Preparing to cover the Sixth-Annual Southeastern United Grape and Wine Symposium at Surry Community College on Wednesday, I read the press release announcing the event, and thought, “Wow, they’ve managed to suck all the fun out of wine.” I wouldn’t have thought that possible.
“Correctly Blending Pesticides and Worker Protection Standard Changes” and “Technical Blending,” along with all of the other equally compelling topics to be discussed that day, did not sound all that, well, compelling.
And I love wine. I love it a lot. Sometimes, the promise of a glass of merlot at the end of the day is the only thing that gets me through that day.
And it’s not that I don’t know a lot about my beverage of choice. I’ve watched “A Good Year” at least a dozen times and I don’t even like Russell Crowe. And I’ve probably spent more time watching “Sideways” than it took to film it.
Drinking wine the whole time, of course. But I still can’t work up much enthusiasm for “Correctly Blending Pesticides and Worker Protection Standard Changes.”
Of course, the symposium was designed for people who produce wine, not for those who consume it. But a part of the allure of wine is the romance of it. There are vineyards and chateaux and estates and grand crus and lots of other stuff that I would understand better if I hadn’t been drinking so much wine while watching “A Good Year” and “Sideways.”
And part of that romance is the silky smooth, easy-down-the-gullet, floral top noted fantasy of one day being able to produce this nectar of the gods oneself. Preferably on an estate, and even more preferably, an estate with a chateau.
But the threat of having to concern myself with “Correctly Blending Pesticides and Worker Protection Standard Changes” has squashed that fantasy forever.
I’m just going to have to face the fact that I’m never going to get past the basics.
See. Swirl. Sniff. Sip. Swish. Spit.
That’s as far as I’m ever going to go. And let’s face it, left to my own devices, I’ve seldom made it to Spit. There are very few wines made on this earth bad enough for me to feel the urge to spit them out.
Except when I was working for a friend in the tasting room of his winery. He told me that the law required that I spit while on the clock. This may or may not be true, but it’s what he told me. I may, or may not, have offered to work off the clock in that case.
I should have realized then that being in the wine business is not as much fun as maintaining amateur status.
Everyone I met at the symposium loved what they do, and they were such a convivial bunch. They clearly had a passion for wine and winemaking. And perfectly willing to put up with the dull and dreary parts, though I got the impression they didn’t find it at all dull or dreary.
One fellow who is studying in the wine program at Surry told me he felt that, as a career, it was the perfect mix of indoor and outdoor. Vineyard outdoors, winery indoors. He said he’s wanted to be a winemaker since high school and at the ripe, old age of 23, he thinks that’s a long time. That made me smile.
Then at the end of the day, while symposium participants had split off into small groups to learn about blends and marketing and pesticides and whatnot, the Shelton-Badgett Center’s main room was transformed into a glamorous tasting room/ballroom complete with translucent-based bar-tables that lit up from inside. Very swanky. A lot of those people who had been learning all that technical stuff all day were now behind tables placed along three walls of the room sharing the fruits of their labors with others who truly appreciated what they had accomplished.
This is the point where a bunch of people, who like me, would rather enjoy the final product than know all the details of its production, surfaced, and began to do some damage to the lavish buffet and the tasting tables.
Lights were dimmed, the sun began to set outside the glass walls, and it was almost perfect. And then perfection was complete when Melva Houston stood up to sing with the Bob Sanger Trio. Knowing she has recently survived a bout with cancer, I had asked her how she was feeling, and she said she felt good. I hope she meant it. She looked good.
I asked her if she was ready to hit the high notes. “No,” she said simply, with the barest trace of a Mona Lisa smile that could have meant anything.
As advertised, high notes were not in evidence, but Melva sang with such richness in her voice, maybe without the power of days gone by, but it was hard to tell as I photographed her through my tears. A good jazz singer can always make me cry and Melva always meets the test. I have seldom, if ever, seen a singer put such heart in a performance as she did on Wednesday. The songs were dense as haiku, every syllable packed with emotion.
“Autumn Leaves” was never a favorite of mine. Now it is. And it is my fervent hope that next year, I’ll be able to be off the clock, buy a ticket, taste a lot of wine, and listen to Melva Houston sing, and probably cry as Melva does what she loves, in a room full of people who do what they love.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.