The Wine In The Cellar is For More Than Drinking
In the same way that books are signposts, wine is portal.
Every now and then when I want to spend time with only myself to think in an introspective way, I wander over to my library of books…about 400 or so. They are placed in a set of shelves in my dining room and they are organized by type: wine, fiction, certain authors, history, art, etc. When I stand in front of them, I see moments in my life. I see my past. I see my evolution as a man. The fact that my collection of wine takes me in the same direction and down the same path tells me that the accumulation of favored items is much more than compulsion or hoarding or mere collecting.
If you looked over my wine collection you wouldn’t see what I see and I wouldn’t see what you see when you explore your own. I see clients from 25 years ago when I was pup in the industry and those clients simply trusted me with their PR rather than hiring an old hand. I see the beginning of my relationship with Kathy. I see my travels. I see the various places I’ve lived. I see anniversaries and birthdays. I see friends. I see friends who have died. I see mothers who have passed. I see my biases. And I see hopes that didn’t come to fruition.
Collections of books and wines appear to operate on us in the same way
I have a 1993 Mayo Family Winery Sonoma Valley “Laurel Hill Vineyard” Chardonnay. My best friend Jeff Mayo tells me it is undrinkable and I believe him. But I also see in it an evening when I first met him at the house of a then-girlfriend almost 30 years ago. She was on the couch passed out. I see him running to his car to get this wine. And I recall he and me, for the first time, getting worked up over the fact that the other is a political dimwit that doesn’t understand the nature of the world, but seeing eye to eye about wine (and other things) enough that he become far more important to me than the girl on the couch that couldn’t hold her drink. And that’s just one of my wines.
Over on my bookshelf is a First Edition of “Interview With the Vampire” by Anne Rice. Following it on the shelf sits every other book she has ever written, all in First Editions. I see the story of Lestat unfold over many volumes, but there is more. I see my college sophomore self sitting in a dorm room at Humboldt State University 35 years ago explaining this extraordinary story I’m reading to a set of fellow students who look at me and collectively declare Rice’s exploration of the Vampire myth below them and their academic pursuits. And I see myself at that moment, knowing clearly that the minds of each of these fatuous gasbags, wannabe intellectual kids can’t hold a candle to my own, and realized right there the cost to myself of giving into peer pressure was too great. It was a lesson that has served me well over the unfolding years. That’s just one book.
We don’t collect books or wine or trinkets or rocks or cars or art to house and preserve our unique personhood and moments of our lives. We collect them because they please us or intrigue us or simply because those are the things that we must accumulate because that’s who we are. But in the end, these collections really do become a receptacle for the things we pass on our path.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that my wine collection now houses a larger number of Oregon Pinot Noir than it did just four years ago. It is still heavy with Sonoma and Napa wines, but the Oregon Pinots chart a recent course for me and my family.
Of course, the collection of books is more likely to hold signposts of our intellectual development than our wine collection will. Moreover, the books on shelves are a more durable map of where we have let ourselves be taken than is wine. The wine collection, along with whatever meaning each bottle holds, should diminish over time if we are doing it right.
I used to possess a vertical collection of Stony Hill Chardonnays that reached back to the early 1970s and carried forward uninterrupted to around 2000. The bottles from the 70s, 80s and some of the 90s were procured through auctions, occasionally through the one-off a retailer might have buried on their shelf and from individuals I’d met in wine chat rooms on the Internet. It was a two-year quest to gather up all these wines and a quest I embarked on while living alone in a home on the Glen Ellen Creek in Glen Ellen, California. The idea was that these 25 or 30 wines would serve one day as the centerpiece of dinner that explored not just California wine history but how to pair well-aged white wine with food. I’d even planned the eight or so courses I’s serve. I knew the people who would attend. It was a good plan that could only be conceived and hatched in the privacy of bachelorhood.
I kept the wines in a temperature-controlled garage of a friend not far away along with many of his own wines. Then one day I got the call that while my friend was away, the air conditioning for the garage had failed. I should come down. I opened a number of the old Stony Hills but each one was clearly cooked and badly. I took about ten of them home with me and they still sit in my cellar. I see them with their yellow capsules, some with the year written on the end of the capsule, staring at me every time I peruse the wines and decide what we are drinking tonight. They always remind me of time and place and carefully designed plans that never got carried out. I keep them for that reason alone.
I don’t know if a book or set of books on a shelf can be symbolic in the same way as the wines in our collections. Perhaps they can. I’m only suggesting that the books on our shelves are for more than reading and the wines in our cellars are for more than drinking.