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A Winemaker's Journal

The invisible wine club

By Elias Fernandez

I can’t tell you how many times this has happened. I’m sitting at a restaurant and a couple at the table next to me is poring over the wine list trying to decide what to order. One of them will see my glass and lean over and ask hesitantly, “What are you having?”

I’ll tell them what I ordered and how good it is – or isn’t. We’ll talk about what dishes they’re ordering off the menu and what sounds good wine-wise. One thing leads to another and the next thing I know I’ve enjoyed a memorable conversation that started with wine and ended up about kids, work, and life.

By contrast, no one has ever once leaned over and asked what kind of bottled water I was drinking. Or beer, soda, coffee or tea. There’s something special about wine that leads people toward commonalities and friendship. I had a similar experience when I had my first son. Suddenly I had something to talk about with complete strangers – comparing notes on late night bottle warm-ups and other joys of parenthood. It’s as though I’d joined a world-wide club that before had been invisible to me.

Wine offers similar entrance into a global club, unknown to many but open to anyone who enjoys uncorking delicious flavors. One writer has called wine, “the front door to fellowship” and you can find examples of this all around you. What better way to greet your dinner guests than to offer them a glass of wine when they arrive? What makes an evening more special that pulling an older wine that’s been stored away?

A couple of years ago I saw a survey that lists wine’s number one merit as “makes a great gift.” More recently a different survey by an online dating service reports that more than 70 percent of respondents said that “knowledge of wine” makes members of the opposite sex more attractive.

When I was in college and began studying winemaking, some of my most unforgettable evenings were those Friday nights spent with classmates, all winemakers-to-be, tasting wines of the world. Those evenings started off with wine but of course lead to conversations long into the night about our goals, our lives and a universe of ideas.

At Shafer Vineyards, where I’m winemaker, we have framed copies of menus from White House dinners in which our wines were served to visiting dignitaries. Over the course of the past 20 years guests such as Queen Elizabeth II of England, Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt, and Vincente Fox, president of Mexico, have enjoyed our wines at dinners with the leaders of our country. I would like to think that our wines have contributed some part in helping to build a sense of cooperation and conviviality among people who may not always find points of agreement.

My favorite thing about this “wine club” is that it’s an organization without borders and everyone is welcome. Now there’s a good reason to lift a glass.