Looking after our people

Mindful Drinking: looking beyond Dry January

Could evaluating attitudes to alcohol and drinking less but better allow us to get more enjoyment from our glass of wine?

Mindful Drinking

For many, Dry January is an opportunity to cut back on alcohol temporarily – perhaps after a period of excess in the run-up to Christmas. Health and financial reasons are often cited and hotly debated, including on our own Community forum, although like many topics discussed online, supporters and critics of the idea would have you believe the debate is black and white.

Articles in the press suggest that health benefits are overstated – or indeed, that stopping drinking can be harmful for some, meanwhile, enterprising drinks companies have got behind #tryjanuary to encourage wine lovers to branch out this month and try something new. A more recent development is that of Damp January, which as a term, somehow sounds more unpleasant than the dry version! This seems to mean just drinking a bit less than usual – or at least, not being too hard on yourself if you slip up while aiming for a dry month.

Setting these approaches aside, the New Year does also present an opportunity for others to look a little longer term and perhaps begin to reassess or question their relationship with alcohol. Mindful drinking is an approach that works for a number of people and one which, to my mind, is compatible with the appreciation of wine. Experts in the field, Club Soda, describe mindful drinking as ‘an approach that allows you to include alcohol in your life in a way that helps you live well’.

They offer strategies that help drinkers switch off their autopilot, slow down and enjoy the experience of drinking, which aligns it with the tasting and enjoyment of wine, where pausing to enjoy aromas and flavours are central to the experience. Where we automatically pull the cork on a bottle just because it’s 6pm is where Club Soda can help.

Co-founder Dru Jaeger is particularly interested in the challenges that wine drinkers experience when looking to reassess their drinking. Wine culture around wine appreciation, he argues, makes stopping or cutting down harder. ‘If you could see fermented grape juice in a bottle as just alcohol, stopping drinking wine would be easier. But there is so much more going on…unlike other types of drinking, wine appreciation puts expertise front and centre. Even knowing a little bit more about wine than your friends confers some status. There are also strong emotional responses to wine that set it apart from other alcoholic drinks and leads to people getting stuck in wine culture.’  He also notes that very few wine writers (apart from Jancis Robinson MW in her book The Demon Drink) ever actually talk about the problems associated with alcohol.

Dru offers some practical steps and information on the Club Soda website (How to stop drinking wine, Struggling with drinking wine and cutting down?), as well as a selection of courses aimed at both those looking to stop drinking as well as drinking mindfully. These courses have been made available free of charge to members of the drinks trade for several years via industry charity The Drinks Trust. As part of our responsible drinking strategy, we plan to bring members more information, and for those that want it, similar support from Club Soda over the next year. For now, members might like to try the free How to Change Your Drinking course.

The Wine Society has also recently expanded its range of low and no alcohol drinks based on the same approach to quality we have for buying wine. Director of Wine, Pierre Mansour introduces the range here Our approach to building our new Low & No range.

These approaches won’t be right for everyone, and neither this article nor the Club Soda support is intended as a substitute for medical advice. Indeed, members might question why we, as a business founded on selling wine, are talking about alcohol in this way. It is a complicated matter (and we are not experts in the field of alcohol-harm reduction), but we are proud of our status as a member organisation and in many cases, this means we have lifelong relationships with our members whom we view as part of The Wine Society community.

We want our members to experience a lifetime of wine enjoyment in a way that they are happy with, and one that leaves them fit and healthy for whatever else they wish to do with their lives. Happily, I expect the vast majority of our members might have read this article out of interest alone, but for those who are thinking of making a change, we hope to be able to direct you to the people who can help. In the case of Club Soda: people who have the expertise, the personal experience and the understanding that wine is different, and that this creates its own challenges.

Further resources

If you are concerned that you might be physically dependent on alcohol, talk to your doctor. 

Club Soda offers the courses mentioned above, plus articles and podcasts on mindful drinking.

Drinks industry funded charity Drinkaware gives easily accessible information based on the UK Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) low-risk-drinking guidelines, including easy-to-use unit and calorie calculators.

Food and wine writer Fiona Beckett’s book How to Drink Without Drinking has some great suggestions for those who don’t want to give up alcohol, but are keen to cut down.

>Explore our Low & No range

>Explore our lighter-alcohol wines

>Read more about our sustainability initiatives around social impact

Simon Mason

Head of Wine Sustainability & Due Diligence

Simon Mason

Simon has been at The Society for more than a decade, heading our Tastings Team before moving into our Buying Department. Now Head of Wine Sustainability & Due Diligence, Simon works with our suppliers to encourage and accelerate collaboration and improving sustainability throughout our wine supply chain.

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