My obsessions give shape and meaning to my life. Through my early 20s I built my summers and three books around Yosemite rock-climbing. In my late 20s, when I was getting a PhD in American literature, I spent a lot more time riding waves at isolated surf breaks than in the graduate stacks of the UC Santa Cruz library. Flamenco guitar made a brief appearance in my early 30s, when the anguished and defiant pride of the Gypsies felt (weirdly) like the perfect outlet for my own problems. Carpentry came next—I have an old house, and I’m still neck-deep in that one, restoring the place. But the food-and-wine obsession, which took hold about five years ago, looks to be the most enduring of all.
It started with the birth of my first daughter, when the postfeminist division of labor meant that if my wife was going to bathe and wrangle the baby every night, I was going to have to cook dinner. An hour a day of flamenco guitar (well, OK, sometimes it was six hours) had got me pretty far pretty fast, both in terms of finger-speed and in terms of annoying my wife, so I figured I’d treat the pleasures of the table in the same way: I’d develop a plan for exploring those pleasures, and I’d plug away every night. Five years and more than 1,000 Chez Panisse recipes later (Alice Waters was my Montessori preschool teacher, eons ago, so I was naturally drawn to her books), I have a basement freezer holding cuts from the whole lamb, pig, and cow I’ve bought directly from farmers, I have a diverse (though by no means high-dollar) wine cellar, and I also have a clear understanding of exactly how wine (and food) fits into my life, and of exactly how I feel best writing about wine.
Wine, for me, is one marvelous, indispensable instrument in the symphony (or rock band, or quintet, or whatever) of a well-lived life. I do love listening to a great soloist—tasting a wine in the abstract, I mean, either at a winery’s tasting room or simply at my own kitchen table. I even enjoy comparing soloists in the abstract—tasting wines against each other, in the classic, isolated, and analytical manner of the wine critic—and I’m intrigued by the challenge of rendering that soloist’s sound in a prose that actually helps other people see where I’ve been, and what I’ve tasted, and even what they might taste if they followed. But the real wine journey for me—the one I’m on, and the one I’m recording in this blog—is about mastering the ways in which wine can add pleasure to life. In part, that means that I intend to write about the basic principles of wine knowledge as I have come to understand them—the clear, simple ways of thinking that decode a ridiculously diverse and confusing subject. But it’s also about the fact that the pleasure of wine isn’t especially meaningful to me when it’s not tailored to and savored in the context of friends, family, food, timing, mood, and everything else that helps shape our experience of the world. So when I write about wine, I write also about the life led around wine—by myself, and the people I drink with, but also by the wine-world professionals I meet along the way.