I hate wine!
That has been my stubborn defense for more than 40 years, through three marriages, countless dinners and parties, and numerous conversations with friends and strangers having to explain why.
So what then, could possibly be my credentials for writing a guide to wine? I’m learning to like it!
I married young the first time, barely a man at age 19, and joined a fun-loving family that included my new mother-in-law, Joyce, who was a respected local bartender. A lovely lady, who loved life and loved to serve everything from martinis to beer, to new varieties of wine that she discovered. All to make the evening and life in general, a little bit more fun. The problem for me was, I hated the taste of alcohol. During family gatherings I felt like an oddball. While everyone one else had a few drinks, relaxed, laughed at jokes and enjoyed a game of pool. I would sit and read and be bored. My fault I know, I could have just joined in, but for some reason, my not liking alcohol was a social barrier I couldn’t overcome.
And that didn’t change through 28 years of marriages, with three different wives and loving families, who all enjoyed a great gathering together, over a bottle of wine. Now somehow, late in life, I have come to realize, through the love of spending time with my current wife and a more complete picture of the culture of wine, that I don’t have to hate wine, at least not all the time.
So, how did I finally get here, after all those years? Late last year in 2009, I was invited to the surprise birthday party of a friend, Bill, that I had not seen in at least 20 years and who lived in Folsom, California. Since it was close to an 8-hour drive from where I lived in southern California, I didn’t want to just drive up for the evening party. Nor did I have any great desire to check out the local tourist possibilities in Folsom, which only seemed to be the local mall. Looking at a map of California, I realized Folsom was only a short drive from the Napa/Sonoma area, famous for its beautiful countryside and especially famous for the great wine growing region that put California wines on the worldwide map. Now as I’ve said, I don’t like wine, but because my wife always has such a fun time going wine tasting, I have always kept an eye open for local wineries. It’s exciting for her to taste some mysterious new variety and to pick up a bottle or two to take home to share with friends and family.
As I planned the trip, I quickly started asking friends who lived in Napa/ Sonoma or had traveled there, the best places to stay, where to have a great meal and of course the best wineries for wine tasting. When I looked at the various maps online, I could see there were literally hundreds of vineyards and wineries you could visit. Since we had several days off from work before the birthday party, I also wanted to do some sightseeing, as neither of us had traveled much in this area of California. The first decision I made was to end up in Sonoma and Napa, but to not go there right away. As I looked at the map, I saw how close the area was to the northern coast of California, north of San Francisco, and saw that Sonoma county’s boundaries stretched all the way from inland California to the beautiful coast and then heading even farther north was Mendocino County, which I had heard marvelous things about as well.
Looking at bed and breakfasts online and various inn’s and lodges in the area, I settled on a resort north of Jenner, California, called the Timber Cove Resort. Primarily I picked it for its great view of the ocean, located on a jut of land sticking out into the Pacific. There being no other buildings or developments close to it, it seemed like a great place for a romantic getaway.
As I was preparing to make the booking, I noticed they had on Thursday nights a Winemakers dinner, where they invited a local winemaker from one of the wineries in the area to bring their wines and explain them in detail throughout the meal. I thought my wife would love this and booked it as a surprise. Now it was $80 a person, including a six-course meal and the wines for each course, so with tip I knew it was going to be close to $200 for the both of us. I even asked them when I made the booking how much it cost for just the dinner for me, since I didn’t like wine. They said I would only save $20, so I decided what the heck, “in for a dime, in for a dollar” and would taste the wines.
On the night of the dinner we actually arrived a little late, underestimating how far we had gone sightseeing that day, north of the resort to Mendocino. We quickly changed in our room, rushed into the restaurant and took our seats at our table. The room was quite full and I felt a little out of place, as usual, figuring most of the people were wine connoisseurs or at least Phd’s in something or another and I had only my simple high school diploma, and of course hated wine.
The winemaker was speaking as we sat down, a fellow named Charles — who had traveled from Cline Cellars in Napa, a well-known winery, to present his creations. He had already started telling a little about his personal history of how he became a winemaker, before presenting the first wine for the night. I especially got interested when he told the story of the Jacuzzi Winery, which owns Cline Cellars, and their involvement in the invention of the Jacuzzi tub.
Apparently, Candido Jacuzzi, an Italian immigrant farmer, had a 15-month old son, Kenny, who had rheumatoid arthritis. As a farmer, he had to irrigate his fields with water imported from outlying areas. Over the years he helped develop various mechanical pumps to move the water to his fields and apparently the light bulb went off one day that he could use one of these pumps water pulses to ease the pain of his son’s arthritis in the tub, inventing the Jacuzzi whirlpool jet bath.
For some reason that story piqued my interest and I thought perhaps there is more to wine than just the alcohol taste that I had disliked since I was young. And since I was spending $200 for this dinner, I was going to drink my fair share of wine, dammit!
Well, sure enough, I tasted the first wine and found it to be bitter from the alcohol, but I faithfully listened as Charles explained the area where the grapes were grown, the decisions he made in making the wine and some of the flavors that were present. The way he explained it all, wasn’t quite as ridiculous sounding as I have heard some people talk about wine, so I kept listening trying to understand this fascination with something that I had found tasted so bad. I also wanted my wife to have a great time and I knew sitting there complaining and making fun of everything would make a downer of what could be a fun evening.
Early on in our marriage, when we traveled to areas that had wineries, I would patiently drive her to the local winery in towns like Julian, or Harmony, California, but then once we got there I would sit outside at a picnic table or just sit in the car, waiting for her to taste and buy her wine. I would see lots of people entering, standing next to her, chatting, laughing, having lots of fun, but I just could not go in. For the simple reason, previously stated, that I didn’t like the taste. It was the alcohol that I didn’t like. I don’t drink beer and very few mixed drinks. The only drink I’ll regularly order for dinner is a Strawberry Daiquiri, and if it’s made the way I like it, I don’t taste the rum in it hardly at all.
The moment of new light came on for me, midway through the dinner. Another wine was served and as I tasted it I realized I was starting to detect some of the things that the winemaker was describing. In fact, my wife having just tasted the most recent variety, explained her sense of what that wine was like. I immediately disagreed and explained that what I tasted in the wine was that it was more like this or that, and not moments later the winemaker stood up and described the aspects of the wine exactly as I had just told it to my wife. Almost instantly, I had an epiphany. I didn’t have to like wine to enjoy the culture of wine. I didn’t have to sit in the car and miss out on all the fun. Wine has been around for thousands of years, not just for the taste, or to get a buzz, as I thought, but because of so many other reasons, which over the next few months I would soon discover. And so, that night during the winemaker’s dinner I decided to write “The Wine Haters Guide to Wine” and even laid out the chapter titles on the reverse side of the menu. When the winemaker came around to our table during dinner to say hello and see if we had any questions I told him of my wonderful idea for the book. He looked at me kinda funny and politely, but quickly moved on.
Perhaps, I’ll send him a copy ☺