Rob Moshein - The Austin Wine Guy

A Parable

December 28, 2008

So, gentle readers, we assume that you are indeed reading this blog because you enjoy wine, are interested in wine, and/or hope to learn about wine.  Trust yr mst hmble & obd't srvt that this blog entry will talk about wine and be instructional thereupon. Patience on your part is required for a few paragraphs.  Stay with me, it will be worth your while.

First, a parable (noun: a statement or comment that conveys a meaning indirectly by the use of comparison, analogy, or the like.):

Back in my previous life as an attorney, I was working on the complete attic to basement renovation of one of the most important private estates in the 90210, "The Knoll".  I was one of the project managers, my purview was the contracts, permits and city planning issues.  Now, this was no small deal.  The estate was just over ten acres overlooking downtown Beverly Hills, and the house was being expanded from 25,000 to 45000 square feet at a cost of several tens of millions. I had an office in the basement, trust me it was nicer than that sounds and was next to the wine cellar.  Now, before you all start screaming about attorney client privilege and all that, the owner is now deceased for some years now; the family no longer owns the property, and hell, I think Mr. D would love my telling the story, he was that kind of guy.  

We are circa 1988, cellphones are the size and weight of bricks and talk time costs $1.50/minute (so don't complain about 3G monthly charge plans!).  A Friday afternoon, about 5:30 pm. Am working on paperwork, alone in the basement offices.  The house phone rang (yes, a house phone for the 25 or so in staff at all times).  Roland was on the other end. Roland was the Major Domo of The Knoll.  A slight, charming if effete Englishman, who ran the place with an iron fist in a velvet glove.  "Robert, send one of your lads upstairs immediately to open some crates." "Umm, Roland, its well after 5 on payday Friday, you know darn well the "lads" are all long gone by now.  Its just me down here." "Well, then YOU will just have to come up and do it now WON'T you??  Bring a hammer and crowbar." Click.  

I sighed. I "could" get angry and refuse, it "was" outside the scope of my job. On the other hand, Roland could make one's life either a luxury or a hell. So far, I was in his good graces.  An extra deposit into the bank of favors could only help.  So up I went with hammer and crowbar in hand.  "Come into the hall" Roland said.  "Dr. Hammer has sent some crates over for Mr.'s approval, he wants to see them when he walks in at 6."  Glancing at my watch, it's already 5:40.  "Roland, that's 20 minutes from now."  "You had better get working then, hadn't you...."  OK, they're packing crates, all marked "Hammer Galleries".  Then it hit me, ARMAND HAMMER had sent art for Mr. Davis "on approval". OH MY GAWD.... Armand Hammer!  Now, you all must understand that I have loved art for even longer than wine, starting as a child with my Great Aunt, who was an artist in Chicago.  I knew what was in these wood crates was pretty damn special. Armand Hammer had a major private art collection.

The biggest crate first.  An important, very important John Singer Sargeant portrait.  I leaned her 9 foot tall framed canvas up against the stair rail.  The rest revealed Corot, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Pissarro;   I can still smell the canvases, and remember being scared witless that I was handling this stuff that most museums would kill for.   Mind you, I minored in Art History at UCLA, I was only two quarters short of earning a second full undergrad degree in Art History, I knew exactly what I was handling.  With some effort, and thanks to Mr. D being ten minutes late, I managed to line them all up along the walls of the cavernous entry hall and get the crates down to the basement.

Am just finishing the last placing of the art when the guard gate announces over the phone that "Mr." is driving up.  The front door opens and Mr. Davis walks in,with the usual couple of people I don't know with him.  Roland tells him that this is the art Dr. Hammer sent for his approval.  Marvin Davis was a BIG man, tall and wide. He bellowed "You know anything about art?" Roland said he did not.  Mr. D looks around the room, "anyone here know about art?"  He looks at me: "You know about good art?" "Well Mr. Davis, I minored in Art History at UCLA." "Good. So you know Good Art. Great, tell me what I should keep."

"Tell me what I should buy"  he said again.  Well, Mr. Davis, art is a very personal thing, you keep the ones you like, the ones that speak to you, or move you, or that you just like..."Cut the crap son, I don't need that bullshit"  Mr. D was, shall we say, usually quite to the point. "I don't know shit about Good Art.  My wife says we need Good Art in this house. So, I want all those Beverly Hills SOBs who know Good Art to walk in here and see that WE have Good Art." I could actually hear the capital G and A in his voice. "YOU know Good Art, so tell me which of this is Good Art and I'll buy it".  

I swallowed and told myself to simply treat this as a final exam for one of my Art History classes, "analyze and critique the following canvases".  "Keep that Sargeant, whatever you do. Its amazing, a masterpiece. It belongs in a museum".  OK, the Sargeant stays.  "The Renoir, just an atelier sketch for a larger work, if you want to say you own a Renoir, keep it, but its not a good Renoir." The Renoir goes.  The Corot and Manet stay.  The Pissarro goes, Degas and Monet stay.  Mr. D spends some $8 million on Good Art,  because I told him to.

OK, cute parable AWG, but what the heck does this have to do with wine? Well, everything gentle reader, everything.  

Much has changed since 1988.  My AST 286 of 1988 is long ancient technology, my current Mac G4 has one hundred thousand times the speed and capacity.  My then business partner's first cell phone, that damn heavy expensive brick is now replaced by my iPhone3G.  I gave up law for wine. One thing has not changed.  People are still asking me "Tell me what I should buy".

Now, there is nothing wrong with asking what specific wines I think are good, or a good value, or are overpriced, or whatever.  I'm happy to do that.  What I'm talking about are those who really want me to make their decision FOR them. You will never learn about wine if I make the decision for you, without discussion.  Mr. D never did learn anything about art.  He was quite content knowing that people THOUGHT that he did because he owned some.  Do you really just want people to THINK  you know good wine because you bought some (which somebody else TOLD you was good wine?)

Luckily, the quest to learn about Good Wine will cost far less than Mr. D's art collection.  Engage in some dialogue with your local wine guy about what you like and want. Listen to what they tell you. Learn.  Part of what is wonderful about Good Wine is the learning process, just as the same with Good Art.  Drink past the label. Drink past the Wine Spectator rating, do not let someone else TELL you what is Good Wine. Empower yourself, educate yourself, and enrich yourself.  THAT is what makes wine so wonderful. Once you learn why certain wines are good and what you like about them you can start to choose them for yourself.  Now, would you really let someone else tell you what art to hang on your walls? Then, why let someone else choose your wine for you?

Cheers, and best wishes for the coming New Year . May you drink Champagne not just on New Years Eve, but regularly and often in 2009! Or, as a minor nefarious hero of mine, Gerald Hamilton, wrote in his autobiography: "When I was young and living in Paris, Champagne was relatively inexpensive, so I used to drink a half bottle in the morning, and a another half bottle at 6 in the evening. I found it did me a world of good." Words to live by y'all. Words to live by...

Rob Moshein

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Raves, rants, musings, ponderings and wine whines... trends, tasting notes, the Austin Wine Guy Rob Moshein shares his world of wine and thoughts about it with you.

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