When I first started working at K&L I did an April Fools joke where I came in early and switched some of the wine reviews in the store with fake ones that read something like, "Kalinda Zinfandel - This wine will get you totally wasted" and "Napa Chardonnay - You won't remember how bad it actually is." I never actually left them up for customers to see, only for some of the staff members and our manager, but the jest was that these signs were catering to an adolescent sense of drinking. Getting drunk for cheap is really important for college students and young club go-ers, but as adults we're supposed to be drinking moderately for taste, for dinner, for hanging out with friends, or to unwind with something nice after work. That's why our signs tell you about the flavor of the wines, how the grapes were grown, what you should pair with them, and why we think they're great. However, while many wine and spirit enthusiasts are delighted to shop on our website and in our stores with this wealth of consumer information, there are still those who are motivated by status and showmanship.
However, rather than start another one of my whiny tirades about points and trophy hunters, I'd rather focus on what motivates us, or in this case me personally, to continually taste and experiment with new alcoholic beverages. It does begin with a youthful curiousity for change in consciousness, but as we become more experienced we long for more sophistication. Why did I want to quit teaching and work at K&L Wine Merchants? Why do I spend so much money on booze? Why do I want to read books about wine and whisky instead of books about architecture or history? I think that I am more able to answer that question now than ever before, but there are different reasons for different drinks and I think that what they represent in our lives plays an important role in these meanings.
Wine used to be a fun way to get my buzz on that didn't fill me up as much as beer, or wipe me out as quickly liquor. I remember drinking Yellowtail Chardonnay and having dinner parties when I was 23 where we all sat down and drank what we thought was good booze. I remember wanting to like Scotch when I was 19 because no one else I knew was drinking it, and that would help me to stand out, I guess. We had nights at UCSD where we would force ourselves to drink Blandy's on the rocks until we finally started to like it (kind of like how one gets hooked on cigarettes). The origins were always grounded in fun and image, which is why the alcohol industry continues to market on that idea. Cristal at the dance club, tequila in the new rap video, and even Hennessey XO at the after party. If Puff Daddy is drinking it, then it must be amazing! While I have never wanted to drink something simply because someone famous was doing so, I must admit that I am still heavily influenced by liquor in the movies. If the boys at Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Price start pouring a round on TV, then I find myself strolling over to the bar to make myself a drink as well. Sideways made me very wary about drinking Merlot (because I didn't know if it was actually good or not at the time), but it also made me long for the knowledge that Miles had about wine.
Perceived objective expertise about subjective themes is a powerful motivator as well - again it's about image. Being able to dabble in art criticism, music criticism, literary criticism, really any criticism that involves experience and knowledge can be very attractive, but it usually tends to make people look bad rather than good. The guy who acts like he knows the most and feels like he needs to tell you about it is usually the biggest jerk at the party. Nevertheless, it's what motivated me at a young age to get more serious about drink (because I have been that jerk many a night). As time went by and I landed the job at K&L, I realized that I knew absolutely nothing compared to my colleagues and I was forced to shut up and accept my giant spoonful of humility. My friends still thought I was super cool and knowledgable, but I knew better and that kept my ego in check.
I have always been a researcher so I had a blast learning about wine and spirits by delving into encyclopedic volumes about the subject. That was the first change regarding alcohol's role in my life - from intoxicating to educational. Three years later it has become ritualistic - a natural way to end the evening, or the perfect accompanyment to my weekend hobbies. I have developed a passion for food and cooking, so wine fits in naturally. I like the idea of sitting around a table with my friends and eating well, enjoying really interesting wines while we chat and a glass of whisky after we're through. Booze has become romantic in its importance, as much an idealistic image in my mind as it is a tangible force in my glass. Perhaps what has changed for me most dramatically is the necessity for what I drink to be recognizable to any one other than me. When my buddies came over I used to launch into a diatribe about how what they were drinking was amazing because of a), b), and c). I wanted everyone to realize that not just anyone could drink this, you had to be very special! Now I just pour it and we keep talking about our lives. If they feel the need to comment on its quality or ask me a question I'm happy to answer, but I no longer go into an account of Pappy Van Winkle's lifestory and highly-regarded reputation before we even take a sip.
More on this later. I'm really all over the place here.