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The Power of Story

How Storytelling Sets a Wine Apart 

Truth be told, there’s no shortage of good wine on this planet. Even great wine is not a rarity. We’ve been making it for 9,000 years. So, what makes us connect with certain wines so deeply that our bond resembles that of something like a human friendship? Some would argue that, when all the elements have converged – when the grapes have been cultivated, their juice extracted and fermented, and the result of months, sometimes years, of labour and artistry have been captured in a bottle – the only thing that truly separates one great wine from another is its story. 


From our earliest days as a species, we’ve used stories to establish an emotional connection with the world around us. In psychological circles, it is argued that it’s the foundation of empathy. Studies have shown that when we find a story compelling, our brains release oxytocin – the love hormone – which triggers feelings of trust and compassion.

More and more, scientists are exploring the principle of priming, which is when exposure to one stimulus influences how we respond to another, subsequent stimulus. In the wine world, pairing is the most obvious example of priming, when certain ingredients or dishes amplify a wine’ unique attributes to enhance the experience of the wine. Recently, research on priming has even extended to concepts like sonic seasoning, when sounds have an impact on our perception of food.  

In essence, a story is no different. When it’s compelling, a story has the power to make a wine more memorable and unique, and like pairing, the better the story, the better the experience of the wine.  


When it comes to wine storytelling, there are a few “genres” at a scribe’s disposal. A legacy story, one that speaks of the wine’s history and longevity, lends the wine weight, and anchors it in our minds as something established, classic and serious. A maverick story, by contrast, excites because we feel like we’re present at the birth of a new tradition and a pioneering moment in the wine’s history – which is about to unfold. In the case of boutique wines, stories often focus on the rarity and quality of the wine. 

In recent years especially, stories around luxury have proven to help a product withstand difficult economic periods, like depressions and recessions, combining rarity with a high price point. Similarly, though at a much lower price point, an aspirational lifestyle story has become the trend du jour – particularly on influencer social media – as it is accessible yet elevated, creating the impression that if you buy the wine, it might manifest the lifestyle you desire. 


In 2006, the late Sir David Graaff asked cellarmaster Charles Hopkins to create and “iconic” wine for the estate. Sir David had always found great personal resonance in the work of the 10th century astronomer, mathematician, and poet Omar Khayyam, specifically his exquisite collection of 1000 Persian love poems.  

Khayyam’s most seminal work is arguably his Rubàiyàt, a life story composed of a series of quatrains. In response, Charles Hopkins created a Bordeaux-style blend comprising a quatrain of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The result was an exceptionally age worthy wine, which over a decade or more, will become increasingly velvety. As the tannins soften and integrate, the fruit may become richer while the luscious elegance and nuances of spice will be retained.  


A story has no impact on the actual quality of the wine, but by pairing it with the material and tangible world, we find a deeper meaning in our creations. In the end, however, when the story fades from memory and the label deteriorates, only a wine’s quality can stand the test of time.