I wanted to title this story “Odd Bacchus” as a take on one of my favorite characters “Odd Thomas” created by writer Dan Koontz and the subject of six books. Unfortunately or possibly fortunately I can’t because I found a blogger who’s blog is called Odd Bacchus!
I can hear Odd Thomas voice in Odd Bacchus, “why do I drink obscure wines, they are what I can afford”, I don’t beleive Odd Bacchus’s day job is a short order cook, but I identify with his plight, I too drink odd (obscure) wines for the same reason they are what I can afford.
Like Odd Thomas’s world, the wine world is a kooky place. We talk about history and how wine is over 6,000 years old, but if you take a good hard look at it, it’s like democracy. The Greeks invented both 6th Century BC. They were producing large quantities of wine, shipping it all around the known world. Having great symposiums. Then the Romans show up and the world took a 2,750 year nap on both. As recent as the last 250 to 300 years both wine and democracy have reawaken and both are moving towards new golden age. Well, maybe wine.
We have a romantic vision of wine history, when the reality is humans drank wine because the water wasn’t safe, the wine tasted like really bad vermouth, and main function was to add calories and help ease the burden of life for just a little bit.
But wine and culture got tied together. Religion plays a big part in that, with all the symbolism, thank God for the Monks and what was the Ottoman Empire thinking?
About three hundred years ago technology, economics, and human nature all got together and used wine as common denominator and we started drinking wine because it tasted good and showed we had some class. Glass bottles and corks allow wine to last more than a few weeks, winemakers started understanding fermentation, changes in economics allow more people the luxury of time and money for wine and we started drinking wine because we appreciated it’s taste and not just to forget how hard life is.
Enter Phylloxera, two world wars, and economic depression, prohibition and both wine and democracy get locked in a closet by crazy humans again.
Wine’s break out year was 1982, I know some are going to say it was 1976 but it really was 1982. This was the beginning of a golden era that is still going on. We are making more and better wine today than ever before. The problem is it’s all the same wine, the same varietals and pretty much all made the same way. We are close to homogenizing wine. The New World Order is not a democracy. Thank goodness technology today allows the little people to make competitive products, if the wholesalers, distributors and governments let us sample them. Bottles of something unusual and obscure almost always come with great stories and that’s what I want to explore.
So, not to get Biblical on you, but if wine history is a bit dim, can we see wine’s future clearly? Ah, Maybe, possibly, no. Some see wine coming in only two versions Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay made in huge factories pumping out millions of bottles a year, loaded onto grocery shelves right next to the ketchup and mayonnaise. With a coupon you get 3 for $10. But they forget every state has a winery now, old counties Spain, Greece, and Georgia making old style wines using new modern technology. New countries making wines India and China. It’s all exciting, where’s it all going nobody knows. One thing is for certain, at no time ever has more and better wine been more available to the average human being.
Will Global warming will wipe wine out? Possibly, but they are making wine in England now, and that’s never been done with any success before. Some varietals in California may have to move to Washington or Oregon, or maybe southern Canada. I can tell you wine is growing great in Ontario Canada. And global warming might not matter at all.
What about marijuana? Will legalized recreational use of weed cause potential wine drinkers to never try wine? Is this going to be another page out of history where wine was dumped for an alternative beverage beer, spirits, coffee, tea, or soda? There are now “WEED” Sommeliers who will tell you how best to pair your smoke to your food. What will the anti smoking people do?
What’s the biggest threat to wine that I see? Government! Yes, for the first time in my life I’m an activist! FREE the GRAPES! Mostly I’m opposed to how government interferes with how wine is sold and distributed. It’s getting better but we still have a long way to go before we the consumers are in charge of what we drink. But there is also interference in the vineyard and the winery especially in EU countries, and possibly not enough here in the United States and other New World producing countries. And of course the age old problem of fraud. Wine has come further along the evolutionary trail than we humans have, we may not foul our drinking water, or maybe we do, but humans are still corrupt and evil.
Wine is as obscure as life itself, because it is alive. It is constantly changing and we pursue it with the best of our abilities and for the most part the best of intentions. Like life we want to know what is unknowable and that’s where the fascination and the fun of wine comes from. Always has, and I believe and hope always will.