Thursday, March 3, 2016

The HoseMaster of Wine™ at the Napa Valley Professional Wine Writers Symposium

When I told friends that I had been asked to deliver a “fireside chat” for the Napa Valley Professional Wine Writers Symposium, and that I was extremely nervous about it, many of them remarked that it was good that I was doing something “outside my comfort zone.” I’m not sure what that means. It sounds like the sort of persuasion child pornographers dispense to their victims. Despite that, I agreed to speak. As the HoseMaster of Wine™. Well, I spoke, and I sucked.

After dinner on the first night of the Symposium, everyone gathered in the Vintners Room and I was introduced. Here are my opening remarks:

“This is quite a distinguished group. Though I’m starting to get why Spike Lee isn’t here.

“I’m extremely nervous. To give you an idea how nervous I am, and this is the truth, I have a colonoscopy scheduled in a couple of weeks, and I’m more nervous about THIS. You know, boys and girls, they put a camera up your lower intestine and look around…I’m calling it SOMM 3: Into the Wine Cave.

“I’m pretty sure Fred Dame is in it.”

I have no idea what I was doing up there, really. First of all, I am terrible at standup comedy. I used to write standup, but I never had the talent, or the courage, to perform it. But I knew that I would never be invited to the Wine Writers Symposium again, and that if I wanted to attend, and meet Hugh Johnson, then I had to suck it up and step outside my comfort zone. My audience that night contained a lot of wine writing luminaries, most of whom I had insulted on one occasion or another. A partial list would include Eric Asimov, Virginie Boone, Guy Woodward, Ray Isle, Lisa Perrotti Brown MW, Doug Frost MW, MS, Neil Beckett, Jamie Goode, Jeannie Cho Lee MW, Esther Mobley and Elin McCoy. (Many other bigshots were part of the Symposium, including Hugh Johnson, Karen MacNeil, Jay McInerney, and Andrea Robinson MS, but they weren’t at my speech.) If a bomb had gone off in that room…well, it did, in the form of my monologue. There were no survivors.

Half an hour before I was to speak I was so nervous I thought I was going to throw up. One of the toughest things about comedy is that when you rehearse it over and over, the jokes all start to sound stupid and unfunny. You lose perspective, and then it becomes harder and harder to convince yourself that you shouldn’t just start over. Fifteen minutes before you speak, you hate every joke. Add to that that some of the butts of the jokes are sitting right in front of you and may not take kindly to your witticisms. For example, I had this joke about one of the featured speakers:

“2015 also saw the publication of a lot of wine books, many of the retreads. Karen MacNeil published the second edition of the 'Wine Bible.' The New Testament. Now that’s a title! Wine Bible! I know she considered The Wine Book of Mormon, but Mormons don’t have a lot in common with wine people. You know, closet drinking and lots of wives… Oh, well, I guess there’s Jay McInerney…”

I took a little walk before my speech, my stomach in knots, and called my gorgeous wife. Kathleen is the only person who knows what it’s like to be the HoseMaster (perhaps the only one who cares), knows my insecurities and fears, and she talked me down. Her wisdom and love and patience are beacons in an otherwise dark universe, and when we disconnected, I said a silent thank you to the world for having blessed me with such a remarkable spouse. Then I threw up.

I would print a copy of my speech here, but, after speaking to Kathleen and absorbing her wise words of advice, I changed a lot of it. Apart from that, a transcription of a comedy monologue isn’t always that funny to read. Written humor, like the crap I write here, is much different than standup. Different to write, and much different to read. It’s a bit like poetry in that much of it doesn’t make any sense at all unless you read it out loud. And, as I said, I sucked anyway.

I spoke for about twenty minutes. It was the longest twenty minutes of my life other than my first marriage. When I was done, though, I had no other responsibilities the rest of the Symposium. With that behind me, I could finally relax, meet the famous people who shared the marquee with me (I was definitely the low man on that credits roll; in Hollywood, my part would be described as, “Drunk #2”) and maybe learn a thing or two. It turned out to be a very interesting and rewarding couple of days.

After my Fireside Chat, there was a reception with some older Napa Valley wines being served. I have no idea what I tasted. I was suffering from PTSD from having an IED in the form of my monologue go off in my face. Many of the attendees, both faculty and fellows, said nice things to me about my speech. For example, “It was like ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ It felt really good when it was over.” And, “Don’t quit your day job, unless it’s doing standup.” And, “What’s that wet spot?” So I felt loved and supported.

One of the nicest moments of my entire week occurred at the tasting after my speech. I met Esther Mobley, the new wine critic for the San Francisco Chronicle (hard to say she has some big shoes to fill, but you get what I mean) at the bar, and Esther, whom I had never met, was extraordinarily kind to me. In a nutshell, she told me that at least I was telling the truth when I spoke, and on my blog, and that telling the truth is what journalism is supposed to do. It was unexpected and welcome sentiment from a wine writer who has a great future ahead of her. Esther struck me as a very talented, very smart and capable young woman, which will not keep me from mocking her, of course, and I’m sure she wouldn’t have it any other way.

The portion of my speech that generated the most response was my mention of “Wine Folly.”

“The best selling wine book on Amazon in 2015 was ‘Wine Folly’ by Madeline Puckette. It’s filled with wine information, information uncovered in what must have been exhaustive Google searches, displayed in countless graphs and pie charts. In its own way, it’s revolutionary. Turns out many pictures are actually worth only seven or eight words. That it outsold the likes of Karen MacNeil and Jancis Robinson says that those ‘Wine for Idiots’ people were on to something. ‘Wine Folly’ has more wine mistakes than BevMo.”

About half a dozen Symposium attendees went out of their way to thank me for my “Wine Folly” rant. The notion that a wine book written for beginning wine lovers is essentially allowed to contain countless mistakes because it isn’t written for professionals is simply ignorant. And an embarrassment to everyone who has recommended the book. I did ask the folks who patted me on the back for making fun of “Wine Folly” why they hadn’t. I never got any sort of an answer.

No one, however, was at the Wine Writers Symposium to see the HoseMaster. I was the tired opening lounge act for the headliners, a Tom Dreesen or a Charlie Callas. Most would say I was more Callas. Though, really, what the Symposium is about is networking, meeting successful and influential wine writers and editors hoping that somehow they’ll boost your career.

“We’re lucky enough to be in the company of a group of great wine writers this week. If becoming a great wine writer were as simple as just hanging around with great wine writers, I’d be one helluva hooker.”

I had decided before attending Meadowood that the only person I was going to introduce myself to was Hugh Johnson. I had previously met many of the faculty and fellows, and many of those I hadn’t met had every reason to dislike what I’d written about them, and I didn’t want to walk into an uncomfortable situation. And I’m shy. In truth, I’m a disappointment in person if the only way you know me is through HoseMaster of Wine™. I had considered backing out of speaking after I had agreed to--until Hugh Johnson was announced as keynote speaker. I very much wanted to meet him because I admire his body of work. His PBS series, “The Story of Wine,” is easily the best wine documentary every produced; which is faint praise given the category, but true nevertheless.

There are two kinds of wine writers these days. There are talented writers, in the mold of Mr. Johnson, who choose wine as their subject. And then there are the thousands of people who love wine and decide they can write. The online world is overpopulated with the latter—all passion and no talent, like having sex with a narcissist. Hugh Johnson is a graceful and erudite writer, not just on wine, but also on gardening. I suspect he could make even make Grüner Veltliner interesting if he wrote about it. Not delicious, but interesting.

Hugh Johnson spoke the morning of the third day of the Symposium, held at the C.I.A. It was touching to see how emotional Andrea Robinson MS, the day’s moderator, was introducing Mr. Johnson, one of her heroes as well. I don’t know Andrea, but her introduction was lovely and moving, and you cannot do better than that. Hugh spoke for about an hour, and I think everyone there would have gladly listened for another hour. He spoke eloquently about the history of wine writing, some of his favorite wine writers (I wasn’t mentioned—I’m the Abe Vigoda of wine writers, apparently. I really should show up in the Death Reel), and wine in general. He graciously answered some questions from the audience as well.

After his speech, Mr. Johnson stayed for the subsequent tasting and panel discussion of “Minerality,” led by Doug Frost MW MS, Jeannie Cho Lee MW and Lisa Perrotti Brown MW. They were for minerality, I’m agin it. Minerality is one of those wine descriptors I consider lazy. From my own experience, I know when I use it I’m being lazy, using it in order to avoid actually having to pin down what it is I’m tasting. What we now commonly refer to as “minerality” certainly exists as a component of some wines, I simply think that’s a lousy choice of words for it, a sloppy choice of words. There are trace amounts of minerals in wine, but at levels too low for a human to detect, even a Master of Wine. From a scientific point of view, it makes no sense to use the word “minerality” when describing wine. What does minerality taste like? How many minerals are there? (Anyone have a vague idea how many?) It’s like someone asking you to describe a rainbow and you say it looked like “colors.” Wine descriptions are intellectually sloppy enough without “minerality.” Do we all have to sink to “Wine Folly” levels?

It was after the minerality seminar that I approached Hugh Johnson to introduce myself. I had two of his books I was hoping he would inscribe. One was for my beautiful wife, a horticulturist by training, the other for me. Hers was “Principles of Gardening,” while I brought Mr. Johnson’s autobiography, “A Life Uncorked.” I felt awkward introducing myself. But the final question asked of Hugh by an audience member was, “What would you like to be remembered for?” He answered that, aside from wine writing, he’d also like to be remembered as a garden writer. That seemed like a message to me from the universe as I sat there clutching his “Principles of Gardening.”

Photo by John Lenart Thank you, John!
I walked up to him, thrust out my hand and said, “Mr. Johnson, I’d like to introduce myself. I’m Ron Washam.”

“Ah,” he said, “you’re the HoseMahster.”

In a long career in wine, I cannot remember being more thrilled. Hugh Johnson had heard of the HoseMaster. I won’t pretend he’s read a single word I’ve written, but he knew who I was. I cannot say he likes my work, but he knew who I was. I’ll take it. Imagine you write a blog that showcases your cat poems, you meet Billy Collins, and he says, “Oh, you’re the Lord of the Pussies.” Yeah, like that.

Hugh seemed genuinely happy to see “Principles of Gardening” at a wine event. “Shall I sign it to ‘HoseMistress?’” Not a good idea. He signed both books for me, and I walked away feeling honored to have spent a few minutes with him. I was so excited that he knew my nom de plume, I nearly wet my disposable Comfort Zone.



Mark Rader said...

Delightful and informative, as always.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

You're on the wrong blog. I'll forward your comment to your usual Mommy blog. I know, it's easy to hit the "Publish" button by mistake.

But thanks!

Don Clemens said...

I had the great fortune to listen to Hugh Johnson at the unveiling (in San Francisco) of "The Story of Wine" in 1989. I had the opportunity to speak with him for a few private moments. Absolutely awe stricken? You'd better believe it!

Thomas said...


Sounds like fun. Yeah, I know the feeling up there, and I'm not even half as funny as you ... I, too, would like to meet Mr. Johnson, among a few other luminaries of letters.

On the subject of minerality, while I agree with you to some extent, I do think you go too far in your blanket condemnation of the use of the word.

Have you ever tasted mineral water? It's kind of salty, actually. And when I was a child growing up in NYC, I frequently landed on the pavement (don't ask).

When I taste a wine that reminds either of mineral water saltiness or the taste of that Brooklyn sidewalk, I refer to the experience as minerality. I suppose I could call them mineral watery or sidewalkery, but minerality just works better.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

It was a "star-studded" room of wine writers, but I don't honestly think there was a single one of them in his league as a writer. He has the kind of precision and ear normally found in a great poet. That's a gift, a gift you have to work hard at, but, in the end, a gift. I was awestruck as well. And he could not have been more gracious to me. It's often said that you should be careful of meeting your heroes, but Hugh Johnson proved the exception to that rule.

Still, what the hell was I doing there in the first place?

PaulG said...

Wish I could have been there! You are WAY too hard on yourself. Kind of the anti-Trump. Maybe the Hosemaster should turn to politics for awhile. Hose yourself off. Obviously writing eno-satire is taking its toll!

Charlie Olken said...

There is an assumption that being able to write well means that one can speak well in public, yet there are very few script writers who ever go on to be useful on the screen. But, you did get it right in this regard. You met Hugh Johnson, and have met so many of the other writers that being a good writer has its own rewards.

I hope you enjoyed the experience--and thank god you were wearing your Depends.

Francly Speaking said...

“Oh, you’re the Lord of the Pussies.” oh my god,
you made my day, again...

Pam Strayer said...

If you, like me, missed out on attending Hugh Johnson's Napa talk, thanks for Darrell Corti, there is a video of his talk at U.C. Davis which has just been posted.

Find it here:

PS He talks about how he is removing the word "minerality" from his latest 2016 guide to wine since he finds the word doesn't have an agreed upon meaning.

My favorite bit in this interview is when he talks about scoring wines - ah the folly, the folly.

David Larsen said...

You hooked me from the first paragraph and just kept reeling me in. Looking forward to part 2.

Eric V. Orange said...

I'm envious Hose. My first wine book ever, The World Atlas of Wine (3rd edition, $40) is still on my bookshelf.
And he's knows your name!!

You sell yourself short, my friend. Meeting you made for a memorable, enjoyable lunch out there at Frei Brothers Ranch.
Even my wife liked you. Ain't that somethin?


John Lahart said...

Is it me? Or is there a hint of irony in all those folks who spend thousands of dollars and years of intensive study and tasting becoming an MW and then write books with titles like like "The Ten Minute Wine Expert"

Esther Mobley said...

It seemed to me like Hugh shared your views on minerality. He had some pretty good lines when he was interrogating the panelists about "wet stone" descriptors and whether that wonderful scent of fresh rain in Napa Valley was "vegetable or mineral."

And you sell yourself short, Ron ... your work truly does us all a huge favor by pointing out our inconsistencies and absurdities. You keep us honest!

But you're going to have to do a better job than this of mocking me ...

Anonymous said...

You’re walking on thin ice, HoseMaster. Take care, lest the ice break and you fall through and drown.

Writers face the difficult challenge of mastering the imaginary universe between their ears, while talkers must deal with the spontaneous feedback of listeners, from “out there” in the real world.

It’s very much like matter and anti-matter. When they touch, Ka-boom!

Seriously great reportage of your journey. Thank you.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Well, the group spent 75 minutes talking about "minerality" and I don't think anyone managed to make any sense of it. As I said, it's vague. Your description of laying on the pavement, losing a fight again I'd assume, was far more descriptive and easier to understand. "Salinity" and "salty" are far more evocative. And I'm sure I've used "minerality" in the past, but I won't again. Part of the tasting involved two mineral waters. Didn't do much to make the concept clearer to me. I still think it's lazy.

One simple point. I'm hard on everyone else, it's only fair to be hard on myself, too. Standup is hard to do. Being humorous or throwing in a funny aside isn't the same thing. And it was a potentially hostile audience. No matter. I had fun when it was over, and I was honored to have been asked.

It was fun to meet an amazing group of talented writers. I didn't belong there. But meeting Jane Anson Esther Mobley, Lana Bortolot, Virginie Boone, Lisa Perrotti Brown MW, Neil Beckett, Ray Isle, Guy Woodward, Jamie Goode, all for the first time, was a gift. I'm sure I've left some people out. That anyone cared at all meeting the HoseMaster was astonishing to me. And that's not false humility. That's low self-esteem, and don't forget it.

I'll watch that when I have a moment. He was funny about scores at the Symposium, too. Weirdly, I agreed with almost everything he said. I'm not used to that. And I'm glad he comes down on my side about the uselessness of "minerality." Only a few of us seemed to be on that side of the argument.

Your wife liked me? Wow. I need to get me one of those.

Nicely said! Worse when they spend five years studying wine and proclaim themselves experts and write books proving otherwise.

Your words to me after my speech were eloquent and very much appreciated. Thank you. It was a real pleasure to spend time with you, and thank you for being a common tater.

Oh, don't worry, once you're somebody, I'll mock you mercilessly.

Thanks. That's exactly right. Stay tuned for part two.

Thomas said...

For an instant, I read the first in your list as Jane Austen. Must be the after effect of all that sidewalk slamming I did back in the day.

The benefits of my pavement excursions: a taste of slate and a taste of blood; the latter took me straight to Hungarian wine.

Batmang said...

Gee, I always liked Charlie Callas....what does that say about me?

Rico said...

Two thumbs up.

Hawk_Wakawaka said...

My one regret is not having been there to meet Hugh. I would have been crying right along with Andrea. Such a lovely read to witness your brief moments with him. He's a man to be admired. Thank you.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

So, blood? Isn't that iron? Isn't that minerality? Just askin'. Or is blood a better description?

Not sure. Callas was sort of a Jerry Lewis clone. But funny in a stupid way. Which I like.

Oh, sure, your regret isn't that you'd get to be there with me? I get it.

And, yes, a man to be admired. Seems to be fewer and fewer of them in the wine biz.

Hawk_Wakawaka said...

Dear Ron, you silly goof. You already know I don't need to be there to see you. I don't know when, on the other hand, I'll ever meet Hugh. For the rest of my life my primary goal is to spend it with good and peaceable men. Hugh, I am certain, is one.

Thomas said...


Blood is a better description, especially to someone who has tasted it, like batuan, calamondins, or wax jambu--each a fruit.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Like sulfur is a mineral, right? I get lots of minerality in a lot of wines in that sense. And isn't wax jambu what you do when you get a Brazilian?

By the way, Thomas, your comment is the 10,000th(!) comment on HoseMaster of Wine™. Really. It's appropriate it was you, of course, you have great tenure here. But I'm astonished that I've had so many comments, and so much interesting conversation here. The comments section is, and always has been, the best part of the blog.

You were 9,999! So close!

Don't we all wish we'd learned at an earlier age to spend our lives with good and peaceable humans? Hugh Johnson most certainly qualifies. I do hope you have the privilege to meet him one day. I'm sure you and he would hit it off.

Thomas said...

Number 10,000! Me?

Just today I was telling my wife I have never won any prize in my life.

So, how much did I win and how long will it take before I see the cash? I've got plans.

By the way, the last time I had my jambu waxed it was a lot more active.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Not really a great thing to say to your wife, but, I guess she's used to it.

No cash, but an autographed copy of "Wine Folly!" Oh, man, are you going to lern sum stuff.

10,002 and counting

And, as another side note, my next post will be #500! Seriously, that's true.

Fuck that. Time to quit.

Unknown said...

Ron, what's Hugh's auto like? Seems like the best bet, read one of his Atlas books years ago and found it rather dry but informative, very precise but humble. Funny after my first San Diego wine fest, hung around to meet Ethan Russell a famous rock photographer who had a show at a La Jolla gallery.. got to ask him a bunch of questions and bought his coffee table book Let It Bleed.. said Keith Richards scared him back then.. so when Albert Maysles the director of Gimme Shelter came through town I went to a showing and he said, Keith didn't scare me, he was the most down to earth, and I got him to sign a pic of my book of Keith under a sign that says, Patience please a drug free America comes first... that's been the extent of my book signings, when I covered rock I always found it ludicrous and stupid when writers would try and hang out and write pieces and take pics like they were best buddies with musicians... meeting your heroes, another tough one, often a let down, although Steven Tyler had charisma to burn.. great story in William Goldman's book on meeting Irwin Shaw.. when I started in journalism I read that you don't ask for autographs and pics, you're a writer not a fan.. but I really don't seethe harm.. funny, how people think music and movies are so glamorous, but if you've ever been in a recording studio or on a film set it's BORING with a capital B.. just like I have no interest in standing in some goddamn grape field or over a barrel in a basement.. now, bring out some good wine and pair it with some good food and play some good music.. now we're talking...

rama said...

I haven't followed you long, but this read as an especially humble post, maybe humblebrag? ;)

It could become Tsundoku, but I picked up Hugh Johnson's gardening book to see what I may be missing.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I worked in a restaurant where I saw celebrities all the time. It would have been inappropriate to ask them for autographs, but I never had the urge anyway. Well, once in a while, but I resisted. Still wish I'd had Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner give me autographs. But writers are different for me. Don't know why. Over the past few years I've collected many wine books signed by the author to the "HoseMaster." Hugh was kind enough to do that for me. And Karen MacNeil graciously gave me a copy of the "Wine Bible" 2nd Edition signed to me as well. Add to those Eric Asimov, Gerald Asher, Alice Feiring (thanks to My Gorgeous Samantha) and many others, and it's a lovely memory of these days as a wine biz satirist. I also have some lovely signed novels from favorite authors. It's a sort of private satisfaction.

Well, there's the HoseMaster voice, where humble never comes into play, and there's my own voice, where it's not so much humble as filled with self-hatred. "Humblebrag" it ain't. Though I get your point. I did wonder how many wine bloggers Hugh Johnson would know. I was genuinely astonished that he knew who I was. More than likely he knows me because I write for Tim Atkin MW, and not because he trolls the intergnats looking for wine blogs.

Thomas said...

Hell, I'd send you an autographed copy of one of my books but I don't know your address and you have never skewered me--not that I'm begging for either.

500 posts! It's amazing how much can flow out of a 7 inch hat size.

Samantha Dugan said...

Ron My Love,

You are still beaming and I can't tell you how happy I am for you. You got so much more out of than the year I went and I truly am so thrilled for you. I still remember meeting Alice and getting her booked signed for you, she did hover a bit as she contemplated what she wanted to call you as I recall. And I too am the owner of a couple Gerald Asher books, thanks to you my beloved funny man.
Loved your recap here, look forward to more and as always, I love it when I get to hear Ron Washam in your words.
I love you!

Mike Dunne said...

Thank you for your informative and entertaining post. Sorry to have missed this year's symposium, especially your presentation, Hugh Johnson's appearance and the panel on minerality. Hope they recorded the sessions and make them available. I plead guilty to sensing minerality in wine, and to saying so, but aside from a possible suggestion of salinity in a wine I feel that minerality has more to do with texture than flavor. Certainly no one tastes traces of slate, granite and the like in a wine, but the shape and build of a wine can suggest the feel of minerals. However, it is a challenge to convey that impression beyond the shorthand of "minerality." And once you go there, yes, it is a slippery slope.

Jim Caudill said...

Love it when you get all sentimental, and I share your awe of meeting writers I adore. One of my prized possessions is a post card from Donald Westlake, after I wrote him a letter about a non-mystery book he'd written. Of course, I can't find it now, but that's another story. It's with my collection of Herb Caen notes, wherever they are.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Well, if you were Somebody, I'd have lampooned you. Enjoy your anonymity. And if you send me one of your books, don't autograph it, but do send me the crayons so I can use it properly.

My Gorgeous Samantha,
Thanks, My Love. Without being silly, it was very rewarding to have folks appreciate what a satirist brings to a conversation. This era we live in is a great one for satirists. A rare time in history when satire is showing its power and relevance--from Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Samantha Bea, and so many far more talented than I. Satire is transcendent at the moment. That many folks (important, in a weird sense, folks) were kind to me, said nice things about my work, was very important to me. That I not pull my punches because of their kindness is even more important to me.

I love you, Samantha. More than you know.

Minerality as texture? Hmmmm. So minerals have texture? I don't know, Mike. I think I understand your point, but it's still vague, and still, to me, a lazy way of talking about what you're tasting. If it's texture, what else has a minerally texture? I realize I'm in the minority on how I feel about the subject, but I still think it's as lazy and as undefined as "natural wine." How's that for a cheap shot?

I love Donald Westlake! Elmore Leonard before there was Elmore Leonard. Wonderful, smart, witty writer. My favorite autographed books, I have some from Tim O'Brien, for my money one of the great American authors of his generation, remind me of the gift of writing, the hard work of writing, the humanity of writing. But I don't want the books pre-autographed, I want to be there when they sign them, or, at least, know they were personalized to me. Some folks want autographed baseballs (I have those too), or autographed jerseys from famous athletes--books are SO much more.

Man, where the hell are you? Hope our paths cross soon!

Madeline Puckette said...


I've giggled at your stories for years! I see you tried to smear WF readers in a few posts back, I would expect nothing less. Looks like it got a lot of likes! :) Sorry that it feels like welcoming newcomers into wine (and the wine writing industry) is a closed field. I say this with respect, and I hope we meet someday!

Meanwhile, those "countless graphs and pie charts" were sourced with permission from Which Winegrape Varieties are Grown Where? by Kym Anderson at Univ. of Adelaide. it is an incredible database of wine grape information. It's really awesome, I highly recommend it.

Now, I will get back to licking rocks!


Unknown said...

You inspired me to dig out my copy of Hugh Johnson's book a Life Uncorked that he autographed to me at dinner at Bacar in SF when the book was released in 2006.
Hugh was instrumental in teaching me about wine through his books and PBS special.
As I leafed through this highly entertaining tome, (the whole chapter on Champagne is especially wonderful) I came across the menu from the lunch on the back of which I wrote the following:
Hugh says "It's not what it's like...It's what it does that's important! So, Verbs are more important than Adjectives, as in "the Wine emerges with Confidence"

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Many thanks for taking the time to comment. And that's a nice quote from Hugh. Very English way to write about wine, but one that tends to be overshadowed these days by lengthy lists of adjectives. Of course, reviewing 40 wines in a day means one cannot write that way, but it reveals a mindset that isn't that prevalent among writers, particularly American wine writers.

Nice to have a working sommelier here, Andrea. I hope you regularly comment.

Unknown said...

Ron...thanks for the gracious invitation. The following is something I cut out of a wine magazing 20 + years ago that is still in my wallet, dog eared and shared with lotsa folks. It has become my personal mission statement.

A conversation with Emile Peynaud:

One of my favorite quotes is a conversation between Emile Peynaud & a French Producer, Dubourdieu, (Bordeaux).

"Actually, I never studied under Peynaud, but I admired his work and devoured his books, especially The Taste of Wine. He was a man for all seasons, at once scientist and practical hands-on winemaker. He could talk to the Chateau owner just as easily as the cellarmaster & convince them both. He said "The wine should taste more of the grape than the grape is the revelation of the hidden character of the fruit." He also said something that profoundly influenced me. He said "Better a genuine small wine than a fake grand wine." Once at a dinner, I asked him what he thought of my wines. At first he did not answer. Finally, he said "That is of no interest." I was completely dumbfounded! After a long pause, he explained, "We don't belong to the same period. You must make the wines of your time." His answer was particularly profound. A Wine, if it is to be human should be beyond time, in constant evolution, otherwise it becomes merely an interesting museum piece.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thank you. There are certain wine writers, Peynaud and Hugh Johnson among them, whose works will last. There is little of that being produced now, myself included, of course. Satire, like fish, usually smells after a short period of time. So when fools say we are living in a Golden Age of Wine Writing I remember first and foremost that they are fools, and I should be grateful to have them as targets.

I wonder what Peynaud would have made of "Natural Wines." This is, after all, the Golden Age of Natural Wine.

Unknown said...

I agree that minerality as a wine descriptor is over used and too broad to have any real meaning when it is used over and over again in print. But there is a way to use minerality in a description of one style vs another when selling wine in a restaurant.
As in “Pinot Noirs from the Yamhill-Carlton AVA feature dark red fruits, with aromas of forest floor, earth, and mushrooms….(picture yourself walking through an Oregon Forest…smelling the damp rich loamy black soil, moss, wet leaves & mushrooms.) As opposed to Pinot Noir from the Eola –Amity Hills which feature a general character of blue-black fruits, rich acidity, and minerality, with notes of crushed rock, tongue on stone, flinty, clean warm rocky dirt.”
This is the kind of thing that many consumers want to hear when choosing a wine in a restaurant.
They get minerality on a level that means something to them.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Yes, but the one word you can easily remove from your second description is the word "minerality." It contributes nothing. My point is precisely that it's a lazy word that is too broad and empty of actual meaning, and I think your description actually proves my point, doesn't contradict it. Now "crushed rock, tongue on stone [Larry will be thrilled], flinty, clean warm rocky dirt," while overstating it, is nice.

And I'm also not sure anyone cares that "minerality" means something to them. I know that when I hear it used, I yawn and wonder when the person who used it is going to stop talking.