Sunday, April 24, 2016

The 100 Day Wine Abstinence Program

Has the role wine plays in our lives become too invasive?

After a five hour drive this past week from Dallas to Houston (a bit longer than usual because of storms and accidents) I rolled into my hotel parking lot. A friend and colleague invited me to a wine tasting – 45 rosé wines. I told him I’d pick him up in 20 minutes and would be our designated driver. My friend likes to drink wine.

Odd, going to a wine tasting in a time when I haven’t yet returned to drinking wine. I taste from time to time, but full-on enjoyment isn’t part of my plan. Yet.

The idea from this point, around day 100, is to resume wine drinking and enjoyment, when I land in Catania, spending a week on Etna and around the eastern side of Sicily. Seems like a good plan, in that I will have taken a good long time to purge myself of any toxins accrued when this self-imposed abstinence began.I'm thinking this might also be a good way to recalibrate one's palate.

Earlier in the year, I was in Rome and at a dinner party and I noticed a friend wasn’t drinking. “I’m taking a month off.” She said. At the time, I thought that must be very difficult. Now, it doesn’t seem hard at all. In fact, I’m a bit worried that it has been too easy.

I was walking around a wine and spirit store in Austin this past week while waiting to go to lunch with the owner. He always has a unique and compelling assortment of liqueurs and spirits. But this time, when I walked over to them, something funny happened. The skin on my arms started to crawl. He keeps his shop cold, but I had a jacket on. Was I getting a visceral reaction to spirits?

One huge observation from all of this is just how much we take for granted the inclusion of wine and alcohol for some of us in the wine trade and in the wine loving public. I was at a friend’s house the other night and he went through two bottles of wine, his wife drinking maybe two glasses. Has the role wine plays in our lives become too invasive? It is after all, laden with toxins, along with beneficial attributes. But like anything, too much of a good thing isn’t always good in the end.

Not to sound like a moralist here - I’m also in pursuit of balance. And I see the extremes in both directions. What I see in the trade, is that we prop up wine and alcohol, frame it as a trophy on our Instagram and Delectable sites, and make it into a god, one which we must have union with as often as we can. A friend is waiting for a plane and before noon grabs a beer and pops it on her Facebook page. A few months ago, I wouldn’t have noticed it. Now, I am wondering what that means. Are many of us in the wine trade alcoholics?

I mentioned this once to a friend who likes to imbibe. He told me, quite candidly, “Yes, but I’m a functional alcoholic.” I guess it sounds less catastrophic that way. But at the end of a night of eating and drinking, at the point when I’d called it quits 30-45 minutes before and switched to water, he was still opening bottles.

Again, not to go all teetotaling preacher here, I’m trying to sort this out for myself and white boarding my thoughts here.

I think at the heart of this, is an attempt to reconfigure wines importance in my life. It was never front-stage-and-center. Wine, to me, is a marker within a more inclusive cultural setting. It’s an appendage, rather than the heart. But we have done a good job of fetishizing it in today’s hyper-social media, to the point that young professionals vie for certification and recognition of mastery long before they have had the breadth and width of time and experience to even sort out if this is a viable path.

I was talking to a very bright young sommelier this past week, one who did achieve an ultimate goal, that of becoming a master sommelier, in his early 30’s. Now, some years later, as he is approaching 40, with a toddler, a demanding career and many strings pulling on him, he is looking at the meaning of all of this in a way he might not have been able to when he was in his 20’s. “I want to spend more time with my son, before he’s all grown up. I want to sleep in my bed more often. And I want to not be pulled on by so many people and things. I want my life back!” Ah, the stuff of life. Wine’s got nothing (and everything) to do with it.

The sculptor Brancusi (born in 1876, btw) said this: “What is real is not the external form, but the essence of a thing.” And that is what I am faced with finding on this 100 day journey without wine. It’s not about the oldest wine, the rarest wine, the unicorn wine. It’s not about the alcohol. It’s not even about anything in this world. But it’s what this is leading to, where to path is taking me now.

I reckon, when I get to Sicily, and make the trek up to Etna, maybe, just maybe I’ll be ready. As the saying goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

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1 comment:

Marco Guardiolo said...

I could not think of a better time and place to start enjoying wine again. I did not drink any wine for two years almost to the day. I had a different ailment, depression, aka the blues. Deo concedente, I regained my sense of smell and taste. Aging brings out the flavors of personality.
I will be with you in spirit amico as you clime a' Muntagna. There the food and wine are so inextricably intertwined that...

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