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November 1, 2007updated 01 Feb 2016 10:45am

Dad On Arrival

By Alessandro Tome

Independent-minded sons like to think of themselves as more than just a chip off the old block in the classic nature v nurture debate. For better or worse, they seldom are, says Alessandro Tom’.

Independent-minded sons like to think of themselves as more than just a chip off the old block in the classic nature v nurture debate. For better or worse, they seldom are, says Alessandro Tomé.

They say the fruit never falls very far from the tree, that is unless someone or something messes about with the laws of gravity or inherited behaviour, which someone or something inevitably tries to do. So, beyond the deeply felt grief when my father passed away a short while ago, I started to wonder how far from the tree this fruitcake had fallen. A lot of friends, old and new, his and mine, have opinions as to how close or far I fell. I even thought at one point that some would take their ruler out and start measuring the exact distance.

And so the question, as it always has, remains. How much do we really carry in our genes, what is nature versus nurture? How much of my taste and views or thoughts, like them or not, whether in food, clothes, aesthetics, cars, women or life itself for that matter, was from my terroir, my DNA, nature; how much of it from my nurture, from him? Or is it what I then made of it all that really counted?

In this instance, wine and terroir may actually be a good place to start. The grapes are the result of nature: the different grape varieties, with their intrinsic characteristics, thick or thin skins, red or white, sweet or acid, hardy or fragile, fruity or earthy; and then the nature of the soil, acid or alkaline, mineral or less, water-retaining or permeating and finally nature’s weather, sun, rain, wind, frost, dew, all impart a clear influence on the end result.

But what happens to them is nurture: how closely planted, if they are cropped, de-stemmed, when they are picked, how they are selected and pressed, where they are fermented and for how long, filtered or not, blended and finally bottled. But all this nature and all this nurture is now finished. What happens in the bottle is up to what’s in the bottle. How the wine will now settle, close or open up, evolve, mature, is now mostly beyond nature or nurture, although both will still cast an interested and caring eye on developments. It is, however, in that bottle that subtle differences are made, out of the raw materials supplied by both nature and nurture.

And it is in all those subtle little differences that character, uniqueness and individuality are created, it is those that evolution distinguishes and differentiates you by. It is not nature or nurture alone, it is your own use of both.

I feel I am a pretty lucky fruit in that the nature side of things was looking pretty good from day one in the form of my mother. And there is no doubt that my father’s nurture has been a wonderful and substantial, if at times tricky, influence on my final make-up. But it is the little differences that made us enjoy our time together most, seeing that we came from the same starting-point, mostly his, but ended up in different places, mostly mine, and how we liked sharing the argument-strewn journey in the in-between hinterland.

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It was knowing that we both liked Burgundy, and that while he loved Clos de la Roche by Roty, I like to drink a Clos Vougeot from Engel, and that we both enjoyed those more than a la Tache; or that he liked Saint-Estèphe and I Saint-Julien, yet we both disliked ‘garage’ wines from Pomerol.

It is knowing that we both thought that sometimes less is more; that shirts don’t need to have four buttons on the collar and eight on the cuffs, with double stitching in contrasting colours so that everyone knows that they are from Interno 8 and make you look like everyone else. Where is the individuality there? Or it is disagreeing about whether you should have initials on your shirts at all nowadays.

Long gone are the times when these were needed for visits to grand old houses, so that garments weren’t mixed up with those of other guests in the laundry. My father had them discreetly applied – even on his boxer shorts, where nobody could see them – while I choose to have none. But certainly we agreed that you really don’t need to have them half-an-inch tall, practically in the middle of the chest, or even worse on the cuffs. Is this supposed to remind people who you are?

I mean either they know you or they don’t, in which case the initials won’t help either, unless you suffer from short-term memory loss and need to be reminded of your name regularly. And it’s not as if you are so unique in having them, or that your shirt is made to measure, as most high-street shops will now apply them for an extra tenner.

Or what about our shared dislike for bright-coloured linings in suits. Is it so that people know it was tailor-made? But now off-the-peg suits are the ones with the bright colours. It is in both knowing the difference between an Italian suit like Brioni and a real Italian suit like Caraceni, although I still go to Richard James instead and have single-breasted suits made with two buttons, while my father had Caraceni double-breasted with six. Or why he wore only Gatto shoes and I go to Berluti.

It is why I would rather drive a VW Touareg than a Porsche Cayenne, or be driven in a Phaeton than an S-Class or Maybach, even if I can’t do either, while he wouldn’t be seen dead in a German car of any ilk but still accepted they were feats of engineering and hated the idea of being driven. But we both loved a discreet Maserati.

We shared an absolute love of food, but mine is an undisciplined, untraditional re-arrangement of classic dishes, bordering on gluttony, while his was a rigorous approach to the delights and intricacies of all aspects of food, from cultivation to preparation and serving, coupled with an infinite desire to try as many things as possible, as long as following traditional paths and in a disciplined, controlled fashion resulting in his always looking depressingly fit and trim and my always trying to not look like… a glutton. But we both enjoyed meals more in two-starred restaurants than three-starred ones, as the only difference always seemed to be the stuffy service and fancy tableware and the price, not the food. And before you think it, yes, there are exceptions to all the rules, like El Bulli.

We both despised stereotyped watches like the Daytona, particularly in gold, and laughed our heads off at the sight of a Panerai. Why would anyone want to own an Italian watch? Since when do we Italians know how to keep time or be on time? And even funnier, these are inspired by our world-reputed military submariners. What world reputation I hear you ask?

My grandfather served in the Italian navy in the Second World War and I am reading his private diaries, and let me tell you there was nothing much to do with precision going on there! So my father wore a Rolex Prince and I a Bedat No 7, but I still hugely enjoyed giving him an enormous, Italian-made, bright orange, spoof Panerai Diver’s watch, which he enjoyed wearing.

So no, there is no need to measure. The fruit didn’t fall far from the tree, but took in all it could from the soil and from nature, absorbed everything possible from watching and listening to the larger-than-life tree itself. And ultimately, it learned to roll far enough from the tree to grow in its own way on its own patch of soil, catching its own sun and now even trying its hand at making its own fruits.

So similar, but yet so refreshingly different. And the result is this fruitcake. To WMS readers, ‘The Discriminator’ might have been ‘The Distinguisher’, a very similar but separate definition of individuality. And as someone said, my father is now probably telling the angels how to dress.

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