Grape Expectations
Grape Expectations

Vodka Yonic features a rotating cast of women and nonbinary writers from around the world sharing stories that are alternately humorous, sobering, intellectual, erotic, religious or painfully personal. You never know what you’ll find in this column, but we hope this potent mix of stories encourages conversation.

I was acting like a yuppie long before I was a working professional, and for a while, trying to be someone who had it all figured out felt almost like a core identity. If I scroll back too far on my Instagram feed, I see a tiny aspiring adult wearing a tucked-in Express Portofino button-up against a backdrop of STEM students in free T-shirts from the campus career fair. I had a five-year plan carved in granite: I was going to shatter glass ceilings, get married in the third quarter of 2018, and have two perfect children by 27. I shoved myself into a tidy, goal-oriented box and Marie Kondo’d the notion that I could be anything else.

But by 25, my “dream job” had me fantasizing about getting into a minor car accident to avoid going into the office every day — not exactly what I had entered into my Google Calendar. At the beginning of the year, I decided to leave my cushy job as a computer hardware engineer to chase the dream of becoming a comedy-TV writer. I gave my notice, and for the first time in a long time, I didn’t have a five-year plan. I didn’t even have a five-week plan. But I trusted the universe to be soft when I fell flat on my face, and trusted that I could pick myself back up when I did.

I found freedom under the fig tree of funemployment, treating it like an all-you-can-eat buffet. Free of any timeline, I threw myself into art, food, acting, writing and music in an attempt to “turn my hobbies into jobbies.” And it half-worked — I checked off creative goals and got hired at a music-festival company in the months leading up to pandemic lockdown. But after working hard to find new footing, in March, I ended up unemployed and confused again.

While I felt like my life was regressing, two of my close friends bought houses. For one friend’s housewarming, I gave him wine glasses, which I described in my journal as “such an adult gift.” For the other, I wanted to buy a bottle of wine. Like a disoriented toddler, I stood in the aisle of Trader Joe’s looking for a present, trying to figure out if Pouilly-Fuissé was the name of the vintner or the grape. It felt like asking a Magic 8-Ball, “Is this one of the two wines that I like?” and having the results come back in Latin. The Old World wine aisle of Trader Joe’s taunted me like a sign on the gate of a roller coaster: “You must be this grown-up to ride.” 

Amid the chaos, I started learning about wine. I pored over books by experts about tawnies and rubies, learning that a 2008 crop from Beaujolais is apparently wine for clowns thanks to a rainy growing season. I watched Ratatouille too many times, wondering how Anton Ego knew what to pair with “perspective.” I figured all of these rich people could blow it out their ass, but I kept reading. The salespeople at the wine megamart told me that they arranged the French wines according to east-west geography, while I myself cannot remember if east is right or left without doing some mental math about it. I did this all as a broke, newly re-unemployed idiot clinging to some semblance of belonging in our classist culture, as if knowing about wine would allow me to keep calling myself a “real adult.”

Then, I read an article on the website Wine Folly and Jon Bonné’s The New Wine Rules, both of which said the best way to learn more about wine is to drink a lot of it, indiscriminately. To dislike a particular bottle did not mean I should write off an entire varietal. As I learned about Old World wines and New World wines, I developed a love for sangiovese, the same grape that Hannibal Lecter enjoys with fava beans and a census taker’s liver. I tasted around, learned how to pronounce txakoli (chah-koh-lee), and fell in love with a gas station that hawked the best craft wine in town. There are no rules. 

Before, I struggled with absolutes: “Today I do not feel funny; therefore, I’ll never make it as a comedy writer,” or, “Today I was lonely; therefore, I am unloved.” I also had a lot of hard absolutes about what adulthood should look like. As I broke the rules of wine, I found it easier to question the rules that I let define me. Just because I disliked a bottle of syrah doesn’t mean I dislike all syrah. Just because my dreams felt impossible didn’t mean they were. I found the freedom to try, fail and try again, undefined by a onetime assessment of good or bad, successful or doomed.

Today, I am prosecco with fries — messy but classic. Tomorrow, I am rosé in the winter, nostalgic for the joys of the past, yet excited for the summer to come. Wine, in its essence, is fermented grapes, yet it contains so much more. Its nuance and complexity are found in filtering what’s simple through generations of knowledge, care and love for the craft. Thinking about the ways we explore wine helped me settle into who I am in my adulthood: containing multitudes, with notes picked up from everything that came before.

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