Guest Post: The Evolution of My Understanding of “Drink”
Some people think that there is some connection between wine and music, and they assume wine tasting and music pairs well. In this post you have the possibility to find out what musician thinks about the drink and what wine means for him. This is a guest post by my friend Bill Thurman from Memphis, Tennessee. He is a musician who writes music and teaches to others. He wished to express his ideas and opinions about red wine. Here is his understanding of this drink made from red grapes.
When I was a little kid I would occasionally read something that said something like, “and there was plenty of ‘strong drink’ to be had by all”. I thought to myself, what does that mean? I later found out that it referred to any drink that had alcohol in it. When I was seven years old I didn’t know what wine, beer, whiskey, vodka, rum or anything alcoholic was, at all. When my parents and sister moved to Memphis, TN in 1956, my Dad who smoked cigarettes a little, but normally didn’t drink (alcohol), started to come back home every now and then after work with a couple of cans of beer, like Falstaff (don’t laugh) and Papst Blue Ribbon. He was a mail clerk for the U.S. Postal Service for a long time. The beer would relax him a bit when he got back home. One time I asked him what that stuff was when I was about 9 yrs, and asked what is that – what does it taste like? To my surprise he said, OK you can just barely sip it to see what it tastes like, but that’s all. So I took the can and brought it to my mouth and sipped a bit. I probably said something like, “Yecccchhhhh” but all I know is that it tasted pretty weird to my 9 year old lips.
At that time I didn’t know what Wine or Whiskey was, because my parents never had any in the house. There were a lot of things they didn’t tell me until much later on. When I was 12 or 13, I read in the Bible where Jesus turned the water into wine, because there wasn’t enough wine to go around and make everybody happy. I thought, well that’s funny, they never have any wine in the church they took me to – it was only grape juice.
When I was in junior high school, I was a good athlete and never smoked or drank anything, but later I tried smoking the corn cob pipe just like Huckleberry Finn. It was kind of cool, but I only did it very rarely. Then later with some of my neighborhood friends, I started smoking a few more cigarettes and drank my first 2 or 3 cans of beer when I was around 14, probably Budweiser or something. It made me kind of dizzy, but was sort of fun. As time went by I would drink more with my crazy high school friends. We would try some bourbon and whiskey, and sometimes Tvarski or Smirnoff vodka, mainly the only ones available at that time, and sometimes Baccardi rum or rarely a tequila of some type. Of course, we did all this trying not to be discovered by anyone, especially parents. I got drunk a few times and learned a few hard lessons about being drunk. However, I tried to not to be drunk later on, and just learn to enjoy alcohol of any kind while still being mainly in control of oneself.
A lot of my high school friends were the Italian kids, people like the Montesi, Lucchesi families, Robilio, Chiozza, Mascari, Amagliani and more. They were all Roman Catholic. They knew all about wine, but I really did not. The Robilio family had a Liquor and Wine store and also the Chiozza and a couple other Italian families. I visited them several times. My parents did not drink wine socially or ritually. The big thing going on was to have some Jack Daniels’ Whiskey. I kind of liked it, but didn’t drink it that often. After all, I was still an athlete and a musician, and was trying to do the best in school that I could do. I started playing music professionally when I was sixteen. I played the viola and violin well enough in tune and with enough control that I could play with much older people.
Now that I was in my middle teens, I started hearing a lot more from my parents about the older people in my family. My mother’s grandfather, “Papa Maxwell” was quite an old character, a business type as well as fairly down-to-earth, and a natural story teller and leader. In the second half of his 81 years, he would drink about a pint of whiskey every day – sipping and nipping on it all day long. He was never really drunk, just sort of “high” all the time.
I suppose this suited him just fine. I could never do that myself. I couldn’t afford it or want to do it that way. But still, he was quite a character! I also found that my grandmother and a lot of other Old South folks would like to have some boiled custard – made from milk, eggs, sugar, a little vanilla and maybe something extra. It’s an old English or Scottish tradition, kind of like melted vanilla ice cream. She and others would like to “spike” it real good with some Jack Daniels’ or some other good whiskey. My Dad also told me about Whiskey Ridge near his old home in Kentucky where the “moonshiners” would make illegal homemade whiskey (some of it good, some of it awful) and try to keep from getting caught by the government men who would sometimes take bribes and ‘look the other way’ or most often take the axes and sledge hammers and tear down the illegal “stills”. They were called “stills” because these big containers and the copper tubing was how the “moonshiners” distilled the whiskey from the corn/mash, kind of like a “corn beer”. That’s why so much illegal whiskey is called Moonshine. (Under cover of night and the light of the moon) A legal, finer company somewhere might be called a Distillery. (Like The Jack Daniel Distillery) All of these aforementioned things were more of the alcohol tradition in my family.
When I started attending college (as we would call it) at the University of Memphis, I started meeting more people from around the world. For a very short while I had a girlfriend from France who enlightened me a little more about wine – from France or other places. Then I noticed that so many more people from more educated circles and at higher quality celebrations and functions would drink expensive wines. I would have a glass here and there and slowly learn more about it. Let’s face it – most people at wedding receptions and art galleries serve finer wine, Not getting drunk on whiskey or vodka (although those are usually available too). During this period I also met a bunch of crazy, low class people who would drink what they called “pop wines” and “gutter trash” wine. Nice enough people, but still kind of lowdown and crazy. They had all this stuff like: Thunderbird, Ripple, Bali Hai, Boone’s Farm and more. Some of this stuff was barely suitable, but others were just Awful! Especially if you have been lucky enough to have tasted some really good wine. That period didn’t last too long.
My ex-wife and I took a trip to Western Europe in 1977 (we were divorced 20 years ago) and I learned still more about decent wine from the countries like France, Italy, Germany and more. Heidelberg in Germany has a wonderful wine tradition and what has been mentioned as the “largest vat of wine in the world”. (at that time) After that I became more aware of wine from all kinds of countries: Spain, Portugal, Chile, Greece, Hungary, Australia, Israel, New Zealand, Napa Valley in the USA, and more of them.
Then sometime around 1988 or so, I read an article from National Geographic Magazine that featured the people of Georgia and their traditions. I read that they have a wonderfully long wine-making tradition, that they like to have parties and tell jokes and just have a lot of fun!. I thought to myself, “That sounds just like the Irish!” How cool is that? Here are these people all the way over, almost near Iran or Turkey, and they carry on like the sons and daughters of Erin (Ireland). I had not actually met any people from Georgia, but I thought someday maybe I will. I had met a couple of Armenian people and Turkish people, but didn’t know that much about them beyond what I could read in a book. I thought perhaps as time goes by, I will have the chance to meet more people and sample their traditions, customs, their food, AND their wine if they have any. (There are a couple of great Greek Food Fests in Memphis, TN and in Little Rock, Arkansas)
I have found out that I can order a bottle of Georgian wine right here in the “States” and I will be doing so today. It is a Separavi grape wine from Kakheti. I am really looking forward to tasting this wine from the oldest wine making tradition on earth.
In closing I will say this. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin all loved a good glass of wine. As you know, they were “the founding fathers” of this country they call America. Washington and Jefferson liked Madeira wines, and Franklin too, but from what I understand, Franklin liked French wine even more. He spent a large amount of time in France during the last 20 years of his life and the French loved him. He loved the French wine and I’ll bet he would have loved a Georgian wine too, if it had been available to him.
I certainly hope that you enjoy this post. Thanks! Bill Thurman
Little Rock, Arkansas