Monday, December 12, 2016

The HoseMaster of Wine's™ Holiday Wishes for the Wine Business

Well, one thing about Trump winning the election, we’ll have a White Christmas this year. And a lovely tree decorated with big shiny balls, courtesy of Anthony Weiner. Though one would assume that Hillary will have a Blew Christmas.

The holidays are upon us. I’m not sure I’m in the mood to celebrate, though after reading about plans to clearcut several hundred acres and threaten watersheds for more vineyard development in Napa Valley for Walt Wines, I am ready to deck the Halls. However, in the spirit of the season, which seems to be Bourbon-barrel-aged wines (what’s new about that? Silver Oak did it for 30 years), I wanted to express my wishes for gifts I hope the wine business receives this holiday season.

Let’s begin with the gift of forgiveness. I hope that we find it in our hearts to forgive poor Rudy Kurniawan, and all the other wine forgers in the world. It’s only wine. Furthermore, it’s wine coveted by the worst sorts of people—wealthy wine collectors. It’s mostly dirty money used to buy fake wines. There’s a poetry to that. There’s peace of mind in knowing that the cellars featured in glossy wine publications, the doting owner standing in front of his collection like King Tut in his tomb, are probably full of fakes, much like the staff of the glossy magazine itself. We have Rudy and his like to thank for that. And consider this, the more fakes there are in the market the greater the value of the real things. It worked for tits! Try to think of Rudy as the breast implant king of wine. Hard to be mad at the guy.

Though it may be much harder to forgive the auction houses that have gone unpunished for their part in the scam. They received a healthy cut of Dr. Conti’s ill-gotten gains, and laughed all the way to the Left Bank. I would wish this holiday season that everyone take a year off from buying wines at auction. Throw away your Acker Merrall catalogs, your Sotheby’s wine porn strokebook. Give the money to your local wine merchant. Buy wines from struggling young producers. Invest in your local wine bar. Boycott auctions. Fakes only go away when there’s no market for them—the Cosby Effect. And Acker Merrall practiced Cosbyism—Convince them there’s something good in their glass, then fuck ‘em!

While we’re at it, let’s forgive John Fox of Premier Cru for peddling phony wine futures. As if there are any other kind. He did the best he could. Give me tens of millions of dollars for pieces I have to write two years from now and, trust me, there are going to be some mighty happy hookers out there. It’s sweetly ironic that his name is John, and Fox. I’m reminded of Aesop’s fable of the Fox and the Grapes. If a bunch of sheep had come along and offered Aesop’s fox a bunch of money for grapes he knew he was never going to able to obtain anyway, he would have taken it, too! That we cannot forgive John Fox is sour grapes on our part. Hey, it’s not like he sold them fakes! Or burned down a warehouse full of other peoples wines. He had integrity! He sold people imaginary wines from a warehouse that didn’t exist. Think of the money he took as gratuities for his wonderful storytelling. Hard to be mad at the guy.

And what about the gift of peace of mind? I think the wine business needs a big dose of peace of mind. I, for one, am tired of all the people taking potshots at the Natural Wine movement. That’s cowardly, and I won’t stand for it. These Natural Wine people are doing God’s work, freeing Him to create more Master Sommeliers from the ribs of Fred Dame. You’d think they’d be women once in a while, but He works in mysterious ways. As does God. Anyhow, it’s time for the wine business to make peace between the Natural Wine folks and the people who make inferior wine. I know this, the wine doesn’t care if it’s Natural Wine or not. Wine is wine. Is it organic, biodynamic, authentic, honest, natural or Certified Sensitive®? Who cares? Let’s not judge. Let’s love wine unconditionally. Let’s embrace each wine for what it is. A way for us to get hammered. A way to impress others. A way to feel better about ourselves. That’s why we got into the wine business, after all. The wine is only secondary to our need for affirmation and envy. Let’s not muddle that with unnecessary and pointless conversations about how authentic a wine might be. Does it make us feel superior? That’s the only job of a wine.

Also, this Christmas, how about the gift of humility? Can we stop pretending that being a sommelier is an important job? Or wine critic? Or wine writer? /satirist? There are more sommeliers now than there are homeless veterans. I saw a somm at a busy intersection with a cardboard sign that said, “Will Decant for Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.” It’s really sad when they aim so low. In Sonoma County, near where I live, there’s an encampment of unemployed sommeliers living under the freeway. On warm nights, they huddle together for cold.

Is there a chance this holiday season that wine critics will stop gloating all the time? It isn’t that hard to be a wine critic. I think that’s rather apparent. In fact, the only hard thing about being a wine critic is having to write countless descriptions of wine and not sound like a complete jackass. Which no one has done yet. Reading Parker’s descriptions of California wine remind me of one thing—they gave Bob Dylan the Nobel Prize for Literature! For less. Parker’s body of work is every bit as unintelligible and pretentious as Dylan’s! Every bit. Of course, Parker isn’t eligible for the Nobel. It’s never awarded posthumously. Dylan only got it because his lips still move.

Awarding points to wine doesn’t take any talent at all. There’s nothing to gloat about. It’s essentially the same job as calling Bingo at the church social. People worship you because you give them the numbers they want, but, for you, it’s just random. You pick them out of a bowl. Yes, you can gloat because you get to taste all the best wines in the world, and you get your butt kissed endlessly, but deep down you know you’re a fraud. It’s a game, and you’re holding all the cards. And then you throw in a little false humility. “I gave the wine a 95+ because I may have underrated it.” Oh, how nice of you to admit you may have been a little bit wrong. We’re so grateful for your candor, your sense of honesty and purpose. It’s OK, really, give it a fucking 96! When the day comes that we taste it, which won’t happen because only 40 cases were produced, we’ll forgive you if it turns out to be a 95. Whatever the hell a 95 is.

As for wine writers, try not to be so predictable. Try to remember that every damn thing you have to say about wine was said more articulately by someone more talented than you fifty years ago. Asimov, no more wine school! Every damn month, more wine school. It’s just filler. The New York Times Wine School is the styrofoam peanuts of wine writing. How the hell do we get rid of that useless filler crap? Wine Folly! Way to be trendy. You were way out in front of the fake news phenomenon! You can fool all of the people all of the time. Now go. Matt Kramer! “Drinking Out Loud” is called belching! And it sounds the same every time you burp it up. Take some damn Gas-X. You’ll feel better, and we can get some peace and quiet.

My final wish for the wine business this holiday season is that we take ourselves and our wines a lot less seriously in the coming year. Wine is not the romantic and mystical product so many of those invested in it want us to believe it is. Wine experts are not more sophisticated or intelligent than other people. Wine reflects place like dumps reflect their neighborhood—nothing magical about it, just a lot of inevitable and endless garbage. Enjoy wine more, every wine, while you have the chance. Too much of the business revolves around making you feel there’s something better out there than what you’re drinking right now. And that has never been true.


PivotalGG said...

I only know 2 important things about wine:
1. It's fermented grape juice
2. They're going to make more of it next year
Everything else is just marketing.

Wine Country Geographic said...

One of your finest. I'm raising my glass.

Charlie Olken said...

It's not funny. It's true and a worthy editorial, but it's not funny.

Of course, I do like the image of Bingo and wine ratings--not that I would ever so such a thing. I only use my Bingo machine to pick my lottery numbers.

But I do fear that no one is going to take you seriously because without the romance, the idea that there is crap and there is grandeur, the wine business becomes more or less like the washing machine soap powder business. And we all end up drinking $5 wine from Trader Joe's. Now there is nothing wrong with that in general, but if $5 wine from TJ's is the equal to the wines of David Ramey, then virtually all of us who read you (and me, for that matter) have been wrong all these years. And I am too old to be give up a lifetime of believing the crap that I write.

So Happy, Happy and Merry, Merry. There is plenty of truth that has been told here today, including what ought to be obvious about labels vs. truth. It is taste, not labeling that determines a wine's quality.

Anonymous said...

"On warm nights, they huddle together for cold."

Thank you for giving my morning a major laugh. Much truth in this piece, sadly.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Common Taters,
Around the end of the year I usually rant about the biz. Or most of the year, really. Those of us wasting our time on wine blogs tend to fixate on silly "controversies," and often miss the bigger points. There are days I think I'm taking the joy out of wine with my brand of foolishness, but I feel driven to speak some hard truths to all the wine Pollyannas out there.

Been a strange year, 2016. I need a lobotomy.

Mel Knox said...

I like to believe that Ramey's wine is better than what TJ sells for five bucks...because TJ has never bought a barrel from me!

When i think of Premier Cru and John Fox, I wonder how gullible his customers must have been.Did you ever read The Magic Christian?? I heard bad stories about PC well over 20 years ago.Of course, John is not the first to fail to deliver on futures.

I think Rudy needs to remember one important rule: when you commit a crime in front of so many people it's hard to get ignored by our system of justice...unless you are a cop in South Carolina.

Bob Henry said...


You occasionally review wines on this blog.

Here at year's end, why don't you put something in our Christmas stocking?

(No, not a Dickensian lump of coal. Trump is bringing that industry back.)

Specifically, a few words of praise for some wines you enjoyed this past year.

Not a "Top 10" or "Top 100" list.

Just some heartfelt words about wines that gave you a soul-satisfying experience.

~~ Bob

Unknown said...

Excellently it.....always enjoy your writing........makes the wine biz a lil more bearable......and styrafoam peanuts...haaaaaaaaaa awesome!! have a great holiday and keep doing what you're doing......bobk

Sybaritewino said...

Well stated and a joy to read. Not one of your Common Taters, I'm one of those oh so hip heirloom purples, but felt obliged to compliment this one.

Cheers from Japan...


Tom In Real Life said...

My wish for the new year is the demise of the somm. Not their actual death (although for a couple of bucks I can make it look like an accident) just the concept and belief that only they possess the knowledge to guide and unlock your appreciation of a wine. I get asked all the time if I am one and my reply is always; "if you can't tell, what's the difference?"

Great piece Ron. Keeping hitting them where they ain't and fighting the good fight.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I just may do that. Not sure yet what I want to do for this nostalgic time of year. It was a very interesting year for me, one I will always remember. A very satisfying year for me as a writer, and as a person. Life never runs out of surprises.

Bob K,
Thanks for the kind words. I think I fear that my shelf life in the wine satire business has expired. I'm that old piece of cheese in the back of the fridge you should have finished last June. I'm ripe! I stink! I've been doing this a long time, probably too long. But I endure...

Many thanks unCommon Tater! I'm like Godzilla! Big in Japan.

Having been a sommelier, sans initials after my name, for a long time, I simply don't understand the ridiculous admiration sommeliers enjoy. I didn't like it when I was one. I guess it illustrates how successful the biz has been at mystifying wine, at making consumers feel inadequate so that they then think sommeliers possess some mystical wisdom about wine. All the while saying just drink what you like. But, Tom, this too will pass. Thanks for being a Common Tater.

Joel said...

Ron-- Delightfully salacious, malicious/beneficial =bravo!
I particularly appreciate this part--especially about shopping/trusting (?) your local wine merchant, now that I am back in that milieu after 20 years! Thanks.

"I would wish this holiday season that everyone take a year off from buying wines at auction. Throw away your Acker Merrall catalogs, your Sotheby’s wine porn strokebook. Give the money to your local wine merchant. Buy wines from struggling young producers. Invest in your local wine bar. Boycott auctions. Fakes only go away when there’s no market for them—the Cosby Effect. And Acker Merrall practiced Cosbyism—Convince them there’s something good in their glass, then fuck ‘em!
I could comment on much else here speaking truth to power (whiners), but 'nuff said by you. Keep at it --Good riddance to 2016 I say, though I daresay with 2017, there's a 'Storm Fron' (apologies to Mr Joel) approaching. Time to drink more good wine-- Joel

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thanks. I was once a local wine merchant myself. Folks love to come in, pick your brain, gain from your experience, then go elsewhere to buy the wines you recommended in order to save two dollars. And they think they're cagey! Being an independent wine merchant is very hard these days, and always was. I do my best to buy wines only direct from the winery, or from small wine merchants. If one loves the wine business, that's the way one should shop.

I had a great 2016 and am sorry to see it go. '17 looks to be, well, very strange. Which, as a satirist, might be a good thing.

Thanks for being a Common Tater, Joel. Happy Holidays!

Edward said...

An outstanding read indeed.

It's refreshing to be refreshed and vaccinated at regular intervals from all the winey bullshit that hovers upon us.

Aaron said...

I will say though, I am going to be buying more Sonoma Bourbon. That is, Bourgon finished in wine barrels. I'm partial to Hooker's House Bourbon from Prohibition Spirits.

Bob Henry said...

The vast majority of Americans when they dine out do so at quick-service (a.k.a. fast food) restaurants and chains like IHOP and Denny's and Olive Garden.

Patronizing fine dining restaurants that have sommeliers is perhaps a once or twice a year "special occasion."

Consequently, the role of sommeliers as wine "opinion leaders" and "taste makers" is wildly overstated.

The true "opinion leaders" and "taste makers" are your local wine merchants.

And the importance of in-store selling is revealed in this news report.

From MediaPost
(December 8, 2016):

"40% Of Alcohol Beverage Buyers Make Their Decisions In-Store"



"Fully 40% of U.S. consumers who buy alcoholic beverages haven’t decided what they’re going to purchase when they walk into the store, according to a new study from IRI.

"Of the 60% who do have a planned beverage purchase, 21% end up changing their minds in store, and 50% of those who change their minds ultimately buy a different brand than they originally intended.

. . .

"All of which points to 'immense' opportunities for alcohol manufacturers to find new pockets of growth by engaging and influencing consumers while they’re in the store, point out IRI’s analysts.

"Beer, wine and spirits manufacturers are increasingly aware of the importance of working with retailers to win over consumers, according to Robert I. Tomei, president of consumer and shopper marketing for IRI. 'When you consider how often most shoppers are going to the store, and that 21% of them change their minds during the shopping trip, you realize the impact that in-store signage, creative labeling and other marketing could have on your portfolio,' he stresses."

Alessandra Esteves said...

Ron, brilliant article, as usual.
I wish you all the best for 2017, and I wish people don't ask for my lapel pin when I go to meetings. I wear dresses all the time, so what's the point of a lapel pin?


Marcia Macomber said...

Love it! Merry Christmas, Ron!

My, it's been a busy (and often wicked) year! May your New Year cup runneth over (particularly for more blog posts in 2017)!


Anonymous said...


You are a funny guy and a great writer. And you're wrong about wine's magic. It is isn't mystical...there's a difference, and we're in agreement on the latter.

Notwithstanding any "religious" experience one might have had with wine, the mystic traffics in the unknowable-placing himself above and apart from others by virtue of his unique ability to know what no one else can know. Now, while this may describe certain wine professionals it does not describe wine.

Anyone who has had the good fortune to spend years helping to shepherd grapes from the crusher to the fermenter to the bottle, from the fermentation itself, through extended maceration, and then through barrel-aging and time spent in the bottle can never be so blasé about how emotionally magical that process is. Each fermenter is its own Big Bang - a new world coming into existence from the nothingness of grape juice, and while we know a lot about how and why a wine ends up specifically like it does, even 20 years later, the process is sufficiently complex as to still appear magical to me.

There are a lot of people who don't care about how the thing gets from A to Z...they're only concerned with how it tastes. There's nothing wrong with that. Wine's first job, by its very nature, is to be delicious. But just because one's interest extends only part way doesn't mean there aren't many more depths to plumb.

My two cents,

Steven Mirassou

Unknown said...

Such a great read and I thoroughly enjoyed this post! Thank you I really need a good one like this.

enobytes said...

2016 has been a whirlwind shitfest, yet you managed to bring sanity and joy into so many lives. You are my #masterrockstar