Two Wrenches, a few Corks, and a Milestone

Nothing throws a wrench in your plans quite like a flu invasion.  In a week that was filled with obligations, appointments, and celebrations, it could not have come at a worse time.  But we did what you have to do.  We canceled, improvised, and scaled back to try to make it work.

On Monday, my son started with a fever, on Tuesday it was diagnosed as the flu.  I canceled two appointments, but I still made it to my evening plans.  Gusto Tastings held their final Texas vs. The World of the year with the focus on Syrah.  I honestly didn’t know what to expect from Syrah in Texas.  I hadn’t had any (that I remember) and it is not what I think of when I think of Texas wine.  They have changed the format and now all of the tastings are blind which adds a new element to the competition.  Nineteen wines were tasted and evaluated, the producers revealed at the end.  With producers from France, Australia, California. and Washington, I knew the competition was stiff.  You can imagine my surprise when three out of my top five came from Texas.  And I wasn’t alone.  I was tasting with friends that have been in the wine industry professionally and long time enthusiasts.  We all shared the enthusiasm.  And ironically, or perhaps appropriately, the top two came from the two producers that were joining us that night.  If you are wanting to try what Texas has to offer in the way of Syrah, although there were a few others I enjoyed, I would recommend 2011 Lost Oak Estate Syrah Reserve, “The Sheriff” and 2009 Texas Hills Vineyards Hill Country Syrah.  Both had great fruit, balance, and spice.

On Wednesday, my daughter and husband came down with symptoms and I downed vitamins and Elderberry.  Turning your house into an infirmary in inconvenient at any time, but when your brother is flying in to celebrate your mom’s 70th birthday, it is a huge disappointment.  I cancelled our original plans, nursed, lysoled, and managed to avoid the “love.”   I was, at least, able to join my family at my mom’s house while my husband and children recovered at home.

We had planned on staying at The Winfield Inn, a bed and breakfast where we married.  Because my brother is a chef, eating out is often a disappointment, so we planned a meal that would not require a kitchen or take-out.  Raclette is similar to fondue in that is consists of melted cheese and is interactive.  It is different in that it is both a grill and a broiler and the cheese is melted and the poured over the nibbles. Each person has a pan and a paddle; with the germs going around my house I’m sure everyone appreciated the more sanitary nature of the Raclette.  We had Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, potatoes, sausage, Bresaola, cornichons, and pickled onions.  We opened Chateau Paradis Rose, McPherson Tre Colore, and an Eroica Riesling.  Eroica is a love child created from Chateau St. Michelle’s Washington grapes and Dr. Loosen’s Mosel winemaking skills.  Great aroma, fruit, acid and minerality.  It was a lovely evening, but only the beginning.

My brother had planned a “This is Your Life” menu for her actual birthday: some of her favorites, a taste of home, a sentimental cocktail.  We began the evening with the only cocktail we’ve ever heard about from her, one she hadn’t had in over forty years, a Pink Squirrel.  It is made with Creme de Noyaux, Creme de Cacao, and heavy cream.  Yes, it is every bit as decadent as it sounds. One was enough, then some sparkling from Washington, Treveri.  Here was the planned menu:

Broiled Artichoke dip on country bread (made with fresh, not canned or jarred artichokes)

Mulligutawney with fresh curry leaves and vadouvan

Harrington ham with lingonberry chutney
Braised cabbage and quince
New potatoes
Chanterelle custards

Meyer Lemon Tart

See why we don’t go out to dinner?  If the virus was the first wrench, the ham getting stuck in Indiana was the second.  He improvised with Bone-in pork chops instead.   It was a delicious as it sounds.  With dinner we had J Vineyard Pinot Gris and Argyle Pinot Noir.  They both paired nicely.


While the food was spectacular, what made the day truly special was the love we were celebrating.  My mother has always been the heart of our family.  We watched her pour out her life to serve others and spread kindness and encouragement.  Whether she was sharing a kind word in line at the grocery store or a meal with someone in need, she made it look effortless.  Whether she quietly held someone’s hand that needed to vent or gave sage advice that was hard to hear, she did it with gentleness.  She would go out of her way to make you know you were seen, heard, and important.

I see so much of that in my brother.  He thoughtfully planned the meal, assembled ingredients, was in the kitchen all day, and made it look effortless.  His advice is always wise, his words gentle and few, with humor to put anyone at ease.  He goes above and beyond in his service and remains humble about his enormous talent.  It was an honor to be a part of the day, to watch love in action, to see the legacy my mother has created.  I couldn’t love them more.

We asked my mother questions about her life.  Childhood memories, of which there are few, favorite vacations, of which there are many, and if she could love a day over again, which would you choose?  Her answer?  That very day because of the love she felt and having her family together.  That is how she’s always been.

In the Christian community, Proverbs 31 has become a cliché standard.  It is equally intimidating (how in the world?) and inspirational.  I see so much of my mother; I know what a privilege that is and worthy of celebration.

“Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: Many woman do noble things, but you surpass them all…Give her the reward she has earned.” Proverbs 31: 28-31

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Being a stay- at-home mom can leave one thirsting for a taste of the outside world, a world in which sentences are composed of more than three words. Being an educator means one is always seeking an opportunity to explore and learn. Being a woman with a need to connect can be a challenge when adult conversations are rare. In wine, I find the marriage of art and science, agriculture and storytelling provides limitless areas to explore. But it is the people that keep me engaged. The tenacity needed to keep the family dream alive, the risk to start anew, the trials and principles. I love the history of the vine, the impact of a season, the sentiment in the bottle. That is why I write. I write to tell their stories, to share a piece of mine. I write to learn as I teach others. I write to connect with new friends, to disconnect from the world. I write to celebrate what makes each of us unique, and that which ties us together.

7 thoughts on “Two Wrenches, a few Corks, and a Milestone

  1. Alissa, you found some beautiful words – this is a great post, as usual. Your mom did a wonderful job, it is clearly showing : )

    I’m also very intrigued by that blind tasting and Texan Syrah – really curious to see the full list of wines in that tasting – and of course would love to try some Texas Syrah if I will get a chance.


  2. This one made me cry. You captured the essence of both your mom and amazing brother. You too share in Max’ gifts and have created an amazing family and life of giving to others as well. Hugs!


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