If I have one failing as a wine writer, apart from my inability to spell abstemious, (editor please correct), I fear it’s my overuse of certain words and not just because I can spell them.
Take cigar box, for example. By my count I’ve used those words hundreds of times over the years, and have I ever sniffed or licked an actual cigar box? Two or three times maybe, a dozen at most.
Repetitive Irresistible Word Syndrome, it’s called, and it’s an insidious affliction. One minute you’re in a wine bar asking for something fleshy and textural, the next you’re at the keyboard craving a prohibited Class A word like ‘crunchy’.
And before you know it, you’ve hit rock bottom. You’re using ‘pivot’. That was when I booked myself into rehab – where I wasn’t surprised to see many journalists. There’s always been a close affinity between wine writers and journalists. The very term ‘Fourth Estate’ commemorates Penfold’s dire need for extra vineyards once journalists started drinking wine.
Thank you, rehab staff, for being so gentle as you reminded me of the actual meaning of pivot. Which is, of course, that particular movement of the hips we experience on our way to the checkout counter with a bottle of wine when we spot the previous vintage on special.
Sadly in rehab a single intervention is rarely enough. Not for working writers, tasked with referring to multiples, and so tragically addicted to the word ‘raft’. A raft of tannins, for example, or drownings.
“There are other words,” murmur the rehab staff. “Lots. Many. More than a few.” Thus they offer both professional coaching and much-needed new vocabulary. And again cementing this new knowledge by explaining the original meaning of raft. An ancient winemaking technique wherein the winemaker, unable to afford new French oak, borrows a cigar box and floats it across the top of his fermentation tank.
And yet still we weren’t cured, we poor word-du-jour junkies. Struggling as we all must with unpredictable pandemic-themed news cycles, our only certainty is that we will never be put or placed into a lockdown, always plunged into one.
Which is just so confusing for people with knowledge of winemaking, where ‘plunging’ is the process of forcing crushed grapes back down to the very bottom of a vat. The rehab staff were clever here, using this as a metaphor for the way poor word-choice can leave us at the very bottom of our profession. And maybe also at the bottom of a 2,000l vat, I’m not sure.
Finally we were ready to leave, renewed in spirit and vocab. A farewell drink with the staff, sailing on the lake in the rehab grounds. Me sipping a glorious grenache, then spotting something even more interesting in the next wine bucket. And being hauled out of the water, reminded that language, like wine, is a living and ever-changing thing, as shown by my very useful new definition of the word ‘plunge’.
Turns out it’s what happens when you pivot on a raft.