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Have You Ever Taken a Break from Wine?

These industry pros gave wine up and not only lived to tell the tale, but say it made them better drinkers

Posted: Apr 23, 2013 3:00pm ET

By Jennifer Fiedler

These days, you can't open a browser window without hearing about the latest abstemious diet: juice fasts, raw diets and nutritional cleanses. We've turned into a culture on perma-Lent—unless you're in the wine and food industry.

There is no doubt that working in the good-life business has major perks: good wine, good food, and lots of it. But what happens when it gets to be too much? Is it even possible to cut back if consuming is part of the job? Some sommeliers and winemakers say that cutting out wine for a short period of time—going on a "wine cleanse," if you will—actually helps them appreciate wine more.

"I couldn't put a date on the last day that I hadn't had a drink," said sommelier Patrick Cappiello, former wine director of now-closed Grand Award-winning Gilt restaurant, on his reason for considering a cleanse. Last July, he and his girlfriend embarked on a 26-day diet that involved cutting out sugar, caffeine, meat, alcohol and butter, in an effort to be more healthy.

"It was hard to be at work," said Cappiello, who is now a co-owner of Pearl & Ash in Manhattan, of the time-trial. He spit at tastings (as he would normally) but had to turn down glasses of wine sent over from enthusiastic regulars and pass on late nights after work. The hardest thing, he said, was that since it was the height of summer, it meant no beer or burgers at friends' backyard barbecues.

The results: He lost 10 pounds in one month. ("Hamburgers fixed that problem after," he said.) Even though it wasn't easy, he said, "it felt good." One important side effect was that after the cleanse, when he and his girlfriend took a vacation in Paris, he was much more appreciative of enjoying just one bottle of wine with a meal, a reversal from his heady, pre-cleanse days. "It was about bringing [consumption] back down," he said, noting he plans to try the cleanse again this summer.

Since a cleanse is both a check on the bounties afforded by working in the industry, and a way of resetting and normalizing their habits, repetition seems to be a key factor for these wine pros.

Winemaker Blair Pethel and his wife, who own Domaine Dublère in Burgundy, have given up wine every January for the past 22 years as part of their post-Thanksgiving and Christmas diet. The month-long cleanse functions in two ways beyond weight control, he said: It helps to remind them that they could give up wine if they wanted to, and it helps to refresh his palate. "It's almost like when your nose clears up after a bad head cold and you can smell things again," he said of focusing on lighter food and water.

During January, Pethel still does tastings with clients, but he only smells the wines, never sipping them. "It seems like my olfactory capacities increase during that time, and when we do start drinking wine again in February, the aroma element seems even more important," he said.

Have you ever given up wine? And if so, what was your experience like?

Tim Wilson
Raleigh, NC —  April 23, 2013 4:45pm ET
Great article Jennifer. My wife and I went on a Paleo and Sugar Solution diet the day after the Superbowl for 4 weeks. This meant no alcohol. The first week I lost 9 lbs and she lost 4 lbs. I kept reading Wine Spectator and would find myself staring at the pictures of the wine bottles and glasses of wine in the magazines or online. The second week I started testing the waters to see if we could just "sin" by drinking a glass of wine and ask for forgiveness but never won that battle. I've lost 32 lbs so far but have since gone back to drinking wine the day after my 4 weeks of the diet "plan". It made me also remember that I had to go for 1 year without alcohol while in Iraq-Lawful order #2 No alcohol in the combat zone. My wife would send me my Wine Spectator magazines and I did join online that year as well. This helped me to escape and dream of being home again with glass and my loved one in hand. I refused to drink the near-beer that the chow halls kept on hand and waited until I was home to have wine or beer. Now that was a cleansing!! I think that the most important part is that this abstinence helps us to appreciate our ability to dine and drink wine freely just about anytime and anywhere we go in these United States. Believe me there is nothing like enjoying a glass of wine and a nice sunset with your loved one.
Jennifer Fiedler
New York —  April 23, 2013 5:23pm ET
Tim: Thanks so much for your sharing your story--and for your service. Really loved your sentiment about enjoying wine with the people you love--so true.
Jennifer Fiedler
Wine Spectator
Paul A. Whiteley
New York, NY —  April 23, 2013 9:40pm ET
First, I would like to say, it was a pleasure to meet you last year at the Bank Of America Dining Series Event, featuring Chefs Jean-Georges Vongericten and Roy Choi.
Second, I would like to thank you for posting this blog. Years ago, I began doing a yearly alcohol cleanse. It would begin at the end of January and sometimes extend to lent. In general about 30 to 50 days. I would use that time to get back into shape, lose some weight and tighten my body. As an industry professional the social and professional aspects of not drinking were difficult but for me, well worth it.
Almost two years ago, I was diagnosed with a very rare cancer called Multiple Myeloma. This is a blood cancer and not alcohol related. The treatment for the disease is almost daily chemotherapy and potentially a bone marrow transplant. I point this out to say, that while my consumption is considerably down[ I get seven days per month off from my therapy, during this time I can drink], my experiences with wine have been broadened and heightened. I had to come to terms with my disease, re-train my palate, and wine as a shared experience is perfectly complimentary to my life and style. Small quantities, more variety and beautiful people with which to share seems like a great way to live.

[quality and variety]
Jennifer Fiedler
New York —  April 23, 2013 11:25pm ET
Paul: Likewise, great to meet you at that event! And thank you so much for your comment. Such a good reminder about the value of sharing wine with others and keeping everything in perspective. I wish you the best in your treatment and hope to toast to your recovery in the future.
Jennifer Fiedler
Wine Spectator
Leonard Cupo M D
Honolulu, Hawaii —  April 24, 2013 6:34am ET
Great topic. I'm amazed at the various reasons people take wine holidays. Resetting one's palate is certainly one. Another is to save money-stopping drinking usually results in stopping buying. Yet another is to increase productivity. Or to be a model of temperance for the kids. However, most people cite real or perceived health-related reasons. Some people take wine holidays to allow their liver to "heal"-fear of cirrhosis. Or their gastric mucosa to "recover"-fear of ulcers. Some do because of fear of cancer-alcohol is a known human carcinogen. Some take wine holidays to prove they are not psychologically dependent-fear of alcoholism. Bottom line is that wine holidays are a good prescription for many reasons. I actually recommend them for my patients.
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  April 24, 2013 1:21pm ET
I usually do an alcohol/food fast in March each year, but had to push it to May this year. I find it a necessary part of getting my weight and blood pressure back under control. Like others here, I too find that I'm able to better appreciate the nuances of wine/beer/spirits (especially the nose) afterward.
Steve Breen
Glen Ellyn —  April 27, 2013 11:28pm ET
I try to have wine and food in moderation so I can enjoy both year round.
Karl Mark
Illinois —  May 1, 2013 8:13pm ET
I used to work overnights and would abstain from alcohol when working my 7 day stretch. On my days off I really didn't notice any difference. Now that i'm on days I just try different wines from different regions and explore more and think less. My idea of a diet is marathon training. Works wonders and you don't have to avoid entire food groups.

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