Editorial: A Kerouacian defence of wine

By , 23 February 2024



Jack Kerouac, 1922 – 1969.

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!” is the famous quotation from the 1957 novel On the Road by Jack Kerouac and it seems pertinent to the global wine industry right now.

According to the International Organisation of Vine and Wine or OIV, global wine consumption fell about 6% between 2017 and 2022 or, put differently, nearly 1.9 billion fewer wine bottles were drunk in 2022 than in 2017. This gets to attributed to a change in consumer drinking habits plus the cost-of-living crisis but as OIV points out, China’s consumption declined dramatically over the period in question while of course Covid-19 led to massive restrictions on the movement of people and goods.

It would, however, be naive to overlook the switch away from alcohol that is happening across the world. Gen Z are pre-occupied with self-care and mindfulness and the health drawbacks of all alcohol are problematic – the WHO statement issued in January 2023 insisting that no level of alcohol consumption is safe has already taken out huge significance in this regard.

More prosaically, there does seem to be a trend afoot that sees consumers care less and less about wine. In an article discussing current vinous stylistics published in December last year, Meininger’s International wrote “one [view] that will be unpalatable to traditionalists is what might inelegantly be called the ‘beverization’ of wine: the conversion of what many still see as a product closely associated with terroir, vintages and food matching into a beverage like any other”.

What has all of this got to do with Kerouac, you may ask? Well, in the face of these difficult trading conditions, the wine industry seems remarkably slow to mount any sort of defence of its position. In some quarters, there seems to be an implicit guiltiness about the medical dangers posed by alcohol while in others, an air of despair seems to be creeping in.

Let me say straight away any defence of wine consumption must start by acknowledging its risks. Is alcohol good for you when considered purely in terms of physical health? I think we all know the answer is “No”. Is liquor advertising going to be banned? Are more explicit health warnings on bottles coming? Almost definitely. Some will be inclined to debate whether such steps are scientifically defensible but I would argue that this is not terribly helpful as a rather tedious to-and-fro between drinkers and the neo-temperates ensues.

A much more compelling argument for wine, or at least fine wine, is that both its production and consumption is essentially romantic rather than rational and it is the preserve of the slightly mad rather than the completely sane. Throughout history, wine has played a significant role in various cultures, often serving as a centerpiece for social gatherings and facilitating relaxation and bonding among individuals. “The singing and dancing lies in the second half of the bottle”, as Jan Boland Coetzee once said, and perhaps something Kerouac would’ve approved of.

More fundamentally, it comes to personal choice and freedom. Adults should be able make decisions about their own consumption of alcohol, provided they do so with good judgement. Just as with any other potentially mind-altering substance, don’t underestimate my knowledge of the risks and benefits – relative to all the other perils that life presents, I’ll take my chances…

Prohibitionism in the past came about due to a segment of the population wanting to strictly enforce a societal norm and there is the possibility of this happening again. Nobody is saying that better informing the public isn’t desirable but a government that makes decisions for people that they otherwise might make for themselves is concerning – it leads to conformity and conformity is destructive in the sense that it marginalises those who think or behave differently. Those that are “mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing” are sidelined and personality becomes pathology. Instead, I say drink, drink responsibly but don’t drink fearfully or contritely, and live an authentic life!


9 comment(s)

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    Mike Carter | 28 February 2024

    Thank you, Christian, for defending wine so passionately.
    You make some really good points, but is it your intention to rally the wine faithful or rather persuade the unconvinced?
    Regarding the decline in global wine consumption, I covered this in my deep dive last week. Perhaps you or your readers might want to take a look and send me your comments.

    Duncan | 27 February 2024

    Great piece but, again, is there really good reason to believe young people are turning against wine? The OIV report shows that in the US, where the economic recovery has been stronger than Europe, consumption is up. Meanwhile, wine bars are flourishing in London, Paris, New York, Joburg and Cape Town. And if we’re going by anecdotes, Gen Z are willing to spend a little more for interesting, high quality wines (see e.g. https://www.ft.com/content/76ad4ef6-10e1-4075-9ca5-bbbc8fa4c196 and https://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/travel-dining/a45999648/gen-z-loves-fine-wine-trend/ andhttps://www.standard.co.uk/going-out/bars/wine-bars-london-best-drinks-trend-b1106851.html). Considering how many Gen Zs vape, it’s hardly plausible that they’re all health conscious ascetics who are unsusceptible to marketing.

    Younger drinkers may claim to prioritise quality over quantity, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the fine wine trade. And as the economy improves, it would be unsurprising if they opted for both.

    As for the health effects of drinking, it simply is the case the alcohol is bad for you. The evidence is at this point incontrovertible. Why should we pretend otherwise? Moreover, in societies with no or little alcohol, people socialise just fine without it.

    Hendrik Louw | 27 February 2024

    From these comments I dare to say: “Don’t worry. We are obviously still many who’s mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved….”. Thanks for a brilliant article and great comments by all. Let’s pull the cork!

    Erwin Lingenfelder | 27 February 2024

    Wanneer my vrou my vra om myself te gedra, herhinner ek haar altyd dat sleg gedra ook gedrag is. Vive le saboteurs!

    Daryl Balfour | 27 February 2024

    Governments’ & and civil authorities’ burning desire to control (restrict, deny) peoples’ freedom of choice have an ultimate & ulterior end position – they’d get the most satisfaction and achieve their apparent end goal of denying We The People’s ability to have any choice and control over electing our leaders. Dictatorships loom…

    Christina De Vries-Wright | 27 February 2024

    Very interesting, brilliantly written, and I, for one, am in the ‘mad’ corner!

    jack moolman | 27 February 2024

    Very well said….give the man a Cab!
    Wyn is ‘n sielsding, jy het dit of jy drink iets anders soos tee.

    Konrad | 27 February 2024

    Christopher Hitchens reminds us in the introduction to ‘Everyday Drinking’ by Kingsley Amis that our use of the simple Italian word for ‘bottle’ is perhaps indicative of many things. “Fiasco” has an etymology that points nicely to humanity’s use of bottles.

    People are quick to throw about wisdom such as “alcohol is a good servant, but a bad master”. But people who say things like this are exactly the kind of people who are made a lot less boring by the judicious use of alcohol.

    Not to say that wine bores and cocktail bores aren’t a thing. Perhaps this new trend to proudly not use alcohol will shut up a few of the more dreary experts causing a queue at the bar with their shopping list of requests and ingredients.

    But alcohol fills the gap in our mean hearts. The ritual itself is one of generosity (although some people seem to not understand that there’s a reason the cork struggles to go back into the bottle).

    From I think the New york times –
    “Amis wrote with feeling about alcohol’s place in society. “The human race,” he noted, “has not devised any way of dissolving barriers, getting to know the other chap fast, breaking the ice, that is one-tenth as handy and efficient as letting you and the other chap, or chaps, cease to be totally sober at about the same rate in agreeable surroundings.” And he could not help observing the way that “hilarity and drink are connected in a profoundly human, peculiarly intimate way.”

    Pierre Martin-Prével | 24 February 2024

    Drinking wine is not drinking any beverage, it’s drinking history.

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