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A minimalists guide to collecting wine

Sorry, but for a post about minimalism, this is going to be surprisingly long…

I’ve been working on this minimalism thing for a while now. You know, simplify – own less and make sure your possessions don’t own you? It seemed easy and exciting at first, and has been a pursuit of mine for almost 10 years.

I started with the simple things – regular, everyday possessions.

I got rid of all my CDs because I have everything on iTunes and backed up, not to mention Spotify. DVDs, out – except for my classic Star Wars trilogy, the Godfather saga, and a couple others that I can’t find on any streaming services (Northern Exposure marathon anybody?). Speaking of streaming services – bye-bye cable TV and other unhealthy time sucks. I mean, did I really have to watch The Replacements again just because it was on? Books and magazines are out, too, in favor of a digital reader. I cut my wardrobe in half – then in half again, donated most of my tools, got rid of all those trinkets from high school and college, sold some now-empty furniture and old luggage, downsized to a smaller house with no yard and even got rid of a car since I work mostly from home and my wife walks to her office. This was about de-owning, not just de-cluttering. I wanted to have less to worry about.

Next came the time commitments.

I’ve tried to embrace the theory of pruning; cutting the weak, dead and dying so the few strong and living elements can grow stronger. That goes for activities, hobbies, exercise routines, and even friendships and acquaintances.

Clearly, I still have work to do when pruning my use of unnecessary words, though.

I set fewer goals in order to actually achieve them and I try not to multi-task because it doesn’t work. We got rid of debt, I work on eliminating negative thoughts, and I say ‘no’ a lot more. I spend less, stress less, and generally feel better. But it continues to be a process.

Then came the hard part:  

The wine collection. I have an unhealthy attachment to the stuff, probably in more ways than one. Blame it on the day job, if you want.

One of the biggest elements of minimalism and owning less is the desire to not have what you own, own you. It’s a simple theory. You own a car, so you have to get it new tires and oil. You own a home, so you have to insure it, repair it, clean it. More clothing? More laundry, dry cleaning, and stress when choosing what to wear. See. What you own actually ends up owning you.

Prime example: Although I have worked hard to limit possessions, I still have several hundred bottles of wine being stored in an array of racks, wine refrigerators and chillers. I have some good wine in there, resting comfortably for the next 3 to 15 years until they are supposedly more perfect to drink. So, when one of those fridges recently went on the fritz and couldn’t be repaired, I panicked. I couldn’t just let all my wine sit out. Light and heat are not friendly to great wine aging. Dark and 55! Dark and 55! What do I do? Drink it all, fast? I have to admit that thought did cross my mind. No. I went out and bought a new wine fridge – and hated every minute of it. What I own forced me to do things and buy things that I didn’t want to. My possessions owned me.

I decided never again. Wine is the only thing I still somewhat collect and I love it, but I can’t have it own me. So, what is an aspiring minimalist to do about collecting wine (other than not collect it – as any serious minimalist would suggest)? As with everything else, I put pen to paper – actually, fingers to keys as I tossed all my notepads and pens during my most recent Joan Crawford episode in the office – and did the math.

I drink between 150 and 200 bottles of wine a year, and I guess I want at least 20 to 30 of those to be incredible, properly aged, what I would consider Commitment wines (based on my soon to be famous emoji-based wine rating system). The rest of those can easily be a mix of Date Night wines, Bistro wines, and summer Porch Pounders that I can buy in bulk or at my local store and put wherever I need before corking and enjoying. That said, I guess I need enough serious space to be able to store enough serious wine to let the good stuff age for somewhere between 3 and 10 years – somewhere between 150 and 200 bottles. That’s much less than my current 500-800. I can feel the stress just melting off. One less fridge, fewer racks, less space.

Now,  what to buy?

Again, think pruning. I want to age only what I want, and I want it to be good – my favorite Napa Cabernets, only the best Oregon and Sonoma Pinot Noir, Grand Cru  Burgundy and Rhone blends, Reserve Barolo, Rioja, my precious Super Tuscans and the few verticals from my favorite wineries that I’ve been working on for a dozen years or so. Let’s be serious – that’s all I should need to make me happy at any given time.

That’s roughly 15 different wines that will number between 6 and 12 in quantity at any given time. The math works.

I plan what I’m going to buy throughout the year and when, buy the wines I like, and drink the wines I like. I always have some on hand and no need to worry.  

Then, a dose of reality – but honestly I’m okay with it. First world problems, right? See, I have some wines that should take up to twenty years to mature. What do I do with those? I want to continue to collect them, and love them, and care for them, and occasionally sleep with them under my pillow. But I can’t without falling back into my trap of having too much and stressing about not only keeping them, but when to drink them and with whom. My answer? Don’t sweat it. Buy it. Collect it. Dream it and source it. Just don’t stress it. I have wine. With this system, I will always have something good to drink when the right time arrives – or for any random Tuesday.  

The idea is to not let it own me. Don’t sacrifice the present for the future. Remember, it’s just wine. If the people are there, and the wine is ready, drink it.




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