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Wine and the Story Arc

Rare is the man who is comfortable in chaos.  Most of us wish for some sort of orderly taxonomy that brings structure to our world. 

At the least, we want something that helps us do some mental housekeeping so we can file or filter the information that we do not care about.

This must explain why many books and articles are all some variation of a list, as in:  “9 Ideas for the Thanksgiving Table,” “Top 100 wines of 2008,” so on and so forth. 

This notion, combined with the end of the year when we begin to see recaps of the events that shaped 2008, led me to do some quick research on the “seven types of stories.”

You see, in the world of wine, where our industry is not heavily news driven, we tend to fall into the same patterns of storytelling.  In the past, I have been chief critic of this because, well, sometimes the wine business is … boring. 

Snoozers like an afternoon nap; not exciting like nightlife at three am. 

Wine is more like a small town rife with subtle nuance and not a city environment teeming with the strife that marks conflict oriented humanity.

Check out the below and tell me that you do not see re-occurring patterns around the story types.

1)  Man v. Nature

Wine is, if anything, a product of nature.  We always see stories about the weather.  This year it was a late frost and smoke from wild fires potentially tainting grapes.

2)  Man v. Man

Wine is very political.  Usually these stories have change at the center of them – a recent story that falls into this category is E&J Gallo wanting to expand the Russian River Valley AVA against the wishes of a good many people.

3)  Man v. the Environment

This one saw a lot of action this year with Alice Feiring’s treatise on natural winemaking, natural yeasts, etc.

4)  Man v. Machines

This story angle has been a little subdued this year compared to 2007, but a classic example is Clark Smith and the ongoing debate about micro-oxygenation, de-alcoholization, and the intervention of technology in winemaking

5) Man v. The Supernatural

Hello Biodynamics.  We love to talk about the wackiness of burying the dung-filled cow horn at the equinox.

6)  Man v. Self

Wine loves an underdog story and our industry is especially ripe for folks coming from other industries and finding their true selves within the context of the grape.

7)  Man v. God/Religion

This is, perhaps, the most difficult to analogize because California and the wine industry is seemingly secular—I think the easiest thing to relate here is the concept of “terroir” which is, essentially a religious debate, and one that rages on year after year. 

As we wind down 2008, Thanksgiving, our time for quiet gratitude just passed, the calendar also marking the passage of another year of age for me, I take some measure of solace in the seeming simplicity and relative inconsequentiality of the wine storylines that populate our consciousness.

As I mentioned, most of us are not comfortable in chaos, gripping to order to make sense of things that are beyond our comprehension. 

Frankly, call it my age or the times, but I am coming to enjoy the small town, forsaking the city.

In a world and the attendant news cycle that is ever more complex, uncertain and dangerous, I find myself thankful that the world of wine is an oasis and a simple throwback to times when life was more orderly, and, well, there were seven basic stories to tell. 


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