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My tattoo is like a red, red wine


A couple years ago, Dr. Vino had a blog on “wine tattoos.” I found it after Googling “wine and tattoos” (it came up second, just after a hit for a brand with the word “tattoo” in the name). Dr. Vino had pointed out how so many people, especially Millennials, are not only getting tattoos these days, they’re getting wine tattoos. Tyler showed pictures with wine cork tattoos and tattoos  of glassfuls of wine. In return, people commented and sent in pictures of their own wine tattoos, including a guy with big, purple grape bunches on his arm.

I got my own tattoo the day before yesterday, but it wasn’t a wine tattoo. When I first decided to get a tattoo, Philip, the artist, asked what I wanted. I said I didn’t know. “What about grapes?” he asked, knowing my proclivities. “Or wine bottles?” “Good heavens, no!” I said (well, words to that effect), fairly screaming. I live and breathe wine 24/7. The last thing I wanted was to have my first tattoo be anything about wine.

Anyway, we finally worked out the design.


The process took about 3 hours and wasn’t nearly as painful as I’d feared. While I watched Philip do his art (with his chihuahua, Lula, in my lap, which helped ease me), it crossed my mind that there was a similarity between Philip’s work and that of a winemaker. A tattoo is first envisioned in the imaginations of both the tattoo artist and the tattoo getter. In my case, there was real collaboration with Philip, because the actual image, being on you for the rest of your life, should not be trivially conceived. Philip and I engaged in what was almost like psychotherapy, as he tried to help me figure out what image I wanted. The theme of black-and-red roses, intertwined on thorny vines, was what we came up with. (Don’t ask me to explain it here. Next time you and I are drinking, I can tell you.)

Then the hard task of creating it occurs. There is physical effort, some degree of discomfort, and the task is time-consuming. And while the tattoo artist is working, he’s usually playing his favorite music on a CD. When the new tattoo is completed, it still isn’t ready; it needs a week or so to firm up, for the skin to recover. When the tattoo finally is ready, there it is, in all its glory.

Wine, too, first is envisioned in the winemaker’s mind. He imagines all he knows of the vintage (I’m talking about good wine, not supermarket stuff), all he remembers of past vintages, everything he knows about the vineyard. He is, in fact, communing with himself, to determine with the greatest precision he can what his eventual wine will be like. This process is ongoing; even after the grapes are crushed, the winemaker will be making decisions, right through to bottling. He wants to get the reality of what’s in the bottle as close as he can to the Platonic picture in is mind.

There are hard tasks in winemaking, too. Winemakers sweat and get hurt and occasionally bleed in the performance of their jobs. They grow cold in winter and hot in summer. There’s almost always music playing in a winery, unless the tourists are filling up the place and they have to turn it off. And when the wine finally is in the bottle, it’s not yet ready to drink. Like raw skin after a fresh tattoo, the new wine needs time to settle down, to get over its shock, to heal. But when it’s finally ready, there it is, in all its glory.

Okay, maybe I’m stretching comparisons a little thin. But believe it or not, going through this experience of getting a tattoo has made me more sensitive to the intricacies and agonies of making wine.

  1. OK – I need to hear the tattoo origin story over some beers!

  2. Get yourself out here, Dude, and I’ll tell you all.

  3. I’ve been contemplating ink for years (my wife has a tattoo, so the pressure was on me to get one for a while) but I ran into a big problem – no idea WHAT art to use.

    I have a friend who lost his first son very early, when the boy was just about reaching toddler age. He has a gorgeous tattoo of his son on his upper arm near his shoulder. After I saw that, it was like… how on earth could any image mean more to me than this means to my buddy? Ever since then, I’ve been stumped as to what artwork to pick. I suppose it’s one of those things that, when the time is right, I’ll just know it and will go ahead and get it done.

  4. Dude: it’s a big decision, all right. I feel really bad for your friend. Worst thing that can happen. You’re right, when the time comes, you’ll know. Probably a good idea to let your wife have a say, too!

  5. very nice Steve, and even when I think abut ink on self I don’t know what it would be? someday perhaps, keep us posted Dude.

  6. Looks great, my friend, and kudos for taking the plunge. Now you’ve got me thinking tattoo…

  7. Dayum, Paul, you gonna copy everything I do!? ; >

  8. good read, sent you an email with a pic of my wine inspired ink..cheers

  9. well, i am certainly glad you didn’t compare a tattoo to something like… childbirth. you wouldn’t be the only one screaming about that one. but some 3-hour inking on the wrist to a winemaker’s months of waiting and hoping and watching to see how it all turns out, not to mention the crazy financial commitment and risk to an unknown, and that doesn’t even cover if that person grows the grapes themselves and all THAT entails, sans the luxury of music playing in the background and a little lap dog for company as someone else does all the work, no, shouldn’t be too much screaming from the ranks about that. heehee.

    am i the only one who caught “my FIRST [caps mine] tattoo”?!

  10. Stephanie, well said. No guarantees about future tats.

  11. thanks, Steve — and i forgot to mention, besides your beautifully daring and stunning tat heavily laden with symbolism, that any moment that is an a-Ha! moment filled with insight and clarity is a wonderful moment, and i in no way meant to poo poo yours.

  12. Stephanie, you didn’t. Every moment is aha!, especially the tough ones, of which we all have enough.

  13. Wine Tats are a fun topic. In fact, two of my young low 20 something TR staff are tatted with wine and grapes. On one, the colorful vine crawls up from her upper leg and ends up (I think) just below her armpit! Too bad when i was into tat’s, they are all from a life long ago… Punk Rock. With Punk Rock, you either retire (like I was able to do) or die. Just remember, they go on super easy, but are extremely painful to remove.

    Steve, just keep the tats blow the neckline, ok? Otherwie, you’ll freak everyone out. And stay away from the knuckles too. I almost went there once in San Diego.

  14. And I do hope Charlie will chime in on this one as well. Charlie! Tell us your Tattoo story!

  15. Randy–

    Thanks for asking.

    Here is my tat story in complete detail.

    NOW, wasn’t that fun reading?

  16. Steve,

    Wasn’t this the column you were saving for April 1st….?

  17. Nope, that’s a whole other ball of wax!

  18. I heard it was an ink of a different color.

  19. Monica Larner says:

    I’m shocked. Never pinned you as the tattoo type. Can’t wait to see it!

  20. Wow! Awesome body with a tatto that really compliments it well ^^,

  21. I love tattoos and don’t for a minute regret having any of them, I’m currently getting a koi tattoo sleeve down my right arm can’t wait to get it all done! as can only afford shortsittings at anytime. My local tattoo artist is very experienced and also very expensive but, he’s worth it! Great site btw

  22. Lane, I’ve seen some gorgeous koi tattoos!

  23. I was searching for tattoos and found your site..thanks for sharing.

  24. Bob Henry says:

    And a decade later, here is “The Full Monty” story.

    “[Chapter] 21. Tattoos”


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