Why I’m Obsessed, Part 1

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(A 1996 Nebbiolo / Barbaresco from Piemonte served at The Partisan in Washington, D.C. As the wine opened up, its aromas and flavors changed so each sip was like a new adventure – one of the many reasons why I love wine.)

Thanks to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, all of my friends and colleagues have been following my foray into wine – whether they wanted to or not. So often, when I meet up with someone after it’s been a while, I’m usually asked  if I have any recommendations or favorites. That’s not always an easy question to answer, but the questions that follow are much tougher: How did you get into wine? And why do you enjoy it so much?

This came up again this past weekend at lunch with a former boss. It’s not a short answer – but the more I start to talk about it, the more my passion ignites – as if I’m a kid describing my first trip to Disneyland.

The actual “how” part is a bit straightforward: I liked the way wine tasted when I was out with friends and I wanted to learn which wines I enjoyed the most so I knew how to order. That then took me spiraling down this rabbit hole, which I’m happy to stay in for a very long time (Maybe I should rewrite Alice in Wonderland to be Alicia in Wineland).

The enjoyment part is a little more detailed. So here, for the world to see, are my reasons for loving wine. If you’re a wine nerd like me, I’m sure you will relate.

Sharing. There’s an innate connection with someone when you’re drinking from the same bottle. Whether it be the often-relaxed conversation that flows (or jovial debate), or if you’re comparing every little nuance of the wine. There’s a sense that you’re both experiencing something new together for the very first time. Even if you’ve known that person for years. It doesn’t have to be romantic (although that’s a discussion for another time). That innate bond – however fleeting –  still develops among platonic friends, colleagues, someone you sat next to at a wine bar, or that much hated frenemy. And while it may only be temporary, it can linger as a calming memory to return to.

Education. It is nearly impossible to stop learning about wine. Whether it be the kinds of grapes, the way the land is harvested, the wine-making process, the science behind the wine or how science can manipulate it. Then there’s the entire geography lesson wine provides: the kinds of soils, how the weather and oceans impact the grapes, and more importantly all the beautiful land and cultures that make up such famed wine regions as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Piemonte, Rioja, Mendoza, Sonoma and many, many more. There’s always something new happening, including the uncertainty of what each year will bring (for example, just today, there are reports of hail in Burgundy killing this year’s harvest)… how they will handle that, and what the outcome of this vintage will be, will be fun to study in real time. 

The Passion Of Others. I prefer to learn about the smaller wineries. The reason for this is simple: When you talk to the winemakers or learn about their stories, you realize that these are passion projects by hard working people who care about what they’re doing. It also includes dashes of artistry and philosophy – letting business, creativity and science combine. And there’s a certain strength of humanity. Many of these people are taking huge risks to do something they love. The documentary I posted about last week captures this (I can’t speak for more than the preview, yet). Nearly 10 years ago, long before I had any real interest in wine, I read a story in People Magazine while in a doctor’s waiting room. Not many People Magazine stories stick with me, but this one did – and it’s an example of what makes small-family wineries interesting to me – or rather inspirational:

To understand the complex relationship between poverty, immigration, entrepreneurship and the American dream, you could read a few hundred books. Or, for the short course, you could ask Reynaldo Robledo. “I didn’t want my children to suffer as I did,” says Robledo, 54, who came to Northern California from Mexico at 16 to pick grapes. “And I wanted them to have what I couldn’t." 

They do. After years of working 14-hour days, Robledo became the first Mexican migrant worker to own a winery. The Robledo Family Winery sprawls over 200 scenic acres in Napa and Sonoma counties and turns out 5,500 cases each year. 

Then there’s the story of Ray Walker, who chased his dreams all the way to Burgundy. The New York Times did a nice write-up, but to really understand his passion and success, read the book.

In the interest of knowing when a post may be getting too long, I’ll stop here for now. I’ll continue to sprinkle this Tumblr with more reasons as we go along. To Be Continued… 

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