My friend Laura has spent a lifetime doing for others. Incredibly smart and incredibly generous, she is always there for her family, for her extended family, and for the rest of us assorted hangers-on. In the 15 or so years I have had the raw good luck to know her, I don’t recall her asking for anything for herself. So when it came to pass that Laura turned the big 6-0, she said she’d like a group of her friends to take a little vacation. At first she said “Paris.” We looked at the airfare. When we could breathe again and got back up off the floor, we asked her what her second choice was. “Napa,” she declared. “Napa California wine country.”
This decision was met with great joy, enormous anticipation, and immediate concern for our livers. But you just don’t say no to a plan proposed by one of the finest people you’ve ever met especially if the plan entails spending a week drinking wine. By another healthy dose of that raw good luck, Laura’s niece co-owns five bars/restaurants. These are establishments, you understand, that sell wine. Lots of wine. The niece arranged private tastings and tours and lunches. We were going to descend upon wine country and we were going to do it in style. Every day we got an update from the niece outlining which winery we would visit and when and what the good people at that winery were willing to do for five perfect strangers. It turns out the good people were willing to do a great deal. On the first day, we were going to experience three wineries which indicated to even the most debauched of us that a little restraint was in order. The daily exposure to alcohol tapered off after that, but not by much. The second and third days each offered two wineries. And then there was the free day during which we could either indulge on our own or opt to dry out.
Because the gods of happiness were smiling down benevolently, the five of us lucky people managed to arrive at the Oakland airport within 20 minutes of each other. There was that nasty business of our return flight being booked on a 737 Max 8. There wasn’t enough wine in the world to make me get on one of those, even if they hadn’t been finally grounded. Rebooking took less than 10 minutes and we were off. The mini-van sagged on its axles under the weight of luggage for five women, one of whom brought three outfits for every day. Plus make-up. Plus accessories. But man, she looked good. (No, it wasn’t me.)
The first-class arrangements did not take much getting used to. Everywhere we went we were greeted with smiles and huge trays of wine, the order of which does not necessarily reflect their importance to us. We also met, and I swear I am not making this up, wine educators. Wine educators will — guess what? — educate you about wine until you are forced to drink a large amount just to make them happy. This is a sacrifice we were willing to make. It seemed downright churlish to not sample all that was put before us. Someone’s feelings might get hurt. No one wants that, especially five thirsty people who are drinking on the house.
I will never look at a glass of wine the same way again. These people are serious — dead serious — about their grapes, their barrels, their process, their blending secrets and for heaven’s sake, their wine. Most of the wineries are beautiful. Many are extraordinary. A few are breathtaking.
We made our way through a dozen of them, sniffing, twirling, admiring, and ultimately tasting the liquid bounty placed before us. Each wine master had a vision that fueled his or her mission and each wine had a story. Minutiae such as what percent of new French oak was used in the barrel took on its fitting importance as we former swillers of wine morphed into people who appreciate what goes into the vast and complex process of coaxing the simple (or not so simple) grape to transform itself into a drink that sometimes approaches nectar.
Some of the wines we liked the best are not available in Ohio. For reasons that passseth understanding, there are all sorts of vague laws about where wine can be shipped and where it cannot be shipped. The happy news is, my very favorites wines could be shipped here. The ecstatic news is, they arrived Wednesday.
Marla Boone resides in Covington and writes for Miami Valley Today.