living our faith in the world

The Last Winemaker: a parable

For centuries, we humans had been making wine and enjoying it. It was used in celebration, in relaxation, and even in our religious rituals. Our poets and prophets praised it, and it was even used in our religious rituals.

Some people misused wine, drinking to excess, using that which is made for joy to bring about sorrow and despair. Yet, the population as a whole didn’t let the relatively few alcoholics bring down the glory of wine, nor did a night of drunken overindulgence ruin a person’s ability to enjoy wine properly at other times.  There were known health benefits to drinking wine, as well as social benefits.

Yet, because of the possible deleterious effects of wine, the production, sale, and transportation of wine was regulated by some countries (though not all). Some thought this to be good, some bad, but it was what it was.

For a few centuries, a trend began to grow amongst wine aficionados, that red wine and white wine should not be mixed. Why, that would not be wine at all, they say. God never intended the varieties to mix. In some geographical areas, these voices were the majority, and those who wished to drink mixed wines were unable to. Eventually, reason won out and almost everybody realized that wine is an intoxicating beverage made from fermented grapes, and that it didn’t really matter if the grape varietals mixed. People drank wine, and were happy.

Some people thought that they should be able to drink wine without experiencing intoxication. For centuries, when people did not want to experience intoxication they refrained from drinking wine. That wasn’t acceptable, for now these people wanted their wine! They wanted the taste of the wine, and they even wanted the elation that comes from alcohol, but they did not want some of the other effects. They wanted to drink as much wine as they wanted whenever they wanted, but they wanted to control its effects on their bodies. Methods were developed to deter or eliminate the intoxicating effects of wine.  This was gradually seen as a good thing by the general population, who more and more used the anti-intoxicating methods. Sure, every now and then they’d choose to experience the intoxicating effects of wine, but they touted their ability to choose when wine was intoxicating and when it wasn’t. Some people maintained that this sterilization of wine was wrong, that it wasn’t how wine was meant to be drunk. They said wine was wonderful precisely for these effects, and that while some people had to abstain at times for one reason or another, there was no reason why people should drink the wine while avoiding its effects. Why, drinking wine like that was practically not drinking wine at all!

Throughout time, there have been those who choose not to drink wine, instead saying that unfermented grape juice is their choice. At first they insisted that grape juice was equivalent to wine, and while most others disagreed they gladly tolerated this behavior. What other people drank at their own meals mattered not to society at large. Then, after a time, the grape juice drinkers began to think that their drink was as good as wine. They told themselves it has the same health and social benefits as wine, and that it really was unfair to not include grape juice in what is considered plain, normal wine.  In fact, just a few decades prior, they argued, blended wines were not allowed! Why, if blended wines are allowed, certainly grape juice should be allowed to be wine!

Rational people everywhere scratched their heads in confusion. Mixed wine? Grape juice? Those are different things! One is an intoxicating beverage made from fermented grapes, and the other is a beverage made from grapes. Those are different things, juice is not wine!

“But this is discrimination!” came the cry from the grape juice drinkers. “Are not juice and wine both made from grapes? Are not both juice and wine drinks? Why should we exclude grape juice from our definition of wine?”

“Frankly, because grape juice doesn’t make you drunk.” Came the reply.

“Nonsense! Surely it can! See here, if you just add a little hard liquor to the grape juice, it will get you drunk! Besides, we know many wine drinkers add liquor to their wine to make it more intoxicating. Don’t try to pretend that sangria doesn’t exist! Besides, plenty of people drink wine without getting drunk. Intoxication is no longer a requirement of wine! Why should it be a requirement for us, who want to call grape juice ‘wine?’ ”

While most wine drinkers considered these arguments to be hogwash, the grape juice drinkers gained some support from a few wine drinkers. Gradually, this support grew and grew, until a majority of the population was in favor of including grape juice in the definition of wine. They called for the production, sale, and transportation of grape juice to be regulated just like wine. They called for an end to discrimination of those who preferred juice to wine. They called for bars to sell grape juice side by side with wine, even if the owner did not want to sell grape juice. When an establishment refused to serve grape juice, accusations of discrimination were thrown against the proprietor, sometimes tied to a brick through the window. Religious institutions were pressured to include grape juice in their ceremonies, and those that did not cave were called backwards and discriminatory. After all, the modern understanding of wine had come to include grape juice.

There was research that showed that grape juice was bad for you, that it had too much sugar. The grape juice drinkers responded that juice is natural, and natural things must be good. The wine drinkers noted that grape juice drinkers tended to have more cavities. The grape juice drinkers noted that cavities weren’t limited to juice drinkers, and that some wine drinkers had cavities, too. The wine drinkers argued that wasn’t the point, that yes, some people misuse wine, abuse wine, become alcoholics, but that doesn’t have any bearing on whether or not grape juice is wine, or whether or not it is good for you.

There remained a small but vocal population of wine drinkers and wine makers, those who understood what wine was, what its purpose was: that it was intoxicating. They spoke out in defense of wine, saying that the inclusion of grape juice in the definition of wine was illogical, that wine for all history had been naturally intoxicating, that grape juice should not be regulated as wine was, that people could drink grape juice if they wanted, or drink wine and artificially eliminate its intoxicating effects, but those people were missing out on the glories and wonders of wine!

The majority of the population continued to revel in its libations of grape juice and non-intoxicating wine. Sometimes they would add liquor to their grape juice or choose to experience the full intoxicating effects of wine. At those times, they experienced great elations, but they would return to their counterfeit drinks and claim that their choices were just as good as the wine drinkers.

Eventually the number of craftsmen who made real, authentic wine was few, until there was but one last winemaker.  He continued to make wine, and taught his apprentices to make wine. Though some were uninterested and some left him entirely to make grape juice, some stayed, and the number of wine makers grew, and with them so did the number of wine drinkers.  The wine drinkers enjoyed their wine, enjoyed studying it,  enjoyed drinking it. They were sad they didn’t have more people to drink with. They were sad that their friends did not experience the same joys they did. Despite many invitations to the grape juice drinkers, despite encouragement to the contraintoxicators to come and enjoy what good wine could be, most of the others chose to stay far away. The few that did convert to drinking real wine, found it gladdened their hearts and gave them true, lasting joy.

           Wine and music delight the soul, but better than either, conjugal love. Sirach 40:20


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One thought on “The Last Winemaker: a parable

  1. Gabriel Austin on said:

    Excellent. A note: Belloc pointed out that the reduction in the use of wine led to increase in the use of gin. In wine countries drunkenness is not the problem that it is in hard liquor countries.

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