When I first began to study wine outside of a glass, there was one question I was always curious to know the answer to: where does great wine get its character from? Its personality? Its depth?
I was twenty-four years old when I discovered the answer to that question. It was a rainy day at a coffee shop in Kits, when, in between split shifts at the restaurant, I found myself thumbing through the pages of my sacred “Wine Bible.” Sipping on dark roast, I screeched in excitement when my index finger came across the passage I had been searching for. Do not quote me on this, but the writing went something like:
Be it said, that those chosen wine grapes, those poor, unfortunate souls, who are made to fight for their lives on the vine through toil and struggle, shall mature into old age as some of the finest wines ever to breathe. They shall be savoured, sought after, and served at room temperature with a French baguette and camembert cheese.
Intrigued, I took another sip of coffee and read on. In horror, my eyes grew aghast at the torture these chosen grapes were meant to endure. Like vengeful Gods, winemakers purposefully made the conditions for life near impossible for these grapes to hang on to the vine. With gigantic shears, they cut the vines off from their friends and family in one fell swoop. Ripping away their shelter, they exposed the naked grapes to harsh sunlight and debilitating winds. And as if that were not bad enough, in one final act of torture, they made them starve.
If against all odds, these battered grapes made the choice to hold on – something miraculous happened, life prevailed. Tapping into the earth beneath them, the muscle tissue of the grapevines grew stronger. Burying deeper into the soil than ever before, the roots soaked up enough sustenance to carry the grapes through to another day. When judgment day finally arrived (harvest) and it was time to be picked, these grapes were astonished to find what lay in their fate.
Rather than being treated like the outcasts and rejects they had always believed themselves to be, they were instead handled with the utmost delicacy and care. Gently coming down from the vine, they were attended to like the prized jewels they were right from the very start.
As soon as I read this passage, I felt as if a light bulb had turned on inside my head. Never before in my life had I connected the struggles and hardships I faced during my youth, with the greater man I would become. Suddenly I was flashing back to every time I was bullied, hurt or made to feel less than, and understood with full clarity that if it weren’t for these negative experiences, I wouldn’t be the kind, compassionate and medium-bodied man I am today. For a moment, I felt as if I had rewound the entire VHS tape of my life and begin to watch my story again – except this time, with a completely new set of eyes.
It was not until very recently that I had a similar experience to this exact moment. And if it’s okay by you, I’d like to share it with you now.
There is no question this last summer came and went in a hot minute. I feel like one second I was vacuuming glitter off my bed sheets post-Pride, and now it is October, the sky is grey, and all I want to do is drink red wine, all day, and take pictures of myself dressed in cute fall outfits. Well, somehow in the blur that has been the last two months, I managed to steal away to Vancouver Island for one night to see my best friend Patrick star in a production of Footloose.
Three-time reigning Conflict Managers, Patrick and I have been best friends since the day I moved to Winnipeg at the age of seven. Natural born theatre kids, the two of us fought over a spotlight for most of our teenage years. After throwing our graduation hats up in the air, we finally parted ways. Patrick moved to Toronto to pursue a theatre career, and I flew to Vancouver to sharpen my skills serving tables.
Well, flash-forward a whole bunch of years later and you will find the two of us reunited again in the parking lot of a Ferry Terminal at Departure Bay.
“Nice pecs,” Patrick said, leaning on to the hood of his rental car like only a heartthrob could. With chocolate brown hair and a sparkling smile, he was perfectly cast as Ren McCormack.
“Why thank you,” I replied, dropping my over-night bag Oliver onto the ground and then giving him a gigantic hug. “They only cost me $400 per month.”
Moments later, the two of us were cruising eighty-clicks down Island Highway weaving our way through the colourful pages of a storybook of small towns. Now as much as I’d like to illustrate each part of this tale, I am afraid we are going to have to fast-forward approximately eight hours and two bottles of wine.
After the curtains went down on the show and the make-up was washed off, Patrick and I decided to cut loose and take a bottle of bubbles down the street to the beach. Taking a seat at a picnic table, we popped the cork and cheers’d to good health and Broadway dreams. Now I am still not quite sure whether it was the full moon or sparkling wine, but unknowingly, the two of us strolled so far down memory lane we came to an abrupt halt.
“How do you not remember what happened in grade five?” Patrick asked.
“I have no idea,” I replied. I honestly had no clue what he was talking about – which was strange given the fact that between the two of us, I always had the better memory.
As soon as he began telling the story, I found myself standing right beside him in a classroom filled with screaming kids and angry faces. We were eleven years old. It was lunch hour and while our homeroom was usually supervised during this time, for whatever reason it was not. At first I was unsure what the raucous was all about until my brain looped in the audio track. Patrick and I were defending ourselves from an onslaught of slurs and taunts from our class. We were on the firing line for being ‘gay.’ A three-letter-word I had never heard of before that day.
“What happened next?” I asked Patrick, afraid to find out.
“You were shot down,” he replied. “You ran away in tears to counselor’s office and I stayed on to fight.”
As I looked at Patrick, and then down into my champagne flute, it happened again - my VHS tape rewound. For three decades, I had selfishly led myself to believe that I had fought through this entire life on my own. Looking back at Patrick I was filled with nothing but absolute gratitude. I was grateful for him, his friendship and standing beside me through all those years. I was grateful for every other one of my Golden Boys in Winnipeg who stood next to me, when it would have been so much easier to walk away.
“Bunches!” I exclaimed as if shouting Eureka!
“Come again?” said Patrick.
“Wine grapes, of course! They don’t grow alone on the vine, they never do! They grow in bunches! You're part of my bunch! How on earth did I not put that together until now?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about but it sounds like we should cheers.”
“To bunches, my friend.”