Welcome to the table
Sitting in a well-worn Oakland pub, leaning back into the last tunes of the 29th Street Swingtet and sipping on a fresh and zippy little cerveza, my conversation with musical conspirator and all around swim buddy Melanie Ida Chopko turns to wine. I always get a kick out of telling people how much I love wine while I'm clutching a beer. There's no disconnect for me; many a great bottle of wine is midwived by someone with a beer in one hand and I'm happy to play my part in that tradition.
"I don't really know a lot about wine" is a phrase I've heard a lot while getting to know people in the last couple months since I've moved to California. My first impulse when someone tells me that is to reassure them: "don't worry, some of my least-favorite people in the world know a lot about wine." There's a strange phenomenon (not in any way exclusive to the world of wine) wherein people can show less and less curiosity about wine the more they ascend that perceived socioeconomic ladder called expertise. For me, curiosity is the key indicator of anyone's capacity to connect with wine (or anything, or anyone for that matter). The most delicious parts of wine are the discoveries and the connections I haven't even glimpsed yet.
Making new friends here in this new home means these folks haven't already spent years cooking dinner with me and listening to my tragicomic wine improvisations. Now, at a new table with new faces, one of these impromptu rhapsodies starts to spill out of me. Mel, despite being rather a teetotaler most of the time, is grinning at me as I gather speed. "This is golden, Molls", she tells me. "People need to hear this." Indeed? I'm simultaneously dubious and fired-up, so in the humble service of people hearing more about what Molly Madden thinks, I oblige.
To me, wine is food. It comes from farmers. It belongs on the table between the salt, the pepper and the butter dish with this morning's toast crumbs. It requires no pretense, ceremony or introduction to accomplish what it has come here to do: to facilitate communion. To facilitate something is really just to grease the wheels, to make facile, to eliminate the need for effort. And communion concerns itself with intimacy and sharing. I think of the divine and religious connotations of communion, and then I think about how my own spiritual narrative casts the divine in the characters seated with me at the table. We share, we touch each other's lives, we strive to slip more smoothly and effortlessly into our shared humanity.
Talking points proliferate about how best to serve wine but wine is actually here to serve us. It serves at every point in its creation, its exchange and its consumption. Wine serves communion with place - rocks and dirt, bugs and rain, the tender and tenacious bodies of the vines, the labor of human hands. It serves the attention of the mind; enabling practices and knowledge to be gathered and shared across millennia, across mountains and oceans, across languages, religions and wars. Wine serves communion with elders and ancestors, the transmission of our failures and our inventions; the history of our languages, of our subtly or violently shifting political and cultural borders; of dishes, songs and vine cuttings carried from places still further back in the memory of families and communities. The sum of all that was loved, lost, dreamed and done is stored in a bottle. Any lineage of exploitation, of erasure and arrogance is as wholly present as that of survival, generosity and ingenuity.
Wine is made up of stories, spoken or not. Do not be deceived. It is for drinking. You have no homework, there is no intellectual obligation. There's no expertise required to open up a bottle of story. To break bread and share a glass is to let wine illuminate the faces at your table, to refract like a prism the flavors in your food, to transform struggle into story. If you do not know a lot about this wine, then this wine will be delighted to tell you about itself. Do not ask the questions that you think you are supposed to ask, ask the questions that spring from your own story. I promise you, you are relevant to wine.