Sunday, January 10, 2021

The Epiphany (and the room where it happened)


O
nce, on a fast run up the autostrada from Ancona to Verona, an old friend and I were talking about epiphanies. He’d had many in his life and had distilled it down to its essence. “It’s a bolt of lightning - Il Fulmine.” I’ve thought about those moments lately, as it seems we’ve been having more than our share of “Il Fulmine” in today’s world. And as we sail through time, many of us have those moments when our purpose is distilled in a flash, and everything is bright and clear, if only for that moment.

It’s much like a photograph. 1/100th of a second. And then something else. Not gone, but no longer there with the energy and the force it initially struck with. I guess you could say it’s a bit like those times when you are intimate with someone and for a moment everything disappears and there is only light and passion, and emotion and energy.

And while it wasn’t quite that dramatic when it happened, looking back on that day, I realize I was then bound to wine, it made an indelible impression. Let me tell you about it.

It was harvest time, 1977, in the hills of Calabria, between Cosenza and the Tyrrhenian Sea. I was with my young, new family, traveling around Italy and Greece. We’d made it to Calabria and had found my mother’s family on her mother’s side. We were staying with them, getting to know them, and them, us. They were people of the land, working it, clinging to their little side of the hill and pulling out whatever they could to provide sustenance. It was right up our alley, as back in California, where we lived, we’d made the attempt to live simply. We were young and poor. The economy was faltering. And there was a movement to go back to the land.


I saw that my relatives were living that life, not dreaming about it. Perhaps they were wishing for a more glorious life. But they had the basics of life. And with that they had fresh air, clean water and a place to live that was unencumbered with the useless detritus of civilization. And, they could see the stars at night.

One of those nights, after dinner, my cousin invited me down to the cellar. “We have a little work to do,” he said, “Vieni qua.” I followed.

As we ventured into the dim subterrane, several of his other relatives and friends, all elder men, joined us. I thought of the sweat lodge ceremonies a Native American friend once told me about, and wondered if this was going to be something akin, ala Italiana. Indeed, there was a prescience to that feeling, but one that would not materialize for years and miles.


In the corner of the room the new wine was gurgling. In another niche, an ancient hutch held bottles of all kinds and sizes, filled with older wine. A solitary, bald lamp hung above, illuminating the cold, damp room.

I was almost expecting flames to appear above our heads, the stage was set for the possibility of a portentous juncture. I didn’t know what to expect. But, as with anything unforeseen, one can evade it or one can embrace it. I was all in, regardless.

When one falls in love, it does unpredictable things to the world around and inside of one. Time stops, then times speeds up. Then time disappears, along with space. Butterflies appear, amidst a cosmic storm of unheralded expectations. It’s a giant swirl of emotion coupled with a visceral grip that feels like a roller coaster gone off its tracks. It’s exhausting and exhilarating.


Have you ever been in a dream where some thing had you in its grip and wouldn’t let you go? It can be frightening if you tense up and fight it. It’s like being in a wave that has just pounded you. But, if you just relax and let go, eventually the waves subside and you pop up above the foam, just in time to grab a much needed breath of air. Free, and still very much alive.

As it happened, a simpler scenario played out. It seemed that the new wine needed to be bottled and the old wine in the bottles was taking up room. A fitting metaphor for life if I ever heard one. And one that shadows us all on the wine trail.


The grapes were ancient ones, with names like Greco and Moscato and Calabrese. The aromas were as seductive as the Sirens from the islands in that nearby western sea. The musty, ebullient sapidity of the older wines, released from their urns, stirred all who sat at that wobbly table, both veterans and inductee.

So, we went about the business of emptying the bottles, one by one until the wee hours of the morning. I swear my Italian was never better in those moments. I was being initiated into the mysteries of Bacchus. Little did I know this ceremony would portend a life, and a livelihood, that I didn’t know was stalking me. I’ve often spoken of being a slave to the wine gods. This was the moment I was conscripted into that legion.

Later that day, after much needed rest (and coffee) it dawned on me that I had witnessed something momentous, but I didn’t know exactly what. It would only be years later, many years, that the meaning of those hours in the room where it happened would shine a light upon the path that I had tread all these years. It was the epiphany, that bolt - Il Fulmine - that provided me with a purpose. 

And it unfurled among the humblest of places, with family and friends. 


wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

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