“Epiphany” defines this Monthly Wine Writing Chalange #MWWC17.
Now, a few wines have lit that invisible light bulb over my head to heights nearing high holy, magi-gifting, Catholic-levels of exultation. You know, where the Jesus light pours from cherub-filled clouds shaking everything you thought you knew, just as your nose neared that magnificent glass: that kind of epiphany.
But my greatest wine epiphany came from a bottle I never tried.
Back in 2009, I had finally shed my career in archaeology. The travel and research had been great, but the field’s future was bleak. Chance (and my wife) landed me in Saratoga Springs.
One day I walked out of a job fair, told to go back to academia, that I was over qualified for any normal job. I trudged home but then sighted a Help Wanted sign. Excavating for five summers in Italy had turned my blood into Sangiovese. Putnam Wine hired me for the summer.
Soon they realized I could draw. Armed with paint pens, they flung me outside to draw blown-up wine labels on our main drag windows. So, between customer droughts, I would jump outside and bake in the sun. In a few weeks, things began to take shape:
Yet the ante needed upping. My boss handed me a bottle of Chateau Margaux, Pavillon Rouge, Margaux 2004: Bordeaux’s icon Cabernet. A chateau named after its own appelation. Each glass flask runs around $165. For a small but proud wine boutique, this bottle was special.
Once the store emptied, I popped the bottle in the window and went out to paint it. Over a clutch of days, me and my red paint pens sweated over the label’s details: how many lines made each column? How many dots delineated its lawn? A customer would wander in. I followed them, sampled them on a decent rosé, then jumped back outside.
It was nearly complete. I just had the “Chateau Margaux” below its red rondel to draw:
One day I had to close shop alone. I did my usual sell-then-paint dance. Then the dinner rush happened. Women and men swarmed in, frantic for any last minute pairing for tonight’s meal. I sold a ton, locked up, killed the lights and walked home, proud.
I arrived the next day for my afternoon shift. As I enterred, my coworker pulled me aside, gritting under hear breath:
“You left the bottle in the window.”
“The Margaux. I came in and it had blown the cork, sprayed everywhere, and was still foaming.”
My stomach sank into my toenails. I’m already fired. I should leave forever, I thought, become a hermit on a mountain and do penance until my last breath.
But for some reason I set down my bag, numb, and walked up to punch into work.
My boss loomed over the register up front. I glanced at the window, clean and bereft of the bottle. He did not look at me, as I approached. Then he slowly said:
“That was the best vinegar I have ever tasted.”
I blurred through a million apologies, offered to buy it, buy it for him, quit, buy him lunch, name a child after him, anything.
“Just don’t do it again.”
I realized what heat and UV damage could do. Our South-facing window let direct beams of light cut into the liquid that oxidized tartaric acid into violative, foamy, madness. A bottle of wine is a delicate thing. Its stability has a narrow range.
But that was not my epiphany. With my new job crumbling before my eyes, I discovered that, unlike academia (where I was burned for proving paving in the Forum Romanum was a manifestation of ars memoria), that 160 dollar icon of Bordelais perfection was still a bottle of wine.
Wine matters only because we project importance upon it, but it remains an inanimate (well, usually) object.
People matter. Wine just makes them more tolerable.