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.