WineInk: A time to wean from wine? |

WineInk: A time to wean from wine?

by Kelly J. Hayes


2015 Cliff Lede Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon

Ah, but before we leave the wines of winter….This gem from the Stags Leap District of Napa (which was lit up by the glow of this past fall’s fires) is one of my favorite new releases. As dark purple starless night and as bold as a Pacific storm, the wine entices with a basket of dark fruits on the nose and silk on the tongue. Young like a colt, this is a Cabernet that will rise and mature over the years . They say the “Poetry” is the flagship of the Cliff Lede line, but this appellation designate is a powerful contender.

It’s April. In the wine world that means it is time for bud break.

In the vineyards of the northern hemisphere the dormant vines are awakening after their winter naps. This is when the new vintage, the 2018 vintage in this case, is born. As the weather warms under the spring sun the tiny buds on the vines become a bit larger each day until they burst forth, or break, revealing the shoots of tiny leaves. It is a subtle but powerful time for the vines.

For wine lovers, spring can be a powerful time, as well. Spring is the season of rebirth after we, too, have come through a long winter. For many this means turning our wine-drinking habits to lighter styles of wines. It may not be rosé season quite yet — many prefer to wait for sunnier skies and higher temperatures, shirt-sleeve weather if you will — before pouring the pink stuff. But for some, moving to lighter grapes and styles of wines after a long winter provides a welcome change.

Then there are those of us, me frequently included, who view spring as a time to perhaps lighten up on our consumption a bit, or even take a break from all alcohol and, effectively, go dry. Why, you might ask, would any wine lover, much less a wine writer, do such a thing?

Well, there are a few reasons, at least for me, why a little spring reset can be a good thing. I’ll start with a clear head and a clean liver.

After a prolonged period of consumption I often find my sleep patterns get choppy, my mind is a bit fuzzy, and I feel a bit sluggish. It makes sense. The liver, the organ that metabolizes and breaks down alcohol in our body, can, like the rest of our body, get a bit overworked by copious consumption of alcohol. If you can give your body a break for a few days, or even a month, from the extra burden of clearing alcohol from your system it just stands to reason that some of these symptoms will clear themselves up.

While I have not seen a preponderance of detailed studies or data that specifically prove the positive impacts of a break, I know from anecdotal and personal experience that if I slow down or, even more specifically, abstain for a period of time that I feel better.

Then there is the concept of balance. Like a great wine, in life, balance is a key component. In my profession I am in a position to taste a plethora of wines and to attend events where drinking is the sole (soul?) purpose. I find that being judicious, and spitting out wines at a tasting, is the only way to maintain a sense of sobriety. And even then, it is possible to get a bit buzzed. But the key is to keep focused on the wines and to stay, well, balanced. This does not mean that you should not enjoy your wine for what it is, it just means that the emphasis should not be on overconsumption.

And I find the benefits of my breaks from drinking are not just conceptual. When I stop drinking for a few weeks I tend to thin out a bit and usually drop a couple of pounds. There are calories in alcohol and if I drop those without substituting them with sweet drinks it is inevitable that weight loss will be a side benefit. That may not be the goal, but when you combine the clarity of mind, the deeper sleep and a slimmer stomach, there are obvious benefits to a period of sobriety.

Of course, even better than the break is the joy of the return. After a brief break I often find I come back to the glass with a bit more enthusiasm. It’s like living in a beautiful place, going away for a while and appreciating it more upon your return. We all occasionally get jaded, or perhaps a little tired of the same old thing. Much like a vacation can be rejuvenating for the soul, I find my palette seems to awaken after I have taken some dry time. And I feel like I pay a little more attention to the wine in my glass.

It may be a week, it may be a month, but this spring I am going to take my own advice and go dry for a while. I’m looking forward to it.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at