By Linnea Frazier
“Do you sell any Chardonnay at this winery of yours, honeycakes?”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes at my Great Aunt Beverley’s shout-level query over the din of our Thanksgiving table, plus I must admit I’ve never been one to be fond of the endearment “honeycakes.”
“No Auntie Bev, remember I told you earlier that a Chardonnay is from the Burgundy region of France? At Tablas Creek we offer Rhone varietals, from the South of France. I brought one of our Viogniers, which will be as similar as I can get you to a Chardonnay, but with the turkey how about I pour a Roussanne for you? I promise you it will hold up better with the bird.”
I began reaching for the Roussanne, hoping she wouldn’t halt my passive attempts at expanding her everpresent Chardonnay fixation.
“But you know I like my Chardonnays honeycakes, they just go down smoother than other wines. Probably all that butter you put in em!”
I faltered, “You mean butter-y, right Auntie Bev?”
“No no, the actual butter you add in the wine, that’s what people mean when they say it’s a smooth, buttery Chardonnay, right?”
As I felt myself blacking out, I felt a sharp kick under the table. My mom was glaring at me and shaking her head from over the table, knowing what was about to happen.
Turning to my dear, beloved Auntie Bev I leaned in conspiratorially, “Actually, at our winery we like to mix it up and with our “buttery” wines we actually use salted butter instead of unsalted. We feel that it gives it more depth. But it’s a trade secret so don’t be spreading it around, ya hear?”
Smiling smugly, she nodded, “Your secret is safe with me, honeycakes. And hell, pour me that Rouss-whatever you called it, I’ll give it a try.”
Chuckling, I poured for her and turned my attention back to the neglected gravy island that was my Thanksgiving plate, knowing that as much as I had somewhat won the battle, the war was far from over.
The last few months of the year can be a harrowing affair. With the holidays comes the inevitable Christmas music before Thanksgiving fiasco, the over-reliance on anything pumpkin spiced, the holiday office parties, the rise and fall of gingerbread house empires, and the boozing that happens to get people through it. When the leaves begin to turn we are all ready to let our ids run away with us. We give into the holiday fever for a few months, whether it takes the form of being okay with Granny’s heavy hand with the mulled wine, or as Christmas comes along the mass production and consumption of cookies that that one Aunt will always shell out. There’s a distinct joy in the overindulgence of the holidays, perhaps the influence of the warmth of winter fires with loved ones, and the ushering in of yet another year as the memory of the last one is tucked snugly under our belts. With that holiday-infused happiness, comes the family reunions.
As my favorite Auntie Bev has demonstrated for you, my family is a most delightfully raucous bunch. My American side of the family will come in from as far as snowy Minnesota to as close as San Diego and I admit that I don’t always recall everyone’s name at our 50+ family gatherings. Then throw in the Swedish side of my family that comes over for a “traditional American Thanksgiving” or an “80 degree California Christmas Eve” and it all descends into even greater anarchy. We have my six foot Nordic clan members towering over five foot nothing Auntie Bev, both parties attempting to outwit and outdrink each other (Auntie Bev normally wins if you were curious). So needless to say, the holidays keep us on our toes in the Frazier household.
Working in the wine industry, you see a whole other side of the holidays, which I’ll be honest with you, isn’t always stupendous. I have a fear of my liquored-up, wizened relatives pinching my cheeks just as much as the next gal, but my fear of the holidays is brought about by a different type of creature; the Guzzler.
What pray tell is a Guzzler? A Guzzler is not my Auntie Bev, who just appreciates a good ole- fashioned buttery finish to her white, no, the Guzzler is something far beyond buttery Bev.
The Guzzler is a thing that indiscriminately destroys all bottles in its path, no matter the vintage, the year, the varietal, whose prized cellar it came from, how much thought went into selecting the bottle, not to mention the rarity and expense of the wine itself. The Guzzler can take any form. It could be your newly turned 21 year old college cousin who is eager to drink at the “adult table” but in reality couldn’t tell you if it was White Zinfandel Franzia or a 2009 Garrus Rosé in their glass. It could be your mopey uncle going through his now third divorce who’s sitting in the corner hoarding every bottle of Zin in the house. It could be your second cousins fiancee that you've been introduced to three separate times, that picks up any bottle in their vicinity, not even reading the label, and promptly upends half a 98-point Syrah in their glass to polish off within 15 minutes.
When I was younger, I didn’t understand wine beyond acknowledging the fact that I would wrinkle my nose at some less than others when my parents would encourage me to take a sip. So during the holidays of those nose wrinkling years, I would go strictly off of the expressions of my parents’ faces when identifying a guzzler. For example the whites of my Mom’s eyes as a drunk relative would tell her he was, “going down into our cellar to pick a ‘doozy’, or even just the smile crinkles around my dad's eyes as he would shake his head laughing when someone would sidle up and ask the inevitable question under their breath of, “you got any brandy around here to fortify this wine up a bit?”
And as for me? During the holidays I now find myself loitering by the wine table, inanely chatting with random relatives while at the same time desperately hoping that someone will come along and peruse for their next glass with a palatable purpose, and not the guzzling kind. In those people, I find my respite. I get to cease “chomping at the wine bit” as my brother jokingly says, and have a spirited conversation with someone. Maybe about the bottles they brought, or what they’re going to pair with my mom’s Christmas ham, any surprising finds amongst the open bottles they had a chance to try, and of course, to joke about the massive amounts of Port on the table.
Make no doubt, as much as I am prone to Guzzler-induced goosebumps, a part of me also adores them. Because there’s always that hope, that hope that they are going to pause a three-second chug and actually stop and take notice of the supple softness of the Grenache they’re drinking, or the warm spiciness of the Counoise in their glass, or the delightful surprise of an aged Nebbiolo. And if you can lead them to a wine that makes them take that pause it is all worth it. It is rare, but it happens. There is a distinct joy in watching people discover the wine that causes their paradigm shift. I can remember each specific wine with each specific family member that converted them to actually wanting to read the label of the wine they were drinking. These are the wines I track down and gift to them for their birthdays, anniversaries, or even simply make sure to bring to next year’s Thanksgiving or Christmas. So it is that hope that keeps me going during these holiday months.
Our families are the foundations from which we move forward in life. They are with us from the dawn to the dusk of our lives and we get to stumble through it all together, sometimes laughing at each other, and never failing to pick each other up and dust each other off. At the end of the day I wouldn’t change a thing about the borderline absurd nature of my family during the holidays. Because at the end of the day I’m pretty certain that I am just as absurd as they are, and I’m pretty content with that.
Shout out to the one and only Auntie Bev.