“Tell me again why you had to leave?” I asked my mother one night when she was talking about having to dress up to go to the grocery store in Paris. When my mother was eighteen and had just graduated high school her father moved their family from Downey California to Paris France for a work assignment. It was around 1963, my mother was an adult but she was included in the move and from what I could tell….she found a bit of her “wild” in Paris. She didn’t speak too much about it, not really, just little comments about seeing The West Side Story while living there, the grocery store dress up deal….the kissing. I remember this intently; she always said that French men were the greatest kissers on the planet. It was like listening to two different women’s stories when she would walk down memory lane; there was the girl that lived in Downey, wrote for the school paper, wore pedal pushers and fuzzy sweaters…the girl everyone knew would marry young….and well. Then there was the Paris girl, the one that began to feel more like a woman, found little ways to rebel against her very conservative parents, the one that swore off Rum after a night of over indulgence that ended with a Frenchman (probably a good kisser) holding her hair as she rid herself of the vile liquid into a trashcan on the corner of a dark Paris street. I learned at a very young age that there must be something magical about Paris, there was just a wistful romanticism that surrounded my mother when she spoke about being there.
“Oh my grandfather got ill and seeing as I was the eldest and not in school it just made sense for me to be the one to come home and care for him. I was ready to come home anyway” she would report, and that was what it was like….like she was reporting. Not explaining or sharing, retelling the facts of what happened without the addition of feelings, one of the only events in her life that she hid her feelings about. That was the first in a long series of things my mother would do because she felt as if she had to. Sacrifices, she made many.
I continued my exploration of beauty and purity through my palate at The Wine Country. Spending nearly everything I was making on wines from around the world, France my palate was starting to lean towards France with Alsace leading the way, owning my heart a bit as it was a wine from that region that first grabbed me…first made me close my eyes while I was smelling it, opened me, made me understand that I was kind of good at this and made me comfortable talking about wine. I was still buying California wine, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel (Yeah that’s right Charlie) Syrah and I loved them but my purchases were clearly shifting more to the wines from France. “I’m going to dinner at my boyfriend’s parents and she is making chicken soup, what should I bring?” I asked our store manager. She asked my budget and upon hearing that I wanted to impress them she walked over to the Champagne rack.
I’d had Champagne of course, liked it enough and figured it would make me look kinda sophisticated to bring some to dinner so I went for it. I remember very little about that evening, couldn’t tell you what we talked about, how the soup was, (I’ve had it hundreds of times now and it is delicious) if anyone but me drank the wine….didn’t matter. First sip, small talk. Second sip, pulling me into the conversation. Third sip, I was leaning in on my elbow…getting just a little closer. Fourth sip, the kiss…a French kiss. Fifth sip, hands under the blouse. Sixth sip, fingers slipping under my waistband and unbuttoning my jeans. 1989 Billecart-Salmon Cuvee Nicholas Francois seduced me, shook me, left my skin covered in goose bumps, that little shiver that runs down your spine and me out of breath saying, “Oh fuck, let’s do that again”. That night, with that wine I found not only a passion that would drive me but a comfort and acceptance of my own sensuality that made me feel as confident as I ever had. A connection to pleasure, my own pleasure and how having those tiny bubbles tickle my lips, having that full flavor spread across my palate, the way that first glass seemed to rub that tight patch of skin between my neck and shoulders…the way it reminded me of how it feels to press your bare skin against that of a lover you have been aching for. My connection to wine, the real connection for me was to be one of sensuality…mine and the wine’s. That night set in motion the discovering of a voice that would champion the way wine makes you feel rather than report information. A voice that would, at least for awhile push my mother and I further apart.
I felt alive at work, alive like I never had before. My palate was awake and seeking but so was I. No longer cowering or deferring to my mother, when she would snarl, snap and say things like, “You sound like a slut when you talk like that” I would roll my eyes and shake my head. At first I would seethe with anger and pain sometimes so powerful it would have me sitting on the floor of the ladies room, back against the wall, knees shoved into my chest, my head in my hands….sobbing. Other times just walking away from her without acknowledging her at all, seeking refuge in the front of the store with the people that were happy about me discovering myself, amongst the bottles that brought me such pleasure…away from a woman that saw my happiness as a threat to hers. Her safe place, her cheerleader, the one person that never accused or demanded of her was beginning to search for a life of her own. She was terrified.
“I’m moving to Boulder”…….
Champagne, why didn’t we share more Champagne? This Mother’s Day I want to pop a bottle of R.H. Coutier Grand Cru Brut, ($39.99) a wine that not only makes me purr but makes me proud. It was over a dinner at A.O.C (God would you love that restaurant) with an importer friend, (don’t I sound fancy) that I first tasted this wine. Mom he brought the bottles to get my opinion on whether or not he should add it to his portfolio….me, he was asking me. Stunning, both the asking and the wine and it is in small part because of me that this wine is here in California, unreal. Big Champagne, I think we deserve this big Champagne with all its richness. Baked apples and caramel, salty, buttery pie crust and a finish that goes on forever. Yeah that’s what we need, a finish that goes on forever.