“What’s thaaaaat?” my inquisitive five-year-old asked, with that fleeting, five-year-old-boy kind of wonder in his voice. “Is it part of a volcano? It looks like lava, or an alien brain. Ha! And ALIEN brain! Is it a pirate’s gem? How did that get here? Who brought it?”
I’m not going to lie, it’s a challenge to provide insightful, accurate answers to the onslaught of rapid fire questions this kid comes up with on a daily basis. Especially when I’m trying to cook dinner or drive the car. He’s real smart. Sometimes it’s exhausting. This particular line of questioning however, stopped me, and my heart started to swell. I walked slowly over to his side of the crowded basement. I already knew what picture he was talking about, but I wanted to indulge him, to let his uninhibited creativity run for a few minutes. When you believe in elves, ninjas, and dragons, anything is possible. The mysterious photo, covered with dust and hidden under a pile of basement junk, could have been a secret message sent to him from another time and place. The outstretched hand was a man’s, that he was sure of, but what was the shiny black ball of bubbles he was presenting? I could almost hear his gears grinding.
“It’s a rock,” I whispered, bending down behind his shoulder.
“A rock?” he asked, skeptically. He knew enough about rocks to know that this one was special. Otherwise why would the man be holding it like that, and why would we find a picture of it in our basement, with all our other special things, like Christmas lights and Easter baskets.
“Yup. It’s a magic rock, from a very special place mommy visited. The man, the one holding the rock, lives in France. He’s a winemaker. He spent his whole life planting grapevines and making wines in this one special place because he thought the rocks there were magic.”
He traced the outline of the bulbous looking chunk of granite with his tiny finger. I could tell he needed more story.
“In his village, people had been making wine for many, many years, but no body thought they were very good. Everyone just said they were ordinary, and they didn’t last very long. They would be made, and then they needed to be enjoyed right away or they would get yucky.”
“Like milk,?” he asked.
“Exactly like that,” I answered.
“But this man, he believed his farm was different. Because of these rocks. They made the wine taste stronger, prettier. Like a wine better than any wine that had come from his whole village, ever before. And guess what?”
“What?” he was genuinely curious.
“When I was visiting him he wandered off into a dark corner of his cellar–which is kind of like our basement, but with more spiders–and he brought back a very, very old bottle of his wine. He opened it and it was beautiful. Strong and powerful and elegant. A better wine than anyone would have believed came from his village. The kind of wine that gives mommy goose bumps.”
He nodded his head in understanding. He fully gets this phenomenon; we talk often about mommy’s physical reaction to incredible wines and food.
“So I took a picture. Because I believed in that rock. After I tasted the wine. The rock was magic. The man was a little magic too.”
“You should put it in your office mama,” my sweet and insightful boy suggested. “How did you get to be so smart?” I asked, and we walked upstairs together with the photo in hand.
The mystery of the picture was solved, but the mystery of the rock lives on. Wine is partly magic, and I hope it always stays that way. When I met Mr. Bertolla at his home in the small but famous village of Moulin-a-Vent in Beaujolais, France, I was fresh. A naïve young girl, nervously trying to get my footing with wine. I was reading voraciously, and I thought I knew what to expect. I knew Beaujolais wasn’t glamorous or important like Burgundy or Bordeaux. Beaujolais was cheap, easy to drink wine from the floozy, grapey-flavored gamay grape. I knew the soils were mostly sandy, memorized the communes, and got the basics of carbonic maceration–a unique winemaking process used often here, which accentuates the fresh, fruity lovability of the wine, but also means they crumple quickly. But it was my first trip to France, and my first epiphany with an old, old world wine maker. I am not exaggerating when I say that it changed me. That little old man, and his sweet little old wife, handed me that rock as if it were a diamond. It was that precious, tangible rock that infused their wines with soul and the essence of this place.
I left the vineyard that day glowing. I’d learned more in a couple of hours with these warm, gentle people than I had in all my books. I’m pretty sure Mr. Bertolla liked me too. His eyes were damp with passion when he told the story of his wine–a wine that defied the critics and aged (forty years in this case!) with grace and grip. Maybe he could tell that I was especially hungry to listen. He winked at me as we were leaving and slipped another bottle of the half-century old Moulin-a-Vent in my bag when no one was looking. I admit, I didn’t hold on to it for too much longer. It was too delicious not to drink. But I did hang on to that rock photo. It reminds me of the magic of wine.