by Ron Washam

The six people you want to avoid in the wine business

Everyone has advice for whom you should know in the wine business. Article after article on the subject have appeared in online publications. And each one is self-serving crap, a way to say I already know all these people, I’m basically one of them, and if you play your cards right one day you might be important, too.

Believe me when I tell you that you don’t need to know Raj Parr or Charles Banks or Alice Feiring, not for any reason. Really. Google these people. You think you want to know them? That this is critical to your wine career? Oh, boy, you know less about life than you know about wine. Send them fan letters! Invite them to your next wine tasting when you explore the wonder that is Pinot Grigio. Your chances will be the only thing thinner than the wines.

It’s more important to know who you should avoid in the wine business. You’re blessed to have me to inform you.

The Sommelier Talking About Overlooked Wine Regions

Run. Cover your ears and take off running like Usain Bolt being asked to “step out of the car” by the LAPD. When a sommelier begins to talk about an overlooked wine region, nothing good can come of it. He’s going to sell you a bottle of something weird. The “overlooked” region is his current passion, and he thinks everyone should share that passion. It’s worse than when a twelve-year-old starts talking about his favorite video game. You’re in for twenty minutes of mindless babble. And when he asks, “Hey, you want to play?” it’s time to look at your watch and say, “I was hoping I’d be dead by now.”

There’s a reason wine regions are overlooked. It’s the same reason you were overlooked when the other kids were choosing up sides to play baseball. You suck. So when the sommelier starts talking about how the Canary Islands wines are underappreciated and sadly overlooked, say “Really? Listán Negro? Didn’t he lose to Mohammed Ali?” and then get the hell out of there.

The Self-Proclaimed Wine Writer

Everyone with a self-published wine blog now claims to be a wine writer. This might be semantically true, but is the equivalent of saying that because you know how to type, you’re therefore a typewriter. If you meet a self-proclaimed wine writer, find a way out. Trust me. Yeah, he’s a wine writer because he’s published 5,000 wine reviews on CellarTracker. Sure. And I have a medicine cabinet full of sedatives and that makes me Bill Cosby. Avoid these people! If you own a winery, if you market wine, if you value wine, the self-proclaimed wine writer is the plague, an Ebola virus, a Jennifer Lopez movie. Stay away.

There aren’t more than a dozen actual wine writers working in English, and the only other one that matters is Antonio Galloni. The rest aren’t wine writers, they’re wine typers. Avoid them.

The Winemaker with Ideas

Admittedly, you don’t run into a winemaker with ideas very often. They just don’t need them. A winemaker with ideas is like a dog wearing pants — cute, but you know they probably aren’t really his. But now and then, a winemaker comes along with ideas. Stay the hell away from him. Nothing good can come of a winemaker with ideas. Skin contact sparkling wine! The worst smelling bubbles since your brother’s in the bathtub. Chardonnay fermented in beehives! Replace cellar rats with baboons! Moscatosickles! Corks made from the bark of willow trees so you have the aspirin for the hangover built in! Yeah, winemaker ideas. Here’s an idea. Make wine that tastes good. Those other ideas? Well, the self-proclaimed wine writers just might love them.

The Wine Auctioneer Talking About Provenance

Every wine sold at a prestigious wine auction has had its background thoroughly checked. No need to double check or be worried. What reason would there be to lie? Ladies, you know. The guy says he’s had a vasectomy, you can trust him. It’s not like money would be a motivation to be a bit disingenuous about the cellar from which the wines came. What are we, commoners? Every bottle has been inspected by our crack team of wine fraud specialists, just back from lunch with their Indonesian friend, who has kindly agreed to consign for auction another forty cases of rare Burgundy from his cellar they’ve never seen. There’s a lot of wine out there, and a lot of cellars. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. No big deal. And when it comes to wine auctions, they always warn you. Caveat emptor. Which is Latin for “Beware of a guy with scissors near your testicles.”

The Master Sommelier Working for a Corporation

Start walking away. Don’t look back. You read the business card. The name, followed by the dreaded “MS” Turn around, and get the hell out of there. You know that free trip to Mexico you took last year? Free, except you had to sit through a four-hour pitch to buy a time share? This is going to be worse. You’re going to come down with a serious case of Master Somm’s Revenge, which makes Montezuma’s seem like a butt massage. Many Master Sommeliers end up working for large corporate wineries, the only kind that will pay them. It’s kind of sad, really. Like getting an MD in obstetrics, then working in day care. You know those babies aren’t from the best stock, but you have to say they are anyway. You want to avoid those corporate MSs. They’re always trying to convince you to buy something you’re not sure is the real deal—their dignity.

Wine Marketing People

All of them.

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