Suburban Wino 2: The Wordpress Experiment

Real Wine is for Real Men | January 30, 2011

Take a look at this sissy:
This is what pops in your mind when you think of the “wine connoisseur”, isn’t it? You know I’m right. He’s a twit, a bore; he thinks he’s better than you. Of course he’s drinking wine, because it’s what boring, self-righteous twits drink.
To most of you, it’s a libation that oozes pretentiousness. There are special glasses. One bottle can cost as much as a night on the town. Drinkers- especially the ones who claim NOT to be snobs- throw out ridiculous descriptions like “essence of tortilla”, “persimmon whispers”, and “candied antelope”. By proxy, wine is a beverage meant to be sipped and savored, rather than knocked back with the intent of easing the pain of 14 hours in a steel mill or 14 years in a hopeless marriage. Beer and liquor: the ironclad choice of barflies, cowboys, and blue collared factory workers. Beer and liquor: real drinks for real men. Right?
Well, what if I told you wine- REAL wine- was so tuff that I misspelled “tough”? What if I demonstrated that wine isn’t necessarily made by that jerk who turns his nose at your light beer, but by regular folks with some serious cojones. Sure, their finished product can be elegant and ethereal and sensuous (three more for the horrid “descriptor bin”), but the means to that end are stained with purple juice, gallons of Tecate, the sweat of cellar rats, and the blood of a coyote or two.

I recently read a short account by Christopher Weir called “Cellar Men” in the compilation Travelers’ Tales: Adventures in Wine. The story begins at the inception of harvest, with the author creeping between the vines- shotgun in hand- intent on scattering flocks of starlings that are sniping the ever-ripening fruit on 100-year-old Zinfandel vines. What follows is a tale of sleep-deprivation, beer, shoveling mounds of grape must, endless hours of cleaning and sorting and crushing and pressing; weary toil and disasters narrowly avoided. In the end, a dead coyote found in the vineyard is mounted on a nearby fence post… a totem to the primal, grueling, macho nature of winemaking.
Beyond the pages of this book, I’ve seen the struggle in the eyes of those in the wine world. I recall normally genteel Brent Beecham of Georgia’s Montaluce Winery using language more fit for a Tarantino film when I uttered another four-lettered word: “bird”. I’ve seen Ed Thralls’ (at the time, interning for Holdredge in Healdsburg, CA) thousand-yard stare, claiming not only extreme soreness of the body, but a pervading “stickiness” from being covered with grape juice.
And the spiders. Oh, the spiders. Every crate of grapes in from the vineyards comes full of them. Or so I’m told. I haven’t had the joy of experiencing harvest, but- in a weird way- it seems like something I would love to do, and the reason has nothing to do with a creepy “sticky grape juice” fetish…
…my fascination is best described in Weir’s words:
“Toward the shift’s bitter end, with the moon glowering overhead, I was standing amid a dysfunction of pumps, hoses, buckets, valve fittings, and flashlights. It’s at such moments that a cellar rat- wet, exhausted, and cross-eyed- might be inclined to… skip that last punchdown, to leave some fittings on the ground, to do a half-assed job rinsing the pumps. And, thus, to make a half-assed wine…a wine made by wimps will turn out accordingly.

The author’s sentiment sums up so much of what I’ve heard from winemakers, vineyard managers, and cellar rats. It further bolsters the reason why I not only have a hard time passing judgement on many bottles, but why you’ll rarely see reviews and descriptions on these pages. Sure, understanding that stuff is important to a greater appreciation of wine, but when a sleep-deprived guy risks his life- teetering over a fermenter during a pump over– to put the best wine he can into my glass, I feel like a real creep telling everyone on the interweb that it was a “failure, tasting of boysenberries rather than the varietally-correct lingonberries.”
I can’t imagine anything better than a coffee-buzz at 2 AM, running on nothing but caffeine, loud tunes, and the hopes that the finished product captures a little bit of that madcap scene in every bottle. I think that’s what the author’s trying to say. A wine so handled is going to have some soul. Some balls. A wine made of the frozen hands of the picker, the twisted ankles and stained fingernails of the cellar rat, and the determination of a winemaker dealing with what Mother Nature throws at him. Hell, there’s nothing sissy about any of it.
For these reasons, and so many more, I just never have any problem pouring a glass of wine when hanging out with the guys. You shouldn’t ever have to take issue, either. Next time you want wine- in a bar, at a tailgate party, or even at the hunting camp- pop a cork, because wine is, without a doubt, a manly drink…
…honestly, how many dead coyotes were involved in the making of your friends’ Bud Lights?

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