I’ve seen more wineries in the last week than in all of the previous weeks I’ve been in Walla Walla. It wasn’t a lack of interest in drinking wine, really, so much as a lack of interest in standing around feeling like a fraud who knows nothing about wine. And I’m pretty sure that I know more than nothing about it—I know some of the vintages out there, I know which are my favorites, like Malbec and Pinot Noir, and which I can’t even pretend to drink, like Riesling. I even know I like California styled Pinots better than French style ones, but my intermediate knowledge pretty much ends there. For living in a winery town, I’m betting I fall in the bottom third of the resident population, somewhere above Bud Light with Lime drinker, but well, well below somineler. I’m a second or third floor tenant in the wine-consuming office tower.
So it was with a jaundiced eye—get it, cirrhosis of the liver after drinking too much—that I traipsed out to a few wineries with our friend Jody, of the beer boot fame. When I say a “few,” I mean 12. One dozen wineries in one week. There was no, unfortunately for us, baker’s dozen “bonus” winery. I suppose we could have gone to more, but Jody’s wine shipper boxes had filled up and she became loathe to entertain the notion of buying a quarter of 100 bottles. Twenty-four bottles she was fine with, but twenty-five was just right out, apparently. I appreciate a woman with good boundaries.
The wine buying experience, for me at least, is a strange combination of luxury and annoyance, pleasure and pretension. I can’t think of anything else that comes close, except playing a round of golf after vying for a decent tee time. At least I think that experience is comparable, I’ve only done the latter once, when I was 15. My point is that while I like wine, I don’t necessarily like it standing next to strangers who are also there to taste wine and who are incontrovertibly better at getting the wine pourer’s attention than I am. So I wind up standing around with an empty glass, obviously not looking Seattleish enough to convince the staff that I’m ready to buy a case of their best red table wine. This leaves me wanting for something to distract me, like pretending to see the Winery Dogs of Walla Walla book for the first time ever, or clearing out my glass with the perfect tiny dab of water.
It reminds me a wee bit of high school in that jockeying for position to be cool enough way, that complete concern about one’s image that is really about insecurity and being frightened the wrong person will notice one’s lack of coolness. Because then it will be broadcast to all of one’s peers, and then one is simply Done For. I keep waiting for the moment when the Porsche-driving older guy with his rather young friends will turn to me and laugh in my face. It hasn’t happened yet, but I think I’ve dodged a bullet or two.
One winery on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley line absolutely ignored Susanne and me several months ago, starting from one iota after they realized that we were locals. It was the snub at the dance; I could see the other patrons laughing it up, throwing their heads back, tiny tastes of wine rattling in their glasses, calling in orders for two and three cases, while I stood at the bar on the other side of the room, wondering how to make the quietest exit. As revenge, I tell people not to bother going to Zerba winery.
Walking through the wine industry with Jody, however, I had the best strategy. The girl can talk some wine. With her as the main distraction, we didn’t have any trouble making it through the flights of bottles. They could smell the money on her; it smoldered in her pocket and wafted to their wine-selling noses. Everywhere we went—L’Ecole and Cougar Crest, K, Spring Valley, Trust, I mean everywhere—she marched right in and started asking questions, started tasting, started exclaiming. There was no shrinking to this flower, and they ate it up.
I witnessed a number of excited exchanges and disagreements about wine. Whether there was a cherry on the finish, whether this beat the 2007 Dom. du Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf-du-Pape (note: it did not. Very little beats the 2007 Dom. du Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf-du-Pape, according to Jody). These were conversations 40 feet over my head. But who cared, I was getting pours! I tasted and spit, savoring when I could and moving on quickly when the wine didn’t suit me. Jody would become more and more excitable over the course of the day, until we all noted that we could use a nap.
I realized that walking into a winery with insecurity was like mounting a stallion cloaked in one’s own sense of fear. Neither experience would go well from that point. I didn’t need to worry about my class status in the winery, nor what I was projecting, I just needed to engage with the staff and enjoy the experience.
This is why having visitors from out of town is a good thing. Jody was just keeping it real.