Thursday, August 4, 2016

EPHEMERA: The Spirituality of K-Y Jelly

I find myself tuning out the news lately, and reaching for a book. A great book, not brain candy, a work of art. The news is filled with death and stupidity these past few weeks, a gory litany of massacres, assassinations and murders, fueled by our old friends hatred and ignorance. I have been having hard times of my own. Nothing unmanageable or tragic. More the unbearable triteness of being. I don’t have the heart to tune in to every day’s latest expression of hatred, hear how yet another man decides the best way to obliterate the anger and fear in his head is to kill as many people as he can before he himself is blessedly relieved of duty here on Earth. I was an emotional wreck. I felt completely abandoned and worthless. Which is terrible for every day life, but wonderful for writing satire.

You’d think that the uglier the world gets, and it’s particularly ugly now, it might be harder to write jokes. I write about wine and the wine business. Almost nothing could be less important. Maybe awards shows. Or Pokemon. Or cat videos. You know, shit that pinheads like. In the big picture, the picture that includes the ugliness of racism, homophobia, climate change, gun violence, a big dishonest narcissistic prick running for President, religious fanaticism, and Bill Cosby, wine is the playground, it’s never the classroom. It just doesn’t matter. Not the lies of Riedel, not whether wine is natural or not, not whether ratings have meaning (they do not),  and not how many fucking initials are after your sad, forgettable name. On HoseMaster of Wine™, I’m just kicking down sand castles in the playground sandbox. None of it matters. Which is why, of course, this blog doesn’t matter either.

In my desperate hours, as I mentioned, I reach for art (if you are a literary sort, and you haven’t read Elena Ferrante’s four novels in her Neapolitan Quartet, you must—her brilliant works of literature changed me forever). I don’t instinctively reach for a glass of wine. I’m not someone who has ever believed that winemaking is art. It’s not art any more than fixing automobiles is art. Though, to their credit, I’m not sure I have ever heard a winemaker, not a talented winemaker anyway, claim that winemaking is art. And if one did in my hearing, I’d probably laugh like the maniacal madman I am. In my mind, art needs at the very least to be transformative to the person experiencing it. Inebriation doesn’t qualify. Winemaking is certainly harder than it looks. Anyone who has judged wines as often as I have can tell you that. I hear people parroting all the time the opinion that wines are better than ever. Not in my experience. I’d say that wines are far more mediocre than ever. Maybe I mean there are more mediocre wines than ever. I guess I mean both. There are countless sites that write about “Great Wines Under $20.” Let’s be clear, there are no great wines under $20. None. Must we devalue the word “great” at the same time we devalue “art?”

That winemaking is an art is most often expressed in marketing material. If there is a group of humans less qualified than wine marketing people to be the judge of what’s art, I’m not sure what group that would be. Bodybuilders? Members of NAMBLA? The wine marketing business has always been about selling wine as romance (so, like NAMBLA). I guess you can’t sell it as a really good way to get drunk, though that’s why all of us drink wine. Romance sells. Not as well as sex and fear and death, but pretty well; and winery owners are sensitive souls, just ask them. Well, maybe not the Resnicks, but you take my point. And nothing is more romantic than an artist. So winemaking is an art. Trust me. If you believe Madison Avenue, so is making cars and producing little blue pills that get your dick hard.

If winemaking isn’t art, then is wine art? No, I don’t think it is. Nor do I think it matters. I won’t enjoy Cheval Blanc any less because I don’t think it’s art. Actually, I think I could effectively argue that what’s really art are the fake bottles of wine that have flooded the marketplace in recent years. Maybe Rudy Kurniawan is the wine world’s greatest artist. Vincent van GoghDirectly to Jail, Do Not Collect $200. Wine itself? It’s an alcoholic beverage made from grapes. The greatest beverage known to mankind, with the exception of water, but a beverage still, no more and no less. Oh, we make a fuss about it, but that’s what drunks do. I’m even of the opinion that the overwhelming acceptance of the 100 Point Scale proves that winemaking isn’t an art, and that wine isn’t art either. Art isn’t measurable. That’s stupid on the face of it. If we accept that the 100 Point Scale is meaningful, we must also accept that winemaking isn’t art. It’s as stupid as me giving Ferrante’s great Neapolitan novels numeric scores because great literature is, most certainly, art. Only a pretentious asshole would assign a number to a great work of literature. Volunteers?

I like wine to be wine. I want to love it for what it is, not for some mystical or spiritual reason, not because knowledge of it grants me social status in the world, not because wine is art. I want to love wine the same way I love my wife and my closest friends, unconditionally. I don’t need wine to be more than what it is—a wondrous product of grapes that acts as a social lubricant and brings joy to my life. K-Y Jelly without the guilt. I don’t know why so many wine writers want to hoist wine onto a pedestal, except that it gives the writers more importance. Isn’t it strange that there are so many wine writers who once wrote about sports, or restaurants, or some other less prestigious subject, but yet there aren’t any wine writers who quit to start writing about college hoops, or politics, or vegan Nobel Prize winners. It’s cool to be a wine writer because wine writers venerate wine. Sports writers are Oscar Madison. Food writers are Oscar Mayer. Wine writers are Filet Oscar. I have no idea what that means.

Having an extensive knowledge of wine isn’t something to be particularly proud of. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it hardly makes you special. Except among other wine dweebs, it’s a surefire yawn-inducer. Being educated in the history of music would seem more worthwhile. Have the ability to rate Beethoven’s Fifth a 97 and not look like a jackass. Knowing how to nurse babies back to health—that seems undervalued. Writing a blog and pretending you’re a wine authority? You’re just Donald Trump with a drinking problem, truly Wine Folly.

I’m not sure what I’m trying to get at. Maybe it’s that the older I get, the more wine experience I’ve accumulated, the less I enjoy wine writing, and the less I see wine through rosé-colored glasses. I just want to drink my wine. Wine writing these days (especially mine) reminds me of going to see a film I’m really looking forward to seeing, and there are five other people there talking all the way through it, telling me what to look for, telling me how I should be enjoying it. When I read wine writing these days, the words I think of the most often are, “Shut the Fuck Up.” I’m trying to enjoy my wine.

The world and I both had a miserable couple of weeks. So much loss. I reached for a great book to help me though it, and, because I’m the luckiest man on the planet, I found one that did. I also reached for wine, but not because it was going to soothe my tired old heart, not because it could speak to me and help me to understand the currently miserable human condition. I just needed a drink. I didn’t give a shit how many points those wines received. I didn’t care who the artist was who made them. I cared about the amazing people with whom I shared the wines. It’s not the K-Y Jelly, after all, it’s who you lube up with.

Now, I’ll Shut the Fuck Up.


James said...

"Only a pretentious asshole would assign a number to a great work of literature. Volunteers?"...

I'm your guy! War & Peace = 62 points. A Tale of Two Cities? 75.

This blog gets 99. Put it on a shelf-talker, print a giant fucking backcard and sell CASES AND CASES of this blog.



Clare Tooley said...

...and breathe ..... better now? Fabulous. As ever. Please never shut the fuck up - you don't write about wine, you write the truth, often ugly, always as refreshing as a glass of water to the thirsty. That said, would prefer to share a glass of wine with you one day! Here's hoping. Clare

PaulG said...

Good rant, I hope it made you feel a little better. I’ll check out the novels. In return, my advice to you is, get yourself a rescue dog. No more grateful beings exist on the planet than rescue dogs. And if you give a little back, if you make even a minimal effort to communicate with that dog as it will surely do with you, it will bring immense joy to you every single day that you are together. I don’t want any excuses. Go now to your nearest pound and find yourself a pal!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Yeah, there's your trouble with the point system. Dickens gets 75, HoseMaster gets 99. Or maybe that's more the trouble with our schools. But thank you. And thanks for being a common tater.

I'd love to meet you. Shoot me an email,, and we'll find a time to share a glass or three.

Who are you, Bob Barker? I have two Norwich Terriers, Kate and Mickey, though my favorite dog as a kid, Lucy, was a pound dog. I'm over it. I wrote this a week ago. I've had a strange month of incredible lows, and then the surprise high of the Roederer nomination. Kinda fucked me up. Just a rant, friend. I'm over it now.

Unknown said...

Oh brother! You capture our malaise so well. Thank goodness there is wine to turn to when there doesn't seem to be anything else, except maybe a smile from the Hosemaster. Keep after us!

VinoNovato said...

From another proven asshole...
This blog:
"99" rated

Right again, Ron...
I agree, as I mature alongside my better my wines, the vinous hoopla becomes more inconsequential and all I want is a nice glass of well made juice to enhanced my meals, my cynical outlook and my life.
That 84 Monte Bello is calling, gotta go stand it up(A thought from the far side... If wine is really a living entity, does it fear consumption and my standing it upright, or is it eagerly waiting to fulfill its destiny?)

Thomas said...

"there are more mediocre wines than ever"

Spot on, Ron.

Anyway, I'd like clarification: when you refer to wine writers do you mean critics, reviewers, blatherers, or writers?

A difference with a distinction.

Víctor Orozco said...

This is your best article so far. Maybe inconsequential to some, but it made a huge impact in the way I see wine. Loved it!

benjamin said...

Is "Rescue Dog" a brand of Bourbon? If it is I agree it might help.

AmitiesJerome said...

Must we devalue the word “great” at the same time we devalue “art?” Brilliant Ron. Hyperbole is the new art form... from Trump to wine to architecture to food to blogs and bullshit. And Hosemaster elevates hyperbole to the level where it punctures itself, multiple windbags powering fantasy windmills, gas-fueled kitchens running on their own chefs' farts and reviewers' hot air, wineries producing the their flavored vapors with spinning cones or greek amphorae, natural or unnatural acts of fermentation skill or idiot-savantism.

Great work Ron. Enjoy wine. And share it,

Wine doggie said...

As another reader commented: "please never shut the fuck up" - I second that. I know I will have made it in this business when you make fun of me sir, and that will be a great day!

Spreti Valente (with initials at the end of my forgetful and unpronounceable name )

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Oh well, I just do it for the therapy. Though it clearly doesn't work.

I loved, "eagerly waiting to fulfill its destiny?"! Made me laugh. Thanks for the kind words. The vinous hoopla is mostly self-serving. I think it's clear the wine doesn't care.

I mean people who write about wine, I guess, so all of the above. But more precisely, the folks who are paid to glorify wine--most wine critics, marketing people, and morons who just got back from a junket. Very few of them have the writing skills to live up to wine's complexity and beauty, and even fewer have anything in mind other than their own seedy glorification.

The endless babble of "this is wine's golden age" wears me out. Hence, the "there are more mediocre wines than ever" remark. There are. Just like politicians and baseball players.

Thank you. I hope that's a good thing.

I think it is. I know you take it outside to piss.

Thank you. I blame Pokemon.

Thanks, Love. Get famous, obtain power, and I'll gladly make fun of you. But be careful what you wish for...

Thomas said...


Do you mean we are not in the golden age of wine blogging?

Next thing you'll want me to believe is that you are going to make America grape again.

My spirit is crushed.

Let me ferment these thoughts further.

Bob Henry said...

"I’m not someone who has ever believed that winemaking is art."

Would you feel more comfortable calling it a "craft"?

Unknown said...

Hi Ron,

I love when you write these Ephemera pieces, your own voice is a different delight than the one you use as Hosemaster; I enjoy both, but love hearing you come through unfiltered. Unfiltered and unfined?

I look forward to seeing you over the run of the Mendo Wine Comp. I'm glad you are judging, so I can say hello.


Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
amit said...

Always a great read Ron. Vehemently nodded on a lot of sections but did scratch my head on a few others. The ratings from some of the critics helps especially when you are starting to try with no fucking idea what to pick up from shelves full of shit. That said, it takes a while to work out which of the critics are also full of the same shit. It's worse when you are starting out to sell, unless you get one those screwy initials at the end of your name, your word is against the billion dollar rating systems. And it's not worth the square of the toilet paper roll.

Wine making may not be art but it's a fucking hard business and I think the talent shows (whether the market prices the talent appropriately is a different matter). if you chose it as your destiny or the romance cajoled you in, only to realize it's not a one night stand, maybe you would do a Vietti, at the first opportunity you get to get out of the family wine making business. But if you didn't go in for the one night stand, survived the pain of sometimes counting the hail hits at harvest time but still went back to making another vintage, then to me you are no less than the striving, struggling, hungry artist bent on making it through. And whether it is personal bias or a craft passed from one generation to another, or plain talent, many of these small gritty growers do produce great stuff. That's not not to say an auto mechanic cannot be an artist or why the four volumes of ferrante Neopolitan or whatever (sorry) should be a work of art. I think that's personal on what you aspire (and what you lack) that appeals to your senses and seems like a worthy work of art. To me Wine making remains an art.

Borrowing part of your own line, 'irreverence is easy...'

And that applies to everything. The fault isn't in wine writing but paid assessments and scores and the zillion wine awards and the gazillions Writers. The article reminds me of a recent 95 point Australian Shiraz from a critic rated five star winery where finishing the second glass was worse than finishing a can of coke.

But you need to be in the system in the first place to fight the system and I am Glad you and the likes of Tim are in the system. So please continue the screwy tirade. We would keep coming back for this! Much love.

Please message if you ever visit Singapore. Love to share a glass or two of a wine that's worth drinkable. By the way, under $20 you can't even get the plonk here 😀

Daniel said...

cheers HMW!
yes, wine is not art, or bottled poetry, or any other of those flowery words. it is a beverage that we drink because we like how it makes us feel, how it tastes and maybe because it reminds us of a place or time or food. or maybe we just like a little buzz with our pizza on a friday night watching a movie.
or a tuesday morning...
the best thing you can say about any wine is that you found a little, or a lot, of pleasure in it. not art, no more than a divine loaf of amazing bread, or a perfect meal with your loved ones, or the right song at the right time, or the way you can watch a movie over and over again every year and it still gets you. Rudolph always gets me misty at Christmas time.
cheers with my less than $20 pretty damn tasty but certainly not great bottle of wine!
the only letters after my name that I care about is "DAD" to my 3 kids.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I assumed when I wrote this, and it came from a place of considerable dismay, that the entire piece would come down to defining "art," that tiresome argument we begin in college and repeat ad nauseum. If you want to see winemaking as an art, feel free. I don't get to tell you what's art and what isn't. I don't even know if what I do here, writing satire, is art. But saying because it's a struggle to grow and make wine that makes it art, well, that's a pretty shallow argument. It might remind you of art, but so does the shit on motel walls.

Do wine scores serve a purpose? Yes, like training wheels on a bike. But you look like an idiot if you never grow out of them.

Thanks for the kind words, Amit. Unlikely I'll ever be in Singapore. I'm something of a recluse.

There are days I come here because I have a couple of things worrying me. I was speaking to someone I love only recently about this piece, saying that I often have two issues bothering me (in this case, the relentless killings of civilians in the world, and whether wine is art) and I sit here and write to see if I can make any sense of them, explore if the two thoughts are related. I find the exercise very useful for maintaining what little is left of my sanity.

The joy of having a blog is that I don't have an editor, or someone to tell me not to be so fucking quick to publish these masturbatory essays. I just write 'em and throw 'em out there. I reread them, and they often sound confused. Because they are.

Thanks for being a common tater, Daniel. I appreciate it.

Don Clemens said...

Wow, Ron! When you get serious, you really get serious! This post really hit home with me after all the deaths, the politicking, Zika and all the other bullshit that's been happening in the world. I was trying to read another wine magazine and just got tired. I opened a bottle of inexpensive French rose', sat back and started drinking it. Your words hit me with full force: "When I read wine writing these days, the words I think of the most often are, “Shut the Fuck Up.” I’m trying to enjoy my wine." Thanks for being you, and for being able to vent.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thank you. I'm not thrilled being me, but what choice do I have? I tried being 1WineDoody, but I was overqualified and underpaid.