Thursday, December 29, 2016
2016: Based On a True Story
I must be out of my mind to still be writing HoseMaster of Wine™. Another year has passed, and I still spend my drive time to work kicking around ideas for my next post. A White Supremacist Sommelier? Really? Who thinks about shit like that? Wine Critics in Hell? Well, yeah, we all think about that, but I’m the idiot who makes it a play. I thought it was faux Eugene O’Neill. Turns out it was more Shaquille. Alice in Naturaland? Just nuts, really. In the words of the great Elwood P. Dowd, “Well, I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it.”
This is the final post for 2016, and I often use the last post of a vintage as an opportunity to reflect on the past year. Not all of you will want to wade through this sentimental garbage. I don’t blame you. You’re excused. No offense taken. If you want self-indulgence you can read any blog on Wine Spectator’s site, you don’t need me. The Wine Spectator columnists are like the CIA in Afghanistan—they drone endlessly until death actually seems like a relief. My turn.
I’ve had one of the strangest years, not just in my wine writing career, but of my life. I spoke at a wine writers’ symposium, I was asked to write for Wine Advocate and Wine Enthusiast, I met Hugh Johnson, I became friends with Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, as well as Lana Bortolot, and, most astonishing of all, I won a Louis Roederer International Wine Writer Award. I also lost an old friend in the wine business, one of the nicest men any of us will ever meet, Ben Pearson. I pissed off folks at the Court of Master Sommeliers enough that one of them tried to influence my employer to fire me. In other words, I had a blast in 2016.
When I was young, in my 20’s, I was that lonely guy who sits alone in his room all day writing jokes. Somehow, I became a sommelier, so in my 40’s I was that guy who knows a lot about wine. Here I am in my 60’s and, well, once again I’m that lonely guy sitting alone in his room writing jokes. Where does the time go? The internet changed my life, though I’m not sure how it happened or if that’s a good thing. More and more I think maybe the internet is puberty. You’re glad it’s here, but it scares you, you haven't the slightest idea how it's affecting you, and everyone thinks you have a weird voice.
Among my first few posts of 2016 were both my first “Trump, Your New Emperor of Wine” piece and my parody of “Wine Folly.” At the time, I failed to see how they were linked. When I spoke at the Napa Valley Wine Writers’ Symposium in February, a lot of other writers thanked me for calling out Ms. Puckette and her brand of internet wine post-truth. Now she’s one of the writers featured at the 2017 Symposium. Simply put, that's depressing. The Trump pieces were wildly successful, and a hoot to write. Now his brand of internet truth, that is to say, lack of, has put him in the White House. We don’t seem to care about honesty and facts any more. In fact, they tend to hamper success (though Hillary is hardly an exemplar of honesty and facts, she is, at least, not a bald-faced, orange-haired liar). The internet, like puberty, has confused us. We have all these powerful new urges. We’re finding weird hair where it never was before. We’ll let any old fraud screw us. Oh, but one day we’ll look back and laugh!
The truth is we are all frauds. Only some of us know it and admit it. The internet is this imaginary place where we create new personalities, exaggerate our own worth, and hope like hell we don’t get caught. We have FaceBook profiles that read like the back labels of corporate wines—slick, but virtually devoid of truth. We pretend we have thousands of Friends when, in truth, we have but a few—you know, the ones who don’t ever read your feed on FaceBook because they actually love you. We flame people anonymously, bully them, and feel great pride in doing so, especially without revealing who we are, which would take courage. Frauds almost never have courage. We have our real life identities, our weaknesses and our flaws, and then we have our selves as portrayed on the internet. We are all a Hollywood biopic now. Who we are on the internet is simply “Based on a True Story.”
So many nice things happened to me as HoseMaster, my fictional persona, in 2016 that I was made to feel like a fraud constantly. Who am I to harangue Master Sommeliers, imagine a bar full of dead wine critics, satirize every wine writer who inadvertently stumbles across my crosshairs? And then win a bigshot award for it? In a weird way, I understood how Bob Dylan acted when he won the Nobel Prize. I also didn’t have the nerve to show up at the Roederer Awards ceremony. I knew I didn’t deserve it, and so I was sure it was a setup. Yes, here’s your award, Ron, now stand right there for a minute while we…drop buckets of pig blood over you! In my dreams, come January, I hope a little bit gets splashed on the robe of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Though when it comes to pig blood, 45 is more a universal donor.
I’ve never had more fun in the wine business than I’m having now. The internet allowed me to be reborn as the obnoxious and unrepentant HoseMaster of Wine™. Thanks to him, I’ve become a household name in the wine business, both adored and loathed. I receive far too much praise, and equal amounts of scorn. What’s weird is how I’m more comfortable with the scorn. The praise makes me feel like the fraud that I am. At industry events I am often recognized, though just as often the mention of HoseMaster is met with a blank stare that would do Rick Perry proud. Which is humbling, and much appreciated. It’s the same stare of non-recognition I see every morning in the bathroom mirror. So, it says, who the hell are you?
I’m going to miss 2016. It was a very rewarding year for the HoseMaster, and gratifying as well. I keep writing because I am forever curious about where my mind will take me once a week. I feel like 1WineDoody, or Jamie Goode, always on a junket to somewhere weird, and then making shit up about it. My agenda has always been to try not to be dull. To make it about the writing, to try to find some value in writing about wine, not write about wine in order to get things that are valuable for me. I almost never live up to my own expectations. I think that I either have a really great idea which I then completely ruin, or I have a stupid idea and run with it anyway. I keep hoping I’ll get it right one of these tries.
I’m very curious about what 2017 will bring for the world. Satirists are, contrary to what you may think, optimists by nature. We point out human foibles and follies, insult liars and fools, lampoon the powerful, because we think that will change them, or change peoples reactions to them. Pretty stupid and hopeless when you think about it. So, yeah, that’s optimism right there. The internet, like TV and advertising before it, is about selling you death, fear and sex. And the pills that will help you with them. I spend very little time here compared to most people. I’m not fearful of Trump, or of Brexit, or of ISIS. I’m more fearful that I won’t live long enough to have the last laugh.
So long, 2016. Like my old friend Ben Pearson, I suspect your like will never come around again.