It was the birth and adolescence of our children that slowed the wine-stained part of our lives and seemed to bring it all into perspective. While my passion for wine and winemaking never died, for the next 20 years it often took a backseat to soccer and volleyball games, golf tournaments and ski races as by then we had relocated to Colorado to find a simpler lifestyle in the mountains.
But a true passion, like a long lost love, never dies. And while we may stray from our roots, it is those very roots that anchor us and call us home. Those two roots for me are wine and Austin, Texas. As the children left for college, Donna and I began to migrate back to the wine-stained lifestyle we enjoyed so much, now more mature and less prone to excessive hedonism. And we purchased a small place in Austin and reunited with many of our wine friends there, if only part-time. It was not long before my smoldering passion for wine reignited into an all engulfing conflagration.
Surprisingly, and I say that seriously, our eldest son Conch, chose to study viticulture and enology (winemaking) at Texas Tech University. He was drifting in school, not able to find a major that created passion in his life, until I made a joke one night about the new V&E program at Tech, the first of its kind in Texas. His eyes focused on me and he said, “Dad, that’s what I want to do, I want to be a winemaker!”
Though the wine-stained life was obviously a part of his upbringing, he’d never really shown much interest until that moment. Needless to say, I was excited to share his new-found passion and wine became a bond we shared. The evangelist had a disciple.
We shared wines and even took a father/son trip for his 21st birthday to Napa Valley. While Napa had grown from the quaint rural vineyard-laden valley I’d first visited 27 years earlier, it still held the same magic for Conch as it did for me. His Charlie Wagner moment came one sunny spring morning standing on the patio with Doug and John Shafer of Shafer Vineyards as Doug explained some of the vineyard techniques used to create their renowned Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon.
But every true evangelist hopes to increase his flock, and I was no exception. While I love wine, I love teaching about and sharing my gospel of the grape even more. But how? Though I am not prone to Bible quotes, Isaiah 11:1-10 seems appropriate; “And a child shall lead them.” While driving to Austin across the desolate expanse of West Texas, the cell phone rang with Conch on the caller ID. He had a school project in a wine class (in conjunction with a class at the University of Bordeaux) that required him to find a man and woman to write a short account of a moment where wine impacted their lives and friendships. We, of course, offered to write the pieces.
In response, my wife wrote a piece entitled When Disasters Create Opportunities about the time our toddling, diaper-swathed daughter, with her infantile thumbs, pushed the old, dry and a little crumbly cork into a bottle of 1908 Dow’s Vintage Port. We were packing for a move. Donna was impressed by how quiet and self-occupied Whitney was while she packed the kitchen. As she looked up from her pots and pans, Donna witnessed Whitney with a focused expression on her face, waddling across the room with both hands wrapped around the neck of the Port bottle she had pulled from an open box during her self-occupation. Whitney’s two tiny thumbs pressed the cork a little deeper with each unsteady step. Donna looked on in astonishment, but was able to grab them both in her arms before either crashed to the hardwood floor.
Once exposed to oxygen, we knew we had to drink the Port I had bought at an auction only a few months earlier to commemorate my grandmother’s birth year. The taste was more like Sherry than Vintage Port and we were at a loss about what to pair with the 80- year-old wine.
Our older and more experienced wine friends, Leonard and Sue, were summoned and showed up with a surprising yet perfect food pairing for the sherry-esque ancient wine, take-out Chinese spare ribs. Certainly that event that seemed so disastrous in the morning created an opportunity for fellowship and education in the evening. The piece I wrote, Inconsequential Moments, recounted the weekend with Luther, when I discovered my love of wine.
Shortly after writing our college papers, we watched the movie, Julie and Julia, The Year of Cooking Dangerously, about blogger Julie Powell as she chronicles her year of cooking every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering The Art of French Cooking. An evangelist seeking a flock, the movie inspired me to create a wine blog of my own. With the two stories we’d written at Conch’s request and a few other wine pieces I’d written over the years, Bacchus and Beery Wine Blog was born. The evangelist had found his pulpit at last.
It was around that same time that all three of our children were home for the winter holidays. Whitney decided to dig through the large green plastic tub filled with old photographs and came up with a handful of pictures of Donna and me in our teens and early twenties. She was particularly humored by a photo of me at 26-years-old, dressed in a tweed jacket, striped Rugby shirt, sporting a full beard, standing next to an older round man in a red plaid shirt, suspenders and a black puffy jacket. She asked, “Dad, who’s this old guy you’re with?”
By then Michael and Conch had gathered, interested in Whitney’s stash of old photos. I stared long and hard at that slightly faded snapshot. After a good moment, I looked at my three children and said, “Sit down, let me tell you about this man, Charlie Wagner. Without ever knowing it, he changed my life.”