thrive in the urban environment. Like the other “garbage species,” opportunists like rats and coyotes and crows, sommeliers soon spread everywhere. We’ve all had the experience of cruising through downtown in our driverless cars and being startled by the sudden appearance of a sommelier darting out from between parked cars, their highly polished tastevin reflecting the headlights, and our car only narrowly avoiding running them down. Yet in many major cities, sommelier road kills kept santitation departments extremely busy. It became a huge problem. Let’s face it, most dumps won’t accept sommeliers. Well, most dumps aside from hotel restaurants and major wine conglomerates. Too many road kill sommeliers ended up piled on the side of the road like so many waterlogged mattresses, Serta-fied sommeliers. They were eyesores, a public nuisance, and proud of it.

Maybe we should ask ourselves why we allowed the sommelier population to get out of hand in the first place. By 2020, we knew there was a problem, yet we continued to turn a blind eye to it. More and more certification programs appeared, nearly all of them morally bankrupt and useless, aimed at creating more sommeliers. There was a time not so long ago when a sommelier was a rare sight, akin to spotting a whooping crane, or an attractive wine blogger. Suddenly, seemingly overnight, they were everywhere. You couldn’t go to a wine bar without the server being a sommelier. You couldn’t attend a wine tasting without the room suddenly filling with sommeliers, who, in a weird parody of cockroaches, would quickly fill the room when the lights came on. Maybe we ignored the trend because they were so harmless, and relatively odorless, at least compared to the liquor reps. Or maybe we thought that once everyone realized that there just wasn’t room for any more sommeliers, they’d stop growing in number. Whatever the reasons, we shamefully ignored the sommelier pestilence, and we all bear some responsibility for the end result. Thousands of sommeliers humanely eradicated. Admit it, now that it’s over, it felt good. 

The shelters worked for a while. Rounding up starving and inbred sommeliers, the newly minted and deranged sommeliers, and housing them in temporary shelters hoping that they’d be adopted was a grand idea. The goal was for restaurant owners, wine shop owners, winery owners, anyone who had some need for a pet sommelier, to adopt one from the Sommelier Shelters rather than hire a new one. You could walk into a shelter and pick one out, one with the cutest eyes, or one that might have been a mongrel, perhaps rabid for natural wine and destined for a short life, but who spoke to you. But soon the shelters overflowed. Sommeliers by the dozens were just dumped on their doorsteps by disappointed owners who had found they just couldn’t live with their sommelier any longer, the constant yapping late at night, their bottomless need for attention, becoming just too much. Sommelier Shelters began surreptitiously releasing sommeliers back onto the streets under the cover of darkness, giving them a few dollars and a bottle of orange wine to live on. It became a national disgrace, the worst since Donald Trump was the Republican nominee for President. Something needed to be done.

Of course, a majority of the self-proclaimed sommelier population weren’t actually sommeliers. They were pretenders. They asked each other, “What level sommelier are you?” as though sommeliers were practitioners of kung fu, or were parking garages. They took class after class to learn facts about wine, as though facts were knowledge, as if knowledge were wisdom. A First Level Sommelier, the thinking went, is still a sommelier. The same reasoning applies in cultures who think 13-year-old girls are ready to be wives. But it didn’t matter if they were actually sommeliers, any more than it matters what species of rat is taking over your apartment. You just want them gone. They’re a nuisance, and it’s embarrassing to be with friends and everywhere you turn there are sommeliers skulking about. You feel like you need a shower.

When the Sommelier Shelters didn’t solve the problem, and hunting down the last of the Master Sommeliers with drones targeting Le Paulée tastings, and destroying countless bottles of fake Burgundy as collateral damage, didn’t seem to end the infestation, the inevitable started to become reality. It was time to cull the sommelier herd. They’re not hard to catch. Sommeliers are nocturnal, shunning actual sunshine where others might see their jaundiced skin, and not particularly intelligent. In fact, even faced with growing unpopularity, they are blind to it, and will just walk right up to you and tell you they are a sommelier, and usually in the first sentence. They learned this behavior from doctors, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, to which they are closely related—all three species believe they know more than you do despite evidence to the contrary. Their behavior made them especially easy prey for the people hired to cull their numbers. Maybe the most challenging part of the Great Sommelier Eradication was administering the lottery to choose the people who would cull the sommeliers. Some estimates put the volunteers in the tens of thousands.

Many people demanded that all sommeliers should be eliminated. A radical view, but one that is easily defensible, especially if you know any. Cooler heads prevailed, however, and sommeliers who actually worked as sommeliers—didn’t just have letters after their names, or had lowered themselves to actually make wine, a crime in most states—were left undisturbed. A few hundred now remain around the world in their natural state. More than enough.

Except for their immediate families, and natural wine producers, no one misses sommeliers. Sommelier Shelters are now filled with baristas, yet another national shame. Their “time” is coming. We can only vow that we will never again allow the population of sommeliers to overrun society. We can insure that there are never again countless phony wine accreditation schools that rob our young people of a real life. And now that it’s legal to shoot anyone who claims to be a sommelier, any fucking level, who doesn’t actually work as a sommelier, the arguments over gun control have also vanished. Culling the Sommelier herd worked.


Ziggy said...

This post is destined for the Library of Congress.
Wine list prices should be lower after the eradication.


Zzzz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Larry Anosmia, M.S. said...

Lamentably with the emerging trend of 3D food printers, who in the future will need fine dining restaurants -- or their sommeliers?

(You can still come to Lost Wages and avail yourselves of our fabulous buffet lines.)

Mark Rader said...

I howled at this piece, especially the line about doctors who want you to think they know more than you do. My father, a physician, would have agreed with you completely.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Well, if not the Library of Congress, maybe the Cafeteria of Congress. Many thanks. And wine list prices may not go down, but they might be in English.


Something about putting letters after your name makes your head swell. This from a guy with HMW after his. Thanks for the howls.

Keith Fergel said...

You know you're doing something right when a blogger (how is that still a thing?) writes a satyr piece on your craft! Hope the other 7 people that read this enjoys it as much as I did. I'm the guy in the upper right of the photo.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Yeah, craft. If running a restaurant is a craft, blogging is an art.

Wait, I've forgotten you already.

Unknown said...

Not sure if Keith meant to do it, but great use of the word satyr (definition: one of a class of lustful, drunken woodland gods. In Greek art they were represented as a man with a horse's ears and tail, but in Roman representations as a man with a goat's ears, tail, legs, and horns). Is he referring to the HoseMaster or to all Somms?
It must be SATIRE!

Marcia Macomber said...

I notice none of the herd made it beyond the shelters into rescue. This was a wise move. A Somm rescue would have been like that rat situation you described. We don't want to be keeping them around! Bravo and pass the ammunition.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Marcia Love,
Somm Rescue? Isn't that some sort of Roach Motel for wine stewards?

As a recovering sommelier, someone should put me out of my misery.


pb said...

All kinds of awesome. I have also felt for too long that I am the only "somm" that thought "Somm" was the most painful and terrible movie ever made. Ever. Incidentally, we had the same problem with the cooking school "chefs" explosion and are now in the midst of a mass and well-deserved die off.

Joe said...

I only got the certification so I could mercifully be killed off, and my upcoming book about demystifying wine and cereal pairings would garner posthumous notoriety.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

You have hit on what satire aims to do. Satire often tries to make the reader think, "I thought I was the only one who thought that way." It's a form of telling the kinds of truth too many people think but are unwilling to express, and, one hopes, doing it in a funny fashion. So thank you.

Where you bin? And I think I can arrange that mercy killing. Have you met Marcia? Oh, you will...

Cris Whetstone said...

Is there concern of any crossbreeding with mixologists or the aforementioned baristas? Resulting hybrids could allow them to hide in neighborhoods and regions that were until now did provide a suitable ecosystem.

Rob R said...

Now Ron, I'm not so sure it was a good thing to cull the herd! What with Taco Bell adding wine to select "restaurants". Who will help them pair the right vintage for their chalupa?


Ron Washam, HMW said...

Really? A sommelier breeding with a barista? Has the world gone mad? Baristas aren't that desperate.

Nah, that's easy. Meomi Pinot Noir goes with everything on the Taco Bell menu, especially the annoying little chihuahua.

Joe said...

Sorry... Been really busy. Been dumping rosé down the drain like Elliott Ness. People like it now, so it sucks.

Unknown said...


Serta-fied sommeliers - ha!

Great dark post. I was trying to hold it all in until I came to "giving them a few dollars and a bottle of orange wine to live on." Still laughing uncontrollably.


Don Clemens said...

Ron, you hit this one out of the park. I laughed at some point during every paragraph, and like Mary Orlin, particularly enjoyed the lines that she quoted. Also, the full sentence prior to "Serta-fied sommeliers" got me - "Yet in many major cities, sommelier road kills kept sanitation departments extremely busy. It became a huge problem. Let’s face it, most dumps won’t accept sommeliers. Well, most dumps aside from hotel restaurants and major wine conglomerates." Watching the increasing employment of squads of somms at the big distribution companies is cringe-worthy.
Faithfully yours,

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Well, at least you'll have clean drains. Rosé is being made by too many people who haven't a clue, and that's a shame. Spend an hour judging them for a wine competition and you'll swear off them forever.

Thank you. Who says you can't give orange wine away?

Charlie Olken said...

Bravo! Need I say more?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I don't begrudge anyone a job. There aren't enough actual restaurant jobs for all the folks claiming to be sommeliers, French Laundry can only go through sommeliers so fast, so working for Jackson Family (I think they have a company baseball team of MSs--The Chicago White Somms) or Constellation pays the bills. I think I object to them insisting on being sommeliers. Sorry, boys and girls, you're salespeople. Nothing wrong with salespeople. Embrace it.

I'll assume you're standing as you say it. Many thanks, my friend.

The artist formerly known as The WineGuy said...

Thanks for a new addition to the "Best of HMW" annals. (Sure, use it.)
We did indeed, see it coming, like an unfiltered Flint water tasting competition.

Paul Wagner said...

Wait a minute. Can't the various levels of sommeliers tell, just by looking in each other's eyes, who has the higher certification, like in martial arts movies?

The artist formerly known as The WineGuy said...

Come on Paul, you can't see anything if you stare deeply into their eyes, because.....(fill in the blank here)

Ron Washam, HMW said...

We should be on the same panel at the Flint competition. On "B," I'd give it a Silverfish Medal. "Best of HMW" is a very low bar to get over, even when you're annal retentive like me.

Come on, Paul, you know better. They're sommeliers. They don't go by looking in each other's eyes, they go by smell. Have you been around MWs?

Unknown said...

Fabulous stuff! "What level are you?" and "Did you see Somm" are the 2 most annoying things about my job. Now I know the answer to the first question: "I parked on 4D today." The second one is why there's a knife on my corkscrew.
Paul R Ellis, a working wine steward (no initials)

Don Clemens said...

Paul Ellis, that was perfect. And, since I've known you for so long, I'm quite certain the the knife on your corkscrew is well honed.

Sybaritewino said...

Best line, to me, is:

"... one that might have been a mongrel, perhaps rabid for natural wine and destined for a short life, but who spoke to you."

Excellent summation of the viral infection.

Unlike a good steak, well done sir!


GirlMeetsGrape said...

Fucking dying here reading this in the car on the way to the Grand-Daddy of somm shindigs, Pebble Beach Food & Wine. Happy hunting all! Serta-fied USDA Prime Targets. The sparkly pins glint and glitter like forlorn fireflies, or underused liberal arts degrees, or something. ;)

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Lovely to see you here. I miss you. And, you know, it's really hard to believe I don't get invited to Pebble Beach Food & Wine with all of those glamourous, worldly and charming sommeliers. Though it would be the perfect occasion to begin the eradication when the day comes. Maybe I'm better of home alone.

Give the HoseMaster's regards to all the people there with letters after their names! And let me know when you're next in NorCal wine country, Bonnie. I would love to see you.

Unknown said...

The whole thing was brilliant, but this line left me laughing out loud in tears: "Except for their immediate families, and natural wine producers, no one misses sommeliers."

Unknown said...

Great article ! Congratulations ����

Larry Anosmia, M.S. said...

Soda pop sommeliers?

These interlopers are fucking with my grift.

Excerpt from The Wall Street Journal "Main News" Section
(March 31, 2016, Page A1ff):

"It's the Real Thing:
Spoonfuls of Sugar Help the Soda Go Down"

By Anne Marie Chaker
Staff Reporter

Soft-drink makers have a new way to pitch their sweet beverages: They contain sugar. [*]

. . .

This week, PepsiCo is rolling out a line of soda the company says is inspired by the original cola formula created by its founder in 1893. Cans list “real sugar” among the ingredients. New television ads to launch next week will feature a sommelier in a leather chair swirling the soft drink in a brandy glass before chugging it. “Refined,” he says.

. . .

[*Following the playbook of Meomi Pinot Noir?]

Samantha Dugan said...

I love you.
Cracking Up In Paris.

drevesrants said...

Brilliant parody, but oh so close to the truth. After forty years in the wine biz, may I add a riddle?

Q.: How can you tell if there is a Master Sommelier in the room?
A.: They'll tell you.

Alternative answer:

You'll begin to feel faint as all the oxygen is sucked out of the room.