The Memento Theory of Wine and Self

Highfidelity I love the movie "High Fidelity". In addition to being an examination heartbreak, busted love affairs and misery born of unrequited love, it also deals with music geeks—those people for whom the details and intricacies of music knowledge is so important to them it actually helps define their lives. This kind of obsession, not unfamiliar in the wine world, is best on display in High Fidelity when a co-worker (Dick) drops in at the home of the main character ("Rob") played by John Cusack. Rob is sitting on his floor with piles and piles of LPs all around him. The dialogue goes like this:

Dick: I guess it looks as if you're reorganizing your records. What is this though? Chronological? Not Alphabetical.

Rob: Nope…

Dick: What?

Rob: Autobiographically!

Dick: No Fucking Way!

Rob: If I want to find the song "Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac I have to
remember that I bought it for someone in the fall of 1983 pile, but
didn't give it to them for personal reasons.

This scene is a perfect example of the way by which our interests, obsessions, and avocations are used to help examine the life we live around them. And it strikes me that Rob's autobiographical reorganization of his record collection for the purposes of examining the course his life has taken is exactly the sort of thing any self-respecting, self-examining wine geek might also undertake.

Wow Tom, what the hell are you doing with all your wine out?

Tom: Reorganizing my cellar.

Visitor: By varietal?

Tom: No.

Visitor: By country?

Tom: Nuh uh.

Visitor: How?

Tom: By the women who have been in my life.

Visitor: Heavens to Betsy!!

Tom: Yeah. For example, if I want to find my 1982 Stony Hill Chardonnay,  I need to remember that it is in the given-to-me-by-Crazy-Lucy-in-1998 section, but I didn't drink it with her because I wanted to save if for someone special.

I can't help but think that those of us who keep good quantities of bottles on hand don't actually have these kinds of conversations with ourselves in our heads. It seems that once we commit to our obsession in such a way that we begin to acquire things representing that obsession, we also begin to use those things as markers, as a way of recalling our lives and events in our lives that may in fact be altogether separate from the obsession.

It's the Memento Theory of Collecting.

As it turns out, I don't actually have this kind of relationship with my wine. However, I do have it with my books. In fact the collection of books that sit on my shelves in my living room are there not to simply be on hand if I'm in the mood to re-read them. They are there to remind me where I've been intellectually and emotionally. This should be useful news to anyone who is a new acquaintance of mine that finds themselves in my home and wants to learn a little about me.

But the same holds for the person who brings a bottle of wine from their cellar to your home. Take the time to ask them about the wine. Chances are you'll gain some valuable insight about them and possibly about Crazy Lucy.

8 Responses

  1. Samantha - August 31, 2009

    I always thought that movie reminded me of working in wine shop. I like it when the guy comes in looking for some record and they wont sell it to him, deemed him un-worthy of having it…shit, I’ve done that with rare bottles of wine. “Oh you want Comte Lafon Meursault? Sorry all out” when I have like 3 bottles but are saving them for someone that I KNOW gets it.

  2. Benito - August 31, 2009

    Beautiful post, and it’s always interesting to see how people organize their books, DVDs, CDs, or whatever else. (I tend to group my DVDs by genre, then by director. Am I crazy?) Typically there’s some sort of logic involved, but it’s more fun trying to figure it out than simply asking.
    A local wine shop is arranged not by region or grape, but by body. It’s one big room with a register island in the center. You start on the left with Pinot Grigio and it wraps all around the shop until you hit Nero d’Avola on the right. It’s a lot of fun for browsing, as you’re more likely to encounter something new and interesting but in a category that you may typically ignore.

  3. Ms. Drinkwell - August 31, 2009

    Being the serial mover that I am (10 times in the last 10 years), my mental wine rolodex is organized by where I lived when I bought a particular bottle. I’m not a collector of things generally, and I have very few momentos in the form of photographs and such from the places I’ve lived. But, every time I pull the cork on something from my cellar I’m immediately transported back to a town that I called home for a little while. I never really thought about this fact before I read your post, but for me a bottle of wine begins with a built in set of memories and ends with a few new ones. Thanks for enlightening me about my own personal quirks!

  4. Lauren - August 31, 2009

    Great topic. I agree with Samantha that the film reminds me of working in a wine shop. Ha. I also agree that I’m a serial mover like Ms. Drinkwell, and not extremely organized to boot. I do at the moment have one special bottle that was intended for something special…something specific. That hasn’t happened yet. It’s sort of like my heart on my sleeve, that bottle.

  5. Fred - August 31, 2009

    More than a theory, this is one of wine’s deepest truths. And far more interesting than notions of Terroir.
    Knowing this, why do so many people — wine writers of every stripe — focus their energy on tasting notes when the best stories are filled with “gobs of love” and “hints of regret”?

  6. Web Design Services UK - September 5, 2009

    The dialogue you posted are really nice. I can estimate the movie as I haven’t seen this movie but thinking to watch.

  7. Fermented Thoughts - September 13, 2009

    Been there. Done that. Good insight Tom.

  8. coppertop - April 21, 2010

    This depends on your collection. It’s fine if you have 100 bottles of wine or 300 books to have so little respect for the collection itself, and so much more emphasis on your life relates to it. But to a real collector this idea is just absurd. One does not wake up one day and say I’m going to reorganise my 15,000 records autobiographically based on past relationships. No one involved in that movie had a substantial record collection, I can tell you that much. Part of that aquired musical knowledge has to go into your filing system. New aquisitions have to be filed in. It’s work. It takes hours of “gardening” just to get it right alphabetically. This scene is actually offensive to me as a music collector. Better to have a harem and organise the women in the harem by your favorite artist- makes just as much sense.

Leave a Reply