Monday, August 29, 2016

The Confessions of John Fox of Premier Cru

"The man behind a "Ponzi wine scheme" that bilked customers of a high-end Berkeley wine store out of at least $45 million pleaded guilty in federal court on Thursday to one count of wire fraud, admitting to spending his ill-gotten gains on expensive cars, private golf memberships and almost $1 million on women he met online.

The U.S. Attorney's Office is recommending that Concord resident John Fox, 66, be sentenced to more than six years in prison and pay restitution to cheated customers who paid in advance for unfulfilled wine orders from the now-shuttered Premier Cru wine company."

I may have spent a little too much on pussy. It’s not like I’m the first guy who did that. In fact, you know, I spent $900,000 on pussy before I got caught, which is $899,990 more than Hugh Grant spent before he got caught. So it’s not like I’m stupid. I just like to fuck young women, and wine geeks. Hard to say which gave me more pleasure. It was sort of even. Except with the young women, I never really thought about needing protection when I fucked them.

And, really, how much different is it to spend all your excess cash on pussy instead of First Growth Bordeaux? You just do it because you can. No one really needs a cellar full of either one. It’s just a way of feeling better about yourself whether you collect great wines or great pussy. And, frankly, it’s a myth that either one gets better with age. Some guys want a vertical of Margaux, I just wanted a horizontal of LaWanda. The urge is the same. It’s just to show your buddies you can dip your dick into something rare and wet whenever you want, that money is no object. So I’m not sure why everyone is mad at me.

Let’s look at it another way. Bernie Sanders ran on a platform of taking money from the rich and then distributing their excess wealth to people in the lower class. How is that different from what I did? I figured out how to get $45 million from rich and/or stupid wine collectors and then I distributed that money to poor, working class pussy. How does Sanders get all that admiration and I get contempt, jail time, and dick warts? This country is fucked up.

I didn’t set out to scam those idiots. But, you know, they were just asking for it. I spent years and years in the wine business learning to rip off suppliers. I can’t believe I was that stupid. What a waste of time that was. I mean, brokers and distributors who sell you wine, they get pissed when you don’t pay them. They threaten you, they strong arm you, they cut you off from buying more wine from them… What kind of shitty way to do business is that? How do I pay you for the wine you delivered if I can’t get more wine to sell? If I’d had the money to pay you for the wine in the first place, I’d have written you a goddam check. But I had Ferrari payments, and I just bought a new house in an expensive neighborhood, and, well, I may have spent a little too much on pussy, so what else could I do but ask you to extend my credit? In hindsight, well, I think it took me way too long to figure out that it’s much easier in the wine business to promise shit you can’t deliver than it is to pay off your debts. That’s the very foundation of most of the wine business. I should have known that. So, yeah, that’s on me.

Another thing, wine futures are a ripoff to begin with. Not one of the girls I met online expected me to wait two years before we had sex after I paid her. There are no pussy futures, unless your woman is old school “wait until we get married.” It seems to me that any time you’re paying for something and not getting anything back for two years, you’re just looking for trouble, begging for disappointment. I mean, ask any jackass making wine how crazy that is. Putting a shit-ton of money into something and never being rewarded? That’s the very foundation of the wine business! But, I figured, why not be one of the ones getting paid upfront? So much easier.

I thought it might be hard to find people dumb enough to give me money on the promise I’d get them rare wines. I was pretty nervous the first few times. And, this might be hard to believe, but I actually intended to obtain those wines for those trusting clients! I know, even now I am amazed at how little I understand human nature. As if I were going to look at my bank accounts swollen with futures money and not spend it on muscle cars and pussy! Isn’t that what anyone would do? It’s only wine, people.

I figured out quickly that you only have to look successful for people to think you are successful. I mean, ugly is ugly. You’re ugly, there’s just no getting around that. But if you’re a fake, it’s easy to make people think you’re legit. I was the Donald Trump of wine. I built a fancy looking building with other people’s money, and then I got other people to give me more money based on the appearance of success. I fed those morons hope. Trump stole my act. Now I'm going to jail and he's going to the White House! Like that's fair. Rich people always think you can buy hope, like they think you can buy respect. And they believed the fancy Premier Cru store I built with other people's money, not what was apparent to anyone else who didn’t have some underlying lack of self-worth expressed in the need to possess unicorn wines, namely, that I was even more vain than they. Vanity is a common trait among serious wine collectors, and always easy to exploit. Frankly, you meet a guy with a gigantic wine cellar, Riedel glasses you could wear as a space helmet, sporting a Coravin, yet another lesson in self-deceit, and you can pretty much take his vanity to the bank where you keep your high-yielding pussy account. Vanity, thy name is Wai-Man.

I’m taking the fall for lifting a cool $45 Mil from a bunch of suckers, but I think there’s plenty of blame to go around. OK, so look at it this way. It’s the same as when the cops throw the pussy in jail, but let the johns off. How is this different? Those Chinese guys, those pathetic dweebs on Wineberserkers, the poor, lonely fools who answered my email blasts (something phallic about “email blast”), I’d take their money for 2009 Bordeaux futures, never deliver, and yet they’d be back in eight months to offer me money to fuck them again. I’m in business! How do I say no? They’re just as much to blame for the legal prostitution of wine futures as I am. I gave them what they wanted. And I gave it to them cheaper than the other prostitutes! I don’t know, it just doesn’t seem fair.

Well, I guess I’m a fool, thinking those guys would treat the one who fucked them with the same tenderness I gave to the pussy I may have spent a little too much on. Men. I’m pretty bitter about them.

When I was plea bargaining, I invoked my Fifth Amendment rights countless times. Something ironic about it being a fifth. But I’ve wanted to tell my side of the story, and now I have. I am to serve six and a half years in prison for using a Ponzi scheme to swindle $45 million from stupid wine people. Hey, Rudy Kurniawan got 10 years for about $20 million worth of fraud. And his scam was a lot more work! Dumb shit. And you thought I was the one busted for abusing his Koch.

And, frankly, what Rudy did made me sick to my stomach. Making fake wines. What kind of an asshole does that? I mean, it very easily could have happened that I might have sold futures on fake older Bordeaux I obtained from Rudy that I never intended to deliver! That would have me look like a real crook. And that would have been a crime.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Wine Critics in Hell Act 3

Hell appears to be a very sleazy natural wine bar in Lodi occupied by four dead wine critics, a Stranger, a single woman, and the bartender, who does not speak. The dead wine critics seem particularly restless as the scene opens, caged animals pacing about, while the bartender polishes the Riedel stemware, “Riedel—The Official Stemware of Eternal Damnation”®, every other one of which breaks at the stem. Ms. Feiring, the only woman in Hell, which may be the very definition of Hell, is sitting coquettishly at the bar, drinking her bottomless glass of natural wine Rosé. ACT 1 is here, ACT 2 is here.

Feiring: (flirtatiously) Why, I wish you boys would stop pacing like that. A woman gets tired of men who ignore her. (fanning herself with a copy of Le Pan, the only wine magazine in Hell) Why does it have to be so hot in here? (to Parker) It’s hotter than those 100 Point Napa Valley Cabs you love so much, Bobby. May I call you Bobby? I like the name Bobby. I once had a gentleman caller named Bobby. Oh, he was so handsome, and so natural. He had the prettiest skin, all shiny and smooth, like the taint of a newly minted Master Sommelier, before life tears her a new one. We were lovers, Bobby and I. Well, lovers in every way that really matters. Not the dirty way you boys are thinking about—I see how you stare at me. (No one is looking at her.) Does it shock you that I had a true love, a man who wanted me, who wanted to marry me? Bobby appreciated my feminine terroir. He always said a good old fashioned plough was what I needed. Not some cold mechanical thing. He was so romantic, my Bobby. He used to tell me that he had a secret spray, his own “magic tea” he called it, that he wanted to squirt all over me! Isn’t that a lovely thought? A man spraying his magic tea all over you? But only on a Fruit Day. He said it had to be a Fruit Day. He never did squirt his secret spray all over me, though I asked him to over and over and over. Made me wonder what he meant by “Fruit Day.”

Feiring opens her purse and removes a cigarette from her cigarette case. Laube rushes over to light it for her, but he is drunk, and tries to light her cigarette with a tiny statue of Jon Bonné he keeps in his pocket. Lifesize statue. Parker casually walks over, eyeing Feiring skeptically, shoves Laube aside, and lights her cigarette.

Feiring: Why, thank you, Bobby. (Parker grunts.) Is it OK if I smoke? I find smoking so relaxing. It leaves that little taste of death in my mouth, like drinking Vin Jaune from the Jura. Not that you boys know what that tastes like, now do you?

Parker: Smoke away, Alice. We’re all dead here anyway.

Kramer: Speak for yourself. Bobby. I might be dead, but my wine books are immortal.

There is a stunned silence. And then everyone begins to laugh at once. Laube pisses himself again.

Suckling: You know, Kramer, you really are a jackass. Do you really think you’re in this fucking bar because you had talent, because you “made sense” of shit? You’re just one of us, one of the blowhards you’ve always looked down on. You never helped make sense of anything wine to anybody that wanted to love wine. You were in love with the sound of your own voice. Narcissus staring at his reflection in a glass of DRC Montrachet. You never even loved wine, Kramer. You only played at loving wine. Writing about wine for you was like karaoke—you just mimicked being real, and waited for the applause of the idiots who sat there and listened to you. (Suckling mimes a mic drop.)

Feiring: (raising her voice) Boys! Boys! Don’t fight over me, boys. Please, I’m a delicate flower. I have plenty of stamen for all your heat-packing pistils. I am not your precious vitis vinifera, I am a woman, I am not self-pollinating! We have eternity. There’s enough of me for everybody. (Parker breaks wind.)

Parker: (threateningly) Let me tell you something, Alice. You don’t belong here. I don’t know how you got in here, I don’t know who decides these things, but this isn’t the place for you. Not among us. You’re not one of us. We see through you. That sultry thing, it doesn’t work here. (He gets close to her, right in her face.) I know what you want. I know why you’re here. (She glances aside, blows smoke from her cigarette at Laube). Look at me. (She doesn’t.) I said look at me! (Parker grabs her face, turns it to his, and kisses her. It’s a longer kiss than either expect.) How’s that for fucking natural? (Alice spits in his face. He just smiles.)

Suckling: Our dolly spits like a llama.

Stranger: (speaking quietly but firmly) I brought her here.

Parker: Then get her out! Can’t you see, Stranger? She’s here to unravel us, one at a time.

Stranger: (sarcastically) Yes, Bobby. This is Hell. Were you expecting a medal? Guess what? Hell is your Lifetime Achievement Award.

Feiring: I believe I’m getting the vapors. My, all of this anger, all of this testosterone. (She turns to Laube.) Jimmy, will you help me? Bobby is being a brute. And so hedonistic! I feel so violated. You’re the real gentleman here, Jimmy. I know that. Come over here and take my hand. Take me for a walk outside. I love the smell of sulfur on a warm night, it reminds me of my favorite wines.

Laube stands up slowly, clearly still inebriated, gently brushes his hair with his hands, runs a finger over his moustache, and reaches for Feiring’s extended hand. Parker looks disgusted. Suckling is smirking. Kramer is pouting from lack of attention.

Stranger: Oh, you can’t go outside, Alice, not with Jimmy, and not with anyone else. Not until you’ve finished what I’ve brought you here to do, and maybe not even then. Like it or not, Alice, you’ve been locked in a room with these…men…for all of your professional life. That’s what Hell is about, Love. Discovering that who you hated in life were those who were the ones who were the most like you. You’ll see, all of you will see, as you unravel them, as you diminish and ruin them, it is your self you have damned to Hell.

Kramer: Can we talk about me now?

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Napa Valley Then and Now: A HoseMaster of Wine™ Book Club Selection

A few months ago I wrote a Blind Book Review of Kelli White’s “Napa Valley Then and Now.” I
love writing Blind Book Reviews. It may be my favorite all-time HoseMaster premise. I certainly abuse it like it is. The best part is, I don't actually have to read the books, which are so often dismal or derivative, and I don't have to lie about having read the books like most of the other wine book reviewers in the blogosphere. I just admit I haven't read it, and then I talk about it anyway. It's so liberating! Sort of like Trump with the Constitution.

I ran into Kelli White at a party in Yountville not too long ago. She and I had never met. Kelli was very gracious about my stupid satiric review (and believe me, many authors are not), and even presented me with a copy of her book. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do with it. I felt a little silly, a bit awkward with this new book. What the hell does one do with a book? I finally figured out to put it on my Kindle, but that broke the damn thing.

So I began to read Kelli’s book. Out of idle curiosity at first, and then for enjoyment. I have never written a review of a book I’ve actually read on HoseMaster of Wine™. I wasn’t convinced I should. But then I skimmed many of the reviews of Kelli’s book, and most of them were dull, poorly written and had very little insight. Hell, I can do that! The worst of them were putrid, as well as poorly written and devoid of thought. You know who you are. We gripe about the quality of wine reviewing online, but these book reviews seem to have been written by people who learned English from Scooby Doo cartoons, and literature from Cliff’s Notes. My blind review of Kelli's book was insane, but I like to think it wasn’t dull.

I haven’t written a critical book review since college. I decided Kelli White’s book would be a fun starting point, though, depending upon how this goes, it may also be my finish line. Though Kelli and I have become casual friends (that might be presumptuous—Kelli?), I will attempt to be as objective as possible. My starting point is that “Napa Valley Then and Now” is an important book for any serious wine lover to own. Though I’d rather know a lot fewer serious wine lovers. Serious wine lovers, go and buy “Napa Valley Then and Now”! And leave me the hell alone.

A lot has been written about the physical size of the book. It’s the first wine book I’ve ever owned that has its own terroir. I had the heater on in my room one day, and it started a thunderstorm. Yet, I’ve come to love its size. Like I love the feel and weight of an Imperial of a great wine. It seems like too much, and yet you find it somehow comforting and abundant. White’s book is an abundant book in so many ways. Abundant in history, abundant in useful and historic tasting notes, abundant in her raw talent as a writer. It also weighs a lot. But I’m old-fashioned; I like a reference book with heft. White’s has physical heft, but also intellectual heft. I can’t explain it. I have come to love that it’s so large. Reminds me of my Dad’s ’58 Buick. I loved that car. It was a two-hour hike to the back seat.

There cannot be very many people who have tasted more older vintages of California wines than Kelli White. Probably Charlie Olken and Stephen Eliot of “Connoisseurs’ Guide,” and a few collectors I know, but that adds up to a small number of humans. Many of the older wines reviewed in White’s book I’d had when they were released—but I’m old. In her position as sommelier at PRESS in St. Helena, Kelli and her fiancé Scott Brenner used Leslie Rudd’s resources to assemble an unrivaled list of vintage Napa Valley wines. The majority of wines White writes about in “Napa Valley Then and Now” were sourced directly from the wineries. Not a Rudy fraud among them. Though, after this brilliant book, that’s probably next. No one has, to my knowledge, done this before, assembled this kind of wine knowledge as well as tasting notes of older vintages—not for Napa Valley. I’ve always referred to Michael Broadbent’s books for tasting notes on older Bordeaux. Amazingly, she’s only 36 (I started as a sommelier at 36!), White’s book is now my resource for tasting notes on older Napa Valley wines. It’s a very valuable resource.

Before she gets to writing about the 200 Napa Valley wineries she chose for the book, White writes some wonderful pages about her own criteria for tasting “…I prefer narrative tasting notes,” White writes, “and am wary of the way a number can reduce a wine’s worth to a single fixed value.” That’s perfect tone, and smartly said. The brief history of Napa Valley that follows is especially wonderful reading. White is a very talented, if still unpolished, writer (I cringed when I read “undeniably unique”) whose ability to communicate an enormous amount of information in a relatively brief section is breathtaking. There are better, more in-depth, histories of Napa Valley, which she acknowledges, but none as concise, entertaining and easy to read. White’s strengths as a writer—precision, pacing, insight, style—are on glorious display. I found that I was not only learning a lot, I was thoroughly enjoying her company. It may not rise to the heights of literature, little wine writing does, but it is very fine work. When reading White’s brief history of Napa Valley, I felt as I once felt reading an old Decanter wine column of Gerald Asher’s. There isn’t higher praise than that. If you ever plan a trip to Napa, just those sixteen pages will enlighten you more than a hundred stupid guide books.

The section on the appellations of Napa Valley is also very useful and informative. I was relieved to read it and find nary a single use of the word, “terroir.” Only a very confident and skilled writer, and White is all of that, could manage that. White summarizes succinctly the climate influences and soil types (always a yawn to me—like naming all the crus of Barolo—I just don’t care) of each appellation, and passes along interesting factoids (there’s a word I hate, “factoid”—sounds like a nasty polyp on your face). About Yountville, the hippest town in the Valley, White points out, “The buildings that now beckon with their restaurants and tasting rooms used to house an impressive selection of barrooms and brothels, with taxis lined out front to ferry the overindulged.” Not much has changed, except taxis are now Ubers, and brothels are now natural wine bars, with all the attendant and similar off-aromas.

As White herself points out, “It is quite likely the older tasting notes that give this book its true worth.” I did not read the winery profiles in alphabetical order. How anal would that have been? It would be like planting a vineyard in alphabetical order, the Abouriou next to the Alicante, next to the Barbera. Has Randall Grahm done that yet? If I have reservations with “Napa Valley Now and Then,” most lie in these pages, the bulk of what is a bulky book.

The tasting notes are fantastic. I might cite a hundred examples, but here are three. “2000 Maya [Dalla Valle’s prestige red wine]—One of the more soft-spoken and poetic vintages of Maya, the 2000 displays soft, refined fruit, an easy charm, and a compelling bouquet of baked cherries, mulch, sarsparilla, and mint.” I want that.  White can be sweet and lethal at the same time, a perfect quality for a wine writer. About a Scholium Project 2010 Androkteinos Syrah (is anyone more gleefully pretentious than Abe Schoener) White writes, “…scents of salted, candied violets, dried black currants, sweet garden soil, and smoked meat, punctuated with a ton of VA.” The wonderful back and forth of something that sounds appealing, dried black currants, with something that doesn’t, sweet garden soil, with the time bomb of a ton of VA at the end of the sentence gives you a real sense of the wine. That you might want to stay the hell away from it. Of a 1959 School House Pinot Noir (Oh, I’ve always loved School House—a real wine geek’s geek wine) White says, “Surely one of the greatest Pinot Noirs ever made in the United States…It was perfect, with a shockingly youthful nose of rich cherry fruit, a kiss of sweet earth, brown spices, and a beautiful floral tone.” I find this precise without being too precise. Though Kelli seems to be eating a lot of sweet dirt lately.

Writing tasting notes is a difficult, challenging, and unrewarding task. I would never read a lot of them in one sitting, I don’t care who the author is. White excels at it. Again, that’s like excelling at writing recipes, but try it, it stretches your sensory vocabulary and abilities. She makes it look easy. To a great degree, the book’s success is centered on those notes, on their reliability and precision. Tasting notes are easy to parody. Writing ones that are not self-parody is very challenging. White has a fine touch with tasting notes. I can’t think of higher praise than to say I wish I could taste alongside her.

There are too many wineries in the book. Too many selections smell of politics. Some of the new wineries in here don’t deserve to be. There are few notes for many of them, and White’s lack of enthusiasm starts to leak through. She’s going through the paces, and her own interest flags. I hated reading about newer projects. Too often the winery summaries smelled of a bad Laube article on “Ten Wineries to Watch.” They were treacle in an otherwise scintillating book. It is a mystery to me how quite a few of her selections made the cut, when, for example, Trefethen did not. Skip those, they don’t belong here.

I also felt White gives some folks an easy pass. There’s too much David Abreu worship, far too much. A lot of stricter environmental laws came to pass in Napa Valley as a reaction to Abreu’s disregard for simple nightmares like erosion. Yes, he’s an important figure in Napa Valley’s current history, but not simply a positive influence. White doesn’t need to be harsh, simply more objective and willing to be a little bolder and more opinionated. But she’s 36, and so supremely talented, that perhaps what she needs is simply more confidence in her gift.

The long sections on the truly historic wineries in Napa, among them Charles Krug, Mayacamas, Louis M. Martini, School House, Inglenook, Lail, Robert Mondavi and Stony Hill, are an incredible resource, and will be, I believe, for many future generations of wine lovers. White's comprehensive tasting notes of older vintages are a treasure trove, a serious study of wines that have been shamefully underestimated and overlooked. I am so envious of Kelli, that she was able to taste so many remarkable wines. She precisely and with great eloquence completely dismantles the old wisdom I’ve heard in the wine business for my entire long tenure in it, that California wines don’t age as well as their European counterparts. That has always been false. Leftover Old World elitism repeated ad nauseum by the uninformed, inexperienced and ignorant. With her deft use of language, original and valuable tasting notes, her enviable background and piercing intelligence, Kelli White has performed a miracle for the folks who made Napa Valley what it is today. Napa Valley has always commanded high prices. With the work of the young and talented Kelli White (I just may hate her), Napa Valley may finally command the high regard it richly deserves.

This is the best reference book for the historic wines of Napa Valley. It’s virtually the only one. It holds endless treasures. Flawless? No. Essential? To my mind, absolutely. It’s $95. That seems like a lot, but when you consider that $95 barely gets you a bottle of decent Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon these days, it’s a steal. You've spent far more money on crap less valuable.

"Napa Valley Then and Now" isn't available on Amazon, or anywhere else that I'm aware of. You can, and should, purchase it on her website:

Or write her at Tell her the HoseMaster sent you.