This weekend David and I are hosting a tasting at a local winery. Tere, Anna, and Curtis come to the house, and we drive from there. We meet the rest of our friends at the winery. The place is bustling. A tour bus has recently arrived. I check the twelve of us in at the counter and we’re led to the mashing floor where we’re given a history of this particular winery (I’m not really captured at this point); and then we listen to a lecture about the process (mildly interesting to the science-minded).
I’m distracted because I’d rather spend time with my friends than the wine. Only Tom and Gitte are relatively new to us—David met Tom through Habitat, and we look forward to getting to know them better. Except for Curtis and Anna, the rest are people I went to high school with in Amarillo; and spending time with them is a nostalgic business, stirring up memories of my hometown and old times and what it meant to have adventures with good friends. No one knows you as well as your buddies from way back when, and I want to race ahead to the social part of the day, the conversations and catch-ups. But first we must hear about what to do with grapes.
Wine is not something I associate with the hill country of Texas, but apparently it’s a big deal; we’re practically Napa of the south. The road between Johnson City and Fredericksburg is packed with wineries, and twenty-seven more permits have been issued for the next year.
Few of the Texas wineries actually grow their own grapes—oh, there are vines in nearby fields to lend ambiance, but to produce the amount these wineries bottle, the vintners must bring in grapes from Oregon, Washington, and—this one amuses me—Lubbock. Yes, Texas Tech friends, Llano Estacado still marches on; and surprisingly their grapes are revered.
After the educational segment, the twelve of us circle around a table while a presenter pours a small amount in each of our glasses, elaborating with great enthusiasm about the types and combinations of grapes used to make each wine; the inspiration behind the wine; the flavors drawn from the soil; the weather requirements for the sweetest grapes and the thinnest skins—this goes on for a long time while, nestled in my palm, is a glass containing ten drops of wine. We all don interested expressions, though mainly what we want to do is down the wine and move on.
Being surrounded by these people that I’m so fond of makes me ponder the question of why, for all these years, I’ve felt bitter toward my hometown. Amarillo was brown and windy and the people seemed unimaginative and inert. I felt, when I was young, that the primary goal of the collective population was conformity. No exotic flowers were allowed to flourish in the infertile soil. Success was a good thing, but too much of it was impolite. Yet, considering this exceptional group, the majority of which come from there, I realize that I’ve been closed and wrong. The hard dirt of the panhandle, despite the mediocre schools and the derivative mindset, gave the world some exceptional people. Back to the wine.
Each winery has a club. If you join their club you get three bottles of wine three times a year, a free glass of wine at the winery once a month and, periodically, a free tasting. Also, you get a members’ discount on every bottle. Several couples we know have joined three or more wineries, which causes me to surmise that these wineries are thriving because all the retirees in Marble Falls and Llano are desperate for something to do.
A counter-intuitive aspect of this winery culture is that the people who wear matching shirts and strive to find original adjectives are not necessarily employees—in many cases they’re volunteers who are actually reimbursed with bottles of wine. Am I wrong, or is this the opposite of volunteering?
After we’ve finished the testing we move to the patio, a shady area with a view over the vineyard and a live band set up in the corner. Our friends pull two benches together while David and Curtis transfer snacks from the truck. I hang back to buy bottles of wine. We drink and eat and laugh and tell jokes. A cake comes out and we sing happy birthday to Curtis and David, finishing the bottles just as the winery is closing—but it’s too early for us to say good-bye. We invite everyone to our house, which isn’t far, where we sit around the fire pit, look out at the cedars and hummingbirds, eat more food, and drink more wine. Slowly people depart. Tom and Gitte ran a five K this morning and they’re exhausted. (Congratulations on placing first, Gitte!) Nonny and Mary Ann have a long drive to get home. (Bye, drive carefully!)
Then around the circle it’s just Diana and Charlie, Tere, David and me. Curtis and Anna listen from a nearby lounge chair, unimpressed by our reminisces, which are foreign and absurd to them—a legal drinking age of eighteen, the get-high-for-lunch-bunch at school, kids skipping classes because they were so bored, bored, bored. Tere and Diana were two of my best friends from high school. We have stories. A while later Diana and Charlie head out. (See you soon!) The kids go to bed. Tere, David, and I stay up talking. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a chance to pick Tere’s brain and, as always, there’s much to be learned. She’s heading in a new direction, passionate about new evidence proving the correlation between mental and physical well-being; positing that when self-contempt (we all hate ourselves a little) is replaced with self-compassion (forgive yourself), a person is not only physically healthier, but healing is more likely to occur. (Hope it goes well, Tere!)
It’s after one when we get to bed. In the morning David calculates that we drank wine for ten hours straight. Babe, we’re too old for this.