“Memory is thirst”, Kenneth Friedenreich echos in his book Oregon Wine Country Stories. Tipping his hat to Hemingway’s insatiable hunger to describe the meals, both meager and munificent, that nourished his formative years as an expat in 1920s Paris, Friedenreich uses the backdrop of A Moveable Feast to connect it to our relationship with wine.
Many commentators have described Hemingway’s use of hunger and the satiety of it as a metaphor for his “youthful desire to consume life.” For Friedenreich, quenching the thirst of our memories is about learning to savor the moments that we have in each glass of wine. The moments that are populated by the people and places we share it with, and not bogged down by the minutiae of critic scores, status statements and “collectability.”
The beauty of wine, as Friedenreich alludes to repeatedly throughout his book, is its ability to absorb historical memory–not just of the people, vintage and terroir that gives its birth but also the journey’s end of a glass as it crosses paths with ours.
As a writer, my job is to put my personal experiences into words. With wine, that crafting involves tasting notes and sentiments about the industry. But that endeavor often leads me, and most other wine writers, to spend “more time trying to describe than to react” as Friedenreich notes.
Instead of consuming life, I am just commenting on it.
I see a lot of truth in Friedenreich’s words and Hemingway’s. Both of their books have been sitting on my desk as I’ve spent the last couple of days staring at a blank computer screen trying to get the motivation to write after receiving some devasting personal news. I have a dreadful backlog of 60 Second Reviews and oodles of notes from recent travels that I want to fashion into something worth reading. But I just can’t.
All of that feels like a sandstorm in my thoughts ever since the late-night phone call that brought news of my cousin Steve’s passing. Only two years older than me, he was the first of my generation in the family. His sudden death delivered a double-shot of shock at both fragile mortality and trying to pick up the pieces of a puzzle that is scattered over so many childhood memories.
I need to write. I thirst to write. But this is something that I’ve never written about and so I fret at the limitations of my language or willingness to react.
As I make peace with my memories of Steve, the most natural thing for me to do is to fall back on my tasting notes of those moments.
I remember the cloying sweetness and sharp citric sting of the Tang orange drink Steve and I drank by the pitcherful when I spent summers at his house playing NHL 94 on the SEGA Genesis. Sometimes we were in a rush to get back to our Stanley Cup campaign, so we didn’t always mix it very well. When I think of chalky tannins in a young Barolo or Brunello, I think of the astringent bite of a clump of wet Tang powder hitting my tongue as Steve scores another one-timer with his favorite player, Pavel Bure.
I remember the taste of smoke, sulfur and gun powder in the air as we raced into the woods behind our cousin’s house on the Fourth of July. Armed with packets of Black Cat bottle rockets, we would play “tag” by shooting them at each other. Mixed with the herbal greenness of Ozark pine and Missouri oak trees, there is not a Sancerre in the world that could match the minerality of those moments.
I remember the taste of dirt and a bloody lip as I stumbled and fell chasing after Steve in the yard.
But while I could describe the iron and earth of a Rocks District Syrah, I don’t know if I could put into words the feeling of chasing after someone that you knew, deep down, would always be worth chasing.
I remember the sweetness and prickle of the Angel’s Envy Bourbon we shared sitting in the parking lot outside the funeral home after our grandfather’s service. The brown sugar and port wine finish gave warmth to the reminiscence of childhood while the spice and burn of burying your last grandparent reminded us of how far into adulthood we had now strayed. The long finish lingered like Steve’s bear hug, full of love but also a touch of pain as his 6-foot frame squeezed tightly with the cask-strength of emotions.
Now, as I type these words while finishing off the remnants of a bottle of Midleton Very Rare Irish Whiskey, I know that I am making another taste memory with Steve. There are a hundred words I can use to describe this whiskey.
But it will probably be a bit of time before I find the right words to describe this moment.
A Personal Request
I don’t make it a habit to ask for money on this blog. Nor do I have any interest in setting up ads or creating a Patreon link. I’m fortunate that my circumstances allow me to keep producing content without a need to monetize this platform.
However, I’m going to make an exception here.
Steve’s death leaves behind four kids (ages 9 to 15) who have just been dealt a devastating blow. If you’ve ever found any value in my work here on SpitBucket, I humbly ask for you to consider donating to the GoFundMe fund set up for Steve’s children. Nothing is ever going to replace their dad–both in their lives or my own. But every little bit goes a long way towards making the next few weeks and months just a little less uncertain for these kids.
Thank you and, please, savor all the taste memories that you have with your loved ones.