A Philosophical Passion for Wine

Jun 16, 2010

A finger of grapevine
and a beam of sunlight
point to the spot
where my heart is
Federico García Lorca - "Granada 1850"

 This morning I went to do some lab work for an upcoming physical. Some blood was taken but I had to fast  for at least twelve hours beforehand. Basically, all I could really have was water.

Now water is great, don't get me wrong. When you're lacking, when you've been sweating after a workout at the gym or been cooped up in a dry office, cubically contained, drinking too much coffee, water is perfect. 

But I have to say, with a smirk of genuine honesty, wine is always perfect. Last night, I would have had a glass or two but I had to follow my doctor's instructions. And you know, maybe I'm a little grumpy  today because I haven't had my wine. 

I often wonder about the nature of addiction and the idea of a surrogate. The alcoholic is told  to treat his  or her addiction like a disease. In recovery he or she must reflect on the reasons why they turned to alcohol. Is there a hole inside? Why do they choose whiskey or beer to fulfill them; what is or maybe better yet, who is replaced by the drinking? Is the alcoholic mourning a loss in childhood or the misery of a failed relationship? Instead of getting past the missed opportunity or healing the nameless wound, the drink is the surrogate, misleading the addict, letting them think they are healing their reality by escaping. The drink is the blinding distraction.

Certainly, there are other addictions: gambling, drugs, sex etc... 

I'm wondering, is wine my addiction? Where is the line between passion and addiction? Can such a line be safely drawn? Is passion a form of dependence? Can wine be a distraction, misleading the imbiber?

I can get through a day without wine. Sure. No problem. But can a musician or music lover get through a day without music and still be in a good mood? Listening to Beethoven's late piano sonatas or the softy, husky melancholy of a Ray Lamontagne song can, depending on your tastes, bring the spirit up after a long, wearied day. 

I love wine and music equally. Music is wine, wine is music. Music isn't an addiction, no but it can be a necessity for some of us. And as for wine, a glass of day is fine; great for health apparently.

For myself, I definitely look forward to a glass, probably more than others. I love the bouquet and flavours of different wines, - the teasing richness of a robust Rioja or the verdant but chilled charm of a Chenin from Vouvray. When I treat myself, I move past the Champagnes, past the Bordeaux and Burgundies to the Mosel and Rheinhessen Rieslings: I prefer Prüm to an overpriced bubbly or a mediocre Médoc (because you have to spend a lot to get something good in France's most famous wine regions). 

It's not an addiction. It is reverence. It's a means of creating beauty, letting it flood the moment.

Even though the wine consumer doesn't produce the wine, doesn't grow the grapes, he or she is a creator of the moment. By taking a glass we are involved in a tradition that has gone on for thousands of years. To borrow from the late Mircea Eliade, famous mythologist and philosopher, we are  in some way participating in the hierophany, the sacred space that is the eternal realm of tradition and ritual.

The profane involves linear time and is opposite the sacred. Profane time is daily time, historical, made up of dates continuously succeeding each other, one moment dissolving the next, one event replacing the previous.  It is the time of work, bureaucracy, governments, backyards, bars - social, polical and otherwise. By re-enacting the gods, their myths, an individual in an archaic tribe could find himself stepping into the illo tempore, the time before.

This is why the Greeks and later the Christians associated the resurrection god with the vine. By drinking Dionysus or Christ, the worshiper took the god within. Both gods were born in unique and miraculous circumstances (Dionysus was sewn into Zeus's calf following his mother's death by lightning; Mary was a virgin) and both performed miracles. Both were sacrificed and experienced equally grueling deaths. 

The nature of the vine represents the sacred nature of life.

Life is born. It is nothing short of a miracle that in the vastness of the universe, this Earth exists and supports life. Trees are green in the summer, mountains rise, oceans fall against their shore lines, wildlife floods the wilderness, in the air, on the ground and in the sea. 

But life is not long and death haunts all our horizons. The vine produces beautiful fruit just as we produce children, works of art, accomplishing various daily tasks like gardening, carpentry - even conversation and the relationships founded on them are a production of our hidden divinity. 

When we die the vine is like us and we are like the vine. We have struggled to bring something out of the nothing, bringing purpose to the naked canvas of existence. We have our religions, our myths, our deities, desires, duties, morals and responsibilities but they are all created by us. Our dying is our dormancy. Dionysus and Christ both die but they are resurrected. 

We drink this hope that we too won't end with our last breaths. We drink a glass of wine because it is more than just a beverage. Hope is beauty and we desire it. 

There are so many things we see with our eyes, hear with our ears, touch with our hands, smell with our noises but taste is by far the most intimate. The Mona Lisa smiles at us but we are distant from her. The scent of the flower belongs in the liminal realm of space and petals while the music of Beethoven haunts our ears. Wine flows in us, it meets us. It is intimate like a lover's long awaited kiss. This is the intoxication.

Wine is our consolation. At the end of our profane hours, when we need to step back from the parade, the often hopeless journey that is life, wine brings us a comfort. Sipping a wine is either done in silence or with others. Just as we can enjoy our solitude, sitting with a book we can drink wine in whatever company so long as it is kind. When we can't have what we want, when the one we love is not going to love us or the passing face is not going to stop on the street, their beauty leaving the moment broken in two, wine is there to sew up the wake of the unfulfilled. 

This is what wine represents to me but maybe to others. This is my passion and this is how I feel.


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My focus is mainly on wine culture, history and education. I love the stories behind wine - the people, places and the regional personalities of the wine-countries around the world.

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