Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Power of Pinot

I wrote this little article for a neat webzine called Zocalo Public Square. It was posted for 7 days. Their editor took some liberties, but the exposure factor for The Vine was worth letting it go! Enjoy

My relationship to wine falls somewhere between wine snob and wino. No boxed Rosé for me, please, but I have no need for that $150 Burgundy, either. Wine is my simple pleasure, the best way to wind down at the end of a workday or celebrate a special occasion with friends.

An outsider might think I live in exactly the wrong place to satisfy this love: Perry, Ohio has just 1,500 people and sits in the farmland along Lake Erie, about 35 miles east of Cleveland. But, like so many of the misconceptions about my oft-maligned state, the notion of rural Ohio as a backwater a world away from the tasting rooms of Napa is dead wrong. In fact, Northeast Ohio has an aquifer similar to that of the wine-growing regions of France, so we have bottles at least as good as that $150 Burgundy, at probably a tenth of the price. And entrepreneurs have caught on: today, there are probably 30 wineries within 30 miles of my home.

But living in the best wine region for thousands of miles isn’t all good. Even reasonably priced wines cost something, so a couple of years ago I noticed I was becoming wine poor. Markups on wine by the glass make it much more economical to buy whole bottles, which penalizes a writer who spends much of her time alone. And until recently, it was illegal in Ohio to recork a bottle and bring it home. Drinking less wine wasn’t much of an option, so I was on the lookout for a cheaper way to indulge.

Then I stumbled on my first micro-winery, a small wine producer that doesn’t have its own vineyard and doesn’t make everything by the bottle, keeping costs low. The one I visited had no ambience and the wine was truly awful, making me skeptical of the whole concept. Then I found the one that would quite literally change my life.

I was driving down Main Street in Painesville, just five minutes from home, and saw that a new micro-winery called Your Vine or Mine? was almost ready to open. Burned by the first one, I nearly didn’t bother, but I found myself keeping an eye on the place as the opening date neared. That first day, I walked in and sat at the bar. The décor and feel of the little shop were warm and welcoming. There was nothing that felt commercial about the place, with its beautifully accented walls and ceilings, original hardwood floors, antique chairs and wood tables resting on bases made from antique cast iron sewing machines.

With some trepidation, I ordered a glass of blueberry Pinot Noir. A flavored wine probably wouldn’t appeal to a wine snob no matter how good it tastes, but take my word for it: this one was excellent. The berries and grapes danced on my palate. One sip in, and I realized I’d found my spot.

Since then, Your Vine or Mine? has become my home away from home, or perhaps I have become one of the fixtures. I stop almost every afternoon, sipping a glass of Riesling, Amarone or that blueberry Pinot to smooth the transition from my day job to the responsibilities waiting at home. It’s one of the rare places that feels welcoming to people coming in alone; I’m never treated as an incomplete party and I don’t glance enviously at couples, wishing my husband was there. On Thursdays, I bring my laptop along, setting myself up in a corner to work on my latest book or article and enjoying the solitude of my work.

But paradoxically, while the shop has led me to embrace solitude, it’s also given me community. The owners who created this warm atmosphere, Penny and Alex Schebal, have become two of my closest friends. And I don’t get much work done on Thursday evenings anymore because a constant stream of other friends comes through the door. I stash my laptop in favor of catching up on town news and the gossip du jour. We all raise a glass and pass around some appetizers. As a writer, it’s not in my nature to make friends easily or be a social butterfly, but “The Vine,” as we call it, has transformed me. It’s made me a friendlier, more outgoing version of myself. I find myself participating in social events that are miles outside my old comfort zone: donning a Halloween costume, singing bad karaoke, participating in cooking competitions, dressing up for a murder mystery night on New Year’s Eve.

I also make my own wine at The Vine at least twice a year – 300 bottles total. I started with the blueberry Pinot Noir, of course, moving on to the peach-apricot Chardonnay, white cranberry Pinot Grigio, pomegranate Zinfandel and, most recently, blackberry Cabernet and Amarone. People are always very impressed to receive a bottle with my custom label displayed, and I’m always proud to present it as a gift. But it’s funny: although every batch has been excellent, I rarely open a bottle at home. Somehow the grapes just taste better when shared with friends.