Bloggerview #20: Ron Washam
Who: Ron Washam
Blog: Hosemaster of Wine
Ron Washam is not your typical wine blogger. Nor is HoseMaster of Wine your typical blog. And this is why he strikes such a chord with me. It helps that he's a good writer; in fact, he's a former professional comedy writer who eventually put down his pen to pursue a career in wine, which he did with great success. When I first came across HoseMaster of Wine I really wasn't sure what to make of it. Nudie pictures and wine? Biting satire. Insightful and personal reviews of wine. Something of a disdain for the entire blogging world. After spending time with both Hosemaster of Wine (I read it for the blog posts) and with Ron, I came to an even greater appreciation of his mission, such as it is. What's fun about Ron is that in addition to making everyone else (including me and this blog) a target of his wit, he often points his words at himself. It's a good sign.
1. When did you begin blogging and why?
I began blogging in August of 2008 after I was let go as Wine Educator at Silverado Vineyards. I suddenly had a lot of free time on my hands. I began HoseMaster of Wine simply as a way to channel my creative energy, never dreaming that anyone would want to read it. I was right. I didn't know anything about blogs when I started, I just knew that the wine blogosphere would be filled with semi-literate, sanctimonious, wildly dull voices. One more wouldn't hurt. I was coasting along with about eight unique hits a day when you "discovered" me and then suddenly my readership skyrocketed into the double digits.
2 In two sentences describe the focus of your wine blog.
I think my tagline says it best, "Your Occasional Dose of Stupid Opinion." And trying to taunt the hypocrites that live on the edges of the wine biz.
3. What sets your wine blog apart from the pack?
It's much harder to conceive and write pieces of satire than it is to publish searingly insipid wine reviews filled with regurgitated information gleaned from websites, or write three thrilling paragraphs of a poorly thought out opinion on Biodynamics, corks, and shipping laws. I have a great time playing the Fool, but it takes more effort than it ever seems worth. Oh, and naked cuties.
4. How would you characterize the growth in your readership since beginning your blog?
More malignant than benign.
5. Do you accept sample for review?
Of course. But there aren't many wineries, or, more accurately, marketing departments, willing to submit samples to a guy with cheesecake photos on his website, who has a strong point of view, and can churn out interesting sentences. They want safe. Bloggers aren't going to criticize a wine for being insipid or lousy because that would inevitably dry up the sources of their free samples. "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" is the motto of all the bloggers I've ever encountered (admittedly few), and that's what marketing departments want. I have read many glowing reviews of very mediocre wines on blogs, many of those reviews filled with misinformation. That's fine. I'm not on a crusade. But I think it was you, Tom, who said to me that as a marketing guy you'd never recommend a client send samples to me (forgive me if I'm wrong about that). But, oddly, the few folks who have submitted samples to me were very happy with my reviews. Though I play the Fool, I have more credentials and experience and knowledge when it comes to wine than 98% of the bloggers out there. I think that's what makes HoseMaster of Wine work.
6. What kind of wine rating/review system do you use and why?
I certainly don't assign numbers. I write about the wines in my HoseMaster voice and I think that conveys a strong sense of my opinion of them. I'm not exactly subtle. Wine is about laughter and enjoyment, not adjectives, numbers and dreary analysis.
7. How do you fit the maintenance of your wine blog into your daily schedule?
I write when I feel motivated. Comedy is, strangely, a contemplative pursuit. I have a thousand ideas at any one time, but I allow my subconscious to sift through them, select a few to work on, and then when the idea arrives in my conscious mind I sit down and take dictation from my subconscious, which I call the Comedy Channel. Because I write HoseMaster of Wine strictly for myself I don't feel any need to do it on a regularly scheduled basis.
8. Have you utilized any particular techniques to successfully market your blog?
Nope. I'm not trying to market anything. In fact, I've had several people in the wine business tell me that they believed my blog, well, basically the nude photos on my blog, was having a negative impact on my career, such as it is, in the business. If that's true, and I'm not convinced it is, it shows you what a conservative, close-minded business the wine business is. It's a far more conservative business than most people believe.
9. In your view how, if at all, is blogging different than traditional wine writing for print?
Wine writing for print demands more thought, editing for space constraints, editing for grammar and punctuation, and is much more permanent. I see very little in blogs that would even be considered for traditional print media, either because of the quality of the writing or the unoriginality of thought.
10. Which other wine blogs do you read regularly?
I only occasionally spend time reading wine blogs. I find them difficult to wade through. The blogosphere is far too incestuous for my tastes, too self-referential. It seems to be considered taboo to go onto someone else's blog and criticize what that blogger is saying unless you have a terminal disease. It's too much "Great post, Steve! Keep up the good work," and "Wow, I can't wait to try out that wine you just wrote about you make it sound so delicious." And too many blogs begin, "I read a great post on WineMolestor.com and it got me to thinking…" I'm logging off before that sentence is finished.
11. Do you believe wine blogs have made any marked impact on the wine industry or wine culture?
No, but I think the wine industry hopes that bloggers will be able to sell wine. A guy like Gary Vaynerchuk can sell wine because he has a wine shop and a license. (I've never seen him or his show and pray to God it stays that way.) When I owned a wine shop my satirical newsletter sold lots of wine too. But that's different than the opinion of a blogger actually triggering a ten-case sale. Blogs are just an easy wa
y for a lot of winery marketing "experts" to pretend they earned their money. "Look," they tell their employers, "we got a nice hit on Vinography, and a mention on MyAchingKidneys." GoogleAlert is a wonderful thing for these people. And I don't think wine blogs have changed the wine culture at all. Who reads wine blogs? Mostly other wine bloggers and winery marketing people. The folks shopping at Costco and Trader Joe's haven't read a wine blog and probably don't even know what a blog is.
12. Vacation: Paris or the Caribbean?
OK, there's a Paris Hilton joke here that I'll avoid (Non-smoking please). Though I once dated a Caribbean Queen.
13. Pet: Dog or Cat?
I have had a lifelong love of animals, a love even deeper than my love of wine. My wife and I have a Norwich terrier, an Arabian horse, an African Grey Parrot, a Meyer's Parrot, a canary, two owl finches, and two feral cats we take care of.
14. Airplane Reading: New Yorker or People?
Always wanted to publish in the New Yorker. People was used illegally by the Bush Administration, who forced Gitmo prisoners to read it cover to cover
15. Car: Prius or BMW?
Didn't we defeat both of them in WWII? I drive a Prius.
16. Chablis or California Chardonnay?
17. Describe what you would have at your last meal?
Indigestion. And a bottle of Chateau Rayas.
18. What is Heaven Like?
No idea, but I know there isn't a 100 Point Scale in Heaven. I'm a spiritual person, but not a religious person. I don't believe there's a Heaven, but Hell is the Napa Valley Auction.
19. If you could invite 4 people dead or alive to your fantasy dinner party, who would they be and who would you have bring the wine?
You know, the last time I had four dead people for dinner my wife complained about the smell. This is the sort of question where I'm supposed to impress people with my intellect and wide-ranging curiosity by my choice of dinner party guests. Sure. So here goes. I'd invite Mark Twain, Linda Lovelace, Wallace Stevens and Idi Amin. If the party was dull, Idi Amin could eat the other three. I'd bring the wine.
20. What advice would you give to someone considering starting a wine blog?
Get a life.