More Champagne Stories…

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Once upon a time when our Maman was just a girl of 15, she made a magical trip to France with the Emmett Belknap Junior Highschool French Club.

It was her first time away from home on a holiday, that being Easter Sunday. And after a crack of dawn mass at Notre Dame de Nice where we kept getting woken up by the dripping of candle wax on her hands and being driven throughout the south of France in bus listening to the narration of a tour guide who NEVER ceased filling our stupid little upstate New York brains with facts we finally headed to dinner.

Those of us who’s parent had signed the additional permission slip were allowed to drink wine with our dinners. I was one of those students. Alas at the end of the meal, I was feeling a little extra melancholy.

After dinner, the students from my school met with our teachers. Now that year, there were four students on the trip and two teachers. One of the teachers spoke no French. Only German and was there for the pure joy of being in France. She was the music teacher at our school and according to my mother, something of a floozy. Well, whatever…

Anyway, we met after dinner and our teachers, noticing that we were a bit down suggested that we go out for a while before heading back to our spectacular rooms at the Hotel Terminus (I kid you not on the name). Their idea? Well, what else do you suggest with a pick of 15 year olds? We went out for drinks.

As we approached the bar, Mme. Berger explained that at many drinking establishments in France there was differential pricing based on where you sat. Those sitting out on the patio payed the highest price. The lowest prices were paid by those sitting at the bar. When asked where we wanted to sit, being young and stupid we sat on the patio. Why? Well, it was April in France, the bar was across the promenade from the Mediterannean and the moon was shining on the shimmering water.

When the waitress asked what we wanted to drink, Randy, Gina and Gwen (yes, we had a Gretchen, Gwen and Gina all on the same trip) able to order what they pleased, all ordered Screwdrivers. Which, naturalement are not called Screwdrivers in France but just plain Vodka and jus d’orange. Our teachers order beers. But me? Champagne. Moet & Chandon White Star.

I had two glasses then we went walking in the moonlit surf. It is a beautiful story, n’est ce pas?

Well sure. White Star has been my favorite Champagne ever since. Oh, the next day. I wanted to be dead. I was so hung over. And I was bruised. Why? Well, the beaches in Nice are rocks, not sand. Ouch.

Marguerite, knowing me for the last 24 years, knows this story.

And that is why she gave me White Star for my birthday.

Getting Naked for Jesus!

I know, I know… you are wondering how that phrase relates to wine…. But it does, really.

See, back in 2003, Kevin and I, along with our friends Richard and Charles and Maggie made a trip to Napa to celebrate Richard’s 40th Birthday. We hired a driver, Grant, who made wine in his garage and he drove us around to the lesser known vineyards that he enjoyed. Around lunchtime, we stopped at a local market picked up some food and then headed up Howell Mountain.

When we got to our destination, we were at the Summit Lake Winery. There we were met by Sue Brakesman one of the owners of this vineyard. Sue sat us down at her dining room table and while we ate she talked to us about her wine, her winery and her family… because really all three were tied together.

See, the deed to the vineyard was given to Sue in her birthday card… from her husband Bob. So the next available weekend they went up look at their new vineyard. The plan was that it would be a romantic getaway and Sue dressed for it… The problem was that it snowed, and the house had no heat and Sue’s heels were deep in the mud. That was the beginning of the great adventure that only ended with Sue’s sudden death a couple of years ago.

Over the years, Bob and Sue cleared the weeds and poison oak from the abandoned (during prohibition) zinfandel vines and started producing wine… and a family. One day while trying to get her grand daughters bathed, one questioned why they needed to take a bath… Sue tried to explain that cleanliness was next to godliness… to which her grand daughter exclaimed, “We’re getting naked for Jesus!” According to Sue, this was a phrase that inspired her to liven up the talks that she increasingly gave to potential buyers of her wine. While off-putting, it was a way to shake up the way to think about wine.

Family was important to Sue and she loved being a grandmother. In fact their best vintages were named for her grand daughters… Emily Kestrel… a very tasty wine and then every one’s favorite. Clair Riley… Maybe it is just the story. But then that was the thing with Sue, she saw the humour in everything… When asking Sue whether she would have a wine named after her, Clair Riley, misinterpreted the answer… instead of being Clair Riley Private Reserve, she squealed in delight and shrieked in that toddler screech, “PIRATE RESERVE?!”

Well, what is a grandma to do? Naturally, the label was changed to Pirate Reserve. That wine is several years old now… and we are still waiting for an event exciting enough to enjoy it.

But that is the thing with wine. It makes us remember the time and place where we first enjoyed it. Making us wish to return to the past but still enjoying the future.