December 7, 2006

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Got milk?

Like dregs in the wine glass
So go the memories of our lives
By Tim Protzman tprotzman@sbcglobal.net

Thirty years ago my father bought a ski house.

It was on a small Vermont mountain. Every morning we’d walk out to the trail, step into the bindings and head down the hill. If we wanted to ski all day, we’d buy a ticket. If we were feeling lazy, we’d hang in the lodge and drink hot chocolate and wait around ’til half-day passes went on sale.

The ski house wasn’t luxurious, although it had the latest in sculpted multicolored shag carpeting, but it slept about 20 people. The refrigerator was avocado green. The people my dad bought it from left us a popcorn popper. It was a two-piece aluminum construction with a separate heating element in the base. It made the best popcorn I’ve ever tasted. It came with a dog-eared instruction manual which extolled the virtues of heating the corn oil, placing three test kernels in first and waiting for them to pop and then adding 1 and 1/3 cups of popcorn. It would double as a cigarette lighter in a pinch. I loved that popcorn maker, but I loved the telephone more. I remember the day we ordered it.

We called this little phone company in White River Junction.

“I’d like to get phone service for my ski house in Plymouth Union,” my Dad said.

“OK, what’s the address?” The phone man asked.

“There’s no mailing address, but it’s #9 on the Round Top access road.”

“Yup, I know where that is, I’ve done a couple of phones up there. We need someone to let us in to install the instrument.”

“That’s fine, when can you do it?”

“In two weeks… on the 12th.”

“That long? Can’t you do it sooner?”

“Well, if we really push it we can be there on the 11th.”

“Keep it on the 12th, I wouldn’t want to strain your finely tuned machine.”

“What color do you want?”

“What are the choices?”

“Let me see … we got … black and…black?”

“I’ll take the black.”

And with that we had our phone. What they didn’t tell us was that the phone was a “party line.”

For the young, forgetful or uninitiated: a party line was a phone line shared by two, three or even four different households. You’d pick up the phone and if someone was talking on it you’d hang up and wait ’til they were done. That was the theory. In reality it provided hours of eavesdropping fun. The hard part was getting used to your ring tone.

And the ring tones weren’t “Crazy Frog” or And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. It was one ring, not yours. Two rings, not yours either. Two quick rings and a pause followed by two quick rings and a pause, that’s yours. The reason I’m phone nostalgic is that my own phone and internet access was out of service for a week. And during that time I found my routines sorely tested.

Usually, I get home from work, open the mail and answer my e-mail and post crank messages on my enemies’ blogs. But, without a phone or e-mail I had to turn on the TV during what had been my “quiet hour.”

I found myself watching TV news. Even though I’m old, I have a Gen Y attention span and prefer to get my world and local roundup in quicker sound bites, like off Drudge Report. I rarely have the patience to sit through the news. Especially now when each report seems scarier than the next. But I also have the perspective of history. I’ve lived through assassinations, wars, recessions, inflation, layoffs, rising deficits, hostage takings, hijackings and thousands of bombings. I saw Watergate and Monicagate.

And I also like wine. I once went to a wine tasting where this jet-setting wine importer told this story of a small vineyard in Australia. They had put hundreds of thousands of dollars into irrigation systems, French clone rootstock and fermentation tanks. The first grape crop survived insects, a minor drought and heavy rain leading up to the harvest. But they brought it in. They crushed and fermented and took it from vat to vat to barrel where it sat for two months. Then on the appointed day, the winemaker took a long glass pipette (which is also called a wine thief) and dipped it into a barrel where wooden cork in the top had been removed. He watched intently as the purple liquid filled the tube. He put it into a wine glass. He held it to the light. He sniffed it. And finally he tasted. He chewed it and swished it. Then he spit. Every eye was on him. The tension was palpable.

“There’s always next year,” he said. And then he left.

Hard times, bad news, world catastrophes and poor vintages don’t last forever. There’s always next year.

Even without e-mail I managed to taste quite a few wines last week. Most were forgettable, but some showed promise.

Stag’s Leap Merlot 2002 ($25.99, California) Even though this was supposed to be an excellent vintage this wine tasted raisiny and alcoholic. It had a pleasant port-like flavor, but it wasn’t a merlot I’d be able to pick out of a lineup.

Guenoc ($11 - $14, California) I tasted the chardonnay, the syrah and the cabernet sauvignon. And I’m not enthralled.

Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret 2004 ($16.99, Burgundy) A welcome treat during a run of mediocre tasting. This wine had raspberry and cherry fruit with a youthful structure. One of the few wine I’ve tasted in the last week that I’d buy a second time.

Vosne Romanee “Chaumes” Jean Tardy 1996( $54.99) Mean, tannic and maybe in an awkward phase.

2000 Chevalier Rauzan-Gassies ($22.99) Scary and tough. Drinking this wine is like running into a tough in a dark alley.

Tell Tim your wine stories. You can reach him at tprotzman@sbcglobal.net.


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