I was chatting with Jim Chatto the other day (pardon the pun). Jimmy is the winemaker at the great Peppertree Winery and is not only an exceptional winemaker but is one of the world’s best blokes. We attended university together. Jimmy spent a lot of time in lectures whilst I spent most of the time in the pub. He regrets it now but I don’t give him a hard time about it. I mean, you only get one life and there are more pubs in the world than lecture theatres to get through, but he realises it now and that’s the most important thing.
At university, the conversation, as with the majority of testosterone-laden young lads, would invariably meander towards females or how much you drank the previous night or how much you drank the previous night and still managed to fulfil your sexual conquests…..with whom you can never quite remember…..but worthy of note (and maybe a beating of the chest) all the same. It’s funny how quickly life changes. Our conversation the other day was made up more of talking about the evaluation of oenological potential of the species Torulaspora delbrueckii which could possibly indicate significant intra-specific variability, in particular regarding its fermentative capacities including its lag phase, duration of fermentation and of its volatile acidity production. As if this was not a vast indicator that our youth was behind us, we vibrantly redirected the conversation to our kids and how cute they are. What? I know! Most conversations end up here nowadays. But you know what…..it puts a smile on our faces so there must be something in it.
I was telling Jimmy that I bought my kids their first case of wine for their perspective birthdays last year and that it is nearly birthday season again. Is that illegal? It probably is! I mean you can’t just go out and purchase alcohol on behalf of a minor, can you? I probably shouldn’t be telling you this then. I’m unsure of what is socially acceptable. My family only ever gave wine as presents. I distinctly remember my tenth birthday. A friend of mine excitedly asked what I ‘scored’ and so I excitedly replied “A bottle of 1977 Chateau Lafite and a bottle of 1976 Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey…..and a couple of BMX pads…..”
On my thirteenth birthday, my parents were in France and so my present was wrapped up and given to my school housemaster before they left. He brought it out and presented it to me on my birthday and inside sat six bottles of 1970 Ferreira Port. They were quickly confiscated and retrieved by my surprised parents upon their return. The ensuing meeting went something along the lines of…..
“…..Yes, but Mr and Mrs Marsh…..it is just not correct procedure to send alcohol as a present to your thirteen year old son…..”
“Really! Look, we don’t mean for him to drink them at school of course, but as we were away it is family tradition to give wine!”
“Well, alcohol is strictly forbidden in any form.”
“…..Will that be changing anytime soon?…..”
“No, Mrs Marsh!”
“Just thought I’d ask…..”
Of course, mum and dad gave the entire family wine for Christmas, birthdays, weddings, whatever. Stuff to put in the cellar, you know. Just like I’m doing with my kids. I don’t expect them to drink it now…..that would be silly…..the wines are not ready to drink yet! I have started a cellar for both of them and plan to stock it over time.
So did my parents neglect to appreciate society’s stance on the subject of alcohol? Possibly! Did this evolve into a rather precarious relationship with the consumption of alcohol within my family? Most definitely! Did we enjoy it? Bloody oath!
Wine was pretty well the only subject my family talked about at the dinner table. Well, wine and rugby. Oh, and horseracing. It was fun growing up in my house and the wine on the table was never just a drink. It was a story. A beautiful story. My parents would rehash tales of travel and discovery of the world’s most famous wine growing regions. Having based themselves for three long years in Europe in the early sixties, simply to experience the magic of France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Germany and alike, there was never a shortage of stories to share. They made wine come alive, thus creating a possibility for us to form a very, very deep respect for wine and the wine industry. So whilst it would be easy to accuse my parents of aiding and abetting their three offspring in the so-called dangerous land of alcohol consumption, one might consider this background with a hint of apathy.
I do not wish to forge a debate with regard to alcohol in society. I am a winemaker. You will lose. And as far as I can gauge, I am the only one with a pen in hand. I will say this, however. The wine industry, many years ago, without any pressure from outside, decided to self administer the common ‘Enjoy wine in moderation’ on each wine label. I do not believe in moderation myself, due to my upbringing, hence do not display this on my label, albeit most do.
Sadly, the consumption of alcohol can flirt with some serious consequences and so care must always be taken, which goes without saying. I always wonder though, if you have two people side by side in a hospital ward, one with alcohol-related illness and the other with an eating disorder (anorexia or obesity) it is clearly not the alcohol or food at fault. People put themselves in the position they often find themselves in. Sad but true. My parents may have sugar-coated the consumption of alcohol in our home with those colourful stories, leaving a forest of underlying dependency issues and feeding it with birthday and Christmas presents filled with exotic bottles from far and distant places, camouflaged by the wrapping paper…..but that was their way of expressing their love of wine and the enjoyment which ultimately precipitates from that. In the eyes of an anti-alcohol campaigner, this may be a concerningly irresponsible manner in which to conduct your family affairs, yet to us, those beautiful stories will forever live on and wine will remain the focus of our family.
Anyway, I must go and finish wrapping these fine bottles of Tyrrell’s 2005 Vat 1 as it is my little boy’s fourth birthday in a couple of days. One day, when he opens a bottle, a lovely, warm and grateful smile will appear on his face and all the beautiful wine stories of his youth will be ever present…….