Paul Oberjuerge header image 2

My Childhood Chum: The Scourge of Wine Pretensions

February 8th, 2017 · 1 Comment · France, Long Beach

Let’s get right to it.

A recent example from the irreverent/spiky/pissed-off/influential wine blog of my childhood friend Ron Washam:

There are too many f***ing wineries. Why do we need so many wineries? Really. All of you who are planning to start a winery some day, or your own label, DON’T! You’re not that good at making wine. I know you think you are, but you’re not. Sorry. Somebody had to tell you. The world does not need your take on single-vineyard, own-rooted Mondeuse. No one cares about your dedication to rescuing obscure varieties from the trash heap. … You’re not an artisan. Really. You’re not. Winemaking is not an art. Sculpture is an art. Ballet is an art. Balloon animals—art! … How is [winemaking] an art? You take grapes, ferment them, stay out of the way … do a bunch of lab work and the bottle the stuff. If that’s art, then so is cooking meth. At least people who are lousy at cooking meth eventually blow themselves sky high. Man, if only every new lousy winemaker did the same.

Ron was probably my best neighborhood friend, five decades ago, in our hometown of Long Beach, California. We were a year apart and had many of the same interests.

I am not at all surprised that he became well-known in the field of his choice, which for 35 years has been wine. First as an award-winning sommelier, now as a critic/hell-raiser at

Ron was both the best athlete of our little group of a half-dozen sports-mad boys, back in the “Leave It to Beaver” era, but he also was the most creative in the arts, and particularly in writing.

And he is making another reputation now as the bane of every pretentious or shady person in the wine industry, and apparently they are legion.

Fifty years ago, if we had any sports activity going on, Ron and his little brother certainly would be involved, as well as our guy from the next block over and my two brothers. Tackle football in the fall, garage-door basketball in the spring, over-the-line baseball all summer.

Ron was not a big guy, but he was fast and had great hand-eye coordination. Many times I watched him hit a baseball over my head while playing over-the-line at the nearby elementary school.

He had talent outside the lines, as well. He was always writing, and he also was fond of creating audio shows — usually a radio-like 10 or 15 minutes, often with my collaboration and the use of my father’s state-of-the-art sound system. We would go with a lead-in pop song, some satirical commentary (usually by Ron), maybe a “commercial” we invented, and then a song would play us out. We were about 12 at the time. Ron was a very clever kid.

Oh, and that is him, about age 8, sitting on some sort of pedaling machine, in front of his home on Broadway, in the photo in the upper-left corner of his blog’s home page.

(That was only feet away from the ferns where we would fetch snails, run out into the street and place them on the asphalt, then lie face down on the grass and watch cars run over them. The snails, that is. (At least our abuse of other global species ended there, with gastropods.)

I lost track of Ron sometime around 1980. I had an impression he was working at becoming a comedy writer.

Not until 2011 did I make an effort to track him down. We had some exchanges via email, and I learned he was a well-connected and respected sommelier and critic. I considered visiting him at Healdsburg, in California’s wine country.

And now he is writing the radioactive and attention-getting wine blog, which is variously profane, contemptuous, dismissive, boiling mad and full of thoroughly righteous indignation.

Wine and its makers, purveyors, critics and consumers certainly seem ripe for having their bubbles burst, and Ron Washam is the man for the job.

I’m sure he would be happy to have you spend some time with his blog.

Meantime, a few other samples of his recent work:

I don’t want any New Wineries to Watch. Know what I want? New Wineries to Watch Fail! That’s an article I want to read. I go to wine tastings. I taste wines from lots of new wineries. Most of them should fail! Really. I mean it. And everyone knows it. They don’t have a damned clue how to make good wine. So who told them they could? Oh, but winemaking is an art, and art has room for everything! No, it f***ing doesn’t. Your wine isn’t Rembrandt, it’s Dogs Playing Poker.

Let’s be clear. Natural wines are not better wines. … You just got out of UC Davis, you can barely make bulk wine, and now you’re going to show the world what wine should taste like? Bury it in the ground like [every] other a**hole. And stop telling me it’s better for the planet. Or for my health. That’s stupid. Sulfites won’t kill you. Gum arabic won’t kill you. Nothing added to wine will kill you. The goddam alcohol will kill you!

I traveled and tasted widely for this review of the wines of 2017. I think, in general, the vintage can be summed up as miserable. The wise consumer should give ’17 a Pass—“Donner” seems appropriate. This is not unexpected, of course. Most of us began dreading 2017 toward the end of 2016. It turns out with good reason. My tastings, which cover every significant wine region on this doomed planet, show that, with few exceptions, 2017 was the worst year ever recorded since wine reviewing began. Which means, on a bright note, that Pinot Gris quality remains steady.

Living as we do in the south of France, we feel as if we have been dropped into the middle of the wine culture, and we sometimes indulge the fantasy that we know a little bit about it.

We go to tastings at the nearby wine shop and sniff and sip and spit and give grades, like golden-age junior critics.

We worry about pairings and young reds and good noses and all that other stuff that hardly matters. Issues that make wine unnecessarily complicated and mysterious.

Ron Washam reminds us that is so. We need to thank him for bringing to our attention — via a brisk slap to our pretensions — the silliness of making difficult a simple and enjoyable experience, drinking wine.


1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Steve Dilbeck // Feb 15, 2017 at 6:51 PM

    This is great. The guy’s a hoot. And I might even learn something real about wine.

Leave a Comment