This year I've worked in wine for 15 years; seven in retail and eight as a writer. I'm hardly the wise wine sage of Old London Town, but for what they are worth, here are some life lessons I've learned from wine.
Money is the worst motive
Discovering that money corrupts is not exactly a stop-press scoop. I don't think that money is intrinsically evil, but making it a foremost priority is rarely beneficial to wine.
In big business, an urge to increase profit too often results in lower quality, reduced variety and devaluation of wine's authenticity. This can happen to producers, retailers, governing bodies, importers and anyone that becomes motivated by money. In writing, pursuing money is a sure-fire way to belittle your integrity and independence. While in fine wine, as prices spiral and greed escalates, the bloodlust for money treats wine like a status symbol and customers like engorged cash machines. You just need to know which buttons to press.
Making profit from wine is no crime, but that should never come at the expense of what makes wine such a meaningful pleasure.
There’s no right answer
Every fact you learn in the foundation of your vinous education gets steadily unpicked the more you learn. Understanding wine means seeing every side of the argument; appreciating that what is correct for one wine, variety, producer or region may be entirely wrong for another. For me, studying to become a Master of Wine was an indispensible part of this realisation, and it helped me appreciate the cornerstone of what keeps wine interesting. Wine has no place for fundamentalism.
Wine is a force for good ...
It brings people together, lubricates conversation, provides a shared experience, represents a wonder of both nature and human endeavour, provides employment for millions, unites different cultures, stimulates intellectual debate, preserves landscapes, honours centuries of heritage and can achieve matchless profundity of flavour.
On the other hand, alcohol is potentially harmful, and wine must not shirk its share of responsibility in that regard. But at its best, wine has a beauty equal to music, art, literature and stands alongside the greatest of human creations as a force for good.
... but it isn’t the most important thing in life
Working with wine is a huge privilege, and it can provide some extraordinary experiences - not just through its own intrinsic qualities, but in the context of fantastic restaurants, breathtaking vineyard scenery and some of the planet's most engaging personalities. In the special moments when they combine, wine can provide a moving experience.
Wine enhances our lives - but it is not indispensible to them. Allowing wine to become more significant to us than the real fundamentals of life can't be a good thing. In that context, wine has its place in life; and we should never forget what, and who, is most important to us. When we get to share great wine with those important people in those significant places at those pivotal moments - that's when life gets no better, and I'll drink to that.