The Ritual Of Wine: A Question For You

On a personal level, I am a ritualist. I ritualize everything. For me, a ritual is the path to awareness. Enacting a ritual is an act of mindfulness. It is a way to stop oneself, and make oneself think, to reflect on what is actually happening. Our modern lives move with such rapidity, and we miss so much. It is important to stop, think, realize, be aware.

Getting in my car in the morning. I stop, and I make a small and ritualized prayer, as opposed to just driving off. I want to remember that what I am about to do is both miraculous, and dangerous. I am about to go over a mountain at 50+ miles an hour. That is amazing, and terrifying. I don’t ever want to forget those feelings. I don’t want to be in my car, and forget that I am in my car.

A dead animal at the side of the road. I make a small and ritualized prayer. That is the end of physical life. I don’t want to pass it by as if it was an empty bottle, a candy bar wrapper, a tire tread. It was life.

Food. I make a small and ritualized prayer. I bless this world for providing the ingredients. I bless those who nourished, harvested, transported, and processed the ingredients. I bless the opportunity to consume the ingredients; to consume the ingredients in a safe portion of the universe that I share with my beautiful wife and daughter.


There was a recent study conducted about ritual, and how it relates to our sensorial experiences; how we taste, smell, remember.

You can find an NPR story about the study here.

Their conclusion was essentially this, that when ritual accompanies consumption, the experience is more intense, and more satisfying; people savor things more, and find things tastier, when the experience is ritualized.

What I found particularly fascinating was the question of WHO engages in the ritual.

I think we in the fine wine industry often proceed from the assumption that the RITUAL of wine is integral to the EXPERIENCE of wine. The cutting of the foil, the pulling of the cork. The decanting. The seeing, swirling, sniffing, and sipping. Not to mention the researching, the purchasing, the cellaring, the selecting.


But consider a wine tasting. More often than not, it is your host who is actually engaging in the ritual. Be it tasting room host, or waiter, or sommelier, they are the ones doing the selecting, the cutting, the pulling, the decanting. You are the observer, watching the ritual play out.

I think we in the fine wine industry often proceed from the assumption that your observation of our ritualization builds your anticipation. Such that your overall experience is accordingly enhanced.

But according to the results of the study noted above, the participant must engage in the ritual THEMSELVES to truly accrue the additional benefit; meaning, you do the ritual yourself, you experience the taste more intensely.

So my question for you is this; how do you think your wine experience would differ if, for example, your service was ritualized (i.e. your host performs a series of rituals in the process of preparing your wine for you), vs. if you yourself engage in the ritual? Meaning, if you yourself, for example, select, defoil, uncork, decant, see, swirl, sniff, and sip?



And for some additional perspective on the relationship between wine, and awareness, you might have a look at a recent article on Paul Draper in The Drinks Business. Consider the following statement:

His simple explanations (see following page) are a sign of Draper’s clarity of thinking, as well as his practical approach to winemaking. He doesn’t choose a particular path for marketing reasons, but to enhance quality without compromising the inherent characteristics of the grapes. “Great wines are made with very straightforward techniques,” he says.

This is as fine an affirmation of an awareness-based approach to winemaking as I can imagine. Seeing the inherent characteristics. Clarity of thinking. Straightforwardness.

I have always believed that Paul Draper is a zen winemaker, a jazz winemaker, and that Ridge is a zen & jazz producer. That is why I came here. Because I wanted to stand on Black Mountain, and ritualize Monte Bello.


Like congas in the round,

old wine barrels encircle

the lot where the vineyard

workers park. Summer beats

a breeze on their drums

that can be heard clear

down to the reservoir;

the rhythm grips

the sky’s green reflection,

makes its figure swing

as gently as a ballad.


My back to the valley below,

gazing up at the remainder of the mountain,

I spy rooftops looming over

weaving tree lines.

Who lives at the top of this world,

and can they see me down here,

trying to spell their dreams out


Categories: Food & Wine Pairing, Monte Bello, Paul Draper, Press Reviews, Viticultural Salmagundi, Wine & Food Pairing, Wine & Philosophy, Wine & Poetry, Wine & Spirituality, Wine and Jazz

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2 replies

  1. I feel more engaged in the experience when I do it myself, especially the swirling, and sniffing. The swirling heightens the anticipation of what’s to come for me, and sniffing is critical because most of our sense of taste comes through our nose…

  2. Christopher,
    When done properly by a server I feel a part of the ritual, appreciate the early steps (present, cut, cork, pour), and partake in the later steps (swirl, sniff, sip). But if done poorly I have very different reactions to the ritual.
    So I think the experiences of self service and proper service can accrue the benefits of the ritual, while poor service can detract from the ritual enough to change the experience.

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