First Love. First Wine. What kind of memories does that conjure up for you? Was it the boy or girl with the locker down the hall? Maybe it was that person you watched crash into the coffee shop, hat askew, dripping wet from a sudden storm. When did you see them last? Was it a happy time or one filled with regrets? Was wine a part of your first love affair? And what about your love affair with wine itself? What wine did you use to seduce or impress your first love? What wine seduced you into a lifelong love affair with the grape?
Picture San Antonio, Texas 1975. Willie Nelson was (and still is) King. Jerry Jeff Walker’s Viva Terlingua album played from every juke box (and should still). We were high school seniors (of legal drinking age – 18) and I had my first date with a girl I’d had a crush on for a couple of years. It was spring and we had agreed to babysit her younger siblings before we could go out. The restaurant was special, the quintessential hip 70’s fern bar, Reed’s Red Derby. I was suave in the pants to my leisure suit and Salvador Dali print polyester shirt. She wore a sun dress.
The hostess showed us to an unromantic table in the middle of the hubbub. But I was bound and determined to do this right. I carefully and ignorantly perused the supposedly sophisticated wine list for something to impress. What would be the perfect wine to pair with Reed’s famous French onion soup with a pound of gooey cheese melted across the top? I looked to tables with tragically hip fern bar couples to see what those far more experienced than I (they may have even been out of college) were drinking. After taking it all in, I made a bold, exotic, European choice to show my worldly knowledge…Mateus Rose’! If you’re too young to remember Mateus, it was a cheap Portuguese wine in an artistic squatty bottle that was all the rage of worldly hipsters in the ‘70’s. Was it my excellent choice of wine or my Salvador Dali print shirt? I don’t know, but the magic worked. Donna and I are still together and still in love with each other and wine.
Wine itself, seduced me in my early 20’s but there was one experience that left me hopelessly in love. A mere ten years later Donna and I traveled to Napa Valley with another couple to experience wine country. Living now in Austin, Texas many of the great wines I would read about were just not available to us. So we ventured up and down Hwy 29 across the Oakville Crossing and all along the Silverado Trail loading up our rented Lincoln Continental with more wine than it was ever intended to carry. By the end we had 27 cases. Really.
There was one experience that proved to be my moment of wine enlightenment. One moment that as I look back now, if it had not happened, I doubt I would have grown to be as enthusiastic about wines as I am. It was late summer in Napa, vines pregnant with promise and a light drizzle was falling. We drove past a small sign with a name we recognized, Caymus, and turned in. The place appeared closed as we walked around but then we heard a gruff voice yell, “Can I help you?” We introduced ourselves and asked this old man in suspenders if we could taste his wine. He looked at us and said something like “you won’t understand my wine unless you see my vineyard.” The man was, Charlie Wagner. He took us out to the vineyard behind his house. We tromped in mud with two big dogs shaking like water sprinklers whenever they’d get near. We tasted unripe grapes from the vine, chewed on seeds tasting for bitterness. The rest of the afternoon was spent in Mr. Wagner’s kitchen drinking Caymus Cabernet and learning more about winemaking and grape farming than I ever dreamed possible. It was and will always be my single best wine day. I was deeply in love.
passed in 2002 at the age of 90, but Caymus and Wagner Family Wines are still family operations with Chuck, Charlie’s son, at the helm along with Chuck’s two sons, Joseph and Charlie II. We had a wonderful time at Caymus. It is still beautiful but not as quaint; we all grow and change. Standing in the same vineyard as we did 25 years ago, Donna and I reminisced, a glass of Caymus Special Selection in hand, about that day long ago with Mr. Wagner. We again tasted grapes and chewed on seeds. As I looked back on the house where we sat in the kitchen on a wet summer day, I quietly said “Rest well Charlie Wagner, my life is better for meeting you. Thanks.”
What wine did you share with your first love?
What wine seduced you to love the grape?
Do Tell…Do Tell…