“Hops shortage you say? I had no idea. Really? Tell me more.” Sidetracked near the coat check, I stopped, captured in conversation by this idea. Talk of hops at a wine event? But why not mention her fair cousin, Beer? The young man leaned forward, pushing up his light gold frame glasses and said, “Crop damage actually. It’s hard to get at the moment and local breweries are going under. You can check it out online.” No way… the hop crop got creamed? That can only mean we’ll have to make more wine! Luckily, here we are at the “New Vintage” wine event put on by the Washington State Wine Commission in the very hip W Hotel in downtown Seattle. And by we, I mean Jeff Dorenbush, 22 year old business manager for Mutineer Magazine: easy on the eyes, quick on the trigger. And me? Standing fresh faced and fire-eyed at 6’3 in black patent leather heels, a silky new jet black dress and long black, wavy hair with bangs. Tonight, these hot pink lips are smiling because I, love love love wine…. and therefore find myself eclipsed into a hip, hedonistic wine lovers seventh Heaven. KEXP DJ Derek Mezzone is deejaying in a ballroom where swarms of twenty-thirty somethings dressed for cocktail hour buzz about. Scores of wine reps from Washington’s finest vineyards give samples of wine, walking freely and pouring liberally. Seattle’s best chefs and restaurants represent by passing one elegant appetizer creation of their making- works of art in every way. The wine… it was everywhere and tape recorder in hand, sip after sip after sip, I began to talk with everyone!
“So what do you guys think of the event so far?” I asked two girls, a blonde and brunette who were engaged in animated conversation. They turned to face me in slow motion, deer in headlights, open mouth smiling, wine glasses cocked out, one in each hand. I allayed their surprise by waving my rockin’ press badge. “See? I’m Danielle Gibeson, reporter for Mutineer Magazine. We’re doing a piece on this event. Actually, can we get your picture? With the wine.” The women snap to attention, all smiles. Jeff takes a few pictures which attract the attention of the wine reps. They circle like thirsty vultures and I, catching their eye bear into their souls with a look of such longing, I could have been crossing long miles of desert. Yet, I soon learn a mere eye flutter will fill my glass with wine. “Winthrop, Syrah”. How romantic. Can’t you just see the dusky mountain skyline? “Natural Slice Vineyards. Pinot Grigio.” One sip sends you into a golden summer, running through fields of wheat like a child. “Marysville winery, try the Merlot.” And we all just naturally laughed together, enjoying and talking about our wine. The brunette dressed in all white began to say, “It is really packed though. Last year the venue was better I think. It was bigger. It was at Qwest field last year.”
“Oh, really?” I had no idea what else to say because the idea of a wine event at Qwest field sounds vulgar and horrid to me and because this was my first real wine event of any scale. There must have been about 500 people moving around, drinking wine, dancing, eating out in the main ballroom, or lounging on the gigantic velvet chaises and furniture in a more quiet L-shaped room walled with dark glass which overlooked 4th Avenue.
The blonde chimed in, “Yeah, last year was not this crowded. But, the food is amazing.” On cue a waiter swings by carrying a tray of sashimi scallops covered in a miso vinaigrette, topped with wasabi aioli and presented on a sea shell. Absolutely exquisite!! We all gasp with appreciation and empty our glasses.
“Fantastic! Cheers to empty glasses! Time for more wine!”
Bingo! A tall wine rep in his mid-fifties wearing a dark flowered shirt and khakis appears almost instantaneously. Jeff moves around into position for the next shot and begins to focus on the camera on him. I push out my tape recorder towards his mouth and hit play.
“Tell me about your wine.”
All eyes on the rep, holding out a fanciful Hawaiian style labeled wine bottle. “My name is Phil Kline of Natural Slice Vineyards. I’ve had a 26 acre parcel of land my whole adult life but in 2002 I had a mid-life crisis and instead of buying a Harley, I got into the wine business. I have the highest elevation in Washington, situated in West Yakima. Snow just got off my land only last week. But, I don’t make the wine, I grow the grapes. I let someone who really knows what they’re doing to make the wine. But we make a very nice Riesling and Syrah. This is our Pinot Grigio.” He pours us all a glass. The wine is a sparkling pale gold and is very aromatic. Citrus and pear open with a light floral note. The taste is light and pleasing, subtle and sweet, enlivened with a spirit of good cheer if not by the sun itself. Just at that moment a woman with long red hair in a purple cocktail dress strode towards us with a look of intention. She stopped directly in front of Phil, “We heard you have good white wine. Would you come with me to our table over here? We need some good white.”
We all sung the wine’s praises and bid each other adieu with a final toast. I turned to Jeff, “Let’s eat. You have to try this stuff and we can take pictures of the chefs!” People hum around the edge of the room where Seattle’s up and coming chefs stand ready at tables, displaying their bounty. A French chef in a fedora dances around to the loud hip hop. His table is filled with miniature cups of peach mousse covered with a citrus gelee’. The centerpiece is a large ice sculpture of the letter D, also wearing a fedora. He speaks with a thick French accent, dancing from foot to foot as he presents the clear cuplet filled with pale fluffy crème. “Eat this… It is made from organic Washington summer peaches. It tastes like summer in winter. The citrus gelee’ adds an extra touch of summer with a light lemon zest to compliment the peach mousse.” The tiny spoonful nearly brings a tear to my eye. It tastes like innocence itself. Fresh, pure, simple… I was transported back to my childhood farm in Virginia where my grandmother and I had planted peach trees together. Endless baskets of peaches, heavy with sweet hot juice. We ran out of ways to eat them. The chef got a call on his cell and I was struck by how strange it was to see him and his red-lit ice sculpture wearing matching hats, side by side. I motioned for Jeff to get a picture, but the fleet footed Frenchman caught on and made a dash for the hall.
“Jeff, you have to try this. It’s amazing. Give me the camera.” Shaking off the nostalgia, I took the camera and danced in place to M.I.A. as Jeff tried the magical mousse. People were starting to loosen up. The laughter was louder. More single girls were showing up in pairs. The dance floor was a vortex of movement populated with silver pants and strapless dresses.
I detected a lack of wine in my glass. “So what does being a Washington Wine Ambassador actually mean?” Back at the tasting table — empty wine glass in one hand, tape recorder in the other — I held both out across the bar. The communications director for the Washington State Wine Commission was holding a bottle of local Syrah.
“It means you are basically learning and teaching everything you can about wine. You get to go on tours of all the local wineries and get to taste all the different wines. We sponsor and host lots of wine-focused events like this one and Taste of Seattle. Just promoting and enjoying wine culture.” She poured me a glass while I stood there stunned. Was this Heaven? Why have I never seen this world before?
“I want to be a Wine Ambassador! That sounds like fun!” The camera flash went off, mirroring the flashes of awestruck realization in my brain. This was a major discovery. This Washington wine world could be the next utopia. Walks down long rows of sun drenched grape vines on weekends spent touring beautiful countryside. Wine tasting mixed with city parties and elegant events showcasing the best bottles in the state?! I have reached the promise land!! DJ Mezzone was now reverberating the two story glass windows which showcased falling evening rain and high winds. My blood felt hot, happy, and whirling around. I prepared to interview more attendees, and crossing the lounge, I was stopped short for the third time by the same gentleman. He was slightly infatuated and persistent and I felt weird to be complimented so lavishly on the job and in front of Jeff. The conversation rounded the corner after I lied and said I had a boyfriend. That brought us to the topic of organic raspberries. Namely, he is a grower and gifted me a glass of his organic raspberry wine which was pure, sweet, and sunlit with Elysian Fields of organic raspberries…