Wednesday, April 20, 2011

April 20, 2011 ~ Day 132
Romance of the Vine

Recently I've been writing content about wineries in the Valle de Guadalupe (northern Baja California) for my husband's company. I adore writing about vineyards, for me there is something gorgeous about the *idea* of wine which represents the absolute height of romance.

This is ironic, as anyone who knows me well would know, because I don't drink at all.

My abstinence from the bottle isn't due to alcoholism or deeply held convictions. As it turns out, a particular combination of genetics, internal organs and medication make it impossible for me to enjoy a glass of wine, beer or liquor.

This is slightly disappointing actually, for someone who grew up poring over descriptions of absinthe in Hemingway novels. I will never actually know the taste of that 'magical' green liquid which once inspired so many writers, artists and musicians.

As a teenager and even into my young twenties, I dreamt that someday I would own a winery in some sunny European country - France, Italy, Spain. One of those gorgeous spots. I read Frances Mayes' "Under The Tuscan Sun" and decided that after my first career (lawyer? politician? journalist?) I too would move to Europe to 'start again' and purchase myself a parcel of land.

I planned to buy a vineyard, rehabilitate it and then open a small restaurant that would serve only two options per meal- a vegetarian entree and a meat entree... along with outstanding wine. My philosophy was that if you could get the food to be delicious enough, dinner guests wouldn't NEED 10 menu options to choose from... they would be happy with two.

"We'll have fresh loaves of bread, a well stocked cellar and large portions," I told my friends. "And I will retire there on that vineyard and live out my days in peace and prosperity."

It was a nice dream!

In actuality, I found my true calling as one of our country's legion of underpaid but extremely fulfilled teachers... my tax bracket therefore remained a bit below what would be required to purchase a vineyard in Italy.

Also, thanks to the inherited liver condition that I only learned out about in 2007 and now the doxycycline that I'll be taking for at least a few years, wine tasting is a thing of the past for me ~ which probably means that my yearning to open a restaurant attached to a vineyard is moot as well.

Finding out about the inherited liver problem explained a lot. Growing up, I never understood why I could drink the same amount of alcohol as my friends and get ridiculously ill while they felt perfectly fine. I never made it to the bottom of a single Newcastle without paying for it hard the next day.

For whatever reason, sake didn't hurt me the way beer and red wine did. I could even do mixed drinks for a time, but that ended on the night not long after my husband and I began dating when I consumed four of my signature Cape Cods (cranberry, vodka, ice) and ended up greeting my dinner again ~ and again ~ all over the interior of his car.

That evening really stands out in my memory because

(a) It was the last time I ever got drunk,
(b) I had alcohol poisoning so severe I had to call my mother the next morning to come and take care of me ~ I was vomiting green bile,
(c) I vividly remember laying on the ground looking up at the stars (after vomiting for like the sixth time) feeling like I was the only person left in the world,
(d) A (sleazy?) man from an upstairs apartment who had been watching me came down and broke my reverie to ask if I wanted to come up to his place. Ewwwwwww.

I remember praying hard as I told him "My boyfriend is going to be here at any moment to get me," and thankfully, my boyfriend (now husband) DID come to rescue me.

I didn't ever want to be that vulnerable or ill again... and I definitely did NOT want to make a jackass of myself in front of the guy I loved... so I decided to mainly stop drinking. Since that late Fall evening in 2002 I have rarely had more than a sip of wine here or there.

Now that I'm on doxycycline for lyme disease I literally *can't* drink without really messing up my liver, so in a way it makes things easier. I don't have to make a judgment call every single time someone offers me a beer or a glass of wine about how sick I'm willing to be later that night or the next morning. It's a lot easier now to say "No thanks, but please go ahead without me!" without feeling ambivalent.

The funny but great thing is that I probably love wine more now than I did when I could actually drink it. I appreciate it more robustly - enjoying it not just for its flavor or the sudden burst of 'liquid confidence' I always got from drinking; but instead for the passion I have learned that winemakers feel for their land and vines.

It takes immense skill to give grapes the perfect mixture of sweetness and acidity ~ and then to blend different varietals into something delicious. The time-honored process of harvesting, fermenting and aging each wine is both a work of genius and an act filled with love and sacrifice.

I'll never forget watching "I Love Lucy" as a child and seeing Lucille Ball stomping grapes with her feet in a giant vat. "That looks like fun!" I thought, and I hoped someday I would be asked to stomp some grapes too!

I love the amazing histories that invariably come with each winery. In my writing about wineries I have found that inevitably there is a fascinating story that goes along with the vintner, the land or the grapes. For example, one owner might have walked away from a lucrative banking career to grow grapes; his neighbor may have decided to dedicate her life to the soil when her child passed away. The stories seem warm and personal, revealing a deep connection between the farmer and the land.

Last year Roger Ebert wrote a cookbook called "The Pot and How to Use It: The Mystery and Romance of the Rice Cooker". He stated in an interview that he has vivid memories of food and can remember the taste of certain things with total clarity. He still loves to cook, even though he can no longer eat by mouth since undergoing surgery for thyroid cancer. Ebert loves the thought of food and the memory of its flavor just as much now as he ever did.

I totally understand this. It is exactly the same way that I feel about drinking white wine, specifically sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio.

I admire the sinewy neck of each bottle and each carefully designed label. I enjoy reading about the different "hints", "undertones" and "bouquets" of various kinds of wood, berries and spices in each type of wine. I love driving along roads that border vineyards, admiring the neat yet voluptuous rows of vines ~ curling and waving, never quite conforming to order. I celebrate the season of harvest and the excitement of opening up a properly aged bottle. I smile to hear my husband exclaim over the flavor of a particular wine, when he finds one that he really likes.

Wine is sometimes called poetry in a bottle. I believe that its poetic melody can be heard even by a non-drinker like me. Perhaps I am lucky! I get to appreciate its simple elegance without ever suffering from a hangover.

Fifteen or so years ago a good friend of mine gave me a copy of "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac and wrote on its dedication page that a particular phrase had reminded him of me: "Soon it got dusk, a grapy dusk, a purple dusk over tangerine groves and long melon fields; the sun the color of pressed grapes, slashed with burgandy red, the fields the color of love and Spanish mysteries."

I can't think of a nicer compliment.

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