We're participating in the Missouri Wine Passport program these days (and those days past, as it requires lots of travel). I've reached Level 5: 40 visits (and the continuous tally of how much of my salary I've spent at Missouri wineries). To date, I've received a terrific wine key, a cute bar towel, an apron, and a great Neoprene wine carrier that holds two bottles--perfect for white wine drinkers, which I'm not. So,I reached Level 5 with my January 1 visit to Bushwhacker Bend Winery in the charming Missouri River town of Glasgow (on the KATY, fine dining restaurant and coffee shop located downtown).
The reward for Level 5, for those of you unaware, is a private wine tasting and food pairing for ten friends at the winery of your choice. "This is not a dinner, but a food pairing," the website explains to those unfamiliar with the term. Don't go there hungry, but expect small morsels of food and small tastes of wine wherein the food will highlight the wine, bring out certain characteristics. Some wineries offer small food items with their tastings on a regular basis--among the stranger ones are wineries that serve malted milk balls with Norton, or a Milky Way with a Chardonel.
Thinking of all the wineries in Missouri, I decided on my top three choices: River Ridge (Crowley's Ridge, where I worked briefly and adore the place and the food), Augusta (great wine choices, Norton Reidel glasses for tasting), and Chaumette (great food, enough good wine to make it worth the trip for the fifteenth time). Oh, it's easy to choose wineries to visit in Missouri. They all have their own merits and qualities. The hard part is the "for ten."
I don't have ten friends in Missouri. I don't know ten people who would be willing to drive to Crowley's Ridge for a morsel of food, good wine, and surely an afternoon meal in my company. Ten friends don't even respond to my emails, much less send Christmas cards or call. So I told the Missouri Wine and Grape Board that the winery should only expect about 5 at the most: me, Doug, maybe three more. Yup, 5 or 6 at the most.
Earlier tonight, looking for an email from Audubon regarding their crazy mixed up Christmas Bird Count data entry page, I accidentally hit the way back browser button on my email that incidentally took me back to July 2005, a month before the storm when I was living in a small cottage on a creek in the Ozarks among a pair of eagles that perched on a white oak snag out the window every morning. My true friends kept in touch with me then by writing letters to my outpost in the Ozarks, sending long emails that I read from the public library on 12K dialup. I found emails from my graduate advisor, my Greek professor, fellow natural historian, and very dear friend, Dr. Ross. He introduced me to Moominvalley, reintroduced me to Pogo (which was always squirreled away in my grandpa's bookshelf that the rats eventually ate when grandpa went crazy), we camped together, drank lots of wine together, wrote voluminous letters to one another, had a true friendship for many years until misfortune met his wife and our friendship came to an end. I miss Dr. Ross and his brownstone in Chicago's Hyde Park, our visits to the Lyric in the cheap seats, the Cafe des Artistes on Grand? where we'd go for cappuccino after the opera. I know he'd make it to the food and wine pairing, upping the bill to 6. He'd probably ask me for directions to a campground between here and Chicago where there aren't those damned loud generators running all over the place. I'd have to send him to a Forest Service site.
The epistolary relationships I maintain with friends in far flung places tend to be the stronger ones, but they're diminishing. Even among my closest summer camp friends at a recent reunion, more were tuned into their iPhones and BlackBerry than were present, there and then, at the table, looking face to face. I don't think I had a meaningful conversation with but three of them. Raising a glass to hope that at the food and wine pairing, I'll at least have some good conversations, even if it's with a Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie as a pairing item.