Fermented Thoughts: A Wine Epiphany

“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world." ~ John Milton

I think Milton, makes an excellent point about how gratitude can confer reverence, even if that gratitude is for something like wine. As for me, the lessons I've learned about wine, its surrounding culture and all the great folks behind the labels fill me with overwhelming gratitude every time I pop a cork, and the experience matches my expectations. My cumulative adventures in and around the wine business, including how it's made, the terroir, its history, etc. have changed forever, how I view the world. As it has been said, "in wine there is truth," leaving guile at the door. I will no longer consider wine as a simple beverage, but as something which can transcend mundane of daily life, making life a little better one slurp at a time. 

Many folks ask me, "so Bill how did you become so passionate about wine" or "why is it such a big deal to you, after all, it's just fermented grape juice right?". Well before I had my so-called transcendent moment with wine over twelve years ago, I was pretty much a resolute beer only kind of guy, and not even of the micro-beer persuasion either. I was just your garden variety tailgater, sipping and slurping on whatever happened to be available. 

More recently I was asked what is my motivation for writing about wine, what is it I'd like to communicate to the reader?  I mistakenly blurted out,  without much thought and said "learning about the quality to price ratio" my father would have been so proud. Having thought about that question again later, and given a bit more time to reflect, I thought, the one thing I want any reader of this blog to know or understand, please never stop exploring. It's a big wine world out there, Italy has more than 800 grape varieties, for example, so please don't limit yourself just to the varieties you're comfortable with, expand your horizons and get uncomfortable, it won't hurt much at all. 

Before I met my wife, wine, in general, had less than zero relevance to my everyday life; I really didn't give it too much consideration at all. My wife [then fiancee] who was just starting to get into the whole wine-experience herself wanted to introduce me to wine. Somehow she and I got into the conversation about why I was not into wine, and I really didn't have an answer that made sense. Maybe I had seen too many of my friends have their very own purple splash party, where purple cookies were launched, I think that may have discouraged me from exploring it further. Bottom line, I didn't care enough to give fermented beverages much thought at all, one way or the other. When it came to wine, I knew there was red, and there was white, beyond that, it was a yawn-fest. 

So my wife [Mrs. Cuvée] who was my fiancee at the time, a budding wine-enthusiast herself thought it would be a great idea to book a trip to the Napa Valley. She asked if I wanted to do a road trip with her, "let's just dive in head first" she said, and I readily agree. My skeptics cap firmly in place, tightly fixed to my rather large noggin, and I'm thinking "uh-huh okay let's see what all the purple-tinged fuss is all about?".  

Why Napa, c'mon folks let's all face it when one thinks of wine country here in the states, typically one word comes to mind, and that word is "Napa." I know, I know, there many great wine regions to explore here in the U.S. but the truth is that for most folks "Napa" is "thee" destination for the wandering wino or even the garden variety vino sapiens, especially so, if you live here in the states.

One of my very first experiences with wine came at a winery located in what some call the purple-haze superhighway 29. Our first stop and my first step into a winery happened at a place called V. Sattui. Perhaps you've heard of them [right, who hasn't] which is an excellent place for many first-timers to get their feet wet. Frankly, I'm not sure if this was the very first place we stopped, but it was definitely one of the most memorable of my experiences. We walked into packed-out, super-crowded, [albeit huge] Saturday afternoon tasting room, "I thought oh-boy maybe we should come back another time." But giving a quick look around for an open spot, I saw a rather tall gentleman gesturing for us to come over to the bar.

Once we arrived at the tasting bar, he welcomed us warmly and introduced himself as Daryl V. Sattui, who we later found out was the owner. Which I thought great, but I didn't make the immediate connection. We had a great tasting, talking about wine and his winery and I think we walked out of there with at least a case, but not before having lunch on the picnic grounds [the hook went in a bit deeper]. The delicious wine poured that day, along with Mr. V.Sattui's fantastic hospitality started me thinking, 'hmm there's something more here than meets the eye to this fermented grape juice phenomenon" and if you wondered, yes, I'm still buying juice from them today.

One of the other more memorable places we stopped that same day, was a place called Opus One; a great destination which can also found right along what is the now famous highway 29. If you're thinking about a visit yourself, book an appointment, it's needed to secure a spot in their daily tasting queue [luckily we were prepared]. Opus One as many of you know is a far cry of difference between these two iconic Napa Valley destinations to be sure. 

Another experience which changed my ideas about why wine is so much different than your average cocktail. As we roll up on the place [Opus One], I'm thinking "whoa, this is a pretty elaborate set-up" to most of the other vino-sapiens today, many think it's a bit overstated. Be that as it may, the wine poured that day, really "wowed" me and the hook had been set. 

Back then I was a newbie on the "wine-scene" [there was no blog] I hadn't enough time to become jaded [but I feel some of that creeping in time to time] or frankly to be too concerned about appearance issues. Of course, that didn't mean I was oblivious to how proud they are of the place and wine sold there. That said, this experienced again helped punctuate my own personal ah-ha moment with the vine. We walked out of there with just one bottle, that cost us something close to $200+, my memory on the fact is a bit hazy. Nonetheless, it was a bottle we saved for our fifth wedding anniversary, it moved with us three times before we popped the cork on this bad-boy after 10 years in the bottle while dining in Paso Robles, and wow it was still awe-inspiring.

So yes Mrs. Cuvée, if you happen to be reading this, the whole wine blogging "thing" I do, and my love affair with the vine is all your fault, but thank you ever so much for helping me find a little culture and much love to you for all you do, Salud!

Two very different experiences of the wine spectrum, but both thrilled me so much that I thought to myself, "I need to know more about wine" so I set off on the trail of exploration and have never looked back. Each new experience, each wine region visited, each fellow-traveler I've met along the way, every new wine tasted, tells me wine is far more than just a beverage to be enjoyed with your friends at the local watering hole after work. I know it's not for everyone, but for me, I'm pretty sure, it was just destiny waiting to happen.

It's far more than that, it's a lifestyle. I've come to think of wine as Clifton Fadiman once said; "If food is the body of good living, wine is its soul." So there you have my story about how wine has captured my heart, mind and my soul. It's with great pleasure that I say to you; sip long and prosper cheers!


Brett Domue said…
Sounds so much like my own story. I used to just pick up the occasional bottle of cheap wine from the supermarket but never really gave it much thought. When I was dating my now wife, we had a brief stop in Alsace when she came out to visit me in the Netherlands, which I followed up by paying her a visit in California, which turned out to be a weekend in Napa Valley.

V. Sattui was one of our first stops as well, and perhaps the winery that really helped me to truly appreciate the tasting experience. We've been to more than 25 different wineries now in Napa Valley, along with a number of wineries in Europe and Australia, and had wonderful experiences at almost all of them, and every visit becomes another learning experience. I'm still in the early stages, but once the bug is there, it's hard to lose.
Marie Payton said…
Wow, V Sattui and Opus One as your first winery visits - no wonder you were hooked! Both ends of the spectrum!
Will Eyer said…
Hey Brett,

Thanks so much for stopping by and for taking the time to comment. Isn't funny how the "wine" bug just grabs ordinary everyday folks from all walks of life and sucks them in with its eductive charms.

But hey if you have to be seduced by something in life what could be better than a life filled with grapeness

Will Eyer said…
Hey Marie,

Yeah no-kidding huh I think my wife knew what she was doing, when she set-up our itinary. It really has been a grape journey so far.

Great article Bill. Thank you for sharing insight into you and your wine story. Three cheers for Mrs Cuvee!
Will Eyer said…
Hi Michelle,

Thanks so much for the kind words,I never thought I'd become a wine drinker, let alone someone who writes about wine.

Pretty Crazy!

And right, cheers to her, because without Mrs. Cuvee's influence, there would have been no Cuvee Corner.

Mrs. Cuvee sounds like a very smart woman! You know what they say..."behind every man...". She obviously knew that once you experience amazing wine, gorgeous wineries, passion from the wine makers, industry workers and fellow "winers", that the bug bites hard.

Loved your story...thanks for sharing.


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