I am a huge fan of fermentation. There are few things I enjoy more than a glass of red wine in the evening. Especially merlot. Yeah, that’s right I said it. Despite the best efforts of the writers of the movie Sideways, I am still in love with the “M” word. Give me a glass with a nice bowl to roll it around in and I am one happy chick. And while I am not an addict, I have come to look forward to this experience with at least some measure of regularity. For me, the hardest part of pregnancy is not the back pain, difficulty of sleep – or even the labor. No, it is the necessity to cut back from that sublime burgundy in the glass.

Unlike most of my peers within the conservative Evangelical church in which I grew up, I was not taught by my parents that the drinking of alcohol is a sin. Rather, my training was of a more subtle nature. It wasn’t that drinking alcohol itself was a sin – unless of course it crossed over to drunkenness, at which point it ranked fairly high in the seven deadliest. It was more that drinking in front of somebody else who might be inclined to have a problem with it was.

This is a nuance that I would not expect the average person who did not grow up under these circumstances to readily understand, so suffice it to say that my comfort factor with drinking was almost nil.

It probably goes without saying that alcohol was a scarcity at my house growing up. My parents reserved the drinking of alcohol for situations in which a cultural discomfort needed to be avoided.Specifically, this meant that while drinking socially at parties was a no-no on account of the possibility that it might encourage some weak soul to tip the scales toward the inclination to don a lampshade, drinking with foreigners in the privacy of one’s home or overseas was an acceptable – and even necessary – activity. Because, presumably, foreigners would be irreparably offended should one explain that one doesn’t drink. And how could a person be an example for Christ if one begins the conversation off by offending one’s conversationalists?

Armed with that inscrutable logic, I was 15 when I first tasted alcohol. I had only recently celebrated my birthday when my family went on a grand family vacation to the United Kingdom. It was Chevy Chase in a rented car with suitcases strapped to the top and the whole works. We had just spent a harrowing couple of days with Dad negotiating the left side of the street when we stopped by the grace of God in one piece at Stratford-Upon-Avon, home of Shakespeare and a boy named Shandy.

Now, Shandy and his friends were cute, and my two sisters and I found an excuse to pal around with them for the better part of one of the days we were there. I owe them for a wealth of cultural knowledge, including the facts that one should never speak to a Brit about their “pants” unless one intends to get in them, that the “fanny packs” we all wore were the funniest damn things they had ever heard of, and that the word “spunk” spoken loudly in public could get you arrested.

When my sisters and I arrived back late to the hostel to find Mom and Dad leaning meaningfully on their elbows out the window, we attempted to cast our minor infraction in light of having spent a valuable day gaining a cultural education. In the process, I let it drop that we had met – it was the funniest thing – a boy, some guy really, named Shandy who showed us all around the bless’d land o’ Shakespeare with his companions – and how lucky were we?

Unbelievably, it worked. Encouraged by the insight into a different culture that his girls had received, my father – the holder of a doctorate and thus the keys to higher education – completely ignored the fact that our church looked down on drinking and took it upon himself to add his own lesson: the meaning of Shandy’s name.

Unbeknownst to us Yanks, and surprisingly known to my father, a shandy just so happens to be a drink. With his nose hot on the trail of an “educational moment,” Dad marched us all, women-and-children, the very next day to the nearest pub where he promptly bought us one. To share. With the five of us huddled around a table in the heart of Merry Old England, we passed around a single pint: half beer, half lemonade. Thus, was my education initiated.

Upon return to American soil and the familiarity of our beloved church, it was tersely communicated that there were certain elements of our education that should perhaps be left out when recounting the details of our trip to friends. Kind of like the time the two of them had shlepped us off to a covert showing of the movie Ghandi, complete with alternative routes by motorcar to and from the theater, as well as an enforced black out for two hours after the movie so as not to call attention to ourselves, should there be a raid by local morality police. Not only was it a “movie,” which was one solid strike against us (movies were considered sinful, as were cussing and doing the two-step), but it was a movie about a famous Hindu. Of course, had anyone asked, Dad would have been ready with the argument that he was taking the opportunity to teach his girls a valuable lesson regarding how creative Satan could be when pressed to invent a religion, and its subsequent effects on a society.

Anyway, we kept the bender in England on the down low from our friends. As Mom and Dad had pointed out in the car on the way back from the airport, they might not understand. If they found out that we had partaken of alcohol, it might encourage them, too, to experiment and before we could blink, half of my ninth grade class at the Christian school would be living in the gutter and drinking from paper bags with one foot in the fiery lake. Did we want that kind of responsibility? Did we? Huh?

Over the years, I would watch as Mom and Dad would host various guests from Germany, Russia, and beyond. If they would bring a bottle of wine to our house as a gift, it would be opened and passed around appropriately in our long-stem water glasses, reserved just for the occasion. We did not want to cause an international incident, after all.

We were ambassadors for Christ.

Dear Wine Guys,

While I can honestly say I have few regrets about leaving New York City, in all sincerity the loss of you is one of them.  German wine sellers don’t understand me.  This is a culture centered around thin, white wines, perhaps dictated by the Berlin demographic.  But as you well know, I am a red-blooded, robust American woman, complex and full-bodied with hints of sweetness largely overshadowed by my dry sense of humor.  You seemed to sense all of that immediately and I felt a kinship with you that has never been equaled the world around.  Oh Wine Guys, don’t at least one of you have a desire to learn German?

I so fondly remember the bygone days when I strolled in after work and with but a look, one of you accurately assessed my mood and began collecting bottles you knew without a doubt I would enjoy.  So rarely were you mistaken and each visit promised something fresh and exciting or simply comforting when I returned home, ever a reminder of your careful attention to detail and knowledge of my innermost self.

It has been a trail of tears for me here in Berlin traversing from one store to the next, ever hoping for the connection I felt with you.  I have tried every wine dealer in my district, daily venturing farther and farther afield, ever hoping for that certain something.  Time and again I am disappointed.  Each night I return home with wine described to my liking on the label and yet lacking in flavor, body and levels.  I am a coloratura soprano, after all; I need as many notes in my wine as my music.  Thus far, it is not to be.

Tonight was the worst of all.  The storefront showed promise.  Inside a wine tasting was in progress.  The clientele seemed by all outward appearances to be educated, cultured, and true wine lovers.  The wine selection was displayed beautifully and the patroness, ah, the patroness, she was like a beacon in a storm.  We spoke of colors; she used words like Kraftig and Trocken, music to my ears.  I felt a spark, something I haven’t felt in months, not since you.  I was certain she could be what I had been searching for, the connection, the understanding, the chemistry.  I followed her through the shop in a haze, nodding and smiling as she expounded on the large, round flavor contained in this bottle, yes only a little more than I wanted to pay but it would be well worth the expense.  I admit, I may have been too easily swayed. Can you blame me, after such a drought?

I rushed home, bottle in hand and a smile playing at my mouth.  This was certainly the beginning of a beautiful relationship.  The corkscrew, the perfect wine glass, the pop as the cork came free, 10 minutes to breath although I was finding it difficult, the pour, the swish and finally the sniff.  I knew immediately something was wrong.  Where was the assault on my nose?  Where was the flowery beginning, the tobacco, the raisin, the smoke, the oak?  I swished again only hoping I had not been aggressive enough.  Another sniff and the following sip with the bouquet, if you can call it that, still in my nose.  I rolled it over the tongue front to back and nearly spit it back out, it tasting bitter with my disappointment rather than what it was, simple and boring, far too thin to be interesting and singing John Cage instead of the Rachmaninoff I needed.  And with that, the earlier ember that burned only moments before, died.

And so dearest Wine Guys, it is with a heavy heart and a bland palate that I sit down to write you this futile letter.  I feel a fool hanging on to what cannot be and wish so fervently that I might be writing in victory rather than defeat.  It is always most difficult to be the one left holding a candle as others move forward and ever farther away.  I wish you no ill, certainly.  Our parting was void of malice, after all.  And I hope desperately you will welcome me back into your loving embrace when next I am home.  I can only hope that by that time I have found again what I lost not so very long ago and can appear in your doorway head held high, carrying a bottle you don’t recognize.  A gift from a thin, bland, white woman you no longer recognize.  Ah well, at least I’ll be thin!

All my love,
C