Welcome to the inaugural post of the “Wine is a Conduit” website and wine blog!
This blog was created as a platform for wine professionals to share their stories about what was that wine or wine moment changed their lives. We all have an “Ah-Ha!” moment. That moment in time where we KNEW we were hooked on fermented grape juice. What wine was it that made us; quit our jobs, travel to foreign lands, research weather and soil data, read every wine publication or book, what made us spend great sums of money on collecting bottles, choosing to take wine courses in college, or keeping with family tradition.
“Wine is a Conduit”
Since this whole thing was my idea, it is only fair that I start things off. I have always enjoyed hearing individual stories of how people came to love wine. Maybe I was so interested because my own story was so undefined until recently. I guess it was my way of trying to better understand how I got to be in the wine industry. So, without further ado, here is my story:
Jeff Vejr, Your Host & Creator of the “Wine is a Conduit” website and blog. Jeff has been working in the wine business for the past 7 years and has been collecting wine for the past 14 years. In the wine industry he has imported, exported, owned retail stores, owned a wine bar, he’s worked harvest, worked a bottling line, and he is constantly consulting. He is a rabid fan of Syrah from around the world and is currently obsessed with Biodynamics® and the ‘natural’ wine movement. Is he a Wine Geek? Yes, I suppose sometimes he is, but he is respectful of each individual’s palate and their own personal wine journey. Stemware Freak? Absolutely, and unapologetically so. You will find Jeff roaming wine regions around the world with his Riedel’s, meeting people who share a similar calling and learning about their wine beginnings.
I was a poor 23 year old college student in need of a break from my job and that last year of school. More importantly, I was following my heart and sense of adventure by heading to Lyon, France to meet an ex-girlfriend of mine. She was just finishing up a year of studying abroad in Lyon and wanted to travel with me across Europe. I was all set to be reunited and experience the classic “backpack through Europe” cliché. I arrived in Lyon around 5pm, without luggage (it seemed to miss the connection in Amsterdam) and a spirit full of energy. I remember seeing her again for the first time, my heart raced, I was so happy, so filled with excitement and the tension of the unknown. I still see the automatic doors (that’s so 20th century) opening after I had passed through customs and seeing her standing against a cement pillar. That moment is still a barometer for how profound I’m feeling in matters of the heart. I have had many ‘love’ moments since that have overtaken that moment in time, but it still is a guide. The power of young love.
I was starving and pumped up to see her and experience France and Europe. What better way to see this country than to start by eating, right? It’s France! So bagless, we took a bus to the center of town to find a meal and start to catch up. She knew of a little bistro in this nondescript alley that she wanted to take me to. At the bistro, my “ex” ordered a bottle of white wine and a selection of food items. She is fluent in French, and knowing the peculiar nature of the French towards non-French speakers, she spoke for me that night and the entire trip. The waitress brought two clunky glasses that seemed to have been washed with S.O.S. pads and that bottle of wine. I can still see the elongated green bottle on the table to this day, but the label is turned away from me. I would from time to time remember bits and pieces of that meal and the wine. I was always struggling to define “what” that wine was. The meal, conversation, and my “ex” have long left my memory and life. I suppose that is because it wasn’t as interesting to me as the mystery behind what that wine was. I knew it was a white, but what varietal was it? Who was the producer? What region was the wine from? What vintage was it? I had all of these questions and when you don’t have immediate answers, you dream, you create your own story in your mind. You rightly or wrongly fill in the blanks with your own fantasy. So, I had created my own story of what was my “ah-ha!” moment, but I never could fully buy into it. My story still seemed unwritten and unresolved and the mystery would frequently creep into my mind while drinking a wine that really moved me.
It was only about fourteen years later, having uncovered my journal from that trip, in an old box of collectibles that I had stored at my folks house, that I knew what THAT ONE WINE was. My “ah-ha!” moment. The mystery was finally solved.
Really? A simple little Sylvaner from Alsace got me into wine? I remember reading “Sylvaner” in my beat up journal and feeling like all of my wine credentials had just been flushed down the toilet. I felt dejected at first and embarrassed. As if the wine KGB were going to find me and out me. Why couldn’t it have been a Chardonnay from Burgundy? A Viognier from the Rhone? These would have been plausible examples given that I was in Lyon. I had been hopeful that geography was on my side. But it wasn’t. What was on my side however, was a heavy dose of humility. It was a lesson that I thought I knew about wine. Reading those words recently reminded me of what is so important about wine. The critical factor in accepting wine in your life. It’s really about the moments, stupid. It’s not the label, the score or even the contents within. That may seem like a strange statement coming from a non-official wine geek, but you know, we all start somewhere, and you can never force that moment. Some of the greatest wines that I have ever tasted where in the company of others. This is true for many people. It has been this way for millennia.
I suppose my connection to that wine could have been the excitement of being in France for the first time or being reunited with an “ex” after 11 months. It could have been the first “authentic” wine that passed by my lips. It could have been the wines combination with our food that night. Could it have been the heartbreak I felt when I caught her kissing another man on the train platform as I waited inside? Did wine become my defacto companion on that trip? Whatever the reasons were, that wine memory is still burned into my psyche. It was my beginning, and I am so thankful for it.
The most powerful and profound wines are always those wines that transport you for, wines that make you feel, wines that embed a memory. That little Sylvaner (probably €7 at the time) set my life on a whole new journey. I was so hooked, so beautifully confused about wine that I spent the rest of my trip in France and then in Spain trying different wines with different foods and asking questions all along the way. Everything was new, each wine, each new town, each new country, and each new moment with my “ex”. Every bottle seemed like that wardrobe in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.”
Lucy. I understand the allure.
So, Sylvaner it is, my gateway wine, my introduction into the world of wine.
Beginning each year, I will buy a case of Domaine Ostertag ‘Les Vieilles Vignes de Sylvaner’ as a reminder of my wine beginnings. It wasn’t André Ostertag’s wine that I had that night, but his is the greatest example of Sylvaner that I have ever tasted since that night 14 years ago. I got a chance to meet André recently, but I didn’t get a chance to share this story with him. Someday I will and I know that he will understand how we both came to be in this moment.
“Wine is a Conduit” and it is so fulfilling.