Saturday, February 7, 2009

Fifty-Eight Twice

I am actually 57 but I have been telling myself and everyone else for the past year that I am 58. Why, one might ask, have I done this? It seems a little bit strange to lie to yourself, make yourself older than you are (unless you are a teenager trying to buy cigarettes or beer). My reasoning is as follows. As everyone is aware, as you get older, time seems to speed up, the years start to fly, this is my way of slowing down that process, by skipping 57 I get to be 58 for two years and time seems somehow readjusted to the pace that I remember.

You may criticize me, and justly. 'Isn't this just obvious facile self-deception?' you may ask. The answer is 'of course it is', 'yes', but! it seems to work. I feel more relaxed, not under so much pressure associated with a date certain in the future, my birthday will inevitably come but it will not signal any change, all will be the same, I will just be 58--again. -- I will have a 'do-over'. We all have our dirty little secrets. This is mine.

One of the remarkable (and sometimes frustrating) things about wine is that you can't really rush it, nor can you slow it down or go back. It just takes time, all these processes of infiltration, coagulation, clarification, transmutation the resolution of myriads of complex interactions, links in the chain, rungs in the ladder that must be ascended one by one, no skipping, no going back. In wine there are no 'do-overs'.

By now the reader should be able to recognize that last paragraph from beginning to end is just one more facile self-serving lie. You can't always expect a perfect vintage, so, it is, or should be, common knowledge that a winemaker can also elect to compensate for the vagaries of nature and time. One can mask a deficient vintage with heavier oaking; a sickly Pinot can be turned into a passable Champagne; the natural bitterness of a Gewurztraminer can be easily masked with the addition of a little sugar. Steps can be skipped, even omitted. Yes, the winemaker's dirty little secret is this; the mistakes or deficiencies in wine, as in life, usually can be corrected, however, in winemaking there is no corresponding impunity; in winemaking there is always a price exacted. Winemakers who learn to correct flimsy wines with oak tannins or other methods can easily fall prey to the assumption that all their efforts will benefit from this approach. Do I exaggerate? Do I kid? How about fifteen years of over-oaked Chardonnays from California?

When correction becomes a habit instead of an ameliorative (and it always does), that is the danger. An ethic of correction inevitably becomes an ethic of over-correction. With a little marketing you can make over-oaking acceptable, even desirable. It then becomes the same in life. One can say or do whatever one wants without regard to people's feelings because it can always be smoothed over later, one can play fast and loose with quality and fix it later with a good ad campaign, the goal becomes no to do 'the best one can do' but rather 'the best one can on average'. In the world of statistics better and worse are equal heresies. It is the ethic of the 'do-over'. What's wrong with this approach, arguably, the statistically correct approach? Well maybe you happen to miss that one perfect vintage, that grape that really needed nothing or next to nothing to make a perfect wine. Maybe it will be 1 out of 10, maybe it will only be 1 out of 100 but, with the 'do-over' ethic you are sure to miss it. Maybe 57 would actually would have been better than 58 twice. The fact is I will never know. The one good thing is that 58 twice is not 116.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing.

    I'm reading The E-Myth by Michael Gerber. Fascinating read, very quick, very thought-provoking. Great points throughout. If you want to become McDonalds and eminently replicable and provide customers with deja vu every time they come to your restaurant.

    Very much like a do-over. But not in some ways. For the replicability of an experience you would dress in the same suit that you sell the most in, say the same tag lines, sell the same products the same way, create the products in the same way time & again -- until the numbers tell you that it needs tweaking...unless you're in one of those stores with a "limited time offer" of some new trial offering (and again, the sales statistics dictate whether it will become a regular new offering).

    Thank you for the reminder that average is a thin veil for boredom and mediocrity -- or worse! I might get startlingly predictable money at the expense of having a soul. After all, the perfectly replicable burgers, shakes, and "would you like fries with that?" have amounted to the subjugation of the human race to abject nutritional starvation as seen in our (as a rule) obesity.

    Everything McDonalds touches is about replication and predictable sums of money. A mature McDonalds franchise can predictably get $1M in sales per year, and name recognition is responsible for a nearly profitable business upon opening.

    Thus is the soulless organization lead by the wallet and not by what is actually good for people in general. They turn around from that one possible perfect bottle of wine, from that crop of perfect grapes, in the name of the predictable experience of the over-oaked vintage. E-Myth philosophy to the letter.

    Bless you, you've saved my soul. Since I'm a minister, perhaps I can nominate you for sainthood....