One of the many fringe benefits of writing a book with an associated website is that I’ve been contacted by many old friends, colleagues and acquaintances. There was Mary McCarthy who I last spoke to at St Collette’s primary school in, let me see, 1975. She’s now a journalist in Spain. Then there was Stephen Davren, a chum from college days who sent me those pictures of his teddy bear enjoying my book. And now, from way across the Atlantic, up pops Colin MacPhail (pictured), former producer with BBC Radio Scotland’s Tom Morton Show. He left Inverness to pursue American adventures in forestry, then gin-making and now is the owner of the Vinfabula consultancy in California and writes extremely funny and informative articles about wine under the heading Cabernet Confidential. This, for instance, is some of his advice for the would-be connoisseur:
“Rule #3 – Stop and think. One of the great blessings of wine is it causes us to pause in our busy lives and savor the moment and how lucky we are to enjoy it. Take your time. If you have a long day ahead, spit the wine out into a spit bucket. That’s OK. If you have a designated driver you can forge ahead on your sampling. Taste too much and you are doing something called “drinking.” That you can do at home.”
That line about tasting too much reminded me of a trip I made to Washington State back before the turn of the century. This century, I mean, not the one before. Turn of the millennium really. It was one of those press junkets organised by the tourism people in Seattle and my news editor at Radio Clyde must have been in a good mood when he nominated me for the week-long jolly. As I recall, there was about eight of us on the trip. I was one of two radio reporters and the others were London-based newspaper or magazine journalists. We were ferried hundreds of miles in a luxury mini-bus and shown the delights of the Seattle grunge scene, got to do horseback riding in an upstate ranch (in a thunderstorm) and given the VIP treatment in a Washington winery. I mean, we were really welcomed as Royalty, with the management and guides addressing us collectively as Her Majesty’s British Press and, initially, at least, treating us with the deference they might have shown to the Queen herself.
At this point I should admit that we sustained ourselves on these long bus trips by passing around a bottle of Jack Daniels which we washed down with more Jack Daniels, so by the time we arrived at the posh winery we were already in the party mood. Nevertheless, for the first few minutes we listened respectfully and attentively as our guide told us about the history of wine production in Washington, about soil conditions and grape varieties and then proudly poured sample after sample of their various products. There was no question of us tasting and spitting, we drank like we were on the eve of Prohibition and asked for refills. Polite murmurs of appreciation soon gave way to raucous laughter. Crystal flutes held properly by the stem, soon slipped from our fingers. The subsequent raised voices and the sound of shattering glass made me feel very much at home. Like I was back in Glasgow: The Horseshoe Bar, perhaps.
Sooner than scheduled, a Seattle P.R. representative was scooping us back on to the mini bus and we were being waved off by the open-mouthed staff. Don’t ask me to tell you the name of the place. Everything after that was a blur.
I just hope the Queen never finds out about that trip.