Whine

An open letter of apology to the Orange County Wine Society

Photo by Jeanne RiceFirst, I would like to apologize to the organizers of the Orange County Wine Society's 2002 Wine Extraordinaire. Larry, Charlie, David, John, everyone: sorry. I didn't set out to deceive you, and to be fair, I don't think I did. I was just there to do the story David and I had talked about, but everyone was being so nice, and before I knew it, you were validating my hotel parking. Charlie said, "There's the man I wanted to see!" which was odd because no one ever says that to me, and then he said that, being in charge of publicity for the Extraordinaire, he really appreciated all the good things OC Weekly had done for the Wine Society, that we'd "been real good to [them] in the past."

Looking back, I should have known something was wrong right there. We've never written about the Wine Society. I checked. We've written about opera and ballet and theater. But when we've written about wine, it was usually only innocuous stuff at the end of restaurant reviews. We did write about wine in a theater review headlined "Pussies of the World, Unite!" but I don't see how that gets me free parking. Anyway, the point is maybe I should have said something, but I've never been much for confrontation. Just a slip of the tongue, I figured, so why make a big deal out of it?

Shortly after Charlie saw the man he wanted to see—me, you'll remember—he said, "Don't forget your wine glass for tasting!" Now, I had no intention of drinking. I was just going to do the story I'd talked to David Hirstein about. I wasn't trying to rip you off. Yes, the complimentary pass was worth 60 bucks, seeing as it got me full access to food from more than 20 restaurants and wine from more than 70 wineries, but I never intended to use it.

Then David showed up. The dude is tall! And friendly! It was like meeting all the Osmonds in a shoe closet. In, like, 30 seconds, he told me the story we'd talked about was off and—hey!—what was I doing with an empty glass, and I really had to try some of the boutique winery's products because they were really doing some great things, and, oh, you just have to take a sip of this dry Chardonnay from Stryker Sonoma, and we're moving this whole time, and we're drinking, and he's introducing me to people, and I'm shaking hands with people, and every time he says, "Steve is with OC Weekly magazine," this flash of recognition crosses their faces, and then they're shaking my hand and saying, "Oh, of course! How wonderful!" and I'm thinking, "It's not wonderful at all" and starting to feel really uncomfortable that David, as president of the society, is wasting all his time on someone he thinks is someone else from some other publication.

When David took me to that restaurant table and introduced me as the "wine writer for OC Weekly," I was sure of it, but there were all those smiling people nodding their heads, and even if I had wanted to say something, I don't think I could have communicated the humorous subtleties of the misunderstanding over the lady on the keyboards singing "Margaritaville."

By the time we made a second pass at the wine-tasting tables, David was introducing me as "Steve Lowery, wine editor," and I thought, "Okay, you have to say something," but it was hard since we had been with each other for more than an hour and had shared some really good times. So now I was trying to justify the title, trying to talk wine to people, and they're saying things about oak and sediment and casks and Burt Williams, who I don't think is the Bert Williams I know because the Bert Williams I know is a dead vaudeville performer.

And by this time, I'm pretty sure I was getting drunk. Or I think I was. I don't know. I know that I thought everyone looking at me thought I was getting drunk. That they could see I didn't know how to wine taste—because I don't. I couldn't bring myself to spit in the bucket, so I just kept swallowing and saying things like "Very nice!" and "Mmmmm" while nodding, which seemed to work pretty well. I was trying to act cool, but the whole time, I was scanning the crowd, convinced people were talking about the wine editor who was getting lit. It was Rosarito Beach all over again, except this time, instead of guys with submachine guns, they were carrying etched wineglasses.

Anyway, finally, David took me to meet this woman from another small winery. Now, I don't know why I chose her for my confessor. Maybe it was because she wasn't wearing any shoes, or maybe it was the way she handled the drunk who told her to give me a hug because "You gotta do whatever it takes for good press." Most likely it was that when I tried to ask her a wine question, she said, "Look, I don't know anything about the wine; I just stay in the cellar with the dogs and help put the labels on."

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