Learning to drink
I was reading this article on Decanter.com about schoolchildren in Bordeaux learning the basics of winemaking. How lovely, I thought, that they are learning about the heritage of their region in such a hands-on way. It will give them a chance to decide whether they want to be involved in it in the future, and ensuring that the wonderful tradition continues to thrive. It reminded me again of one of the differences between our two cultures; I remember being in France as a teenager and being offered a small glass of wine with a meal by the family that had put me and a friend up for a week. It tasted exciting and unfamiliar, as I hadn’t really had wine before, but oddly enough, it didn’t make me want to knock back the rest of the bottle and go on a crime spree.
Here in the UK we are so obsessed with the evils of binge drinking culture that we sometimes forget that not every little girl that takes a sip of cider when they are under 18 is going to end up pregnant and on benefits. Nor will every lad end up smuggling Special Brew out of Asda in their shell suit.
That little glass in France was not my first taste of alcohol (and as you know, it was not exactly my last), but it was the one that made me realise that the purpose of drinking is not necessarily to get as drunk as possible very quickly and then make an absolute arse of oneself. Mild inebriation and the lowering of inhibitions is not something I will ever pretend to dislike though – and we’ve observed before in this very blog that most of us would be a lot less interested in wine if getting drunk was not a side effect of consuming it.
My first proper session was some years before, when I spent the evening with a friend who reckoned she could get served at a local village off-licence. She did indeed get served, and so we each had a considerable volume of cider to consume in the short time before my mum came to pick me up. We went to a local building site, and sat inside the shell of a house, gulping cider. Once it was gone, we didn’t really know what to do, so we kind of wandered around, and then made our way back to my friend’s house where she shoved a load of biscuits in my mouth because she had heard my mum’s car outside and somehow the consumption of biscuits would disguise the fact that I could barely stand up. Politely, my mum ignored my inebriation, and just quietly drove away while I flailed around with the seatbelt, spat bits of biscuit into my bag, and eventually passed out, until the door was opened for me at the other end of the journey and I fell straight out of the car and into a bush.
When I got into the wine industry I think my parents saw it as a good thing – for one thing, they had, for a while, a steady stream of well chosen and amply discounted wines at their disposal. I think there was a bit of pride too – particularly from my dad, as if in spite of me having done a Masters, his daughter knowing about wine was actually something that he would want to tell his peers about. But most obviously, I think there was a sense of relief – as if wine was the path that would ensure I didn’t end up pregnant and homeless and smuggling cider out of Asda in a shell suit. The perception of wine is inherently preferable to that of spirits or cider or beer – as if drunkenness doesn’t really count as long as you drink something posh.
I don’t have any children yet but when I do, I want to make sure they understand that alcohol is not something to be messed around with, but nor is it something to be feared. That might mean they get to taste a little wine with a meal when they are teenagers – just so they can appreciate it in moderation and understand that it is okay. Perhaps they will still end up falling out of a car into a bush, and if they do, I hope I can exercise the same restraint as my mother did back in the day. But hopefully through tasting wine in moderation and integrating it into something as relaxed as a family dinner, they will never feel that need to get hideously drunk out of control. Maybe they will even end up appreciating wine the way I do – and one day I’ll find out they are working in the industry just like I did. And I’ll be relieved, and secretly proud too, that they have chosen the right path.