Sunday, July 10, 2022

The Wine Trade’s Dirty Little Secret

For the past three weeks I’ve not been imbibing in alcoholic beverages, part of a seasonal cleanse, taking an active part in becoming healthier. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying wine isn’t healthy for you. Actually, wine has alcohol in it, and alcohol is pretty toxic. But we usually give wine a pass, because it is so delicious, and we have it with meals. And we age it, and fetishize it, and worship it. So, that must make it OK.

But really folks, the wine trade has a problem. A drinking problem.

You see it everywhere. A wine lover, maybe a blogger, maybe a consumer, it doesn’t matter, they are going to one of their favorite spots in wine country. And you start seeing them posting pictures of wine. First at the airport. Then on the plane, and as soon as they’re in wine country, there they go again, a wine shot. And then after a day of tasting and visiting wineries, what do they do? They go to dinner. And then they really start to get their drink on. After 24 hours, they might have consumed 2-3 bottles of wine. That’s a lot for a body to take in.

When I was a kid, we lived across the way from family friends. The husband was a screen writer, although his wife once told me he was a gofer for a famous television producer. He always seemed to be hanging around the house when he wasn’t out running errands, or as he liked to say, polishing up a script. Actually, what he was really good at was polishing off a bottle, night after night.

He was harmless enough when he was sauced up, as long as he wasn’t behind the wheel. But I saw first-hand, how an alcoholic functioned in his world. And it wasn’t pretty.

An erstwhile colleague once remarked to me why they thought folks were attracted to the wine business. “Oh, that’s an easy one, it’s for the buzz.” Simple as that. No psychoanalytical meanderings, no in-depth exploration over daddy problems. The buzz.

I’ve seen it in friends and coworkers. Bottle follows bottle, follows another bottle. And then another. And when that’s done, then the after-dinner drinks. And then, the night is young, so why not have an ice-cold beer? The wine trade has an inordinate number of souls who just cannot get a grip on their alcohol dependence. It’s sad. Because somewhere there’s a spouse and kids and friends and other family, getting short shrift for some bottle of Barolo. But the bottle of Barolo gets likes on Instagram, and pictures of your son hitting a t-ball, maybe not as much? It’s a shame.

Talking to someone about their addiction, these days, is a tricky proposition, for who among us wants to cause someone to feel shame? We’d never think of doing it to someone who might be struggling with their weight, would we? And alcohol is such a personal thing, a twisty-turny journey for each and everyone of us. Each one different. He who is without sin, well, you know the rest of the saying.

So, what do we do about it? I think it’s a personal decision. But from a health point of view, as we age, our tolerance for alcohol (or anything, for that matter, food, insincere people, bullshit, etc.) diminishes. I’m looking at a wine closet and a wine fridge filled with wine, wondering how in Heaven’s name I’m going to drink all that wine in my lifetime.

I was moved to write this piece because I was thinking about someone who I used to be close to. But we drifted apart. The details at this point aren’t that important. But from afar, I’ve kept tabs on them. And man do they get their drink on a lot. Oh, it’s couched in wine dinners, or wine education, or conviviality. But it’s a lot of alcohol this person is ingesting into their system. I can’t help but wonder if they are having a hard time facing something in their life that is uncomfortable, maybe even taboo.

I know my neighbor, the gofer or the screenwriter, depending on who you talked to, was avoiding something. He told me, once, in a drunken stupor, while we were outside throwing a baseball around.

It was 3, maybe 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and he popped over to visit. And seeing as I was outside by myself with a ball and a mitt, he offered to play catch with me. He did that a lot. Anyway, I could tell he was lit. But he was always friendly and never abusive to me.  Something he said as we were tossing the ball around stuck with me. “You know, kid, sometimes I just have a hard time trying to see myself fitting in to this world. It’s like I’m lost and I don’t know what to do to find myself.”

If you have trouble with alcohol, please don’t wait until your liver fails you, like my baseball throwing friend. Dig into yourself, find out if you have addiction problems, and then get help. From family, from friends, from professionals. But don’t wait. Your health is more important than a thousand likes on Facebook, or the greatest 3-star Michelin meal in France. Don’t let the wine trade’s dirty little secret - a drinking problem - be your problem. Your health is your wealth, and your key to living your best life.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


tomfiorina said...

Just this morning, while walking the dog, Alfonso, I listened to the 'Now & Then' podcast by historians Heather Cox Richardson and Joanne Freeman about how alcohol has infected American politics throughout centuries. I recommend both the podcast and Cox Richardson's outstanding newsletter, 'Letters from an American'.
What you write here is an important, uncomfortable truth that should ring true to anyone, both in and out of the wine trade, who values their health, the wellbeing of their family, friends and acquaintances, and our society at large. Keep keeping us honest, mon ami.

Paul Wagner said...

A very good post, Al. I start every one of my classes by asking the students to bring a 1 liter bottle of water outside to the parking. We then practice putting the water into our mouths and then spitting it out. Once every student has spit an entire liter of water, we can continue our class. And I tell them, right up front, if you don't learn to spit in this business, you will kill yourself, one way or the other.

But you raise another issue. What do you say to a colleague who clearly has a drinking problem? There is no easy answer to that--but I know many people in the business who suffer--and many others who have passed away.

I don't think the industry offers any support for those who drink too much. And I don't think it's possible to help them until they want help...

A serious topic indeed.

Alfonso Cevola said...

Thanks Tom, great recommendations. I will check them out.

Paul, serious indeed. Especially if we mention something to someone, we risk being the pot who calls the kettle black. We need to find a way to take shame out of it, so we can really help our friends and colleagues. thanks for commenting.

Lisa Ehrlich said...

I recently attended a local wine tasting where I tasted most of the excellent small production wines being poured. With some effort, I was able to get a spit glass for the tasting. Afterward, at a dinner hosted for the trade, I continued to taste and discretely spit special wines that producers had brought because I could feel the effects of the wine that I absorbed earlier, even though I had been spitting throughout the tasting. I got a very hostile response from one of the producers, which was hard for me to fathom. Why does it matter that I actually ingest the wine? What if I was on medication? What about driving home? In fact, I was lucky enough to live close to the location where the tasting was held, but I don’t like to take chances.

Anonymous said...

On target, Alfonso…

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post, this business is wicked in many ways, alcohol abuse can be prevented. I’ve seen it ruin the lives of many colleagues and their loved ones…and businesses.

Marcelo Solá said...

Very, very good post. And much needed.

JC said...

Happy Birthday, Alfonso.

Don't let anything (or anyone) get you down.

Kimberly Charles said...

Grazie for this post Alfonso, so needed. As an industry resource, the wonderful founders of A Balanced Glass are doing quite a lot to inform and provide support to our industry, pre-emptively and otherwise. Highly recommend following and reading it.

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