Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The HoseMaster of Wine's™ Commencement Speech for the Shemp Howard Wine, Food and Dog Grooming Institute

Inspired by reading Karen MacNeil's commencement speech to grads of the C.I.A., a speech about "the last true things" (so, yes, it's a short speech), I thought I'd reflect on my own notion of wine's last true things...

I had the honor of being asked to be the commencement speaker at the recent graduation ceremonies for the unaccredited Shemp Howard Institute for Sommeliers, Wine Professionals and Mexican Hairless Dog Groomers. Here is my speech in its entirety.

Let me start by saying that when it comes to wine, wine writing, and the wine business in general, it’s all been done before. There just isn’t anything new you can add, and it’s best if you just understand that from the get-go. For one thing, I think we all know there are too many sommeliers as it is. I recently read a statistic that there are more sommeliers per capita in the United States than there are lab rats; though one group is used for drug experiments, and the other to run mazes for paltry rewards. Guess which group is which. Hard to tell, right?

Don’t let this discourage you. Every day, thousands of unqualified wine professionals just like  you write blog entries, assemble wine lists, host wine tastings, and annoy unsuspecting patrons of wine bars. The wine business seems to have an endless capacity to absorb graduates of wine programs from all walks of life into meaningless, poorly paid, and strictly tangential jobs. This could be you! You have every reason to be proud. The diploma you’re receiving today from Shemp U. has as much value as any wine education diploma from any other institution. Virtually none. There’s comfort in that.

But before you go out into the real world of wine, I have a few words of advice I’d like to share, advice gathered from a lifetime wasted in the wine business.

First, Have a Backup Plan
I hope you paid attention in your required Mexican Hairless dog grooming classes because there are thousands and thousands of wine biz wannabes who want to get into the business, most of whom will fail. Looking around at this handsome group, I’m guessing your real future is in credit card fraud. That’s great! Just have a backup plan. The job you’re dreaming about, whether it’s a sommelier job at a prestigious restaurant, or a much-admired wine critic (which, by the way, is an oxymoron), or a wine auction consultant selling fraudulent wines for quick bucks, is probably taken. Be smart. Go ahead and plan on spending your life stacking wine boxes at supermarkets at 4AM because that’s where most of you will land.

Second, Learn to Pretend
One thing I tell all the young people who ask me how I became so successful in the wine business is it’s important you know how to pretend you know more than you do. This is the key to success in the wine business. Indeed, I don’t know anyone in the business for whom this isn’t true. “Wine Folly” has built a shabby Tinkertoy wine empire on pretending, and you can, too! In almost every conversation I have with successful, even famous, wine people, I realize with astonishing regularity that they’re faking it. If you cannot learn to pretend, your chances of success in the wine business are very slim indeed.

Third, Don’t Make Waves
The wine business rewards dullness and unoriginality. We don’t like new ideas, and we don’t like to be challenged or made fun of. Do things the way they’ve always been done. This is especially true for those of you pursuing a job in wine marketing. The same old lies have worked for decades. It’s your job to walk the same path. But I can see by your faces that’s probably already a done deal. Good for you!

Fourth, This is a Man’s World
Get over it.


David Larsen said...

If all else fails, these graduates can carry on in the role of being fodder for satirical wine humor.

Jet Fuel said...

Now you tell us...You mean I quit a 7-figure job as a brain surgeon and went into debt for this...???

Ziggy said...

I don't believe the bull$hit coming from the current "commander in chief" (l.c. on purpose) could revival these platitudes.


Ron Washam, HMW said...

Folks pay a lot of money for an education they could probably get just working in a nice restaurant. It ain't brain surgery, as Jet Fuel reminds us, it's just service, and in a business overcrowded with pretenders and wannabes. I never run out of fodder any more than the wine biz runs out of herd animals.

Jet Fuel,

Thanks, I guess...

Tom In Real Life said...

After reading Karen's speech it's still a toss up as to which one is funnier. I believe intent is the tie-breaker, so that one goes to you. As to which one is more useful, well... two for two Ron.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Nice to know I'm equally as funny as Karen MacNeil.

There are so many young people pursuing credentials in wine and wine marketing that it's rather astonishing. Wine is still one of those occupations where experience is really the best, and maybe only, teacher. As degrees and surname dingleberries proliferate, they are slowly becoming more and more meaningless. A CSW is the driver's license of wine. Rather than pay a bunch of money to a wine school with an imaginary degree (think "Wizard of Oz" and the Scarecrow), go out and buy wine, travel and learn by doing. It's how almost all of us actually made it in wine.

But what do I know?

Unknown said...


One of the darkest pieces you've written in years. More bite than usual. Truth hurts. Thanks, Jim

Unknown said...

I've always figured a degree in enology is the minimum amount of education required to generate the maximum ego trip.


Ron Washam, HMW said...

Well, not really dark in a cruel sense, but certainly meant to be the flipside of Karen's rather rose-colored glasses commencement speech. That was her job, of course, and she's always articulate and thoughtful. I just felt the need to inject a little hardcore truth into the equation. Hell, it was fun to write.

Unless you count passing a WSET exam and appending the letters after your name--the surname dingleberries are only and all about ego.

Thanks for being a common tater, both of you!

thomas said...

After a long while, I venture back to find the Hosemaster has moved from wine industry satire to nonfiction wine writing...

Ron Washam, HMW said...


Well, long time no see. I guess this post had some legs. Even you read it. Next thing you know, Eric Asimov will check in. No, that'll never happen.

Funny how so many have said this piece is true--nonfiction--and yet no one ever seems to say these things besides me. That's what is genuinely funny. But that's the nonfiction satirist's job, I guess. Speak truth to anyone who will listen.

Feel free to stop by any time, Thomas. You're one of the Honorary Common Tater Emeritus.