I live in Oregon wine country, and it’s grape harvest season. Pretty soon the back roads by our house will be full of fall wine tourists, and truly, it’s an idyllic time to visit our valley with its vine covered hills and evergreen forests, clean water and invisible air, and, of course, our llama farms which are a constant source of comfort because they relieve my fear of the ever-impending zombie apocalypse; frankly, folks, while the rest of the world is at war with the undead, we here in the Willamette Valley will be too high on leg of llama and fantastic pinot to know what hit us.
Living in wine country does present one fundamental problem for me, though, and it’s this: I’m an idiot wine taster with no real skills, an utter lack of wine knowledge and underdeveloped taste buds.
In fact, the awareness of my own wine incompetence (note the word incompetence — I didn’t say wine incontinence, which is a different problem altogether) kept me from wine tasting for years, sure that I’d embarrass myself or others.
Now? Now I go. Now I do it anyway. Now I’ve accepted the gift five kids have given me; my dignity’s been missing for years and I can ignore Embarrassment and Insecurity almost as well as I ignore MomMomMomMomMommyMom, which is to say I can ignore them long enough to get something done before I eventually have to look them in the eyes, explain that waiting their turn is important, and then soothe their fears or feed them a snack or wipe up their messes.
Now, wine tasting might look like this:
Say, hypothetically, a friend takes me to her favorite winery and we try their 2007 Pinot Noir.
She swirls the wine in her glass — round and round and round again (and round again) (and round again) — and talks about its legs and fermentation.
I bravely note its color — red — and, while we wait for the wine to open (which is, I gather, different than opening the bottle and is code for you’re-not-allowed-to-drink-it-yet-Beth), I share my superior, in-depth knowledge of fermentation, too. In particular, I ponder the fermentation of the average adolescent boy and my current hypothesis that successful middle school teachers are born with olfactory disabilities which allow them to function at a higher level in their unique environment than someone with a typical sense of smell. I bet good middle school teachers are as bad at wine tasting as I am.
My friend rolls her eyes, and we taste the wine since it’s apparently (finally) open for business.
I take a swig, I swish, and I swallow, pretty proud I knew to swish.
She gently slurps the wine into her mouth and holds it there, pulling off a stunning reverse gargle by sucking air through her pursed lips to aerate the open wine. She doesn’t dribble — not even once — and then she swallows.
We discuss. By which I mean, she uses words like earthy and spicy and dark cherry undertones, and I think things like mmm and good and this has the distinct flavor of wine.
My friend is knowledgeable. A budding expert, in fact. Full of information about pH balance, soil conditions, new oak vs. neutral oak, and the various effects of cold years on grape production. I think I know a lot about soil conditions, too, but I’m fairly certain she doesn’t mean soiled pants, soiled bathroom floors or that one time when I was very pregnant with twins that I accidentally soiled my closet. Long story.
Someone recently complimented me on my fear-free life and lack of inhibitions.
“You’re so self-assured and confident,” she said. “Does anything make you feel scared?”
I said, “Bahahahaha!”
But she didn’t laugh with me, so I followed up, “Oh. Seriously?”
And she said, “Seriously.”
And I was stunned, because everything I do is done with fear — wine tasting, writing, parenting, life — and my inner voice repeats, “But if you do that, if you risk that, if you say that, if you put yourself in that inexpert position, someone’s going to find you out.” My inner voice is VERY LOUD; I was surprised she couldn’t hear it and shocked she only saw the results of my second voice — the very, very quiet one I work hard to trust — that whispers and dances and says, “DO IT ANYWAY. Live life. Take risks. Taste.”