In Wine
on 26 Oct 2022

If you’ve seen any of my Instagram stories over the last couple of weeks you may know that I have been taking a little break from alcohol. I did not make a big thing of this because it didn’t seem like one. It’s certainly not permanent and it’s not because anything particularly bad or exciting happened. I just felt like it.

However, I have gotten so many messages from friends and colleagues asking me about my experience and sharing their own struggles with alcohol moderation that I felt like it would be good to do a post and make sure everyone knows I’m here for support if you want to talk privately about your relationship with alcohol. (“Wine life coach” covers all bases, after all. Unlike the Yankees.) Here’s what folks have been asking.

Why did I want to take a break from drinking? Lots of reasons. I have had a pretty eventful and stressful year, from the pressures of wine study to the upheaval of a cross-country move, and I haven’t really been taking care of my health. I tend to drink more when I’m anxious and there has been plenty to be anxious about. I also haven’t been sleeping very well, eating nutritiously or putting as much effort into my workouts as I’d like. In my experience, cutting back on alcohol helps with all three.

I also just needed a break. Constant tasting, working in wine, and traveling to amazing wine regions is a lot of fun, but I’ve found over the years that it’s important to occasionally step back and ask myself whether I’m turning into a walking, talking dump bucket.

Why didn’t I just cut back? Why take time off? I just find it easier than trying to build a plane while flying it. I knew I needed to create some personal guidelines for healthier drinking habits to ensure I’d be eating and sleeping well, getting the nutrition I need and still achieving my career goals, but I wasn’t sure what those guidelines should be. I wanted to stand back and look at the role alcohol was playing in my life, by removing it and seeing what was left. They say it takes a minimum of 21 days to start a new habit, and I wanted to shake up my current routine.

How is it going? Really, really well.

First of all, the selection of fun, interesting non-alcoholic beverages right now is unprecedented in my lifetime. As a person who just loves tasting interesting things, I don’t have trouble filling the niche left by wine with fun ciders, drinking vinegars, my homemade kvass, kombucha, and seltzers. I haven’t even gotten to the NA wines and beers yet!

I am sleeping better, working out longer, saving money and choosing more nutritious meals rather than focusing on what to pair with them. My stress and anxiety levels are lower. It’s been a little surprising how much better I feel.

I haven’t felt like I’m missing out on important wine industry news. After all, I’m still tasting wine, for work and in professional contexts — I just spit. Meanwhile I still read up on current events, new releases and trends just as I always have. I will go back to drinking wine eventually because I love it and it is the life I’ve chosen for a reason, but I don’t feel rushed by work or social pressure.

That brings me to my next point: Before I did this, I really was starting to feel like I was one of the last people who still drank alcohol. So many people I know are taking time off, going completely sober or just drinking more mindfully, which I think is fantastic. Alcohol is wonderful but it has also had a privileged place in our society as a ubiquitous, socially acceptable drug, and I think we could benefit from more awareness about its drawbacks. The wine industry in particular is starting to have long-overdue conversations about health and wellness. I hope these trends continue, and they’ve honestly made it way easier when I’m at bars or get-togethers to say I’m taking some time off. Not a single person in my professional or social circle has challenged my choices during this break.

So what’s next? At some point I’ll decide it’s time to open some wine and enjoy it. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to keep this “feeling great” part going when I need to reenter the drinking world, and I’ve come up with a few personalized agreements with myself about when, why, and how I drink. I will probably still drink a lot of the tasty spiritfree beverages and cocktails I’ve been enjoying, perhaps alternating them when I do drink. And having had this experience I’ll know that taking a night or a week off won’t hinder my friendships or my career.

Are you considering taking a break from drinking, or just a check-in with yourself about the role of alcohol in your life? I’ve found Moderation Management guidelines and resources helpful in the past. And, of course, I’m here for anyone who wants to talk. I would love to see our industry get to a point where this topic is as normalized as injury management in sports. When you think about it, it’s not all that different.

Julia Burke is a wine educator and writer.