Remembering an Early Experience with Wine

I remember my first taste of wine, almost like it was yesterday.
It happened during a family gathering around the holidays when I
was very young.
I remember my first taste of wine, almost like it was yesterday. It happened during a family gathering around the holidays when I was very young.

My grandfather had a small plot of land on which he grew his own grapes and made his own wine. His wine was always a part of the festivities, served in conjunction with his favorite foods, which included pasta, roast leg of lamb with mint sauce and homemade bread.

I was a curious child, never more so when it came to adult beverages. I was always begging grandpa for a sip of his wine. He looked to my parents, who smiled their approval. I was about to taste wine for the first time! I was going to be promoted to adulthood with one, tiny sip. He held the glass in his hands and pressed it to my lips. The wine barely touched by tongue, when I closed my mouth, smiled, and then ran outside to spit the venom out! I learned my lesson that day, but only after I returned to have the same experience with my father’s beer. Adulthood would have to wait.

Well, the waiting is over. I have grown up, although some ex-girlfriends would tell you differently. As an adult, I recently had a few things happen in my life that have helped me arrive at this column.

The first was an event that was connected to real estate. I was renting a house in Gilroy when my landlords approached me one afternoon. They informed me of some “capital gains” thing that they were in, and despite the fact that I was the world’s best tenant, my sorry carcass would have to move because they needed to sell their house. I did not believe them. The sheriff who showed up on my doorstep two months later convinced me that they were telling the truth, and I found myself looking for another place. I was fortunate to find a small house out in the country situated in the middle of a vineyard.

To be surrounded by the sights and smells of a vineyard, especially one that is more than 80 years old in most parts, is a blessing. Like my habit of becoming a sports fan out of proximity (I never cared for the Giants until I moved to the area and started following them), my affinity for wine started to grow. Living in the vineyard and seeing some aspects of this intense, laborious process of growing grapes did not satiate my desire to learn more.

So I decided to call a friend at Léal Vineyards in Hollister. I begged winemaker David “Griff” Griffith for a job. I wanted to learn more about this art form known as wine making. To start out, I suggested to Griff that I should start slow and that his job would suit me just fine. He suggested that I pick up a mop and come in on the weekends to clean the barrel room. But to get hired, I would have to beg a few more people on staff at Léal. I did, and the rest is history. I celebrate my one year anniversary as a part-time employee at Léal Vineyards this week.

Where is this leading? I am hoping this column will help demystify wine. I am not an expert by any means, but I do love wine, food and the company of friends. I am anxious for the education that is ahead of me and would like to invite the readership along for the ride. The style would be interactive, casual and unpretentious – an approach that invites your participation. If you have a question, I would be happy to answer it if I can, share an opinion, or at the very least, make up something that sounds good enough. If anything is too controversial or difficult, I’ll just ignore the letter!

Cheers! Salud!