I forgot that Rieslings age well. It has something to do with a flavor compound with a 38-character name (TDN for short). Let this varietal age for too long and it starts to smell of kerosene—but if you give it just a few years, you’ll likely hit its sweet spot. This is one of those esoteric oenological tidbits my late husband taught me—filed away in a corner of my brain right next to the fact that Pediacoccus infections are bad, but Brettanomyces infections can be good—and that “aroma of geraniol” is an insult, and “aroma of pencil shavings” is a compliment.
So when a friend and I opened the last bottle I had of Peter’s 2008 Sierra Foothills Riesling this September, on the second anniversary of his death, I felt that I had to warn her: “This could be undrinkable.” Instead, it was delicious—“like nectar,” is how my friend described it. And in that moment, forgetting all of Peter’s lessons about Riesling, nothing about this wine made sense. Not its crystal-clear, pale yellow color, its delicate floral nose, its light, dry mouthfeel, its fruit. Not the absence of the person who made it.
Peter died at age 44, just 14 months after his diagnosis of non-small-cell adenocarcinoma. It was a mystery cancer of unknown primary origin that behaved like lung cancer, and upon diagnosis it was already evident in his lungs, right shoulder, and brain. For much of those 14 months, our family was able to live a kind of peaceful “new normal”—treatment cycles, breaks from treatment, quietly trying to observe and celebrate life’s big moments and small ones. His serenity and courage in the face of all of this was astounding, even to those who knew him well enough to expect nothing less.
For a while during this period, I intended to give The Home Glass—which began as Marin Magazine’s wine blog back in 2008 and which I continued to write until 2011—a reboot. I planned to document the reboot forced upon our lives, with wine, spirits, food, and family as the focus. But ultimately, even the few hours this would have involved seemed too much to give up in a year when time felt so precious and so fleeting. Better to spend those hours eating tacos and drinking margaritas with someone unparalleled in his talents for making both.
Oddly enough, it was stumbling on NPR producer Rachel Ward’s brilliant post on Medium, “I’m Sorry I Didn’t Respond to Your Email, My Husband Coughed to Death Two Years Ago,” that brought me back here—particularly these lines:
When you experience a loss like this, you get to see a really wild new amount of life. Suddenly the range of the type of sad you can feel, to the type of happy you can feel, is busted open. The spectrum from happy to sad isn’t a foot wide anymore — it’s as far as your arms can stretch and then to the edges of the room and then up the block and over into the next neighborhood.
I feel a version of this and have felt it almost since the moment we learned of Peter’s diagnosis. Everything was instantly amplified then and is amplified still: love, beauty, fear, longing, sadness, anger, more beauty, more love. It helps that my agnostic husband believed he’d come back to us in nature in some form—so when the trees catch light in a certain way, or a hummingbird watches closely as our daughter makes chalk drawings in our driveway, I have to wonder.
Willa often asks me how old her dad is. It’s almost never “how old would he be” if he were alive, because she’s six and is only just starting to wrap her mind around the conditional. I love answering all her questions about Peter except this one, because this one makes me stop and do an excruciating bit of math. Last Saturday he would have turned 47. When I think of Peter at 44, I can picture a 44-year-old person that I knew and loved and got to a spend a year memorizing. Forty-four-year-old Peter feels like a gift that I can still vividly recall and embrace and enjoy. But I don’t know 47-year-old Peter. I never will, and saying the age that he would have been out loud forces me to stare the magnitude of our loss straight in the face, in a way I almost never do.
Life doesn’t always make sense. White wines don’t age well, except for the ones that do. People grow older, except for the ones that don’t. Sometimes the best you can do is to sit back and take in that infinite spectrum from happy to sad. But one thing that always makes me feel better is observing and celebrating those details of life—domestic, culinary, seasonal—that remind me of Peter every day. And this seems a good place to record those details—once a month, at least. I promise that not every post will be this long or this personal—but do expect, on occasion, more home than glass.