Fermentation: The beautiful procedure by which dowdy little grapes covered in yeast and bacteria go into temperature-regulated containers and later emerge as the fairest of all of the alcoholic nectars – Wine.
Admittedly, when I was living in the US, you could catch me with a beer in hand 95% of the time. My long term dalliance with beer ebbed and flowed with the changing seasons – zingy lemon shandies in the summer, the ubiquitous “fall” pumpkin ales, imperial stouts with heavy chocolate notes in the winter that kept me warmer than any of my half-assed attempts at Florida layering ever did, and floral IPA’s to welcome spring. I was the type of wine consumer who would give my roommate, a Whole Foods employee, a few dollars to pick me up a bottle of “two buck chuck” when she next went into work. I always wanted to learn more about wine but I figured that there would be a time and place for me to develop a palate – and the dive bar centric undergraduate life that I was leading was decidedly not the right venue for such a tasteful exploration.
Needless to say, my eyes brightened at the sight of the verdant green expanse of Yamanashi, Japan. I was thrilled that the district that I was living in for the next year was crawling with vineyards. I am a big proponent of the idea that one should “ eat and drink as the locals do” whenever traveling, so I have taken the task of consuming the region’s specialty upon my very capable shoulders. I wasn’t particularly interested in filling my arms with bottles at the grocery store and staggering back to my apartment to get on with some lonesome tastings – I was envisioning a more social and communal experience. Visions of myself glamorously stretched upon a chaise lounge drinking expensive bottles with convivial company danced in my mind.
Sure enough, the reality of my initial experience with wine in Japan was a bit rougher around the edges – but also a hell of a lot more interesting. I traveled to Katsunuma, Yamanashi to lend a hand at a friend of a friend’s vineyard. I knew next to nothing about what we would be doing other than that I was told to wear a headscarf and long pants/sleeves to protect myself from pesky critters of the insect variety. A group of about twenty people, ranging from Tokyo wine purveyors to casual enthusiasts, set out to harvest white grapes for the winery’s new batch of chardonnay.
Picking the grapes was a relatively simple task – we used shears to clip bushels of grapes from the trees and then snipped off any of the dead, brown stragglers. We worked through the morning and afternoon, many of us eventually learning that to avoid the leafy overhang of the vineyard lanes, a wide stance was a much better alternative to a cocked head. Seven hours later, covered in sweat, dirt, and sweet, sticky grapey goo, I mirthfully reflected on my ironic prior visions of lazy wine sipping.
Before I could think too long about where I went wrong in my newly forged relationship with Japanese wine (were we just not meant to be?!?), our group was whisked back to the winery for a casually decadent night. Sitting at a long table right next to the steel containers that were fermenting batches of wine, we downed bottled after bottle.
The night was pretty much BYOB (Bring your own bottle) and since the majority of the guests were in the wine industry, the selections were choice. The food was not messing around either — we ate pickled quail eggs and chickpea salad, grilled whole fish, pig cartilage, heart, and an assortment of grilled meats & veggies.
It was a feast, a wine n’ dine of epic proportions that my novice mind could have never conjured up on its own. I can dimly recollect the evening as a hazy blur of laughing, dining, and drinking surrounded by lively beings who shared a passion for all things wine. If the day’s mix of devoted labors and raucous enjoyments are any indication of things to come, I am confident that my bond with vino is shaping up to be richly wrought. My glass is definitely half, and sometimes more like 3/4 or 5/6 (shh!), full.