Well, this is it, folks. I'm about to sign off for the year. It's been one, obviously, and a challenging one at that for many people. There's no need to rehash the events here, I'm pretty sure if you've been awake at some point in the past 9 months or so, you know what's been happening, although, I do wonder about certain day-walking entities I encounter who seem to literally be asleep at the wheel. Let's not get into that, because I started the morning in a good mood.
For me, I'm fortunate to say it's been fruitful. I kicked off 2020 tucked into our warm little bed before midnight on December 31st, 2019, while watching What's New Pussycat with a partner who loves me for exactly who I am. We drank two bottles of BC sparkling that night- one from Mission Hill & the Piano from Stoneboat. We laughed, as one does, at Peter Sellers, and proceeded to turn in at around 10pm. We started the year rested.
Less than three weeks later, I traipsed Jessie out of our South Beach hotel room on a Sunday morning around 6:45am, one year to the day that we met and went on a never-ending first date, under the guise that we "should watch the sunrise while we're here". We took it in, right in front of the Carlyle Hotel where our favourite film as a couple, The Birdcage, was shot. Once the big star poked its head all the way out of the shimmering Atlantic, I told her I had an anniversary gift for her. She told me right after what happened next that she had no idea what was about to happen next.
After I got down on one knee, ring in hand, I quoted the line Robin Williams' character Armand Goldman delivers to his partner, Albert (Nathan Lane), that always makes us cry:
"There's only one place in the world I call home and it's because you're there."
And then I asked her to marry me. I genuinely can't remember how she said "yes". All I know is that she did. We popped a bottle of Laurent-Perrier Brut right then and there, poured some into these transparent red SOLO-ish knockoff cups (no glass on the beach, my friends!), and oogled at her left hand and the ocean vista.
After a Cuban sandwich, a few tacos, and a bottle of Whispering Angel rosé at the Carlyle hotel for lunch, we drank a wonderful 2007 Ribera del Duero that night, alongside some complimentary Dom Ruinart Rosé from the considerate, detailed & attentive service staff at the South Beach steakhouse where we celebrated. We closed down the night at our now favourite bar in the world: Mac's Club Deuce, with a few margaritas, Presidentes, and Newports™. If you know, you know.
I think part of us wishes that we both contracted and recovered from the novel coronavirus on that very trip, as the spot of our lives' greatest romantic moment quickly became the epicentre of the great pandemic of 2020.
And that's when I made the decision to use the mandated period of isolation to figure out what was most native to my own sense of purpose. I returned, over and over, as relatives continued to text and call asking for recommendations and as I continued to call up obscure memories of bottles in the midst of debaucherous evenings of years gone by and as I continued to release food-gasmic moans over cheap bottles of Riesling alongside chicken & kale, to that thing that has for so long given me great pleasure, stimulation, sustenance, room, board, and comfort: wine.
So I thought I'd better start my own business.
With a website. And a podcast. And an online store! And we'll do courses, too! And, and...and t-shirts! And a book...yes! I'll write a book!
So I did. And here we are.
I was combing through a copy of The Drunken Sommelier recently. I was struck by how many tiny grammatical errors there were, but also proud of that very fact. I was proud that I didn't pour over it so much that I failed to get it out there quickly, which may have resulted in failing to get it out there at all. I was proud that I didn't allow perfection to be the enemy of good enough. I was proud that I could look back on it, cringe for two seconds, and see the greater picture that, hey, you can fix those spots where you should have had another comma, and you can do another edition. Because it's yours, Steven. You can do whatever you want with it. To produce Reservoir Dogs, you need to take a stab at making My Best Friend's Birthday. Have you seen that one?
Yeah, me neither.
The one-man podcast of the same name of this very website & aforementioned book has been enjoyable. I don't always know what it is or why it exists. But I do know that because it takes me only slightly longer than the length of the finished product each week to create it, that it's worth creating, and that I'll find out why it exists at some point, even if it's unclear now. I think of it at this very moment as a conversation inside one person's head. It's the running dialogue you have when you're commuting. When you're jogging. When you're looking around a room. And there's wine involved.
I had over 500 people sign up to take online courses that I produced. A portion of those people shopped around after clicking the ads, found my blog, found the podcast, ordered a copy of the book, or maybe a t-shirt. I figured out that people really enjoy not paying for actual products, but just for the shipping of something, I said, as I chuckled to myself. Am I any different?
Apart from the bottles I've already mentioned, there have been a few that stuck out to me. I'll rattle the ones off here that I can recall by memory.
There was a 1999 Franco-Españolas Rioja Gran Reserva we had with a striploin I prepared one Friday afternoon early in the pandemic. It was the first extra-good bottle Jessie & I enjoyed in the lockdown period.
There was a bottle of 2016 Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon on the heels of some Dom Ruinart Brut, both of which Jessie purchased for my birthday this year. For someone who has literally no education or industrial knowledge beyond liking the stuff (wine), she's never chosen a bad or uninteresting bottle to bring home. Well, the only time she did so was when a little self-doubt crept in and she put down the Soave and Sancerre that she was about to choose between in favour of a meddling friend's recommendation of a mass-produced Pinot Grigio. Damned meddling friends and their recommendations. They obviously did not know who they were dealing with, and it's hard to tell someone to politely "ehhh fuck off" when you yourself are exploring the limits of a new skill. I think she's the one who should be writing the course on how to find great wine without having a clue how to find great wine. She does it every time, and I'm starting to doubt her professed cluelessness on the topic.
There was a lot of Pinot Noir from Niche, a Kelowna producer, one whom I've never visited and know little about other than I like the wines quite a lot.
There was a 2016 Celestiale from Clos du Soleil, which was probably the best red wine under $30 I drank all year.
There was a distinct natural and minimal intervention phase, of which I can say I spent the most money per bottle on average and have the least vivid memories of each individual wine. It sounds like I'm knocking the category or concept or whatever it's called. I'm not, I'm just explaining the workings of my pea-sized brain. If anything, this combination just says that we've got an upside-down set of priorities and that it's a bit of a conundrum out there in the wine world. I enjoy and appreciate the idea of low-intervention wines.
The 2017 Blue Mountain Reserve Pinot Noir landed, as expected, incredibly well and as an instant and indelible memory the minute it hit my lips. I've yet to drink a wine from this producer that was anything but delicious.
I thought the bottle of Fabulous Ant Pinot Noir from Hungary I bought out of mere curiosity after seeing it for $12 on liquor store shelves for so many years was a pretty good drink.
There was a truly monstrous and loud Tannat and Malbec blend from a winery in the Similkameen Valley called Forbidden Fruit that we drank with an exquisite dinner at Row Fourteen restaurant in Keremeos. Sometimes, being loud makes you memorable. But it was a good sound, too.
The 2017 RMX by Ingo Grady was a standout, and opened my world to Kismet as a grower and wine producer, along with the profile of Rhone varietals other than Syrah as they might relate to the Okanagan Valley.
Segura Viudas, long appreciated by yours truly for its value, took on a new and important function alongside mackerel on toast. The Corcelettes Santé often did some pinch hitting in that spot.
I found new appreciation for the portfolio of wines from Nichol Vineyard (speak of minimal intervention, speak of place, speak of winemaking as a necessary skill and not something to be avoided and this producer is probably not mentioned enough), stalwart of the Naramata Bench. I've never not enjoyed the wines, but occasionally, you hit a point in life where certain elements of someone else's experience, precision, finesse, and subtlety just hit you in the right spots, arguably, spots that simply hadn't developed within your being before. We drank our last bottle of 2018 Extra Brut Rosé (Pinot Noir/Pinot Meunier) when the networks called the election for Joseph R. Biden on that Saturday morning, and we cried with Van Jones as he let his emotions and relief out live on the air. Listen, I know that Biden getting elected is not like, oh hey now the world is saved!, but come on, if you have any ounce of humanity, it's like, a huge step in the right direction. If you can tell me otherwise using facts, punctuation, spelling, and grammar properly, I'll consider your viewpoint.
That's the kind of year it was, though. Many people had more time to reflect and consider the fact that where we were and what we have been doing had many limitations. We had the time to congregate and strive to make change, instead of always trudging home in traffic, exhausted from a 12-hour work day, and just trying to make dinner and get ready for bed in time to catch a few winks and go through the struggle all over again the next day. It kind of made you think, hey, why weren't we protesting earlier? Oh YEAH, because we were literally too busy and too tired. Because it's a privilege to be able to hold a job, even a demanding one that we hate that doesn't even cover all the bills. At least it is in the society that much of North America has developed for itself, both north, south, and further south of the border.
To summon Randy Newman's energy, the so-called "free" parts of the world aren't always free, so much as they are free to bat you around and abuse you.
I won't soon forget the illumination of human nature that this year brought us, specifically through the defiance of reason, science, and decency that seemed to have taken over so many, but that was clearly just bubbling below the surface, waiting for something (or someone) to feed it. I think about how one of the true human struggles is simply coming to grips with nuance and ambiguity, when everything in the outside world tells us that we have to choose a team, choose a side, choose an absolute. And some of those absolutes are considered superior by certain parties who will constantly remind you of that.
Of course, not everything is nuanced. Some things are just clear. Things like our society doesn't treat women, trans people, queer people, or people of colour the same way they treat a white male. Things like we don't do a good enough job teaching white males how to be responsible for themselves and their actions and their emotions. Just a couple of thoughts in reflection.
And so, here we are. I drank zero Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial this year, and I don't plan on doing so, though if you poured me a glass I'd drink it. I suppose that's simply relevant given the stock photo I chose to head up this article. I liked how ugly it was. A luxury status item consumed (presumably) and discarded, ass-over-tea-kettle, in a dirty, past-its-peak pile of icy precipitation.
I think if there's one thing I'll take away more than any other from these past 12 months, it's that people are absolutely desperate to be heard. Maybe more than ever.
Often times, I think that desperation comes out as nastiness, negligence, or dismissiveness. I think that if we can do a better job seeing past the nastiness et al and recognizing the painful feelings beneath them, both in others and in ourselves, then we can have compassion.
When we identify a poor behaviour in another person or group, there's a tendency to run from that behaviour like an elephant in the room. Perhaps if we were able to label that elephant simply as an elephant, we could take a beat, nod, and say to ourselves, "Hey, it's just an elephant. It's not so bad. Let's figured out how it got here and how we can set it free," we might be able to get to a more comfortable place.
If you're still reading this, thank you so much for coming on this journey with me. I haven't achieved a legion of followers, or commercial success (yet), or notable influence with this project yet, but there are enough people who have supported me regularly that I could fill a classroom or a tiny hall with. And there would be wine in that room. And I would pour wine for everyone in that room. And we would turn that room into a great party. We'd cook in that room, or we'd order tacos and sushi and pizza, and we'd have a great time connecting over food and drink and ideas. We would play great music, and we would laugh often and very loudly. And it would be wonderful.
And we will do that. Someday.
And if you're still reading this, I hope to have you there. And I will look you in the eyes and I will thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me purpose to do the thing that I love to do most:
Drink wine. Eat food. And talk about it.
So, in advance, thank you. Please be safe and do what you can to care for yourself and those around you this holiday season.
I'll see you soon.