Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Chardonnay, Merlot or Zinfandel?

I am always amused at the way people react when I tell them that I had, at one point, worked for a winery. While one person wants to pull up a chair next to me with the intent of discussing the merits of Pinot Noir and Port into the next decade, another takes a few steps back in aversion.

When it comes to wine, people invariably fall under one of the two following categories. Those that

1. Love wine
2. are ignorant about the beverage but predisposed to hate it on principle

Wine connoisseurs, who lead this list, are an intimidating bunch. Trust me for I worked with a whole nest of them at one point in my life. If you can’t look fashionably drunk and be able to engage in an hour-long animated discussion of wine, food and cheese pairings in their company, you better pray for the ground to open up under your feet and spare you the embarrassment.

Don’t know whether Cheddar or Provolone cheese goes down well with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc? Unsure of the year the grapes were harvested after the first sip from a bottle of Chardonnay? Unable to decide if a chunk of Swiss dark chocolate or a box of sweet raspberries compliments a white Zinfandel better? Well, I am no magician but try this. Hold out your hand and introduce yourself - ‘Just arrived from the next Galaxy, name is Idiot.’ It might just get you out of a tight corner or two.

For every winatic (wine+lunatic, if you must know) that is out there, there is another one like me. We are the self-righteous moralists who consider any little human indulgence a step up in the path paved to Hell. So what if doctors insist that a glass of red wine a day keeps the heart pumping away? Who cares if wine has only one third of the alcohol content as a bottle of Bud? Big deal! To a conservative, logic is the first cousin to ignorance which is why the word ‘wine’ is only slightly below ‘blasphemy’ and ‘Tiger Woods’ on my no-no vocabulary list.

So why did I take up a job in a winery? Two reasons really! 1) The way I figured, how much sin can one commit crunching numbers, even in a winery? 2) How else can I see Lucy goofing around in a wooden vat stomping grapes?

Imagine my shock upon entering the first wine-making facility only to find big, giant stainless steel Vats with long winding tubes leading to rows of oak barrels as far as eyes could see! Where was the big wide wooden Vat in which women in bare feet were busily stomping the grapes? What kind of a set-up was this anyway and where the heck was Lucille Ball? Boo to industrialization! I was a heartbeat away from resigning that day.

But having decided to stay, I had no choice but to accept the benevolence of my employer 3 times a year - six bottles of prime wine each year at Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I don't think my co-workers appreciated my sobbing hysterically each time a HR person walked into my cubicle with my seasonal gift. Obviously bursting out in tears while accepting a gift was not a common custom amongst them. But as the years rolled by, I did learn to show some appreciation. If my effort at peeling my lips wide enough to show at least six teeth as a show of appreciation was misconstrued as an allergic reaction to a Botox injection, I really couldn’t help it.

There is a bright side to this story. Staring at the rows of Chardonnay, Merlot and Zinfandel stacked in my garage one day, I realized that I didn’t have to buy a housewarming gift for at least another decade. An even curious observation was our new and improved relationship with our neighbors who apparently realized that Asians weren’t such bad neighbors after all.

-Meena Sankaran