Thursday, June 9, 2011

99 bottles of wine on the wall

I had the most pleasant surprise last week.  I went to a friends over in Corte Madera (that is in Marin County, only 35 miles from where I live in Napa, and yet a world away).  When I arrived at her house she had made us a light lunch and then offered me a drink.  A glass of ginger minted iced tea.  How utterly refreshing!

You'd have to live here to understand.  Where?  Ah, here in the Napa Valley.  The perfect place for the "wine lover" to blend into the landscape, the vineyards, into the "grapeness" of it all.  The longer I live here, and I've lived here over 20 years, I am still amazed how wine, the area's biggest industry, permeates everything about the valley.  There isn't an event you will attend, a street fair, ladies luncheon, an art opening, a school fundraiser, where wine is not being served and celebrated.  It isn't so much that there is wine present, it's just
that there is nothing else offered.  Recently we attended an unveiling for one of our artists at an up valley winery.  Well of course they are serving their wine, and only their wine, but when I asked for water, the server seem baffled and said she had to go "search" for hopefully a hidden stash in some back room, probably in the employee refrigerator.

Welcome to the Napa Valley
Glorious hillside

The Napa Valley, the wine country, with it's celebrity chef restaurants, glorious vine studded hillsides reminiscent of a dreamy Italian landscape, is a fantasy lifestyle that many dream of.  New wineries seem to pop up more frequently than a pimple on the face of a high school freshman.  For me, wineries do remind me of high school, they are all about name, reputation, competition, and all of the other things that I hated, they are all wanting you to vote them Prom Queen (aka good review from Robert Parker).  But if you aren't already a wine lover, here you will have the opportunity to grow and mature into a functioning alcoholic that is accepted by all, loved by everyone, with a lifestyle to envy, a glorified street wino, driving the streets in a Range Rover instead of walking the streets with a paper bag.  It can happen so fast you won't even see the bottle that hit you over the head.

I realize there is a lot of wine drinking in other parts of the world, on a regular basis, even children drink their wine at lunch.  It is a part of life, part of the celebrated dining experience. But over there wine is usually diluted.  And because grape sugar content tends to be higher in California, our wines often have a higher alcohol content (up to 14%, compared with French wines' usual 12%), translation, quicker buzz.  Our children here in the valley are denied any alcohol of course, which makes it all the more appealing and desirable, but what must they be thinking when all they see are their parents and their parent's friends drinking on a regular basis?  Drinking a lot, I might add.  It sure looks like good times ahead, children learn what they see, hear and live.

I guess it is the double standard again that gets on my nerves, that civil rights activist that lives deep inside of me.  In the local paper all the DUI's are printed every month.  The name of every poor SOB that unfortunately had the bad luck of getting caught.  And most everyone of those names is a Hispanic surname. Well from the looks of it, you would think that the Hispanics are the only drunk drivers in the valley.  Shame on them.  Disgusted and placing blame, it is just one more stereotypical negative we can add to the list. Well, I happen to know from experience, having a friend who received a DUI, that if you are lucky enough to be able to hire yourself an attorney to appear with you in court, one of the requests that attorney will make is to keep your name out of the paper.  Oh well, now it is making so much sense.  There are just as many white "upstanding" citizens in this community, and you know who you are Dr. XYZ, driving with a blood alcohol level that would make you shiver at the though of them sharing the same road as you.  They get away with it.  I wonder if they get away with the court ordered classes, court fines and all of the other disgrace bestowed upon a person who has received a DUI as well.  The real truth of the matter is, almost everyone I know has at one time or another, taken that risk of driving after having a bit too much to drink.  And this valley makes it easy.

I like a glass of a full-bodied Cabernet or a crisp Sauvignon Blanc as much as the next guy, but here in Napa, it is easy for a person to hide behind the hundreds of wine labels, tasting, enjoying, drinking to excess, denying that there might be some kind of problem, .i.e., alcoholism, and instead substituting the word wine connoisseur.  No different from opening a bottle of gin or vodka, if people were drinking it everyday, at every opportunity, and in the same quantity, I believe we would be whispering behind those people's backs. Rich wine drinker or a poor paper bag wine drinker, a drunk is a drunk is a drunk.  Bottom line, we are all drinking way too much - maybe it's time to call a spade a spade and put a cork in it.

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