• Simon Reilly

The Completist

This article was originally published in Issue 19 of Root + Bone magazine.

There is a view that wine geeks like me are little more than socially-acceptable train spotters. Speaking from a personal point of view, I think there probably an unhealthy level of obsession to my interest in wine. I am not talking about alcoholism here, although my wife has banned me posting wine bottles on Instagram on Mondays and Tuesdays to at least pretend that we don’t drink wine every day.

I’m talking about my obsession with buying and collecting wine, not drinking it. It’s the thrill of the chase. Reading about the wine, the person who made it, the field where the grapes were grown and then sourcing it. If it is difficult to find, the heartbeat rises, as the excitement grows. Rarity is more stressful but ultimately more satisfying. The release of pleasure when you get your hands on it, is the end game. The problem is this pleasure is short lived. As soon as you have slotted the bottle into the rack, your mind moves onto another wine, “mmm, I see he makes a Trousseau as well, I wonder what it’s like….”. And that’s it the thrill of sourcing the wine is gone and you are onto the next pursuit.

This iterative and expensive process is nothing new for me. Before I discovered wine I was obsessed with music. The process I describe above is pretty much the same as the one I followed throughout my childhood. Buy Melody Maker on Wednesday morning on the way to school and read it cover to cover, stay up late and listen to John Peel on the weekends, hang out in 1Up on Diamond Street in Aberdeen sifting through the vinyl in my lunch hours, working out what record was most deserving of my pocket money.

When I meet fellow wine enthusiasts the conversation often moves towards music. Many of them, like me, were obsessed with music before moving onto wine. Someone who agrees with this theory is Simon Wheeler, Director of Digital and Strategy at Beggars Group (home to the 4AD, Matador, Rough Trade Records, XL Recordings and Young Turks record labels) and is a qualified wine geek, having completed the WSET exams to level 3. “I was and still am a music nut, but when I was younger I used to collect all sorts of things, from fossils and rocks, stamps, comics and probably more things that I’ve forgotten, I think the tendency to collect and be completist about things stems from my obsessiveness about whatever I do.”

Simon’s completist disorder has now transferred to wine, “at first a hall cupboard, then a fair sized rack in a cool bedroom, then a wine fridge, then lots of off-site storage and finally a real wine cellar, collecting verticals of favourite producers and labels, hunting out the new winemakers with tiny production, paying a bit too much for something I just had to have, it’s all very similar to my music obsession.”

The word completist is interesting. As well as speaking to fellow music fans like Simon, I was interested to understand the views of a musician who is interested in wine. Nigel Pulsford was the guitarist for the rock band Bush in the nineties, and still produces music now, whilst enjoying wine on the side. I asked him about the link between his interest in music and wine, and he independently also talked about a completist personality as the link between the two. “I don’t particularly have an obsessive personality but maybe a completist's one. I tend to read everything by the same author once I have read something I like and similarly with music I explore their catalogue. I will do the same with a wine, exploring many vintages of the same wine or others by the same grower. So when I like something I seek out similar things. I don’t see any similarity between wine and music for me as I’m not a winemaker but I am a music maker so in the same way that a non-musician can appreciate music a non wine maker can appreciate fine wine.”

Regardless of the link between music and wine, the beauty of them is that they are both open to all as a hobby. Both offer endless learning and pleasure, and I think Nigel sums it up well “wine enthusiasts come from all walks of life and that is one of the aspects of wine that I’ve enjoyed the most and made very strong and important friendships that I otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do”.

And at the end of the day, you can’t ask for much more than that from a hobby can you?