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Sipping Sober: Enjoying the “Dry” Wine Life

Written by Monique Bell, @thewynebelle, www.moniquebell.com
Artwork by Cindy Nguyen

“It could be a tumor.”

If you’re an eighties kid like me, this quote will bring to mind the 1990 film, “Kindergarten Cop,” where pre-California ‘Governator’ film star Arnold Schwarzenegger complains of having a headache and is counseled by his precocious young co-star.

That five-word phrase, and Schwarzeneggers’ outraged reaction, is still remembered among the great comedic exchanges on film.

However, those words are anything but hilarious when a board-certified doctor is delivering them to you.

On December 31, 2020, as most people were preparing to celebrate the end of the most hellish year in most of our memories, I was dressed in unflattering hospital garb preparing for my first MRI. A few weeks earlier, during a routine blood test, one of my hormone levels was concerningly high.

As my doctor discussed the results, he flatly delivered the line that shook me to the core:

“It could be a brain tumor.”

I had made it through COVID-19, racial and social uprisings, an unprecedented presidential administration, and election season, and now I was facing 2021 with my own body turning against me.

Ultimately, the scans revealed a small and, thankfully, benign tumor that could be monitored and treated using medication.  The rub: The medication would not allow me to drink – or even taste – any wine or spirits for an indeterminate time frame.

One year prior, this barrier would not have been a big deal – I rarely consumed alcohol. However, one of the brightest spots in 2020 was a budding wine journey spurred by dozens of interviews with Black wine entrepreneurs and professionals during a sabbatical semester granted by the business college where I am a professor.

That research, captured in a forthcoming study, “Terroir Noir: Diversity in Wine Entrepreneurship and Marketing,” piqued my wine interest and led to incredible opportunities.

As a member of The Hue Society, Batonnage Mentorship Program, and the African-American Vintners Association, and as a Wine Access Diversity in Wine scholarship recipient, wine was becoming my passion and bottles were literally arriving at my doorstep for educational tastings.

So how does one enjoy wine when they can’t – or don’t want to – consume alcohol? During the Lent season, many consumers are facing that exact question as they commit to abstaining from wine and other indulgences.

Fortunately, there are a few alternatives:

Non-alcoholic beverages

Tolu Obikunle, founder and CEO of Sapiens Beverage, says she created a non-alcoholic wine brand because of her own experiences as a businesswoman.

“I was inspired to start Sapiens because I’m not a drinker, but during my Wall Street internships, I found myself “pretending” to drink just to fit in with my colleagues. A non-alcoholic option would have eliminated the social friction I experienced,” Obikunle recounts.

She also found demand for her wine by expectant mothers, those in alcohol recovery, and others who wanted to enjoy the social side of wine-drinking without the potential negative effects of alcohol.

“I think Lent, Dry January, the Sober Curious movement, neo-prohibitionism help bring awareness to the issues that inspired us to create a brand,” says Obikunle.

She adds, “Increasingly, adults are becoming aware of the health benefits of abstaining from alcohol and are slowly detangling “celebration” from “drinking.” Ultimately, this is great for our mission-based brand and our collective goal.”

Sapiens, which is listed in the Sip Consciously directory, is currently available online and is part of a growing alcohol-free category and lifestyle.

Tastings sans the taste

While actually consuming wine is a vital aspect of wine tastings, I was almost just as delighted to hear the history of each wine and its region and to observe my classmates’ reactions and vibrant descriptions during recent virtual events.

Although I couldn’t physically sample the wines, the wine educators and my community allowed me to experience the wines vicariously using my other senses and my imagination.

As I review my “tasting” notes crafted through others’ commentaries, I am still enriched and can use that knowledge to supplement my own experience once I can partake again.

Whether you face a medical reason for avoiding alcohol, such as potential prescription interactions, pregnancy or abuse concerns, or you are simply choosing to abstain for religious, physical, or other reasons, you can enjoy the wine lifestyle while maintaining your own definition of wellness.

Cheers to that! 

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