Wine-lovers are so ubiquitous these days, that to declare oneself a fan of wine feels something like a cliche. I almost don’t want to write about it, because everything I want to say sounds like I am ripping off a line out of the movie “Sideways”. My brain goes to the conversation between Miles and Maya on the porch, waxing poetic about the wine-making process. Miles elaborates about the winemakers who truly understand Pinot Noir’s potential and “can then coax it into it’s fullest expression”. Maya imagines the details surrounding the day the wine was made, wondering if it was sunny or rainy when the grapes were harvested. She loves that every bottle of wine changes with each day, making it a living thing with it’s own story.
Maya is right, of course, in saying that wine is alive and has a story. But the story I am interested in is not the one set in a vineyard the day the grapes were harvested, starring the people who picked them. I am interested in the story set the day the wine was opened, and the main characters are me and Kevin. While we are not obsessed with wine by any means, it just always seems to pop up in the journey we have been on together. We have a courtship filled with wine stories, a wedding at a winery, and plans for the wines that will be opened on our anniversaries. We certainly didn’t plan it that way; it’s almost as if the wine chose us.
Early in the relationship, touring the new world of wine was something we could do together. Neither of us knew anything about wine, and really stumbled upon our interest accidentally. We fell into a habit of eating chinese food and wine every Monday night, and because those conversations were pivotal in the process of opening up to one another, we promised each other to always make time for what became known as “Mud Puppy Chicken” night.
There is no such thing as Mud Puppy Chicken, a made-up name that Kevin gave for the Kung Pao Chicken at the Chinese restaurant in Daniel Village. The place has since changed ownership, so even we can’t get the original Mud Puppy Chicken, a spicy concoction with peanuts and veggies and rice. They have changed the recipe since the days when the employees would immediately recognize me or Kev as soon as we walked in. One of us would pick up a large to-go order of the dish that we would take to my apartment or Kevin’s rented home, and we would share the food with a bottle of red. Relaxed with the wine, we would ease into the conversations about our relationship fears and hopes, the kind of dialogue that always seems to be the difficult but essential foundation to a healthy relationship.
Our wines of choice for Mud Puppy Chicken night were Bitch and Evil. We chose them using the official wine novice selection process known as “it sounds like a fun wine”. We stayed with them for the spicy earthiness that matched the food. Bitch, a Grenache from Australia, is very hard to find anymore. We’ve heard that they stopped making it. But the iconic round pink label is etched into the Kev-Ang history forever. Evil’s black and red label is also on our memory wall, with it’s upside-down V. (It is an Australian Cabernet Sauvignon). I’m not sure how well these wines age, but think it would be cool to find a bottle of each from 2008 to put aside for a future anniversary. Back then we used to try not to choose any wine made in 2005 (a bad year for me) or 2007 (a bad year for Kevin). We each wanted to forget the years we got our hearts broken. Wine was a way we could move on together.
In addition to Mud Puppy chicken night tastings, we would often attend local events to try new wines throughout our courtship. In 2008 we had the opportunity to attend a wine festival at Chateau Elan, and we were all over it. This event at the resort in Braselton, Georgia offered a great value-for $75 you could enjoy tastings, grape-stomping, music, food, classes and more. We were given our etched wine glasses when we checked in, and went off to begin our viticulture adventure. The main sampling room was a tremendous banquet-hall with a literal mountain of bread chunks in the middle. Everywhere we looked were buckets next to pitchers of water for rinsing our glasses in between samples.
It didn’t take long before we were a little giddy with from the sampling, and decided to attend a wine class, both for the education, and the chance to sit down and rest a bit. The seminar was very informatiive, reviewing topics such as “old style” and “new style” wine. Imagine our delight when the instructor suggested an affordable new-style wine called Evil.
Once home, we were officially hooked on the world of wine and continued to try new kinds, using the aforementioned scientific wine selection process, a method that we continue to use to this day. I’m sure that on some level it is self-fulfilling prophesy, but we have it in our heads that any wine with an elegant name such as “Rothschild Estates” will not be as delightful as oned with an irreverant moniker such as “Arrogant Frog”. (By the way, if you google “wines with funny names”, you will find that Bitch is #2. I also notice one called “Cat’s Pee on a Gooseberry Bush”, which may be taking things a bit too far.)
When we got engaged, it was fitting to get married at Chateau Elan, and even more to ask for wine from the people who encouraged us to register for gifts. Kevin and I declared that we didn’t want wedding presents, but that if they felt strongly about making a gesture, that either a charity donation or a bottle of wine would do just fine. Wine entered the wedding story again when I read about a popular new ceremony activity called the “wine lock box”, which entails the bride and groom putting a bottle of wine into a box during the ceremony, locking it up, and promising to open it at the 5th wedding anniversary. At that time, the couple can enjoy the wine (hopefully one designed to age well) and renew their commitment to each other. We loved the idea, and were thrilled when Kevin’s dad made us the most amazing hand-crafted wood box with our names and the date on it.
Shortly after the wedding, I stumbled upon a book called the Wild Vine, about the history of an American wine called the Norton. This book struck me by it’s engaging readability and interesting topic, but also because the central setting to much of the book is Hermann, Missouri, which is 20 minutes from where Kevin’s parents live. Kev and I had done the wine tour at the Stone Hill Winery in Hermann on my first trip to MO to meet the parents, so I was thrilled to be reading about a place that was already a part of the Kev-Ang story. The author, Todd Kliman, speaks about Stone Hill and the family who brought the winery back to prominence after prohibition, as well as details about the little-known American grape that holds an impressive ability to age from a subtle fruity flavor to a robust spicy one.
Kev, Forrest and I traveled to MO for a family holiday dinner this weekend, and so Kev and I snuck over to Stone Hill. We were curious how much their employees would know about the Wild Vine book, and so we mentioned it to our server while enjoying lunch with Norton at the winery’s restaurant. She blinked at us with no recognition when we title-dropped, so we decided to pop over to the gift shop and see if they had heard of it. Sure enough, in the book section, the hard-backed version was proudly displayed on the first shelf. On a seperate table, the Norton enjoyed a full display of its own, with accolades shown for each of the vintage years. We grabbed a 2008 for our 10th anniversary. I told Kevin that I hoped when we opened it, that I would be able to remember exactly what that bottle tasted like today, with all it’s grape-y smoothness. When we drink the Norton in 10 years, I want to be able to travel back to the lunch we had today, the trip we had this weekend, and all of the wine stories that make up the journey of Kevin and Angela.