Some thoughts about perfectionism.

Generally speaking, this is an undesirable trait. There are some people who you would quite like to see perfectionism expressed in: for example, your neurosurgeon, your architect, or the payroll person at work. But perfectionism isn’t easy to live with, and in the long run makes people miserable.

It leads to a binary view of the world. Things have to be exactly right, or they are no good at all. Perfectionists see in black and white, and are continually disappointed by the real world, with its compromises and shades of grey.

Those around them are left to feel like there is something wrong with them; that they have failed to achieve the minimum standard; that they are a source of disappointment.

Like most human traits, perfectionism has a number of roots. I suspect that one root is being badly let down by a significant figure early in life. The perfectionist has a low self image, and doesn’t feel accepted. But, if they are able to turn in a perfect performance, and play by the rules, then deep down they feel that this may be a way for them to earn acceptance. The problem: they become a harsh judge of themselves, and this drives them even further in the direction of perfectionism. Naturally, they expect others to play by these rules as well.

It doesn’t work. The perfectionist feels that if they try hard enough, they can control everything, and in truth they can’t. None of us is in control.

This is where there is a link to wine. If you are making wine, the perfectionist approach is a dangerous one, because it puts you in control. And you can’t control the process, no matter how hard you try. Trying to control winegrowing will invariably lead to disappointing results.

Wine is created by the agroecology of the vineyard, and is steered during the winemaking process. But it is this partnership among organisms that produces the final product, and this is something you join in with, not control.

7 Comments on Perfectionism
wine journalist and flavour obsessive

7 thoughts on “Perfectionism

  1. Agree, although I would describe those symptoms it more as ‘control freakery’. Anyway, I think my view can be best encapsulated by the statement ‘it’s the grapes, stupid’ and working with, rather than controlling, the vines is key (obv best in organic / biodynamic)…. but bit of perfectionism in the vineyard doesn’t do any harm.

  2. Completely agree when it comes to winemaking. Perfectionism undoubtedly results in ultra-clean, uninteresting, probably reductive, over-engineered juice.

    However, as someone who is inclined to perfectionism, I can certainly say it is not connected to being let down early in life (I had a strikingly normal/healthy childhood) or having a low self-image (I am relatively confident, self-aware and otherwise mentally healthy). That said, it is a daily battle to manage one’s own OCD-type and perfectionist tendencies. Coping with the compromises and “grey areas” of life is not as simple as it sounds.

    Personally, I take solace in esoteric wines, especially knowing that I could never create something so unique, even had I the knowledge or talent. And between us (winelovers), a little alcohol helps take the edges off the black-and-white and relaxes those unwanted traits.

  3. That’s a rather black and white view of those who strive for perfection I whatever area their vision happen be. I

  4. Well i really think that in part maybe it’s de critics who pursued wine growers to make this approach, the wine is made towards the perfect score, towards the perfect moment, towards the client…and the human being, early in life is in constant competitivity to have the best grades, the best girl, the best car and in fact they lack the soul, the emotions when trying to achieve this…a little bit like the wine in trying to achieve the best score and the best wine, then the wine will lack is true identity because it’s being something that it isnt…right now i’m enjoying rough wines, that can tell a little bit from where it came…with imperfections…glad i live in portugal were there are still wines that compromise with region…

  5. @Rui: “…in part maybe it’s de critics who pursued wine growers to make this approach..”

    Agreed. But to take your point one step further, I believe it’s the consumers (like myself) who drive the critics who drive the winemakers to attempt perfection. Note that Jamie has repeatedly professed his dislike for the 100-point rating system, and I understand his dislike fully. Nonetheless it’s people with tongues of clay, again like myself, who push the critics to try to differentiate between a wine worthy of a 91 point rating and one worthy of 92.

    Having spent way too much money on certain vintages, I have finally realized that my level of enjoyment is substantially the same between two wines 10 points apart, assuming they both are in proper condition. While I can tell two wines apart and I often will have a preference, my preferences have little to do with ratings and more to do with a winemaker’s style, which in turn is a reflection of his/her preferences.

  6. ” my preferences have little to do with ratings and more to do with a winemaker’s style”

    Totally agree with that and certainly it is my point of view…it’s not always about the juice itself, it as to do with the story about the wine,winemaker,region something that i identify myself because we also change in the styles of wine we drink along the years… most of the times i find myself enjoying wines badly scored by magazines…because they give me something new…it as to do also with expectations…

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