Sunday, January 22, 2017

drinking wine spodee-odee

I don't drink alcohol. It's not that I have any moral conviction or I'm some latent temperance advocate. I just don't. I don't like the taste of it and I don't handle alcohol consumption well. As a teenager, I drank. When I was 18, the legal drinking age in New Jersey was 18. Lucky for my friends and me (or maybe unlucky), the Pennsylvania-New Jersey border was a mere twenty minute drive and a ten-cent bridge toll away. Back then, we drank cheap beer by the pitcher and drove home drunk in the middle of the night. I know. I know. Dumb. Really dumb. It's a part of my life of which I am not especially proud,

As the years went on, my drinking tapered off to nearly non-existent. I remember on a family vacation to Cooperstown, New York, our then-young son marveled as my wife and I each downed a bottle of the newly-introduced Mike's Hard Lemonade at a small café. We were within walking distance of our weekend accommodations and, as we strolled the main street, my worried son repeatedly asked, "Are you drunk?" When my wife and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in Las Vegas, our son (at this point, of legal drinking age) watched his otherwise tea-totaling parents share one of those alcoholic "slushies" that are so popular on The Strip. (Ours was from a little stand outside of the Paris resort and the container was shaped like the Eiffel Tower... filled with frozen booze.) This time, he didn't have to ask his question, as our state of sobriety was quite apparent. (Re: we were shitfaced.)

Last weekend, Mrs. Pincus and I drove down the eastern seaboard to visit Cousin Juniper in Virginia Beach. Our plan was to visit a few wineries in the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Williamsburg vicinity. I have been to the area a few times. I've actually seen the beach once. I've seen Historic Williamsburg twice — but neither time was it during a visit with my wife's family. But, I was up for a little road trip.

The roads and scenery in the geographic designation called "Hampton Roads" all look the same. It's one twisting, turning cement highway after another, accented by one nondescript strip mall after another. Every intersection looks identical with each of the four corners sporting a supermarket, a gas station, a convenience store (either 7-11, Wawa or a local version of those two) and several outlets of the many fast-food operations that blanket the southeast Virginia landscape. I'm glad Juniper knew the route, because the surroundings are bland enough to confuse a GPS.

Our first stop was Saude Creek Vineyards, located... um... somewhere in a wooded area in Virginia (I'm sure that's on some map). We drove along a narrow gravel road to a small parking lot flanked on one side by a barren field filled with the trellised remnants of skeletal grapevines and, on the other, a dark wood chalet-like building perched atop a grassy hill. We parked and climbed the winding stairs to the building. Patios and porches jutted out from the structure at different levels, making for a interesting example of Southeastern Virginia architecture... I suppose. We found what seemed to be an entrance and we let ourselves in.

The room was wide with a soaring ceiling and a stone hearth containing a roaring fire to the far right. There were a few high tables and low-slung sofas, all occupied by warmly-dressed patrons, busily talking and stuffing themselves with cheese and fruit and selections from the barbecue restaurant that had a concession set up in the far corner near the three-sided bar. The air smelled simultaneously of burning hickory and burning porcine. Mrs. P, Juniper and I took a spot at the bar, our backs to the vessels of cooking flesh, and ordered up a tasting session for each of us. A nice woman placed a wine glass before each of us and a small bowl of oyster crackers was set within reach. It was explained that the crackers were to cleanse our palates between each new wine flavor, of which (we were informed) there would be seven. The woman produced a dark bottle of wine from below the bar and poured a splash into our glasses. She expounded the history of the wine or the grapes or something as we politely sipped our samples. Actually, Juniper and my wife politely sipped. I downed it in one quick shot, a move I learned from the drinking scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. The next six samples followed a similar pattern — a splash of wine and a brief informative spiel about the wine-making process, My cohorts listened attentively. I, on the other hand, slammed back each tiny liquid portion, along with a handful of crackers as a chaser.  At this point, I had not let alcohol pass my lips in nearly eight years. And, I was never much of a drinker anyway. I felt myself getting light-headed. I continued to make smart-ass comments about the wine. Our hostess was cordial, but I could tell that she had just about enough of my stupid jokes and snarky asides. She also seemed a bit irked when we all waved off her attempt to give us a souffle cup of pulled pork as a "nice pairing" with wine number three (or maybe it was four?). I tried to explain that I am a vegetarian and I don't drink, so I wasn't sure what I was doing here in the first place. She managed to turn one corner of her mouth into a half-smile of understanding, but it was a poor attempt. After the tasting, I followed my companions to the door, my gait a little swervy and unsteady. We piled into Juniper's car and headed to winery number two, a newer place called Gauthier Vineyards. Once back on the narrow road out, we passed this scene from, what appeared to be, a holiday version of The Blair Witch Project.
I'm not sure how far Gauthier Vineyards is from Saude Creek Vineyards because the seven wine samples put me in a fog. The last thing I needed right now was seven more samples of wine. We arrived at Gauthier Vineyard and entered the small, plain white building. It looked more like a roadside store than the majestic and welcoming building at Saude Creek. The single room was small and sparsely furnished, with just a few tables and chairs haphazardly placed. We took a spot at the bar and were obligingly greeted by an older man who addressed us as though he had better things to do. Again, we asked for the wine tasting experience (two of us more enthusiastic than the third — I'll let you guess). The man set up three glasses and poured a smattering of wine into each one. It smelled like something you'd find in your medicine cabinet to brush on a skin abrasion before applying a Band-Aid. By sample number three, I was finished. I waved off the next four pours and stuffed my face with crackers until Mrs. P and Juniper were done. The man's explanations of his various wines were short and vague and, a few times, contradictory of the nice woman at Saude Creek. We concluded our session, paid and found an empty table upon which we spread our afternoon snack of fruit, brie, crackers and crudités that we brought with us. The man at the bar was less than thrilled with our monopolizing a table without purchasing a full bottle of wine (the purpose of the tasting). He strolled past our table a few times and shot us a scowl with each pass.

Once I had some solid food in me, the murky feeling in my head subsided. The cheese and broccoli and carrots canceled the taste of the medicinal-tasting wine. We finished up our lunch and dutifully cleaned up after ourselves, the man keeping an eye on our every move and casually inspecting our janitorial efforts. Much to his delight, we left.

Back in the car, Juniper asked if I was up for another tasting at another nearby winery.

I didn't answer.

1 comment:

  1. I did a wine tasting in Canada and had to sit in the parking lot for a long time before somebody was sober enough to drive. I'm obviously not much of a drinker either, but at least I like the taste of wine.