Knowing wine used to be a skill that you were raised to possess. Wine was an ever-present entity on family dinner tables and at social gatherings. However, with the increasing standardization of wine, that has led to juicy high alcohol wines that all taste the same, there isn’t a need for this knowledge. Think about Barefoot or Yellow Tail- I’m not saying these are bad wines, but the taste they have is due to mass production techniques rather than being innate to the grape itself. Its similar to the production of light beers which has caused the loss of knowledge about actual beer styles.
Tasting wine is my favorite non-academic pursuit. If I gave up pursuing my PhD, I would probably go work on a winery. I grew up in the Finger Lakes Wine region, have taken numerous tasting tours in France, California and New York, and was on the 2010 Championship Blind Wine Tasting Team for University of Edinburgh. I’ve found that knowing wine is a surprisingly valuable skill for grad school. At those dinners with professors, I’ve used my wine knowledge to purchase the alcohol for the table, making sure to pick something that will pair with our meals. It is also nice to be able to engage in wine conversations with the ‘adults’.
“Knowing wine used to be a skill that you were raised to possess.” Is that so? All graduate students come from the elite classes! It’s a must! I know that when I was a kid, my parents, pulling in their solid $25,000 a year in the 80s, wouldn’t be watching TV after a hard day’s work. And they wouldn’t be just wanting to relax either. Nope. They’d put me and my brother in the car(74 Dodge Brougham if I recall correctly, at least for a time. When we were really well off, the 81 Plymouth Reliant K-Car, although ours had wood paneling on the side. Dad, if I’m wrong, tell me so.) and we’d head into the Willamette Valley wine fields. The Oregon wine industry was just starting in the early 80s, but my parents knew the only way I’d succeed in life is if I was raised to know wine. Chardonnay, Cabernet, whatever. My parents forced me to know wine. Really, if it wasn’t for their incredible sacrifice to teach me wine culture, where would I be right now? Cooking meth in a trailer on the edge of the Willamette National Forest, that’s where. After our wine excursions, despite the fact that my Dad was still covered in plywood glue, his arms full of wood slivers, and completely exhausted, we’d head home joyful with my new knowledge of wine culture. And really, was it even a sacrifice, since EVERYONE was taught wine culture in those days!
In all seriousness, the alcohol-related skill I was raised to possess was to get my Dad a Hamms after his 10 hour day in the plywood mill.
If I had a graduate student who pulled this snotty attitude when I was around, we’d be having a talk. First, the talk would be to quit sucking up. The second subject of the talk would be look around at colleges in the country and figure out what type of people you think you are going to be teaching, because it probably ain’t wine snobs who grew up in the Finger Lakes region and have participated in wine taste tests. The third subject of the talk would be my 10 minute rant about how not to think that just because you are a graduate student that you think you are better than regular people.
And really, what’s with the “adults” bit? I don’t know about the anthropology department at Michigan State, but this kind of thing would not go over AT ALL with most of the academics I know. When I meet a graduate student, the last thing I want to see is some put-on false sophistication. I can tolerate quite a bit from people, but not that. I want to see intellectual interest, hopefully the ability to communicate with regular people (these are graduate students and future academics so it’s hardly a given), and general camaraderie, engagement, and curiosity.
What I don’t want to see is pretension. I ain’t no damn “adult.” I’m just a dude who cares an awful lot about the past and the present and the future and making people’s lives better. If I can shape a few graduate students a tiny bit, that’s cool. But I ain’t more than that. I have some skills and do what I can with them, just like an auto worker, a plumber, or a public school teacher.
And if any graduate student tries to order wine for me (and really, if everyone knows this skill, shouldn’t the “adults” be doing it not only for themselves but for the “children,” i.e. graduate students), not only am I going to order 8 Coors Lights in a row, but I am going to proceed to talk VERY LOUDLY AND FOR A VERY LONG TIME about the snobbery of wine culture and how it is a betrayal of working-class America to think you drink better than other people.
God knows I have developed my own tastes in alcohol. Less in wine than beer and whiskey, but still. Quality wine is a great thing. But so is cheap wine and it doesn’t make you any less of a person to say, Hey! I have $3 and I want a bottle of wine and I am going to Trader Joe’s and getting a bottle of Three Buck Chuck. Or for that matter to get a 6-pack of Bud Light tall boys. And it damn well doesn’t make you a better person to put on airs about what wine goes with the fish when you are dining with your exam committee.
Most of all, thinking that being smart about wine or any other “adult” topic is going to help your graduate career is absurd. How about writing a good dissertation instead? The people I respect are those that do good work, regardless of economic background, social class, or taste in alcohol.
UPDATE: As a friend of mine said about this on Twitter, “It’s as though Charles Murray paid someone to write a piece making academics look like the elitists he thinks they are.” Boom!