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When the wine bug bites

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I was newly arrived in California. It was the year 1978. I was living at my cousin’s house, in Benicia; it was the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and I remember how it blew my mind when my cousin went out to her backyard to pick lettuce for dinner. I’d left Boston the day before in a blizzard.

Her husband decided to barbecue. We went to the Safeway to pick up a couple of steaks and my cousin directed her cart to the wine aisle. She stood in front of shelves of wine bottles and began picking them up one by one, reading them, turning them around and reading the back labels. She did this for quite some time, until I grew impatient.

“What the heck are you doing?” I said. “Just grab one. They’re all the same.”

My cousin looked at me with that combination of pity and scorn that lets me know I’ve just said something unutterably stupid, and said: “You don’t just grab a bottle of wine. You think about which one to get.”

Looking back, I realize that my cousin didn’t really know what she was doing. She was making her decision not on an informed basis, but because of how the label looked and what the text said. But I didn’t know that then. Something about what she said, and the way she said it, had a lasting impact on me. I was, at that very moment, bitten by the wine bug.

In the days and weeks that followed, I started buying wine guidebooks and hanging out in wine shops, asking the employees questions like “Why does this — how do you pronounce it? — Cab-er-nett saw-vig-non cost twice as much as this one?” Less than a year later I’d moved to San Francisco and become a denizen of the wine scene. All very unusual in a kid who’d never even tasted wine, except to get drunk at parties.

When I used to write for another wine magazine, I did an article on getting bitten by the wine bug. I interviewed psychologists and psychiatrists to ask them to explain it, and while I no longer remember their exact theories, I do recall talk about anal retention.

I still don’t understand what the “wine bug” is and how and why it bites so improbably, but I don’t waste time anymore thinking about it. I’m blessed that the bug chose me to bite; wine has afforded me a great job for many years.

When did you get bitten by the wine bug? What happened?

  1. The wine bug hit me when my husband/partner Jose brought me to California, because he had come out the year before, came home and announced, “In five years we’ll be moving to California.” (Five years later, we did move.) Meanwhile, once I had visited California, I saw the potential that far outweighed anything I could do in Maine, wine et al.

    The real reason I’m responding to you, though, is not about the wine bug… It’s about anal retention. I once had it explained to me that annal retention has to do with being such a perfectionist that it’s not possible to put closure on a project, because it’s never quite perfect enough.

    You’ve published two books now? How great is that!

  2. Great post Steve. Wine bog got me last near on my first trip to napa. Always liked wine, always wanted to know more about it, but never looked into it. As soon as I started driving through wine country, talking to wine makers and visiting vineyards and wineries I was hooked. That was june ’07. Now I’m studying for certified specialist of wine, and trying to figure out how I can make a career change. Go figure?

    As far as a ‘bug’ is concerned, its not just wine. After only hitting golf balls at a driving range and mini golf, for 30 years ,,, I finally had the nerve to play a real course , full 18 holes. I got a golf bug then to.

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