My wife and I had planned a nice dinner at home for my 65th birthday, last Friday the 13th. At the last minute, I had a change of heart, and decided to, instead, evacuate. And not just my intestinal tract, but the house we live in. I’d always wanted to have an evacuation for my birthday, and this seemed like a good year for it. “Memorable” doesn’t begin to describe my birthday.
We were able to return, somewhat cowed, somewhat sheepish, somewhat every other farm animal, the next day. My beautiful wife made dinner, and, for the occasion, I decided to open a very special bottle of wine.
I chose a bottle of 1999 Chateau Rayas. It was, predictably, a great bottle of wine, though I have almost no sense of what it smelled or tasted like. I didn’t really care. Don’t get me wrong, Rayas is one of my favorite wines on the planet, and I’m lucky to own some still. But I chose the wine because that bottle has great meaning to me, as did being able to have dinner in my still-standing house with my still-tolerant wife. We were married in March of 1999, and sharing a bottle from that vintage had great emotional power. Beyond that, my wife Kathleen had given me that bottle of ’99 Rayas for my 50th birthday, back when we lived in South Pasadena. She had inscribed it to me in a gold pen, “Happy Lth birthday, Ron.” I always hated “50th,” so I insisted on using Roman numerals that year. When people asked how old I was in 2002, I responded, “L.” Yeah, I know, stupid.
We spent much of the meal talking about where we’d been, what we’d shared, all that we'd been through the past 15 years together, Kathleen and I. Our week of evacuating, of euthanizing, of sleeplessness and anxiety had brought us closer together, even after 18 years of marriage. We spent 24 hours a day together for 7 days in a row, and it only made me miss her immediately when she left. That’s not really a silver lining, just a wonderful reminder that I was lucky when I married her. That my live has been blessed.
I am often asked if wines really get better with age. Most of us would agree, I think, that from a strictly objective standpoint, wines don’t so much get better with age as they get different with age. “Better” is so subjective, so personal. Yet, in this case, drinking the 1999 Rayas with my wife on the day after my 65th birthday, the bottle itself represented life and time and the pathway of our marriage. It tasted of joy, and of heartbreak. Of both our passion for each other, and the passion of the winemaker. Drinking it felt like a sacrament, and I wasn’t raised in any religion. It was profound and moving to share that bottle with Kathleen. And if you ask me, the ’99 Rayas was far better with age. It wasn’t just wine any longer. It was something so much better. For that meal, it was a reminder that even with all of its trials and pain and loss and grief, life is also a gift.
This is why I cellar wine. The only reason I cellar wine. Marketing people endlessly talk about how stories sell wine, and there’s truth in that, but it’s a cold truth, a truth one uses to sell a product. You sell life insurance the same way. But over time, individual bottles of wine, bottles purchased from love or on vacation or received as gifts, create their own stories. About what year they were born, how they were born, where they were born, and how they entered your life. That story is just for you, the one who opens the bottle on a special occasion, or to create a special occasion. It has no meaning to anyone else. So, the night of October 14th, the 1999 Chateau Rayas, rated 92 by Robert Parker, was a perfect wine. Perfect. I can’t think of a wine that has tasted better to me in one particular place at a very particular time.
As you read this, the fires in wine country continue to burn. They’ll burn for a while yet. If you don’t live in Northern California, I’d guess you are hearing less and less about them on the news. Now that feared orange glow is just President Bozo’s bouffant. New tragedies will cross your radar, God knows the world is filled with them. But wine country is having a very hard time right now, and as the shock wears off and reality sinks in, we are beginning to see how much help we need to rebuild and, for so many, those far needier than I, to simply survive.
If you love wine, and if you love visiting Napa and Sonoma, and if our glorious vineyards have given you the endless joy and pleasure that they’ve given me, and you’d like to return the favor, I’m happy to pass along an interesting and wonderful way to help.
Take a few minutes and go to www.wscwr.com
. Go ahead, go there now. I'll wait. It's cool, you want to know about it. And I need to take a leak...
These are going to be GREAT events, and if you can attend, you should! But even if you cannot attend, take a minute today, grab a shipping box, pick out a couple of wines that have some value, some meaning, and donate them to the cause. Don’t wait!! The events are next week, and the wines need to get here! I know you have old shipping boxes laying around, use one. Send that bottle you bought from Dr. Conti--those damn sommeliers won't know, I promise.
Better yet, come to Bergamot Alley, buy some wine, share it with some of the best winemakers in the county, share it with a great group of sommeliers, and, yes, I’ll be there, too. I’m sure that meeting the HoseMaster of Wine
™ is on a lot of bucket lists. That they’re from KFC is no matter. I’ll be at Bergamot Alley, Kelli White will be there (Kelli is the woman who asked me to promote the cause, and I’m honored to do so), and a lot of other famous and talented Sonoma wine folks will be there. Look at the stellar list of participating wineries on www.wscwr.com
! It will be a blast, and the hope is to raise a bunch of money for those most in need.
You have way more wine than you need. We all do. I’m planning on donating some damned fine bottles, maybe even a Rayas, or some older Saxum, or, well, come and find out! Donate! Do it because I made you laugh for the last six years for free. Whatever motivates you, please do what you are moved to do.
I don’t think I’ve ever plugged anything like this on HoseMaster of Wine
™. I may not ever again. But using your wine to help wine country is simply repaying the gift that wine has been in your life. Chances like this come around very rarely. Go for it.