A Story is A Bottle of Fine Wine…

I’m not one for clichés, but there it is. I couldn’t really find a more accurate way to address the forthcoming topic; unfortunately, the truth of the matter remains that a story really does have a lot in common with a bottle of wine.

Its almost not worth saying at this point, but I work at a liquor store. I’ve had a lot of time to learn about the wine I peddle daily, but I can’t say I’ve used it for such purposes. I have been in the dark about many of the aspects of the liquor industry, especially the reasons behind the reverence some people have for “a fine wine.”

To be perfectly frank, I always thought the seemingly haughty culture that surrounds the grape-derived libation to be, at best, stuffily aristocratic. However, I recently watched a documentary entitled Somm: Into the Bottle that opened my eyes to some of the more…refined aspects of the industry.

This isn’t to say that I’m now a wine connoisseur, or that my third eye has opened and I now accept, understand, and practice the sort of wine worship that appears inherent in both sommeliers and vintners alike. But I’m going to try and draw some comparisons that made me think a little about story and influence.

In Somm, the passion that the selected winemakers and drinkers had for their beverage was strongly emphasized. What I found to be the most common sentiment amongst the aforementioned group was the importance of the vintage, or the year the wine was bottled.

As any farmer knows (or person can damn well imagine), some seasons are not as prosperous as others. Weather, pests, socio-economic conditions, and various natural phenomena change from year to year. Thus, the success of a season is not exactly predictable — a thrill vintners seem to thrive upon.

So during a particularly bountiful season where there is light wind, even rain, and plenty of warmth and sunshine — conditions most suitable for the growing of grapes — one can expect the vintage to be exceptionally good.

Let me give you an example: apparently, 1969 was an especially ideal year. The sun was warm and welcoming, bathing the hillsides of France and Italy in a golden light that seemed to come only from some divinity above. The winds blew mildly through the rows of grape vines, kissing their leaves and coaxing the full, luscious fruits from their slumber.

Apparently — and I say this because I myself have not tried a vintage 1969 anything — you can taste this in the wine. And I don’t mean you taste sunshine, per se, but there is a brightness to the flavor of such wines that comes only with the proper growing season and time. To this day, 1969 is regarded as one of the very best years for wine in modern memory.

Perhaps its easy to see where I’m going. I think it can be agreed upon that stories are not only influenced by, but founded upon the elements that make them what they are: plot, setting, characters, etc.

But let’s say, for argument’s sake, you’ve got your whole tale spread out on a fact sheet, you know most every detail, and you’re rearing to go. This isn’t exactly an accurate vision of how all stories are written, but bear with me.

Is it fair to say that where you are in life reflects itself in your work?

Of course it is — because it does.

Whatever you as a writer are experiencing, be it in setting, relationships, even diet, finds its way into your work. I’d say its subconsciously, but not always — sometimes there is deliberate change in a work based on change in the work’s creator.

Recently, I was working on a short story that takes place on Long Island. At the time, I was in Chicago, and I wondered: would it be beneficial to hold off on this project until I’m back home? That way I would be surrounded by the elements that gave me the idea for the story in the first place. Wouldn’t that be conducive to more truthfully creative writing?

Maybe so, but I couldn’t really afford to wait. Sometimes, when an idea comes to you, its necessary to just get it out on paper. That might mean just jotting it down or writing the whole thing plus a sequel. Either way, when you are struck by inspiration, use the energy while you have it.

So I was filled with all this creative desire and didn’t want to try and bottle it up to be released when I got home — I was afraid I’d find it had become flat. But another thought occurred to me that I would like to stress as the central lesson I gained from all of this:

Our lives are not our own, and we have little to no control over what’s going on around and within us when we’re trying to get work done. That being said, attempting to predict when we might be in an ideal mood or position to write is fruitless. Instead, I prefer to embrace whatever I’m experiencing at the time and channel that into my work.

My story about Long Island will now be forever different because I wrote it at a time in my life long after I had dreamt up the idea, when my impetus for telling it had waned to some degree. I was no longer in the setting I had painted the story in, which meant looking out the window had to serve as a slightly different form of inspiration.

Not that I think it will be totally noticeable, especially to myself, but that work will always stand out from others I have set in my home (which I use as the location for many of my stories, I love it so). I’m not entirely sure how, but it will — and I think that’s a truly unique aspect of that paticular tale that I couldn’t have planned to bring to the table. It just had to happen.

In the long run, my message to impart is this: if inspiration has come to you, even in a form you haven’t expected, accept and use it. It will produce a truly individual piece that can never be replicated.

Nobody expected 1969 to be such a winning year for wine. In spite of this lack of foresight, vintners tilled their fields and waited for the rain. And when it came, it brought with it an unexpected slew of other factors that made for the most legendary growing season of the century.

Never spurn that which influences you. It might just make for a great bottle.