Sunday, August 19, 2007

Bent Over a Barrel

If I were a character in a Shakespeare play, my fatal flaw (and all his characters seemed to have one) would be that I am impulsive and sometimes impatient. If an idea strikes me, it is pretty much all I can think about until I tackle said idea, and yesterday morning, I found myself way down in Temecula, at a winery, because I heard that they were giving away wine barrels with every purchase.
I’ve been looking for a wine barrel for months, and I’m not really sure why. I just think they're cool. Kara wants to make a planter out of one cut in half, and I can envision all kinds of uses from a yard decoration to a fountain to an outside cocktail table. However, my desire to own a wine barrel is deep rooted, which is why I decided to throw caution to the wind and go.

Why caution? Well, Friday afternoon, after picking up the kids from school, we were on our way to dinner at Chili’s when Natalie began to complain about an upset stomach. An hour later, she was ralphing in a bucket. Two days before, Matthew was doing the same; yet he hasn’t learned much about the bucket and pretty much threw up on Kara all night. Then Kara started to complain about not feeling well, but I was fine.

I stayed up too late watching movies I could have done without (Dukes of Hazard and Mr. and Mrs. Smith), and when I woke up on Saturday morning, my mind was a little fuzzy. I chalked it up to lack of sleep and went about my morning plans, to go to Temecula, taste some wine by myself, pick up a barrel or two, and drive around the back country roads to see what adventures I could discover. It was slated to be a nice say of solitude and relaxation. I figured I’d meet some nice people (I usually do at wineries), see some sights and have some nice wine, and it didn’t bother me at all that I was going by myself. Everyone was sick at home; I certainly didn’t want to be there.

The server at Wiens Family Winery was from Chicago, recently relocated to Temecula because she and her husband wanted to be in the warmer climates of Southern California (it was 104 degrees when she told me that) and near something to do with wineries—apparently there isn’t a lot in Chicago. I paid my $10 to get a glass and begin tasting. The couple next to me were also there to get two wine barrels, and we discussed their various uses; he had plans of making a bar out of them.

I started with their viognier, which was exactly how I like it, light and flavorful, and up until this point, I was feeling perfectly fine. Maybe a little tired, maybe a little hot from the sun, but I was inside, cool, and having a glass of wine. I spoke to the owner about the barrels and he said that if you buy three bottles of wine, you get a half-barrel. That sounded fine with me. At home I have a newly minted wine rack I built last weekend just waiting to be filled, and the 100 bottles there now are quite lonely, so I debated with myself about how many to get. I don’t need any more than one barrel, but I wanted two, especially if Kara wanted one cut in half. I certainly didn’t want to buy a case of wine, however. Like we need it.

The five of us chatted more about the usefulness of the old barrels, how much they weigh (the owner said about 100 pounds each, 700 pounds full), and how long they use them for (usually around three or four season). Next, I tried the chardonnay, and I was still doing well, oblivious to the brink on which I was standing and how close I was to going over the edge.

The third glass was a merlot, and I tasted it in the same manner as I have done hundreds of glasses of wine before: Give it a couple of swirls, let it sit in the glass for a few moments, bring it up to my nose and inhale deeply before taking a sip.

Then it hit me. The merlot, though perfectly fine, smelled to me like acetone, like gasoline, and it was as if someone punched me in the stomach. Undaunted, I stood there for a while, thinking that it would blow over.

I started to sweat, and I could feel my face turn white. Black and white splotches sprinkled before my eyes and the edges of everything grew fuzzy. Voices turned hollow. If I didn’t sit down, I was going to pass out, and I gave myself about a minute to find a seat somewhere or this day is going to get increasingly embarrassing.

I pushed the glass toward the woman serving me and said, “I’m sorry, I’ve suddenly become ill…” I used the term “ill” instead of “sick,” and I remember distinctly choosing that word over “sick” because someone who is sick at a winery had too much wine, whereas someone ill at a winery has other ailments. “I need to go sit down.”

And then, without really thinking about it, I added, “I’ll take a case of wine, one of each except for the champagne” (they offered 13 wines). I didn’t add up the amount and I had no idea what the other nine wines taste like; I just knew I wanted to take home two barrels.

The woman looked somewhat alarmed at this revelation, so I felt a brief explanation was in order. “My whole family has the flu and I thought it would pass me up, but I guess not.” And then I turned to leave. She was saying something, but my minute was almost up; it was find a place to sit down or sit down on the floor right in the middle of a crowded winery tasting room. Either way, gravity was soon to take over. After that, all I saw was the bright sunlight from the door, and I’m glad nobody was in the way. It seemed inevitable I was going to throw up and I wasn’t about to do it inside the winery; If I did I’d have to make an announcement to everyone there that I wasn’t drunk, just ill from a stomach bug. Really! I’m sure nobody would believe me that this was the first and only winery I planned on going to today, and I only had three tastes of the wine. Nope, I would be the drunk guy who puked on the floor; it would easily clear the room, I’m sure, and then there would be no way I’d ever get my barrels. In fact, I don’t think I could ever return there.

Finally, outside, I planted myself on the first bench I found, right next to the front door, my head in the window. That wasn’t good enough. The bench wasn’t long enough for me to lay down on and I was too close to the front door, too much in view of everyone who happened to look out the window. It suddenly seemed, that sitting down wasn’t good enough. I had to lay down.

I got up and stammered around the corner of the big porch in front of the winery. It wrapped around to the back warehouse, but I didn’t make it that far. I slumped down onto the concrete and laid against the side of the building.

What a sight I must have been. Here it is, just barely noon and I’m passed out on the concrete outside the front doors of a winery, in the eyes of all who saw me obviously an amateur who can’t hold his liquor. How embarrassing, but the concrete felt so good that I could have cared less. However, I couldn’t have waited

Five minutes later, it seemed to pass and I was up again, shivering from a cold sweat. Inside, I found the bathroom and washed my face and returned to the server. She was quite gracious and I apologized, very much embarrassed. She had my case of wine ready for me and I paid for it (Egad! I wasn’t expecting that). Outside, a barrel was forklifted into the back of my truck and as I got there with my case of wine, the forklift driver had returned with two additional barrels. We loaded the second one in and I asked what his plans are for the third one. “Do you want it too?” he asked, and since I’m never one to turn down something for free, “Sure,” I replied and we hoisted that one in too.

Now, I had a long drive home ahead of me, and I new from previous experience with the stomach flu that it would be close. I drove fast, as fast as traffic would allow me.

But a wave of illness returned. The cold sweat, the heavy breathing, the fuzziness. The a/c felt hot on my face. I slipped off the freeway and pulled onto a dirt road, parked the truck, flipped the seat back, kicked off my shoes and held onto the door handle in case I had to make a quick exit.

I had to make another stop like that before I got home. After that, the rest of the day was spent in bed, and later, Kara and took turns laying down while we got the kids ready for bed.

Today, I feel fine, perfectly fine, as if yesterday never happened…aside from a little buyer’s remorse for all the wine I got. If I had merely bought the barrels outright (they were selling them straight, without having to buy wine), I could have had six of them for what I paid for the wine.

At least every time I have a glass of wine from Wiens Winery, I’ll have a funny story to remember.

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