Dionysus, God of Wines and Intoxication. When people ask me “Harald, why are you still in this wine business? Why haven’t changed course and tried a new line of work?” I always have a little think, ponder, and then I answer, “Dionysus!”
Who is this Dionysus, many ask me. Unsurprisingly, not many know of him because he is only found in Greek mythology – he is a demi-god in fact. For me, he is the most interesting of all Greek gods, never mind the titans such as Gaia, Kronos and Uranos, or Zeus, ruler of Olympus and god of lightning. Dionysus’ story does begin with Zeus himself however: the mighty god fell in love with a human princess by the name of Semele, who became pregnant through their affair. This forbidden love could not stay hidden from Zeus’ wife, Hera. In anger and jealousy, Hera cunningly convinced the pregnant Semele to beg Zeus to reveal his true godly form. Semele begged relentlessly, thus, Zeus did as his love desired. However, upon seeing a god of Olympus in true form, mortals instantly died; Semele burned alive in the light of Zeus’ godly aura.
However, Zeus managed to save the embryo of his unborn son from Semele’s burning body, and placed it within his mighty thigh to grow and develop. Months later, Dionysus was born, a demi-god emerging out of Zeus’ leg! Hera detested him, seeing him as a symbol of her husband’s infidelity, so she ordered the titans to dismember him – ripping him limb from limb. Yet, with Zeus’ powers, Dionysus was reborn. These symbols of rebirth connects Dionysus to viticulture, the cultivation of grapevines, as grapevines must be pruned or cut back sharply and remain dormant for winter to be able to bear fruit in the spring and summer.
Dionysus is the creator of wine and spreader of viticulture. He embodied the very nature of wine’s potential effects; he brought enjoyment and good cheer, or he brought intoxication and rage. We must separate these two very important differences – enjoyment of wine, and intoxication from wine!
From the hardworking farmers tending to their vines, to the proud wine makers concocting a divine recipe and the appreciative wine enthusiast enjoying a drop of the fine result, the love and enjoyment of wine stands true. A sommelier must be like Dionysus. Who himself was proud to be surrounded by the gods of Olympus, all happily indulging in the spoils of fermented grapes – spreading the love and appreciation of wine. Below is a wine limerick I wrote for one of the wine and dine events at Kayuputi Restaurant, reminding me of Dionysus’ great works to spread the word of wine:-
Then I hear suddenly the voice of wine god Dionysus, “Son, here you must remain, to grow stiff and strong like my vine children. For your goal is to become like the god of wine himself”
The second state is intoxication – the over-enjoyment of wine’s beautiful properties! For me it has always been important to rise above such situations as a sommelier, now I am more prone to controlling those who are intoxicated. Then again, intoxication can lead to wonderful sensations and creativity, the opening of the mind from wines great effects. After all, such creativity is intertwined with the great myths of Greece, with stories of minotaurs and satyrs, the beautiful nymphs and Maenad ladies, or even Dionysus’ own life story. So, with such ideas in mind, I write with my own creativity some limericks that accompany our wines in Kayuputi, to remind us of the beauty of the drink:-
Lehmann Wines, they like to lead us To Bacchus, Dionysus, Pan and their fairy nymphs ladies. There we will be bathing in golden lakes, and they will call us gods!
With Dionysus’ great cult of wine, his spreading of viticulture, love for the drink and the creativity his creation induces – these are the reasons why am I so involved with my work. The reasons I still remain a sommelier! I suggest you read further into the interesting stories of Dionysus, god of wine, and get absorbed into his love of wine as well…
Harald Wiesmann, Restaurant Manager of the Asian inspired Haute Cuisine Kayuputi and Chief Sommelier at The St. Regis Bali Resort, has a very interesting career history spanning a number of years with different roles in various countries. His 42 years of international experience has led Kayuputi to receive prestigious awards from the Wine Spectator Magazine (USA) for six consecutive years since its opening six and a half years ago.
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