Man and His Vines

Claude Levi-Strauss, whom has nothing to do with the jeans, concerned himself with the structural formation of myth in society. Recently, in thinking about wine, and how some of its original uses were to have a drink that did not come from tainted lakes, I came to a rather important realization. Many of our forefathers relied on wine-consumption, and only later did people begin to drink it socially. Levi-Strauss would perhaps tell us that wine has thus developed a mythical status in culture, and by the principles of evolutionary psychology, the act of drinking wine may no longer be for survival, but what remains is the primitive feeling of relief at having wine, which is as engrained in our being as is the feeling of happiness at Spring time.

One of the reasons that human beings find that wine and food go so well together, is because human beings used to drink wine with their food out of necessity. Secondly, wine and travel also go hand in hand, as people used to carry gourds of wine on journeys. Now let us get to the ‘New World.’ Many of the colonies belonging to Spain, Holland, Belgium, Germany and Britain were strategic outposts or refuelling stations along the trade-routes. When one is on a ship for months, it is impossible to keep water fresh in barrels. Though the Caribbean pirates may have solved the problem with rum, the Spaniards and the Dutch drank wine and fortified wine (brandy and port) to keep their thirst quenched whilst at high-seas. So, if we think about our ancestors, a rather apt image would be galleons of tipsy sailors, blindly navigating uncharted territories in the name of discovery and conquest, whilst getting progressively more enthused and courageous as they drank from their gourds, hence the term ‘Dutch courage.’

Jan van Riebeeck (South Africa’s equivalent of Columbus, except from Holland) is known to have planted vines he had been keeping on the journey on the very day he first landed on South African shores. In fact, many of the Spanish and Dutch sailors, though they left their wives at home until the second voyage, were sure to pack seedlings of grape vines on the first. In those days men survived months without a woman, but could barely go a day without wine. One can see evidence of this in New World vineyards, in that many wine producing regions are close to sea-ports (New York, San Francisco, Cape Town), and only later in the region’s history, do vineyards go more inland.

In my mind’s eye I sometimes envision myself and other wine-guys as a intrepid explorers, unsung hero of agriculture, straight from the colonies of the Old Empire, setting foot on American soil to flaunt fabulous produce and bring a taste of the world to your doorstep.

Going back to my days as a wine promoter, it was of course at the first appointment of the day when I was forced to taste my first glass of wine (retailers get suspicious when you appear to not be drinking your own product.) And true, even though one does their best to spit, it is impossible for the alcohol to not permeate into the body through the blood-rich tissue beneath the tongue. As the days progresses, the feeling of my sailing forefathers enters my body, and I feel like an intrepid explorer on the wild avenues of Manhattan, conquering restaurants with this mystical juice that comes with many tales of a foreign land.

Even though wine is no longer necessary to our survival, as Levi-Strauss would confirm, it has gone from having mythical status to entering the everyday vernacular, and from here on, wine is a part of our lives and engrained within our consciousness!

Perhaps I allow myself to get carried away on romantic flights of fancy that wax lyrical of what some people may see as no more than an alcoholic beverage. However, I wouldn’t be the only one to be seduced by the juice’s fancy, after all, over the ages red wine has proved to be a catalyst for poetry, imagination, philosophy, politics, civilization, culture and love.

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