Go Fast. Or why you should not eat.


It was Monday and I found a new way to dread Mondays.

I would not eat food on Mondays, I’d fast. I’d allow myself some water with lemon in it or maybe a green tea, but that was it. After dinner on Sunday night till breakfast Tuesday morning, no food.

I stumbled upon the practice of fasting while in the hospital recovering from injuries from the avalanche beat down. The winemaker at the winery I was working at came to visit me in the hospital. He brought a bunch of goodies from all the people at work.

Among the “Get Well Soon” cards and books was a Harper’s magazine. The cover article was titled “Starving your way to vigor”. It was an in depth look at the health benefits of fasting.

I was only vaguely familiar with fasting at the time. I thought it had something to do with religion. On certain days the faithful weren’t supposed to eat food from the time the sun went down until it came back up. Or something like that.

I’m not religious so I never paid much attention to it. But I am interested in living a happy and healthy life, so the article caught my attention. Plus my face was broken, mouth was wired shut, and I couldn’t sleep because of the pain I was in, so I read the article on fasting.

Turns out the human body is designed to go long periods without any food. Not only can it go without food, the body actually heals and repairs itself when it doesn’t have to waste that energy digesting food.

By not eating anything, you can greatly improve your health.

I was blown away.

I’d never thought of anything like it before, but it made sense. Our bodies developed thousands of years ago, maybe hundreds of thousands, long before there were fast food restaurants and supermarkets on every corner and Twinkies at every checkout isle.

Our bodies developed when we had to kill what we wanted to eat. If we didn’t kill anything then we didn’t eat anything. Sometimes we didn’t eat anything for days and weeks. The human body adapted to the sporadic nature of our caloric intake.

This was all far out to me. I’d always had at least 3 meals a day; breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The concept of not eating was crazy.

After the avalanche I had many surgeries and took a shit ton of x-rays and a shit ton of chemicals to keep me alive. I figured my body was full of toxins.

This fasting thing seemed like a good way to wash my insides clean.

Once I got healthy enough to go back to work I gave fasting a try. My original goal was to go 2 days without eating. After the second day, we had a cookout at work. I didn’t want to miss the cookout so I planned a simple 2 day fast.

I ended up fasting for 3 days. After my first day of not eating I found out that I’d misjudged the day of the cookout at work, it was a day later than I thought. Since I’d already started the fast with the goal of ending it at the cookout, I decided to stick to my plan. My 2 day fast became a 3 day fast.

The fast sucked.

I love to eat. I live by myself and get bored so I go to the fridge and start eating because I have nothing else to do. During the fast I found myself with all this extra time on my hands because I wasn’t cooking or eating food.

Fasting made me a little sad because I’d never gone without food before.

I thought about my thoughts towards food. I realized I ate for more reasons than just to sustain life. Not eating left a lot of time for thinking.

I didn’t tell anyone that I was fasting. The idea is so foreign to most people that I didn’t want to spend a lot of time explaining my reasons to everyone who thought I was crazy.

During the fast my energy levels decreased slightly. I felt a bit lethargic. There were many times I doubted I could make it to the end of my planned fast.

I was hoping that my body was using this time to get all the crap that accumulated in my tissues after the surgeries, out of my body. That was my hope but I had no way of knowing if it worked.

Once the 3 days were over and the cookout at work commenced, I chowed down.

That was a bad idea.

After not eating for 3 days, I think my stomach had shrunk a little. I piled my plate high with food like usual but my stomach couldn’t handle it. I had stomach aches for a few hours. If I were to do it again, I would have eaten a smaller amount to break the fast.

That was the one and only time I’ve fasted for 3 days. Apparently the largest health benefits of fasting occur during the 5th to the 7th day of a fast. I’ve never made it that long so I don’t know firsthand.

Since my initial trial with fasting I’ve done a multitude of 1 day fasts. For 2 years after that initial experience I’d fast one day a week, usually on Mondays. Not every week, but most weeks. But never on vacation. On vacation I like to eat recklessly.

It seems like a good idea to experiment with fasting. It’s a situation with little downside and a potentially large upside.

No one ever died going one day without eating food. By not eating you are at the very least giving your body one day of rest, like a mini-vacation. And everyone likes a vacation.

I recommend everyone to try a 1 day fast. I can’t hurt you. Of course I’m not a doctor so consult a medical professional before attempting.

A 1 day fast is not complicated. It takes discipline. You will think differently about your relationship with food while you are abstaining from it.

And who knows, you just might stumble upon enlightenment.

Or you might realize that you really like to eat and go to the refrigerator.


This Drought Sucks. The Skiing Is Great.

Camping with Chris and Mike in The Scamp.

Camping with Chris and Mike in The Scamp.

It’s April in the Sierra-Nevada mountain range.  The weather is great.  There wasn’t much snow this year.

We decided to travel south and search up high for snow.  We found a nice little range a couple hours south of Tahoe.  We camped at 9,700 ft.  It got to 20 degrees at night and we froze our asses off.

The next day we climbed a mountain in the warm beautiful sunshine.  You can watch a short video my friend Chris put together here.  I’m in the red jacket.

This was my first real backcountry trip since being injured in 2012.  It was awesome to get out and get my butt kicked climbing up a mountain.

I’ve repeatedly said, even in this epic drought… there are still some good days though.

Practical Philosophy: How To Deal With The Angry Driver

What is the benefit of screaming at people in cars?

What is the benefit of screaming at people in cars?

The car horn loudly announces his displeasure.

I look at the man in my rearview mirror again. I’m no lip reader but I’ve watched a lot of TV. I’m pretty sure he was screaming “FUCK YOU!” and “ASSHOLE!” at me. I’m 100% sure that’s what he was screaming.

The sin, the crime against humanity that set off this man’s meltdown was this: I put on my turn signal and crossed into the left hand lane of the road. The guy behind me, in a large Dodge pickup truck, was accelerating. There was plenty of room in the lane I changed into but I was traveling slightly slower than the Angry Guy in the Dodge pickup. My actions caused this man to either gently depress the brake pedal or to lift his foot off the gas.

Obviously I was a terrible person.

Angry Guy reacted to my lane change with such venom, you would have thought I insulted his wife or his mother or both. The guy drove aggressively, getting dangerously close to my rear bumper, having to slam on his brakes at the slightest decrease in speed to keep from crashing into my car.

I felt that heat around my neck that rises when you are in a confrontation.

I saw the truth of the situation.

The Angry Guy has a shitty life. He made the decisions that he made and his life sucks. He probably gets mad at every little thing. He is unhealthy. Like most Americans he probably doesn’t exercise and sweat, which releases pent up energy and toxins. He probably doesn’t read to learn new things about this fascinating Universe we live in. He probably doesn’t sit and wonder at the beauty of life.

Angry Guy probably spends a lot of time sitting on a couch watching TV, complaining, and drinking and eating too much, and blaming everyone else except himself for his problems.

Angry Guy in Dodge pickup truck probably loses his cool every time he operates his vehicle. Angry Guy is a sad sad man.

“Fuck this guy” I thought. I could not let his obnoxious behavior influence my behavior. If I had screamed obscenities back at Angry Guy, then Angry Guy would have won. Angry Guy would have brought me down to his level. I refused.

Often I recite in my head Marcus Aurelius’ quote from his book The Meditations:

“So other people hurt me? That’s their problem. Their character and actions are not mine.”

It’s such as simple, useful, and powerful idea yet it is very unpopular. It’s in our instinct to react to aggression with aggression. Often that reaction is just giving into weakness. If I had reacted to Angry Guy by driving aggressively and screaming obscenities, then that guy’s problem and character becomes mine. I refused.

That day I’d taken a jog around the lake next to my apartment. I had read pages of a fascinating book (The Discoverers by Daniel J. Boorstin, 700 pages!). I had made my body and mind sweat and I got to experience beauty.

I doubt Angry Guy’s day was anything like mine. His character and actions were not mine.
I chose to react to weakness with strength. I chose to ignore Angry Guy in big Dodge pickup truck. I acted like he didn’t exist.

That may have made Angry Guy even angrier because misery loves company and I left him all alone. All I know is Angry Guy stayed very angry.

Angry Guy got in the right hand lane and passed me. As he was making the pass he rolled down his window, threw his left hand in the air with the middle finger extended, looked at me and screamed “FUCK YOU!” a few more times.

About a half mile down the road Angry Guy turned back into the left lane then maneuvered left again into the left turn lane. All that anger and effort was to get to the grocery store one or two seconds faster. As I passed Angry Guy, who was stopped in the turn lane to the grocery store, the driver of the SUV in front of me honked his horn, raised his left hand with middle finger extended, and yelled “Fuck You!” to Angry Guy as he passed him in the turn lane. The SUV was the vehicle in front of Angry Guy when I turned into the left lane to become the vehicle in front of Angry Guy.

I just shook my head. Anger is contagious. People that get super pissed off at minor driving headaches, like gently applying the brakes so you don’t run into the vehicle in front of you, are missing out on the good life.

I used to be right there with Angry Guy. I used to let minor inconveniences upset me. I always met aggression with more aggression. I made a lot of mistakes.  I could have been Angry Guy if only I had made different decisions.

Being able to remain calm under stress is a valuable skill. I was not able to obtain this measure of patience and calm simply by reading Marcus Aurelius’ The Meditations.

It was not that easy. First I had to wallow in depths of despair and self pity. I knew I wanted to live a better life but I didn’t know how. I started reading. I read hundreds of books.

Then the avalanche crushed me and annihilated my ego. Then I cried a lot and depended on doctors, friends, and family to survive.

Then I read a hundred or so more books.

It is only through the Adversity that I’ve faced that I’ve learned to “not sweat the small stuff.”

The knowledge was gained through experience.

How to apply practical philosophy in your life:

One definition of philosophy is: calmness of temper and judgment.

So how do you achieve calmness of temper and judgment so you don’t end up like Angry Guy?

It’s a process. You’ll need to start by trying to live a healthy and balanced life. You’ll need to work on your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical bodies. This is James Altucher’s idea of the Daily Practice.

You have to work to achieve calm. It will come but first you have to put in work. Reading the works of Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Charlie Munger will help on your journey.

But the most important development comes from the entire process and your self-examination.

2011 Napa Valley Cabernet – A Difficult Vintage… Still Some Good Wines Though


The summer of 2011 in California was a cool one.  Not as cool as the previous summer, 2010, but still below average.  Everyone thought it would heat up in September like it usually does.

It did not heat up.  Instead it poured rain.  It dumped.  Winemakers were worried about the grapes ripening.  It stopped raining for a few days.  Then it resumed dumping rain on the 2011 harvest.

The grapes came into the winery wet.  The tonnage was down.  Much of the crop didn’t ripen.  Much was left rotting on the vines.  Much of the mediocre juice was sold off in bulk.  One winemaker I know said it was the “worst vintage ever”.

I remember seeing one vineyard in the Livermore Valley.  They left an entire petit sirah vineyard rotting on the vine.  It was a total loss.

Napa Valley is blessed with some of the best weather on earth.  Winemakers usually have to battle grapes that are too ripe.  In 2011 the grapes weren’t ripe enough and they came in wet.

For 2011 wines from California and specifically Napa Valley, you want to stick to the best producers.  This vintage tested every winemaker’s skills.  Much of the mediocre wine was culled from the herd.  In the end there wasn’t much of the good wine left.

The cabernet sauvignons that made it through the selection process are not your average Napa Cabs.  They seem to be a bit leaner and lighter.  The viscosity or thickness is down.  The wines tend to be thinner.

That being said, these wines don’t suck.  They are different from the normal Napa style but still good.  In this vintage I stick with only my favorite producers.  The wines seem to have beautiful aromas, and plenty of flavor, but a thinness that is unusual to Napa Cab.  The wines should have lower alcohol volumes, but somehow, and I have no idea how, many of the wines seem to have their normal percentages.

Don’t write off the 2011 vintage.  Because there was not much wine made, the supply was low, the prices remained high.  There are some beautiful wines there you just have to be careful.

The wine pictured, a 2011 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon from Sequoia Grove.  This wine is typical of how I described the vintage.  Plenty of aromas, plenty of flavors, but thinner than usual.  I really enjoyed this wine.

One recommendation for enjoying 2011 Napa Cabs is to respect them and let them breathe.  This Sequoia Grove took at least an hour to really open up.  It was worth the wait.

If you insist on the classic Napa Cab style of the fruit bomb magical mystery juice, then 2011 vintage might not be for you.  This maybe the forgotten vintage, but if you enjoy Napa Valley wines and can also appreciate a little diversity from the norm, then you will be pleasantly surprised by the 2011’s.

That’s my take on the 2011’s.  What is yours?  Am I right, wrong, or crazy?

Adversity Is What Makes You.

Adversity made me a better human being.  I'm grateful for the lessons learned through Adversity.

Adversity made me a better human being. I’m grateful for the lessons learned through Adversity.

There is no great achievement without over coming great challenges. It sucks, but we need problems, difficulty, we need adversity.

What is adversity?

Adversity is Life. Adversity is nature. From the moment you are born, the universe is trying to tear you apart. This is adversity.

Adversity is overwhelming. Adversity is that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach.

Adversity is self-doubt and self-pity. Adversity is immense pressure. Adversity is being stuck.

Adversity is losing a loved one, losing your health, your job, your freedom.

Or breaking a long established pattern of comfort.

Adversity is the gauntlet. It is the hot fire that is trying to steal your life. Adversity is inevitable.

Adversity is whatever you allow it to be. You can allow Adversity to overwhelm you and you can surrender.

Or you can get to work.

You can start taking small steps that will allow you to endure. The longer you can endure, the more small steps you can take, the better you can deal with adversity. The more you deal with adversity, the better your chances are of overcoming adversity.

Why Adversity is needed.

Adversity is what weeds out the weak.

Adversity causes you to examine your life in an honest manner. Adversity is the spotlight that enables you to see your weaknesses.

Once you know and understand your weaknesses you can begin to change.

Adversity is what forces change. Whatever parts of you that cannot make the change, your weaknesses, will be cut away. The you that endures the Adversity will be a stronger version than before.

Redwood forests need fire to open the pine cones to allow the seeds to spread. The fire also burns away any competing plants and enriches the soil.

Wolves and other wildlife thrive in the radioactive zone around Chernobyl.

The marine life surrounding Bikini Atoll (a small island the US vaporized testing a hydrogen bomb in the 1950’s) is again a thriving ecosystem.

The Everglades is a giant river of grass that needs hurricanes to balance the ecosystem and replenish the land with water.

The variability that visits these ecosystems is the Adversity these systems need to force change and adaptability. These systems would not be able to grow stronger without the

occasional stress tests of Adversity.

Adversity makes you stronger.

Adversity is the mountain you must climb, or the puzzle you must solve, or both, to achieve your goal.

You cannot have success without adversity. You cannot grow as a person without adversity. Think about it.

You can’t experience the gratitude of summiting a big mountain if big mountains weren’t really hard to climb. Sailing across the globe in a wooden ship in the 1700’s is an impressive feat only because the oceans are wild and unforgiving environments. Learning to walk again after a devastating injury is impressive because it takes a massive amount of work and effort.

The beautiful thing about Adversity is that it pushes you to try new things. If you are forced to change and adapt you will have to learn something new that you never thought you were capable of doing. You will have to dig deep. Once Adversity forces you to learn, your newly acquired skills can take you to places you never imagined.

Adversity is experience.

If these things were easy no one would care. You wouldn’t care that you climbed a mountain, sailed the ocean in a wooden ship, or overcame devastating injuries if these things were as easy as going to the grocery store.

No one remembers a trip to the grocery store. They’re easy and forgettable.
I remember every mountain I’ve climbed and every difficulty I’ve overcome. You need Adversity. Adversity burns memories into your brain.

There is no growth without adversity.

Adversity sucks. There is no fun when dealing with Adversity. And just because you are dealing with Adversity does not mean that you will reach your goal. In fact Adversity defeats most people. That is why it is so memorable and special when Adversity is faced, and overcome.

So how should we think about Adversity?

Maybe we should embrace it. Maybe, if we embrace Adversity, it will help us to survive it.

If Adversity is inevitable (it is), and Adversity is needed to reach success or a goal or to grow into a better human being, then maybe we should think of Adversity as a necessary evil.


I look at my battles with Adversity and try to think how it helped me.

I was raised in the South. I was born in Atlanta, and grew up in Florida and the flat hot middle of North Carolina.

Dreams of skiing the big mountains shown in the pictures of Powder magazine would swirl through my head in the oppressive heat of the humid summer.

I picked up and moved to Lake Tahoe where I didn’t know anyone. I lived in disgusting apartments and had shitty jobs. But I learned to ski in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It was bigger and scarier than I ever imagined. The Adversity was intimidating… but it forced me to learn and to grow.

The same thing happened when I moved to Napa Valley to pursue a career in wine. Although this time I was older and wondering what the heck I was doing with my life. I didn’t know anyone. I had no job. At first I lived in some dirty house with a maniac I found through Craigslist. The Adversity was intimidating. I lived and breathed the wine business in Napa Valley. I worked with some great people and learned a lot.

Adversity visited me again when I was crushed by an avalanche. This was the greatest challenge of my life. To deal with that Adversity I needed a massive amount of help. I got the help and eventually recovered. I am better for the experience the Adversity brought. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

When you deal with Adversity you learn and gain experience. You can use this knowledge to grow and help you the next time Adversity visits you. And you can take what you’ve learned and use this knowledge to help others that face Adversity.

These changes made under extreme pressure are how diamonds are made out of coal.

This is how Adversity makes you.

Laugh and Learn. 11 Podcasts worth your time.


I had just become interested in investing in stocks. A friend recommended I check out this radio show on the internet about investing. I was skeptical at first. Then I was hooked. I started listening to the every episode of the show. I was learning a lot from listening to these seasoned investors.

It snowballed. I started looking for other podcasts on investing. I found some I liked and some I didn’t. Then I realized that there were a shit-ton of podcasts out there. Every topic imaginable from investing, to sports, comedy, authors, cooking, cars, gardening, and stuff I can’t even think of.

Podcasts are just a form of talk radio you can find on the internet. They’re cheap to produce. The number of podcasts exploded after 2011. I never listened to talk radio before podcasts and I still can’t listen to an audio book. But I’ve become addicted to podcasts.

I don’t have a TV. I threw it out in 2010. I read a lot of books. I have a fairly boring life. Most days I come home after work I start cooking food. This is prime time to listen to podcasts. Cooking, eating, cleaning up the mess… while listening to podcasts.

I figured I’d give you a list of my Top 11 Favorite Podcasts. In no particular order, here they are:

Wall Street Unplugged with Frank Cuzio – Frank’s a financial newsletter writer. He’s honest, sincere, and smart. I’ve learned about investing and also about life from listening to Frank.

Masters in Business with Barry Rithotz – Forget going to college to learn about business. Go into business… and listen to Masters in Business with Barry Ritholtz. Ritholtz is a great interviewer and a reasonable, data driven guy.

The Joe Rogan Experience – Philosopher/Comedian/and a whole bunch of other stuff. I’ve laughed and a learned listening to JRE. This is a long form podcast with the average episode running 2-3 hours. One of the few video podcasts.

The James Altucher Show – I first found out about Altucher from listening to Stansberry Radio. Then I read his excellent book Choose Yourself. Then he started a podcast. It’s good stuff—lots of authors, entrepreneurs. Informative and entertaining.

The Duncan Trussell Family Hour – It took me a while to get used to Duncan Trussell. Now I think he’s awesome. His long rambling rants for his advertisers are hilarious. A comedian that’s goes deep into spirituality.

Smart Passive Income with Pat Flynn – Lots of entrepreneurs, and other ideas to help start and grow a business or side income stream. An honest dude that tells you how he did it.

Freakonomics – This is the most polished, radio like podcast I listen to. Some real editing/producing work goes into these shows. Author Stephen Dubner and economist Steven Levitt look at the numbers behind everything and come to interesting, sometimes contrarian conclusions. I liked the episode on wine.

The Tim Ferriss Show – Is Tim Ferriss the most popular man on the internets? Maybe. He started a podcast that complements his popular blog. I’ve learned a lot about learning and health listening to this podcast.

Chase Jarvis Live – Found out about Chase Jarvis Live by listening to the The Tim Ferriss Show. Lots of entrepreneurship, creativity, and motivation stuff. Jarvis started out in photography as a ski bum, which of course I found fascinating. Also one of the few video podcasts.

Trend Following Radio – Found out about Michael Covel’s Trend following Radio when he was a guest on Stansberry Radio. Covel talks markets and interviews intelligent minds from finance, to psychology, academia, and anyone he finds interesting.

The Mating Grounds Podcast – Tucker Max and evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller talk dating and relationships. Tucker is a razor sharp guy. He breaks down why men act the way they do when they’re trying to attract women and gives plenty of useful information on ways to improve those interactions. It’s also funny.

You can learn a lot by listening to intelligent people. Because of the internet and smartphones, you can listen to podcasts anywhere at any time. You can be cooking dinner, driving to work, or out on a jog and learn and laugh.

If there is a fascinating podcast that I need to know about drop me a line at brucepaulson1@gmail.com.

Massage Your Brain – take an Art Museum Day

I think the thing I liked most about these floating coffee tables were the books underneath.

I think the thing I liked most about these floating coffee tables were the books underneath.

Since the weather isn’t cooperating with my snow skiing desires I decided to try something different. I went to the Nevada Museum of Art.

Your best thinking is what got you here. My “here” is not exactly where I want to be. I don’t know how to get to where I want to go. So I have to try new things.

The new thing I tried today was a visit to an art museum. I got the idea from James Altucher’s book Choose Yourself. He recommends exposing yourself to new ideas and an art museum is a great place to get some exposure.

I wasn’t looking for anything in particular. I wanted to show my brain some creativity hoping it was contagious and my creativity would light on fire.

My brain didn’t light on fire.

It did feel good to see some beautiful paintings, pictures, and artwork. I can’t explain the feeling.  It was stimulating.

A few years ago I went to the de Young Museum in San Francisco. The only reason I went is because my friends were going. I had no desire to look at paintings. My friends went because a Vincent van Gogh collection was on loan from a museum in France. I tagged along.

That van Gogh stuff will knock your socks off.

I don’t know the first thing about art but I was attracted to Starry Night. It was fascinating. The layers of oil built up on the canvas to produce a 3 dimensional painting. If you ever get the chance to see Starry Night in person—Go.

The oil paintings I was looking at in the Nevada Museum of Art didn’t have the thick layers of oil build up that Starry Night had, but they still made me feel good.

This picture:

Louis Aston Knight "Skyscrapers"

Louis Aston Knight “Skyscrapers”

made me feel happy.  Maybe it was because the industrial city looked bright instead of dark and shadowy.

The landscapes of Larry Mitchell were almost magical.

Larry Mitchell - The 1 Degree Centigrade project

Larry Mitchell – The 1 Degree Centigrade project

The landscape oil paintings were huge, maybe 7 feet wide. The ripples in the water spoke to some inner part of my brain I didn’t know existed. It was soothing looking at the ripples. Ahhh…

The darkness of Frank Stick’s Winter Hunter provided some weight to the museum trip that acted as a balance to some of the other art.

Winter Hunter

Winter Hunter

Pictures, paintings, art is great and all, but how does that help someone? How does that specifically massage one’s brain?

I have no idea, it just seems like a good thing to do.

I eat a lot of dark leafy veggies. I don’t immediately feel like Superman when I eat broccoli or kale. I think over the long run it’s a good idea to eat veggies.

I think over the long run it’s a good idea to immerse yourself in great surroundings. It’s good to be in the presence of great people, art, and I really like great mountains.

It’s therapeutic to experience new awesomeness.

Utilize Difficulties in a Constuctive Fashion


I take full responsibility for my lot in life.  It is what I have or have not made it.

I’m still trying.  Most of the time I’m just spinning my wheels in the mud, not getting anywhere.

Charlie Munger’s advice to become a Learning Machine resonated deeply with me. I thought, “Hey, even I can do that.”  That’s why I named this blog Adventures in Learning.

Recovering from the avalanche gave me a new way to look at things.  I hoped to use the lessons I learned from that experience to propel me in the direction I want to go.

I’m not there yet.  I get scared, depressed, and frustrated that I haven’t done more to create value for other people.

I’ve found that if I surround myself with great people, then I feel better about myself.  It’s a selfish act because I haven’t figured out how to return the favor.  When I have a conversation with a great friend or acquaintance, I am better for it.

I love a great pep talk.

It would be nice to have a conversation with an inspiring person everyday, but I haven’t been able to make that happen yet.  So I use books, the internet, and social media to increase my exposure to great people, that inspire me and encourage me to stay positive.

I came across this short video on twitter the other day.  It’s a cut from a Joe Rogan Experience podcast episode where Joe is going off on a deep, profound, and positive pep talk.

It’s good stuff.  I’ve listened to it several times.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Do Expensive Wines Taste Better?–maybe

A great tasting (in my opinion) expensive bottle of wine.

A great tasting (in my opinion) expensive bottle of wine.

I like the musings on The Freakonomics Podcast. It is a well polished program, more like a traditional radio show than the barebones conversational format of other podcasts.

One of their most popular episodes is “Do More Expensive Wines Taste Better?” I had to listen to this episode because 1)I’m a wine nut 2)the economics of wine are such that you don’t a lot of $$ to get a good bottle, and 3)this is a classic wine question.

I found myself disagreeing with the conclusion they made. Which is ok. I don’t agree with anyone 100%, not even myself.

While in college Levitt conducted the classic blind wine tasting on an unsuspecting group of wine-savvy colleagues. His colleagues usually purchased expensive wines for their dinner-meetings. When it was his turn to buy the wine, Levitt mixed in a few cheaper wines with the expensive ones, to see what the reactions would be.

Everyone agreed that the cheap bottles of wine were delicious.

When Levitt revealed the names of the wines, several of his wine enthusiast colleagues were pissed off. They also made up b.s. excuses as to why they couldn’t tell some of the wines were cheap plonk. One claimed that he had allergies and therefore didn’t have his normal sense of smell and taste.

The issue I had is that Dubner and Levitt seem to come to the conclusion that the cost of the wine bears no relation to the quality of the wine.

That’s where I say yes—and no.

While not a law (like the second law of thermodynamics) or a rule, expensive wine tasting better is more of a higher probability event. Great tasting wine often costs more to produce and the producer has to pass that cost on to the consumer, so good or great wine, usually costs more.

The problem is the wine world is weird. Taste and smell are subjective. Perception is everything. And all wine rules can be bent, broken, or completely disregarded.

A wine producer can take an average bottle of wine, put it in a heavy bottle, add some luxury marketing, and charge $100 a bottle. For whatever reason the recipe works and the wine is a hit. The producer can make and sell a lot of it.

Another wine producer can make a great bottle of wine from a less prestigious growing area, use economies of scale found in larger winery operations, maybe have a weak currency like the Argentinean Peso vs. the U.S. dollar, not charge much for the wine (maybe $20), and they can’t find any buyers.

This is one way expensive wine can be considered a bad value and cheap wine can be very high quality.

This is how it can seem that expensive wine is not better.

My experience living and working in Napa Valley was that the best wines were almost always expensive, it just depended on how expensive.

Napa Valley wines will always be expensive because the costs to produce the wine are so high. The land to grow the grapes, the labor, the water, everything is expensive. So the wines are generally expensive. And not all of them are worth the price.

But, even in Napa Valley, all wine rules can be bent, broken, or completely disregarded.

The winery I worked for was unique in that it owned top quality vineyards in most of the best growing areas in Napa Valley. Most wineries couldn’t afford to have so many high quality vineyards.

I got to taste wines from these various vineyards. I thought it was my duty, as a good employee, to do my homework and “get to know” these wines. I put in extra effort and did as much tasting as I could. I constantly pestered the winemakers to let me taste the young wines.

I tasted wines from Carneros, Howell Mountain, Oakville, Rutherford, and the Stags Leap District (all sub-growing regions in Napa Valley). I tasted the grapes as they’d come into the winery fresh from the vineyard. I’d taste the wines while they were fermenting. I’d tasted them in the barrel, and finally as the finished product in the bottle.

This is what winemakers do. They constantly taste and evaluate the wines.

The higher quality wines get higher quality treatment. That means that the best juice will spend more time aging in small oak barrels. The best juice may also spend time in new barrels (as opposed to 1 or 2 years old barrels), and the best juice will get the best barrels. The best barrels come from France and cost $1200 a barrel, compared to $600-$800 for an average barrel of American oak.

Tasting a variety of wines in barrel is a great learning experience. Most barrels look the same. The differences in the wines are limited to the smell and taste of the wine. There are no fancy labels, shiny bottles, or price tags to distract your judgment.

You end up judging the wine with less bias.

Tasting through barrels, it was clear that some juice was of much higher quality than others. Often times the best juice would come from our vineyards that were on rocky and sometimes steep hillsides.

These harder to access vineyards, were more labor intensive and had to be farmed by hand. They were often inaccessible to tractors. They cost more to farm than vineyards that laid flat on the valley floor.

The steep rocky vineyards produced fewer grapes per acre. The grapes they did produce were more intensely flavored. Less quantity, more quality and higher cost.

It was worth the effort. The wines were significantly better than the same wine grown a few hundred feet away on the flat land.

The best juice gets the best treatment. These higher production costs make the retail cost of the wine more expensive.

I saw this scenario play out over multiple vintages. The best wines came from the best sites. They got the best treatment. And the result was a high cost.

All that said. It sorta doesn’t matter. There is a world of wine. You can still find nice bottles of wine for cheap.

The problem is that the really good wines, from the best growing sites, usually taste better and cost more.

This makes my wallet unhappy.

Expensive wines often taste better. Expensive wines can taste better. Expensive wines should taste better (but remember the nature of wine rules).

Enough of this writing stuff. I’m off to test this theory myself.

P.S. What do you think?

When is it OK to bail on a book?

Raise the white flag on crappy books.

Raise the white flag on crappy books.

Let me tell you a story.

I was attracted to this girl that read a lot of books. Unfortunately she would not sleep with me. Something about her already having a boyfriend and not being interested anyway. We had great conversations about books. She recommended that I read some of Hemingway’s stuff. She thought his writing might suit my style. I’d never read any Hemingway.

Guess what? I picked up the first Hemingway book I could find. It was Across The River and Into the Trees. It was the first book of his that I found in the library. I read the entire book. It was brutal.

The book is about this older dude in his 50’s, who is dying. He spends the whole book talking about this young girl that he is obsessed with , who’s maybe 18. He keeps calling her “My love” and stuff like that. Older dude wanting to bone younger chick. The whole book was about that.

I suffered through and finished the book because it was my first exposure to Hemingway. I wanted to read a work by one of the greatest American authors. I told my friend, a retired winemaker who was finishing his own memoir, about my first Hemingway experience. He said, “Yeah, that was when he was older and that’s not one of his best works.”

What I learned is that I should have bailed on the book.

Not every book is great. Your time is limited. If you cast a wide net and read books on a variety of topics; if you read books that challenge you and take you out of your comfort zone, you will find yourself reading a book that just doesn’t work for you.

If you find yourself struggling forward, like trudging up a hill in deep sand, then consider putting the book down. If it feels like torture, it probably is.

Sometimes the best action is to surrender. Give up. Cut your losses and bail on crappy books.

Years later I tried reading another novel by one of the great American authors. I picked up Tender Is The Night because I enjoyed F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. What is it about authors writing entire books about an older dude wanting to bone 18 year old chicks? Tender Is The Night reminded me too much of Across The River and Into the Trees.

This time I cut my losses and bailed on the book one third of the way in. It was the right decision.

Both of those books were written by great American authors and maybe both are regarded as great novels. But they weren’t great for me.

There are too many good books out there to waste your time reading something that makes your brain feel like mud.

The problem is that some books are slow to get started, then pick up speed, and explode at the end. These are some of the most rewarding books to read.

So how do you know when to bail on a book or to keep reading when it feels like you’re getting bogged down? It boils down to experience and intuition.

When I was less experienced I’d plow through tortuous, uninteresting books because I thought that’s what you were supposed to do. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. As I dealt with this problem more I got a better feeling of the situation. I understood myself better. I knew when a book just wasn’t right for me, and I’d put the book down.

Experience will teach you when to let go. The important thing to realize is it’s ok to give up on a book, even if the book is considered a classic or written by a great author.

What about Hemingway? Did I miss out on one of the greatest authors of all time? No, I went back and read The Old Man and The Sea. Now that is a good book.

And the girl, what about the girl? I dunno. I moved 3000 miles away and she stopped answering the phone when I would call. Ouch.