I’m not entirely sure what first attracted me to wine. When Sonja and I met, I was decidedly a “beer guy” with a propensity to favor rich, dark Belgian quadruppels and malty English ales, and to turn my nose up at hopped-up IPA’s that, in my opinion, were the work of poor or lazy brewers who knew that if they scorch the palate with enough IBU’s, they can mask countless other flaws. I still feel this way about beer, but I care less, as somewhere along the line I was introduced to wine, good wine, excellent wine, and got sucked so far into the world of viticulture that there’s no hope that I could ever from here find my way out. This is not a problem, of course. I’m happy where I am.
I do know that what has kept me so interested in wine has frightfully little to do with grapes after they ferment. What I have come to realize, and this is equally true of beer, also poetry, jazz, the craft of education, and more, is that it’s really about people. Of course I enjoy wine, a great deal in fact, but as I told a fellow writer not long ago, if tomorrow I wake up and there is no more wine, I’ll just go back to drinking beer instead. I’d miss having wine on the table, of course, but it is still the people far more than their craft that I am so enamored with at the end of the day.
Two of the people I have come to enjoy most in my many years now of writing about wine are Catherine and Alexander Eisele. Sonja and I met them a few years ago, at the winery that had been brought back to life by Alexander’s late father, Volker. Enamored though I was with their wines, I perhaps even more enjoyed discussing politics with Alexander while sitting in the ancient winery. It is possible, subconsciously, that the beautiful, antique German piano that resides in their tasting room was in some way the inspiration for Sonja and my own piano purchase, and it is undeniable that our time up on their mountain helped shape my view of the Napa Valley, helped me to see what it once was, what it still can be, and helped me to fall in love with it. Of course, the extraordinary wines being made by the Volker Eisele Family Estate certainly helped in that. The morning after our meeting, I wrote this:
Yesterday, I reviewed my 5,000th wine on Vivino and, wanting it to be something special, I selected this Volker Eisele Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013. Wrapped into a single sip of wine are both precious memories and hopes for what will come, inextricably linked to one another by tannins, acidity, and fruit. The 2013 is a stunning wine. An elegant punch of mountain fruit offers a distinct and recognizable sense of place. Incredibly fine, dense tannins give the wine formidable structure, and make me think it will age indefinitely — though it drinks beautifully right now. Blackberry, boysenberry, black currants and more deep purple and black fruits mingle on the palate, and a faint yet undeniable hint of leather enters near mid palate. It is elegant in the way that some ballerinas I have seen are also elegant, combining unparalleled grace with rippling, powerful muscles and an undeniable smoothness in their movements. This is one of the best wines I’ve had all year, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
I knew I wanted to pair this special wine with beef — I am a Nebraskan after all, so I asked Sonja to get some steaks out of the freezer. We didn’t have a lot of variety in there, but she managed to find something. Then I swung by the grocery store on the way home and snagged some vegetables and tried to cobble a meal together. I knew I had some leftover bacon in the fridge. All things considered it turned out pretty well.
I had wanted to get to the grill last night, the temperature being near sixty, before the early April snows we were promised struck this weekend. God has a strange sense of humor when it comes to the weather in Nebraska. Titus wanted to help me grill, and I was glad for his company. Together we traipsed in and out for part of the evening, checking on the various things I was burning on top of the grill, while inside Sonja entertained Zooey.
At dinner, Titus showed Zooey how he has learned to smell my wine, while Mollie scavenged for table scraps. “Yummy!” exclaimed Titus after his usual, hyperbolic inhalation of the wine’s bouquet. After that, it was Zooey’s turn to try. She didn’t quite get the hang of it the first time, but we’ll keep practicing. The slideshow of Zooey below will give you a sense of how it went this time around.
People. At the end of each day, that’s what it’s all about for me. I told my student teacher recently that any day in which I hear the voice of every student in the class is a good day, and yesterday after school we discussed that. She told me she’d held a Socratic Seminar, and that every one of our growing, oftentimes easily distracted freshmen had discussed and debated a piece of literature that day, a book they are reading that combines the concepts of race relations and privilege with basketball and the everyday struggles of high school. What a beautiful thing it is to think that a piece of literature inspired debate in these young people. Then I went home. I spent last night with the people I love most in the world, and together we enjoyed one of my very favorite wines, out of the more than five thousand Vivino informs me that I’ve tried. What a great way to end any day.
In June, Sonja and I will return to the Napa Valley, where we will visit friends, eat good food, drink good wine, and hopefully find a few more new places and people to love. We will, as we so often are, no doubt be overcome by the beauty of some locales, and perhaps angered in others where that beauty has been sacrificed in the name of shortsighted and superfluous development. We will walk the vineyards together, and we will take it all in. But most importantly, while we are there, we will get to spend time with some of the people who have made wine, and this wine growing region, so very special to us. Wine will always be about people to me.
Cheers to the people who make other things in life so very special,