The harvest moon and festival is a time that all our ancestors (and some of us) put food up for the winter. It’s a matter of working with enzymes and bacteria. Cabbage becomes sauerkraut. Meat can be smoked, jerked, brined, canned or frozen. Apples of several varieties, chosen for texture, tartness, or taste are blended and canned to make an unforgettable chunky applesauce. Currents and elderberries become jelly to make winter toast exciting. Potatoes and onions are simply stored where it’s cool, dark and free of rodents. The most delicious way to preserve sweet corn today is to pick it at its peak, blanch, cool quickly, remove from the cob, and deep freeze.
Some of the oldest skills known to the human race are still employed and enjoyed today in the harvest and preservation of food. When I learned to construct and repair fishing nets I acquired a knowledge and deftness with needle and twine that is in specific detail common to all mankind throughout the world, and common to all our ancestors for tens of thousands of years… a deep and broad connection through a simple and effective knot.
Another skill common to mankind and whose origins are deeply buried in antiquity is the preservation of fruit and grain by fermentation. You cannot improve on the flavor of the fresh sweet juice of a grape by fermenting it. Not any more than you can improve the flavor of a fresh caught lake perch or fresh picked sweet corn by drying or canning or freezing it. However, that incomparably delicious fresh pressed grape juice will begin deteriorating as soon as it’s ripe and removed from the vine, whereas amphoras of wine bottled thousands of years ago are reportedly still drinkable.
It’s interesting how some of us make extraordinary efforts to appreciate fermented grape juice. After a close visual observation of the nuances of color and clarity, we proceed with a most refined sampling of the aroma, followed by an almost introspective concentration on the subtle flavors of the costly liquid which has previously passed through the digestive systems of millions of rapidly multiplying microscopic critters, and has provided a protracted bath for their deceased and decomposing bodies. Don’t mistake me…I drink wine and beer and have enjoyed brewing my own. Yet it is amusing to reflect that probably none of us has sampled and savored a fresh pressed apple, orange, pear…or grape with the same ritual deliberation and ostentatious concentration we have been taught to apply to aged and “pre-digested” grapes.
So how do you judge a wine? I’ll tell you how I finally acquired my taste, following different kinds of wine encounters both memorable and forgettable.
My first ocean venture was with Lou in his 17 foot open skiff with a kicker and backup oars. Five miles off coast we sought salmon, but caught only some other fish as big and brooding as an old pike. Lou was a veteran combat infantryman who had fought in Europe in the 10th Mountain Division. Seas building from the local and stiffening breeze were running crosswise to the deep swells rolling in from a distant storm. I got a little woozy as the horizon danced crazily and moved back and forth from five miles distance in the haze to thirty feet away, while the sky oscillated like a bell over a clapper.
Mary was an ex-Marine and also a WWII vet. Lou and Mary wed after the war and nurtured and treasured and celebrated their family. Lou was an artist and a draftsman who worked at a research university. Unfailingly honest, comprehending even the most brilliant intellects, with quiet loving family values, and good and true hearts, they were, as more than one close friend observed, the salt of the earth. They were common people of humble means whose lives gave inspiration and hope to others.
Lou introduced me to the knowledge and camaraderie of hunting, and to his strong belief that our wilderness and our land, air and water needed citizen protection from greedy or thoughtless despoilers and polluters. By word and example this front line combat veteran impressed upon me the importance of each of us standing up for freedom and justice for all and regaining control of this democracy that should be of, by and for the people. Lou believed that the country is not synonymous with those holding office in government. He knew that some people prefer to pretend that those officials and the government are always right, and if you contradict their narrow views they will slander you and ignorantly call you anti-American. But if you truly stand by your country right or wrong, you will not stand silent when she’s heading wrong and let her be driven on the rocks without objection or warning.
The measure of a wine, mead or beer is finally a personal and subjective matter. It depends on your experience as well as your willingness to grow beyond your past experience and conditioning. In my judgment the quality of a wine is measured not by a discriminating sniff through a nose poked in a slightly filled glass, followed by the thoughtful contemplation of ones palate coated with the fermented liquid. I gauge the quality of a wine by the depth of character of the people with whom I share it, and the blessing I am privileged to receive thereby. The finest wine I have ever enjoyed came from a stocky bottle with a metal screw top on the dinner table set by Lou and Mary. There’s none better.
Among other things, remembering it moves me today to ask, while the war drums bang and clamor, “How many deaths will it take till we know that too many people have died?” And to pray we all demand that no more Blood be spilled for Big Oil.