Drunk on a Feeling

I have to credit the eRobertParker.com news feed for this, but I just saw two short articles related to a subject that has been on my mind lately. One piece, from the website of a Southern California CBS affiliate, reports that wineries in the Temecula Valley wine country, where free tasting rooms are commonplace, are seeing more and more drunk, out-of-control customers. Some of the blame apparently goes to wine-tour limos and buses with on-board bars. According to one winemaker, “We had an individual in one of our wineries just a couple of days ago that decided, for whatever reason, to get himself over intoxicated and decided to strip in front of all the people that were out there.”

The second article, from a Rochester, New York, ABC affiliate, reports the same problem at Finger Lakes wineries, and a proposed remedy: The wine-trail associations want to hand out yellow or red warning cards to “groups treating a wine trail as a pub crawl.” I guess the feeling is that these wineries have too much to lose: With thousands of visitors every weekend, “they don’t want to risk losing customers who may be offended by crude behaviors like, ‘extreme profanity, people taking their clothes off, people going to the bathroom on my lawn,’” says one winemaker.

All this captured my attention because it raises again the disconnect between the culture of wine-tasting and the truth of wine-drinking. The former is built around education, information, and connoisseurship, and an atmosphere in which alcoholic intoxication is déclassé—as if only rubes would drink fermented grape juice for the funny feeling it gives them. But the latter, the truth of wine-drinking, is that the alcohol is the key ingredient. This is why I enjoyed a quote in the Finger Lakes piece from limo driver Stewart Alexander: “So long as they’re not destroying property—being boisterous and having a good time is what wine tours are about.”

I know it sounds like I’m siding with the limo driver, and that I’m all in favor of getting sloshed on wine tours. The truth is that I’m not sure what I think about all this. I’m reminded also of that scene in the movie Sideways when the Paul Giamatti character snaps and demands more wine in a tasting room and, when refused, begins gulping from the spit bucket. Giamatti’s character is a consummate intellectual wine-lover, and also a man drinking alcohol because he’s in a kind of emotional pain. So perhaps this is what I’m wondering: Is there a way to write and talk about wine that tells the whole truth about wine-drinking (i.e., that it can offer a lovely combined experience of kaleidoscopic flavors and drunkenness) all at once?

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