Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My long awaited theory on wine. You're welcome!

Artist's rendering of California's secret wine supply …
The bane of my extended family, I don't play cards, hang tough during small talk, or drink wine. You can imagine the joy I bring to family gatherings.

Of the last, I have heightened my unpopularity (or lowered my popularity further?) with a despised theory on wine, which is: It all comes from one massive tank, like the largest municipal water supply tank you can imagine, somewhere near Modesto, exact coordinates known to only to the wine industry. All of it, every drop of California wine, comes from that tank. Maybe Gallo controls it, maybe not.

(This theory as yet has gone unchallenged. I know what you're thinking: You can't prove a negative. Well, prove it!)

It's all white wine, by the way. The red wine results from dye, conveniently provided in color-matched packets.

One "vintage" of white wine
(or red, whatever), coming up …
During the night, all the wineries — big and small, with names like Leaping Lizard or Fauntleroy or Burnt Bramble or some such; all the wineries with histories written in warm tones about how the sweat and love and blessing of a certain microclimate and generational vision (leaving out the part about the hefty inheritance or absconded-with treasuries) of this or that family delivered this fine wine to your worthy table — back their boutique vans up to a hose bibb sticking out around the base of the tank.

Each winery has a hose bibb. I imagine a plaque — probably gold-plated — is affixed above each, engraved with the winery's name. Each winery pays according to its needed volume in wine product, and drives it back to its home place, and dumps the wine into its casks for distribution.

Back at the wineries, wine lovers cluster in for the distribution, bellied up to polished countertops, sampling each winery's "specialty." Through the power of suggestion (hypnosis, perhaps?), well-trained winery staff use buzzwords to impart the effect that each wine has a different flavor, is brim-full of nuance and pleasure.

Maybe this is all in my mind, a convoluted rationalization for explaining that all wine tastes the same. To me, anyway. Probably to everyone else too, but everyone else denies it. Instead, under the wine stewards' spell, they say they taste "notes" of currant and chocolate and blackberries and dirt and coffee and redemption and longing and success and who knows what else. Sometimes maybe wine grapes.

I don't get much kick from wine (or champagne). Mere alcohol, as is said, doesn't thrill me at all. But most around me indulge in its thrall.

Our son celebrated his 21st birthday belatedly last weekend with friends and family on a winetasting tour of the Amador region, in the Sierra foothills along Highway 49. They stood at those counters and pretended with the proprietors that this wine tastes different from that because this was bottled under a quarter moon and global pressures and regret, or lack thereof.

But the proprietor will know where the wine really came from, and now so will you.

I wandered around the wine tanks, where it's cool and smells sweetly of wine. I like the fragrance of  a cool cellar on a summer day; I enjoy the subterfuge on which each winery has splurged in order to make people believe they actually make their own wine. I like the token vineyards around the winery, the usually unbelievable, money-laden architecture of the wine tasting room, the unmatched views. Always the view; makes me wonder if winemaking isn't really all about prime real estate.

One winery encouraged our entourage outdoors, where a staff member brought out its "pourings." He described one wine as "smoky" and "jammy." Wineries are where real adjectives not only go to get stretched to the breaking point, but where some get born that never make it off the property. Jammy!

My wife held out her glass to me. "This guy said it tastes like blackberries, and I have to say, it really does!" I sipped.

"Tastes like every other wine to me." The party proceeded to ignore me again, clouded in their bliss.

I don't feel the same about beer. Beer certainly tastes different from brand to brand, and it all tastes … well, not awful exactly, but not something I look forward to drinking. The only time beer tastes good to me is right after mowing the lawn, and then it's a cheap beer, and then only a swig or two of it and after that finishing the beer feels like work. I feel like I'm chewing most other beers.

Plus, certain beers, like certain wines, "must" be drunk out of certain glasses that foment foaming or  oxygenate or imbue nobility. Or the glass must be held just so. Hm. Life's too short.

I tasted straight tequila last month for the first time, and actually laughed. "This tastes exactly like whisky," I said. As with whisky, I don't feel I'm drinking tequila so much as it feels like my body is quickly bypassing normal processes in order to ingest the alcohol.

Alcohol should taste like it does when I read about it. Doc in Cannery Row exclaimed, "Hah! There's nothing in the world like that first taste of beer!" I want beer to taste like whatever he's talking about. John Steinbeck even made a beer milkshake sound good, even though Doc finally struck up the nerve to order one in a diner (in Santa Maria, 30 miles from my hometown!) and decided it was terrible.

But alcohol never takes like I imagine. Maybe if it did I'd be in trouble.

The truth: Alcohol scares me a bit. I'm afraid of its effects on me. Yeah, goody two-shoes, born and raised, which even my mom regretted.

I don't think I'd be a mean drunk; my maternal grandfather, from the stories I was told, became mean and violent. The closest I've come is being a sarcastic drunk, which is unpleasant enough.

On the few occasions I saw my dad drunk (he was mourning with his best friend the cancer that had shaken and would soon kill his friend), he was sweet and cloying and smothering, weeping and waking me up early in the morning to tell me important things a nine-year-old is never going to understand.

I've never wanted to be that way, and I think maybe the germ of my wine theory is born in that.


  1. A good documentary effort overall, but you forgot to include the Strategic Wine Reserve that the military guards in salt domes under launch pads at Vandenberg AFB. The whole missile program, a cover for SWR.

  2. i love it. it fits! or perhaps oak-lined underground missile silos? one winery we visited ferments its wine (or so they say) in giant concrete "eggs," and impart the oak flavor by dipping teabags of desired oak shavings into the ferment. seems kinda beside the point to me …