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Finding Familiarity When Things Are Far From Normal
BY BRENNA RITCHEY | APRIL 17, 2020
A few weeks ago, before the storm (whichever one comes to mind for you when you hear that word—for me, it’s partly the days-long bouts of rain here in Santa Barbara, but mostly the other, bigger storm: the hunker-down-and-stay-a-while one), my dad came to town. He drove two hours to see me, to hug me, to take me out to dinner. I hadn’t seen him in weeks. For me, it felt like a long time. Even before everything turned a little topsy-turvy, and going a day without hearing from him made me extra clingy.
We had no plans, really, other than to taste some exceptional Central Coast wines—a whole two days’ worth of father-daughter time, local food and wine, and listening to my dad rave about his Allbirds wool tennis shoes (which, in case you didn’t know, are the comfiest shoes in existence). I was excited to show him around, to be entirely “agenda-less” together. The prospect of plenty of good wine and few obligations has a way of clearing a schedule.
My schedule is pretty clear these days, too, but for reasons other than loads of father-daughter time. Instead, it’s a slew of cancelled plans, postponed events, empty spaces. And I don’t think such hollow days were made for this kind of heaviness.
When my dad came up to Santa Barbara last month (or possibly years ago; I’m not totally sure), he’d brought up a couple bottles of Chardonnay, two of his favorites, which we’d planned on uncorking over dinner one night. We never got around to it. That weekend ended up being too chock-full of good things to remember about either of them busy chilling in my fridge for future consumption. But I’m convinced the universe made plans to keep my dad and I as busy as possible that weekend just so that he’d forget about those two bottles, just so that he’d accidentally leave them behind at my house. And so that on a night when there’s a storm, or several storms—loud, rainy ones and quieter, soul-shaking ones—I’d be reminded of the comfort of uncorking something much-loved and deeply known.
Two days filled with father-daughter time, local food and wine, and listening to my dad rave about his Allbirds wool tennis shoes.
Some heavy, waterlogged nights call for movie marathons and takeout; others call for sitting with a Napa Chardonnay that tastes like gathering around your parents’ kitchen countertop. That probably tastes different for me than it does for you. But I can bet there is a wine that draws you closer to warmth and comfort and steadiness during the topsy-turviest of times. What bottle do you reach for, on days so absurdly far from normal?
For me, there have been a few. At one point, the Most Significant Bottle in my cellar was an oddball Spanish varietal a friend brought back from Ibiza. The wine itself meant less to me than the fact that she’d lugged it halfway around the world only to tell me, You have to share this with me. (I did.) But important bottles ebb and flow. They matter most when they’re shared with, or given by, someone that matters.
Tonight, it’ll be a 2015 Moone-Tsai Paige Cuvée Chardonnay, one of the bottles my dad left behind when he visited. I don’t often reach for Chardonnay to enjoy by itself—never on cold, rainy, murky nights like these. But this bottle is a little sacred for me: the memory of tasting it for the first time almost two years ago in St. Helena, and the way it has since become my dad’s go-to pick whenever I am lucky enough to share a bottle with him. It’s synonymous with congregating in mom and dad’s kitchen on a rare evening we are all obligationless. On those nights, my dad will spend a few minutes, or twenty-seven, rifling through his wine cellar for the perfect bottle; my mom will put together pre-dinner snacks she warns me and my sister will be hot. The wine, probably the Paige Cuvée, or something else much-loved and deeply known, gets plopped down unceremoniously in the center of the counter. And always, without fail, my dad’s first sip of the night concludes with a hearty ahhh, like he’s just polished off an ice-cold glass of lemonade.
The familiarity is still there, as far as I am now from that moment. But we are all a little soul-shaken these days. We could use a night of communing with those we love around a kitchen counter, drinking wine we know like the back of our hand, laughing at each other’s absurdity and not the world’s. In the meantime, go on and open a sacred, much-loved bottle—not because things are familiar, but because they aren’t. The significance of what we drink shouldn’t be lost on us just because time and place feel like such strange new worlds.
So as I drink my dad’s Chardonnay, even as I’m miles away from him and smack-dab in the middle of a few very different storms, I’m glad the experience is just the same as it would’ve been every other spring, when things were a special kind of normal: the creamy savoriness of the cheese mom brought out, the smoke of the fire dad lit in the pit right before his first ahhh-inspiring sip of wine. (If you must ahhh by yourself as you drink wine at home, just because, there’s no shame in that.) All of those flavors are so present in my wine glass at this very moment.
Let’s acknowledge that these communal, radiant kinds of nights will happen once more, and refuse to take them for granted once they do. Maybe the most encouraging thing we can do in the waiting is to plan the menu, wine list, and wonderful group we will share them with when we are able.
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