For everyone in the wine trade it is your worst nightmare come true – the doctor tells you to give up alcohol for good. Sure, you can still smell, swirl and taste but drinking wine is strictly verboten. This is exactly what happened to Nekter Wine’s Imogen Taylor six months ago – one minute she was pouring wine at a tasting event the next minute she was in A&E with sepsis affecting her liver so badly it was touch and go. It doesn’t matter that the condition was not caused by alcohol, but alcohol cannot be part of her foreseeable future. So what does Taylor do with all those bottles in her flat, her wine friends and a life centred around alcohol? In this personal piece she looks at how she is going to cope living without alcohol in the wine trade.
With my kidneys beginning to fail as well as the extent of the sepsis, things really weren’t looking so rosy. Thanks to the power of antibiotics and exceptional care, I am still here.
All of us seem to be far more careful than previous generations about drinking quite as much. The days of the average good lunch including an aperitif, free flowing wine at lunch and a little something to finish seeming to be greatly reduced; a few sober days a week, more sophisticated alcohol-free drinks, even the quest for lower ABV wines. But what happens when ‘less drinking’ turns into ‘no drinking’?
I became very unwell in February. On the 11th February, I was pouring wines at a joint Nekter-Modal-Roland Wines portfolio tasting. And just four days later, on the 15th, I was rushed to hospital with a heart rate more than double what it should be and inflammation markers that were literally, off the scale. It soon turned out I had a huge liver abscess which had in turn caused severe sepsis. It was totally non-alcohol related, but an extremely rare complication of an infection. With my kidneys beginning to fail as well as the extent of the sepsis, things really weren’t looking so rosy. Thanks to the power of antibiotics and exceptional care, I am still here.
It was a long recovery, and by no means is it over, but things are significantly better than some months ago. I was advised not to drink for four months to allow my liver to recover, which I followed to the tee, only allowing myself one half glass of champagne in this time to toast at a family wedding.
Four and a bit months on, life may not be quite the same, but it’s not too bad – despite finding many things rather more difficult now that I used to find effortless, I am working and having some fun, but certainly with more emphasis on rest and evenings in. Unfortunately, some disappointing blood test results have recently come back, showing that my liver function is not what it should be, and what we all were hoping for.
It seems alcohol and drinking is still far away from my current path.
And so, the question beckons – how to reset and to adjust to a booze-free life as a wine-obsessed 27 year old member of the trade?
I am very fortunate to have come from a wine filled home; my father Simon Taylor switched a 25 year career at Sotheby’s in Victorian art and a hobby for wine into founding Stone, Vine and Sun. Barbeques at home in my teenage years were rarely without bottles of cru Beaujolais and Adi Badenhorst’s Secateurs.
My Instagram feed is a constant stream of bottle shots, posts about the best spots to drink in town and snaps of vineyards in beautiful places. In my house, everywhere there lies bottles – a few chosen fallen soldiers on the windowsill in my room. A sitting room with Coravin-ed samples for tastings and a rack bulging with bottles I have brought back from special trips abroad, bottles purchased and switched with follow winemakers.
Many of my friends are in this trade, they are sommeliers, winemakers, journalists or run wine shops. So many happy hours have been spent gawping over bottles, picking apart every characteristic and discussing the geekiest of details of different coupers, trellising methods and pick dates. And yes, this will still happen.
We are so fortunate in this trade that we can still smell, swirl and taste, but somehow, it’s not quite the same… not the same dissecting of the wine as the bottle goes down, savouring each sip as it slips down your throat. The odd looks at spitting into a glass at a restaurant table, although I care little for those. Come on, we all must admit it – even the fun of having just a few too many drinks, giggling hysterically over the most arbitrary thing and waking up with a bit of a sore head to discuss all those good bottles we enjoyed. And then doing it all again.
I know this may not be forever, and I may be able to enjoy wine and alcohol again, but it certainly isn’t any time soon. If I have the odd sip or half glass, yes, I know I’m not supposed to, but sometimes, life has got to give. If I wake up and feel terrible, with yellow-ish eyes, a fever and severe fatigue, I take a deep breath and hope the next day will be better.
Looking forwards, I must also look backwards – to know and be grateful for all the wonderful friends who have been so supportive, and to my boss Jon, who brought me on to Nekter as his first employee at the company he built from scratch, who has been exemplary throughout my illness and is still supporting and sticking with me. I know I’m hugely fortunate to have that support network. And compensating to keep up with.
So then, sober it is, for the time being. Scared? Of course I am. There are so many bottles I want to taste, and wine lists I want to explore, and I have the most terrible case of ‘Fear of Missing Out.’ We have surely all enjoyed the most wonderful convivial evenings with winemakers around a table, discussing and drinking late into the night. The apprehension as well of falling behind with knowledge and learning more each day. For the moment, I think there will certainly be more reading more than anything, so as to stay au fait with the trade.
This will certainly be the greatest challenge yet. Wish me luck . . .
Footnote: Imogen started working in the wine trade five years ago, working for the importer/distributor Swig before working a harvest in South Africa. She joined Nekter Wine Importers in October 2018.